Continuing the new fifth series of Torchwood, as full-bloodied full cast audio drama, Captain Jack Harkness and his team are back on the mean streets of present day Cardiff.
Following on the heels of Part 1, which introduced new characters and a tough alien-infused situation in the city they protect, this release contains episodes five to eight of Aliens Among Us series. Along the way, we welcome a few more familiar voices back to the fold, as well as an old adversary.
‘Love Rat’ begins with Jack on a night out, doing what comes naturally (and frequently) to him, although this particular encounter ends in death when his lover transforms into something monstrous. When Jack returns to life this time though, he comes back somehow altered and hornier than ever!
Meanwhile, back at the hub, Mr Colchester is tackling an infestation while Sgt Andy Davidson has a pile of bodies to deal with.
Setting Jack Harkness to work in the field of online dating is an irresistible concept, as he boasts: “No one swiped left to this face”, and the story does a great job of redrawing the battle lines; Tyler Steele is on the periphery of Torchwood and in a precarious position as the human advisor to the Sorvix Mayor of Cardiff.
There are some obvious parallels to the television episode ‘Day One’ at work here in the nature of the threat, but Christopher Cooper’s script is far more mature and effective, affecting people we care about rather than Cardiff randoms and allowing their actions to have consequences.
The partners of Torchwood’s agents are notoriously ill-fated, so it comes as no surprise that Mr Colchester’s husband comes under threat. Transplanted from Hove to the divided streets of the Welsh capital, the calm and cultured Colin Colchester-Price (Ramon Tikaram) finds himself living in the ultimate monument to aspirational culture; The Ritz Tower, an apartment block where the residents will literally kill to get to the top.
Within his story, Mac Rogers – who deserves all the plaudits for the best punning title with ‘A Kill to a View’ – builds a wonderfully cutthroat world of dinner parties with loaded banter and murderous double entendre.
This tale reintroduces Bilis Manger, the sinister former nightclub greeter and time traveller, who unleased a demon on the city at the end of Series One. We are thrilled to say that Murray Melvin’s character translates brilliantly into this new medium and he remains thoroughly unsettling. If we are honest, he is probably better used here too.
Also present is Rhys (Kai Owen), who comes to visit Colin unannounced with the suggestion of a Torchwood Widower’s club. While played for laughs, it is another brilliantly judged moment.
Really though, this story is a showcase for Paul Clayton’s Mr Colchester (and how we love that even his husband calls him that) as we get to see the man behind the snarky work persona, who is vital, loving and utterly ruthless when needed.
Janine H Jones is up third with a story which focuses on Tyler (Jonny Green) and his obsession with a hot delivery guy. Tyler’s persistence leads him to discover Deliverables, a courier firm which is employing swathes of people in the city and giving them instructions via their mobile phone, like a didactic Sat Nav. Meanwhile, Gwen his having problems on the home front dealing with Anwen, now seven years old, while Rhys is away.
Obviously, there is plenty of satire here, starting with the title ‘Zero Hour’ and the script lands some well-judged jabs at modern organisations who dehumanise their workforce and offer no job security. Beyond this though, there is an incredibly clever, if pretty bleak, idea hiding in plain sight too.
Remaining rather in the background throughout all four stories and still finding her place, Torchwood’s newest recruit Orr (Sam Béart) really comes into her own here, both helping smooth Gwen’s domestic troubles and being the one who unlocks the Deliverables puzzle.
While excellent throughout set, we must highlight Steve Foxon’s sound design here too – in particular for an arresting montage of overlapping instructions while Tyler is undercover.
Finally, ‘The Empty Hand’ brings Sgt Andy Davison (Tom Price) front and centre as he is accused of an atrocity in the line of duty, murdering an immigrant in cold blood. With CCTV footage of him committing the crime, it seems an open and shut case, but luckily he knows to summon Torchwood – much to the disgust of his accusing colleague PC Nicky Owen.
Set against rising political tensions, we find the team split; Gwen on the warpath in staunch defence of her former colleague, while Mr Colchester and Orr remain unconvinced. Meanwhile Jack is absent, seeking out terrorists and apparently pursing his own agenda.
Once the show’s comic foil, eternally held back as contrast to how far Gwen Cooper had come, Tom Price’s Andy Davidson has grown through his various audio adventures; from the amusing ‘Ghost Mission’ to the incredibly dark ‘Corpse Day’ he has become one of our favourites. Here Andy is put through the wringer, in scenes of utter disbelief which Price plays with conviction, and there is a suggestion that there may be long term consequences for the character too.
As this box set forms the middle section of the Aliens Among Us series, there are understandably events within ongoing storylines which do not draw to a close here. Mindful of spoilers, one we can talk about is Ro-Jedda; lurking in the background, yet pulling enough strings to remain a potent threat, Cardiff’s Sorvix Mayor is played to wonderfully intimidating effect by Rachel Atkins.
Among the wider guest cast, Sacha Dawan (Iron Fist, An Adventure in Spare and Time) is terrific as Hasan, the object of Tyler’s desire, and we loved the paring of Diveen Henry and Ellie Heydon as Sandra and Andrea, the Colchester’s neighbours from hell. We also enjoyed Sarah Annis as the over-zealous, if rather naïve, PC Nicky Owen who we would love to hear more from.
All of these stories put the team under pressure in different ways, with the job of Torchwood spilling into the character’s personal lives, as ever, and notably into Gwen and Rhys’s relationship. Jack’s absence in ‘Zero Hour’ and off-piste actions in ‘The Empty Hand’ are symptomatic of a group in crisis, which makes the jaw-dropping finale twist all the more troubling.
Heads a spinning, we have to wait until February for the concluding four instalments which are bound to be raucous and revelatory. While we love the other Torchwood audios, Aliens Among Us really does seem to be taking the show forward with gusto!