Big Finish Review: Torchwood – Tropical Beach Sounds and Other Relaxing Seascapes #4
Sir Michael Palin of Monty Python fame lends his voice to the 37th release in the Torchwood Monthly range. It kicks off the next string of twelve Torchwood releases with an experimental and different but highly rewarding hour of storytelling.
Tropical Beach Sounds and Other Relaxing Seascapes #4 is written by Tim Foley and directed, as usual, by Scott Handcock. It is available on the Big Finish website exclusively before general release on the 1st July 2020. Here's the synopsis...
You are listening to a self-help tape. You are hearing a soothing voice. You have always wanted to do something with your life, haven't you? Oh, how you've ached to be a better person.
Well now. This is your chance. Go on. Sit back. Close your eyes. Relax. You're going to learn all about Captain Jack Harkness. You're going to learn all about Torchwood.
You're going to change the world.
Michael Palin is the big drawcard for this release. He gives a performance that is pleasing and soothing to the ear, yet also becomes quietly sinister or aggressively insulting when required. Having Palin use the second person is an effective way of drawing in the listener and having them invest emotionally in the tale; it’s also one of the ways this story plays into the tropes of a self-help recording.
The self-help tape gimmick proves engaging enough. Much of the opening sequence leans heavily into typical meditative techniques, with positive reinforcement and the repetition of set words and phrases. When listening to any self-help tape, one’s full attention is required, and that is no different here: for full effect, try and ensure your complete focus on the story.
Soon, the mysterious Voice invites listeners to inhabit the body of Captain Jack Harkness and imagine taking on his personality and attributes (and who wouldn’t?). It soon becomes apparent, however, as you take a walk through “the corridors of your mind” (i.e. the Torchwood Hub) and meet fellow team members Ianto, Toshiko, Owen and Gwen, that this Voice is, chillingly, actually that of an alien entity slowly infiltrating the Hub and incapacitating Torchwood team members.
There are moments of humour and sensuality (such as walking in on Ianto in the storage cupboard with his pants off) and opportunities for metafictional references: the self-help program consists of three step (roughly correlating to a three-act dramatic structure) and the Voice acknowledges listeners will feel apprehensive about not having listened to volumes one to three (which of course, in reality, don’t exist).
The soothing beachscape background music from Blair Mowat and intimate sound design by Richard Fox complement the intimate nature of the recording. The cover art by Lee Binding is a great addition – it is hard to resist the amusing visual contrast of hard-faced Torchwood team wearing shades on a tropical island.
An interview with Palin reveals how his interest in taking part was down to the nature of the script as a sustained monologue; he notes in particular his enjoyment of radio recordings. Palin also describes the story as an “assault course” which gave him the opportunity to experiment with tone and style, and has only nice things to say about both Doctor Who and the city of Cardiff.
Some Final Thoughts...
Tim Foley must have had a delightful time writing this story. Not only does he get to write for Michael Palin, he manages to playfully insult the audience at the same time. In terms of drawing the listener into the drama, this could be the most effective of all Torchwood releases.
Tropical Beach Sounds and Other Relaxing Seascapes #4 is certainly an intriguing mix of self-help tropes and alien invasion story in the Torchwood universe that proves both very amusing and highly sinister, and is well worth the purchase.