Written by John Barrowman and his sister Carole, Exodus Code is the pair’s second novel. Their previous collaborations have included Hollow Earth, a children’s fantasy novel, as well as a Torchwood magazine comic strip and two volumes of his memoirs.
Exodus Code begins in 1930 telling of Captain Jack’s disastrous investigation into a Peruvian mountain and culminating in him being incapacitated and falling from an aeroplane onto it. Rescued by some of the local tribe, who had been long awaiting a messenger from the sky, he is drugged in forced to participate in a bizarre ritual from which he is lucky to escape.
Meanwhile, in present day Wales, Gwen Cooper is failing to cope with her day to day life, apparently finding things a bit of a comedown from her high octane Torchwood days. After a disturbing encounter with a manic woman in a supermarket, Gwen seems to lose all control and turns on Rhys with deadly intent.
Rootless, with scant resources and no base, Jack returns in her hour of need and sets up temporarily at Gwen’s house to look into the problem of these seemingly random outbursts of violence from women. With only Rhys and Sergeant Andy to assist him, he is forced to rely on his charm and contacts to piece together the nature of the threat. Apparently suffering a case of amnesia himself, Jack is slower on the uptake than he should be when some similar imagery comes to light.
This is Torchwood as we remember it from last year’s Miracle Day series; Jack has been off travelling on distant worlds while Gwen maintains her regular life as wife and mother, albeit with what’s left of Torchwood’s burnt out SUV kept in a local lock-up garage just in case. Previous events are touched upon more, with mentions and links to the Three Families plot and former Agent, now Deputy Director, Rex Matheson appearing as a peripheral character. This seems like an odd move though as Rex contributes very little to the story.
As with Miracle Day, the threat facing the world is tied to Jack’s personal past and his formerly unique longevity. Surprisingly, there is also a link to a 1970’s Doctor Who story and a name check for Sarah Jane Smith too.
Later in the tale, Jack gains assistance from his friend Cash and the crew of his boat, the Ice Maiden. This introduces a band of interesting characters that help to deal with some of the exposition and allow Jack to do what he does best; namely flirt and copulate while holding a lot of the cards close to his chest.
The inclusion of a semi-sentient AI computer programme makes for a reasonable Tosh substitute too. In some ways, ‘Shelly’ acts as a bit of a Mr Smith and allows the assimilation of a good deal of data so that the puzzle can be put together, as well as providing some literal comic relief.
Though it seems a little churlish to point them out, there are a couple of Americanisms which have crept in. The reference to postpartum rather than postnatal depression is not a big deal, but it jars a little when the character considering it is Welsh.
This is another big and bold, globe-trotting adventure for what is left of the Torchwood team. There are some great ideas at play and the story is rooted in solid medical and scientific concepts, though they are always presented with humour and matched with good characterisation of the Torchwood regulars.
The book pulls some clever tricks with time, giving us a scene at the beginning which is retold at the end with a different perspective. At the resolution of the story, there is a lot going on around that mountain and frankly, things became a little complex with locals, CIA and Jack’s team in play. As a result, the whole thing feels a little rushed and, though clever, relies upon what feels like a bit of a cheap trick offering us no real time to come back down to earth.
With its links back to Doctor Who, Exodus Code is fun but not essential reading for Torchwood fans.
Published on Thursday 13th September 2012 by BBC Books.
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