Big Finish Review: Torchwood - Night of the Fendahl
After another successful run of Torchwood monthly releases last year, 2019 sees Big Finish release more character-centric pieces set during the timeline of the original show. And for the first three instalments, Big Finish are revisiting some classic monsters from Doctor Who, and giving them a modern Torchwood twist.
The first of these is Night of the Fendahl, which sees Eve Myle's Gwen Cooper involved with the evil entity last seen in Tom Baker's gothic horror story Image of the Fendahl from 1977. Written by Tim Foley and directed by Scott Handcock, it is available at the Big Finish site here before going on general release on the 31st May.
Here's the synopsis...
Torchwood vs Monsters!
Marco makes films. You wouldn’t like them. The lighting’s shoddy, the sets are cheap and the sound’s appalling. But there’s an audience for them. Because they’re films in which bad things happen to women.
Marco’s latest venture is based on real events. Events which took place in Fetch Priory many years ago. It’s an anthology piece, and Marco needs one final victim. But the last victim is not who anyone is expecting.
Death has returned to Fetch Priory. And Death is no-one’s victim.
I love Image of the Fendahl, one of the last great gothic horrors of classic Doctor Who. It's a story packed with atmosphere and chilling imagery and ripe for a sequel. Writer Tim Foley clear has the same appreciation for that tale, updating it for the Torchwood era with a very relevant modern story and one that suits the more adult nature of the series.
With so many stories coming to light of the abuse inflicted on women(and men), there is something distinctly unnerving about the idea of poor women being murdered in a graphic snuff movie designed to recreate the 'legend of Fetch Priory' that was the setting of the original Doctor Who story. The genius of course is that the legend is real and the men involved have no idea of the real darkness they are awakening.
Gwen's presence is equally as upsetting, a distant figure than her usual fiery self, as she comes under the thrall of the Fendahl and the latest 'female victim' to be killed on screen. Playing the role of doomed Thea from the original story, Myles delivers a creepy, unnerving performance as the darkness begins to speak through her, slowly revelling in the ritual that is unfolding, with the abusive film makers doomed to become the Fendahleen worms that serve her. Torchwood had delivered some nasty stuff on screen and in audio and the sounds of the men being devoured are not a pleasant experience. But then, Night of the Fendahl isn't meant to be. It's designed to keep the listener on edge as the Fendahl slowly gains power and turns the tables through Gwen.
It's a well paced story, directed masterfully by Handcock as the story shifts from disturbing film making to creepy murder and mystery. The deaths are grizzly and justified; right up to the end the men who have inflicted so much suffering for their 'art' find themselves victims themselves, even into the final twists at the end of the story. As horrible as these characters are, their comeuppance is just as satisfying. Myles relishes the role too; the monologue as she is possessed by the Fendahl is truly dripping with atmosphere and tension, Foley's script never venturing into pure exposition even as the revelations are laid out and the history of Gwen - and Torchwood's - involvement in the mystery of the Fendahl are laid out one by one.
The true beauty of Night of the Fendahl is how it offers a new side to Gwen Cooper, tying her into Doctor Who legacy and still keeps her strong. The pay off of her own story is just as satisfying, wrapping up the tale just neatly enough while hinting that the darkness might not quite be over.
Night of the Fendahl is a gorgeously atmospheric - and disturbing - tale, that proves yet again just how rich these monthly Torchwood character pieces can be. Between these and the continuing success of the series through God Among Us, Torchwood is proving to be a real triumph for Big Finish, giving the show the life it still deserves.
A trailer for next month's Torchwood: The Green Life, has former Doctor Who companion Jo return to the scene of her final story The Green Death in a new conspiracy with Jack Harkness. It looks set to be a nostalgic tale with plenty of Torchwood twists and some truly nasty monster moments with the infamous giant maggots!
Finally, director Scott Handcock interviews star Eve Myles and writer Tim Foley to chat about Night of the Fendahl, which has plenty of humour (Myle's 'disgust' for husband and co-star Bradley Freegard is hilarious) with an interesting discussion over the story's treatment of women and how the release is so relevant today. It's an engaging little cap to another strong release from Big Finish.