The latest Torchwood release from Big Finish has both the style and substance of a 1950s science fiction serial. Samuel Barnett and Tom Price reprise their roles as Norton Folgate and Sergeant Andy Davidson for six half-hour episodes telling an overarching story that starts small and builds to a world-ending alien plot. The combination is raucous, entertaining and a lot of fun.
Torchwood Soho – Parasite is written by James Goss and directed, as always, by Scott Handcock, with music by Blair Mowat. It is available exclusively from the Big Finish website until October 31, 2020. Here’s the synopsis…
Gangsters are vanishing from the streets of Soho, there’s a deadly Nazi secret on the loose, and something’s moving in the smog. Norton Folgate should be sorting this out, but the Torchwood agent is in disgrace. Who’s going to save London this time?
Norton Folgate is a Big Finish-original character, yet has played such a distinct role within the show’s mythology that it can seem bizarre he was only introduced after the series ended. Sergeant Andy first met Norton in 2016’s Monthly Range story Ghost Mission, in which Norton was brought through to the present day as a hologram. He has popped up in a supporting capacity in the ten-year anniversary special The Torchwood Archive, the three-part special release Outbreak, the Monthly Range story The Death of Captain Jack, and most recently volume two of God Among Us. He teamed up with Andy again in Goodbye Piccadilly, a story which saw Andy be transported back to the 1950s, and also functioned as a pilot episode for Torchwood Soho – Parasite.
Andy, initially an ancillary character on television, has progressively become more ubiquitous across the Torchwood landscape. In addition to various Monthly Range stories, he had a prominent role in both Aliens Among Us and God Among Us, and even become a companion of the Eighth Doctor in this year’s first Doctor Who – Stranded boxset. And now, with Tom Price and Samuel Barnett having appeared in over two dozen Big Finish releases between them, the pair are finally leads of their own spin-off series.
Torchwood Soho – Parasite owes a lot to The Quatermass Experiment and its sequels, not only in terms of structure – with its six-part, half-hour format – but also content – a malign alien organism lands on earth, proceeds to infiltrate and invade, with a number of humans falling under its influence. There’s a creature lurking in the pea soup fog, parasitic fungal spores from space are released into the air, and Nazi Torchwood is partly to blame.
Short episodes and snappy scenes deliver a pleasing rhythm and pace. James Goss’ witty writing is embraced with reckless abandon by Barnett in particular, as the story picks up some time after the events of Goodbye Piccadilly. Norton is in disgrace (again), and as punishment is on phone-answering duty instead of being allowed out into the field. Early episodes take their time in fleshing out Norton’s world and the quirky characters within it, such as Torchwood higher-ups Lizbeth Hayhoe (Dervla Kirwan) and Rigsby (David Troughton), and Parasite is all the better for it.
More than perhaps any other Torchwood release from Big Finish, Parasite has a powerful sense of place. London in the post-war 1950s may be littered with filth and grunge, but the suits, the cigars, the gangster dealings – these are the phenomena that create a highly evocative setting. The soundtrack, too, is flavoured by era-appropriate jazz, adding to the effect.
This release does not shy away from portraying the casual and ingrained racism of the era, notably by portraying the workplace discrimination experienced by Gideon Lyme (Joe Shire) when he attempts to find work. Listeners instantly empathise with his frustration at having to deal with narrow-minded people who use all the wrong words (‘boy’, ‘colonials’, ‘I’m not racialist, it’s just…’) that reveal more than enough about the attitudes lying beneath. Shire puts in an impressively relatable performance as the determined journalist, and has a great voice for audio to boot.
The best part of Parasite is the interplay between Gideon, Norton and Andy. Even in latter episodes, once the plot has been fully revealed and the endgame set in motion, the story plays second fiddle to the core trio. It’s all down to delightful grouping of the deliciously camp and infectiously exuberant Norton with the endearingly pure and honest Andy, alongside Gideon Lyme as the fish out of water and audience surrogate.
The interviews show off the most sparkling rapport between Barnett, writer James Goss and director Scott Handcock – co-conspirators on numerous Torchwood productions – and it appears their camaraderie only gets stronger as time goes on.
Barnett explains the parallels and divergences between Norton and Dirk Gently, one of the roles for which he is most well-known. Goss offers insight into the role research and historical details play in serving – or taking away from – the story, and there is high praise for Handcock’s directorial perspective and note-giving technique.
Torchwood Soho – Parasite takes two warmly received characters who, so far, predominantly have appeared in ancillary capacities and affords them with extra tszuj. Norton is a layered character –outrageous and mischievous, but also sometimes cruel and cold. Sergeant Andy tempers his wilder moments and brings an indelible charm. And Gideon Lyme – a character not without potential to return in the future – grounds everything and makes it real. Fans of Torchwood be aware: this set is glorious.
Comic review: Omni-Visibilis by Trondheim and Bonhomme
Continue the conversation over on The Digital Fix Forum