Time passes and everything changes, but Torchwood endures. It might not have immediately found its footing on television like its parent show Doctor Who, but Torchwood soon became a mature, sophisticated and provocative depiction of alien exploits on Earth and, in equal part, the failings of humanity. Its latest iteration on audio continues to impress.
After a few years off the air, Big Finish brought Torchwood to the audio medium with hour-long character dramas starting in 2015. Two years later, this was followed by a new 12-part sequence of stories marketed as series five of Torchwood. This new iteration brought the action back to Cardiff where it all started, and introduced a line-up of distinct personalities to the team. Creator Russell T Davies’ input into the group of misfits was readily apparent, but the entire creative team at Big Finish worked to produce a thoroughly engaging story world – gritty, real and very Welsh.
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When the sequel to ‘Aliens Among Us’, titled ‘God Among Us’, wrapped up in 2019, more stories were planned. Producer James Goss has described a plan to weave a tale of Torchwood’s response to a global pandemic; when an actual, real-life global pandemic put a dampener on those ambitions, the series went on a short hiatus. But the delay has not changed the essential flavour of the show, and ‘Among Us’ launches us right back into the midst of the same world.
Some time after a massive flood swept through the streets of Cardiff in the back half of ‘God Among Us’, the Torchwood crew are scattered, on the run, and struggling to get by; its leader is missing, and not for the first time. For Goss, this is “a story about the worst elements of human nature being manipulated”, something which is readily apparent upon listening to the release’s four hour-long episodes.
The opener ‘Aliens Next Door’ features the two alien members of the Torchwood team, Ng (Alexandria Riley) and Orr (Samantha Béart), on a stake-out on a council estate. Housed by the kindly Mrs Clerihew, who seems more than happy to house two dangerous Torchwood operatives for a while, they get to observe the lives of neighbours – and are present when the darker undersides of those neighbours come to the fore.
Just as Doctor Who has a knack for melding the novel with the everyday, so does Torchwood, but with especially sharp edges. There is often large-scale disaster, but it’s locally focused – and in the case of ‘Aliens Next Door’, the ways that humans turn on one another and turn up their nose at difference is as disturbing as any otherworldly villain. As the opener to a new series, the episode is low-key and contained but sets a decidedly dark tone with its eye on bigotry and social manipulation.
“There has to be hope… Hope of change, hope of renewal.”
The character at the centre of episode two, ‘Colin Alone’, isn’t strictly a Torchwood member, although he has been drawn into his fair share of the organisation’s exploits. Colin Colchester-Price, played previously by Ramon Tikaram and now by Joplin Sibtain, is faced with a disastrous predicament: the disappearance of his husband, Mr Colchester (Paul Clayton).
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Not only is Colin forced to fend for himself when people come knocking, interested in his husband’s whereabouts, he also struggles to get by when events begin to wear him down: he misses the bus, his flat starts leaking, his card declines at the till. It’s a series of circumstances that pushes him to the brink of desperation, and we see plainly laid out before us one man’s silent suffering. How very Torchwood.
The next instalment, ‘Misty Eyes’, brings back fan-favourite duo Gwen (Eve Myles) and Rhys (Kai Owen) who left Torchwood behind for bigger and better things after the events of ‘Aliens Among Us’. They’re now squirrelled away in an Icelandic lighthouse attempting to build a new life, one that is interrupted by the presence of Ng at their front door. It helps to know at this point that Ng once inhabited Gwen’s body back in that first audio series and had a hand in killing Gwen’s mother – making this an especially uncomfortable reunion for the pair. What starts as open resentment at Ng’s presence only slightly mellows as Ng attempts to protect Gwen from a cohort of ghostly figures. The climactic scene where the pair acknowledges their shared motherhood is less touching and more begrudging.
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And the final episode, ‘Moderation’, picks up on the life of Tyler Steele (Jonny Green) following Torchwood’s split, as he works in comment moderation at a news company – one that only cares about views and what the algorithm tells them. This tale furthers the exploration of the underbelly of everyday humans; the company’s news algorithm becomes increasing leniency towards death threats and homophobia is a frightening proposition – and nothing less than reality.
Perhaps even more than witnessing the characters accomplish X or thwart the plans of Y, what’s so enjoyable about the Torchwood audio series is simply inhabiting their world. The four stories in Torchwood: Among Us – Part 1 dig under the skin of human nature, exposing its depths. Together with director Scott Handcock, who has since been recruited by Davies to work on the upcoming series of Doctor Who, Goss has crafted a top-notch return to Torchwood.
Torchwood: Among Us Part 1 is out now from Big Finish.