Big Finish’s Torchwood Series 5, Aliens Among Us, draws to a close across a third box set of four stories.
Set in a Cardiff radically altered since the heyday of the television show, the resurgent Torchwood work from the remnants of their hub, dealing with alien threats in a city riven with immigration issues and plagued by a terrorist movement, as well as grappling with the outsourced security forces of the city’s alien mayor.
In ‘Poker Face’, writer Tim Foley wastes no time in addressing the shock he left us with in ‘The Empty Hand’, namely the head-spinning return of Yvonne Hartman (Tracey Ann Oberman). Last seen resisting her cyber-conversion and doing her duty for “Queen and Country” in Doctor Who’s ‘Doomsday’, the former Torchwood One head honcho appears alive and well, and comes equipped with her own devious agenda.
Continuing to hold out on the truth regarding his connections to the Red Doors terrorist group, Jack’s first move is to imprison Yvonne. With the ticking clock of a terrorist bomb on the outside, the story focusses in on trust issues within the hub; if Jack feels threatened, his fractured team cannot help but be curious about this new arrival, a fact which works to her advantage as she stages a subtle coup.
Naturally this Yvonne’s provenance is addressed, but it is done with a gloriously brief wave of the hand explanation – and we assume there may be more to come on that subject.
‘Tagged’ takes a look at social media trolls and internet memes, with the triggering phrase “I know what you’ve done. I know what you’ll do” which starts appearing on cards around the city.
The story, penned by Joseph Lidster, follows the plight of Serena (Kezrena James), who works with the now deskbound Sgt Andy Davidson, and has suffered a horrendous trauma. Spurred on by one of the cards, she is prompted to a murderous revenge and now attempts to conceal it.
Meanwhile, with Yvonne in charge and Jack gone to ground, Torchwood embraces a new style of management with meetings, bagels and the Hartman people-person approach. It is an interesting look at how the hub might function with more structure and less of Jack’s lurching from crisis to crisis, and how far Yvonne will push to get results as she encourages Orr to pushes herself to the limit as online bait
We also return to look at what is going on with Gwen, as she goes to extreme lengths to protect her secret. The story also reveals Mr Colchester’s first name, which comes a brilliant surprise.
With her writer’s hat on, Big Finish stalwart Helen Goldwyn pens ‘Escape Room’ – a character piece which focusses on Torchwood’s two married couples, Gwen and Rhys (Kai Owen), and Mr Colchester and Colin, who we first met in ‘A Kill to a View’.
Mis-matching the pairings, the couples are forced to work together and make some tough choices, ostensibly proving their worth to a disembodied voice, played by Terrance Hardiman of The Demon Headmaster fame.
A puzzle solving, small cast adventure, it is less about the threat and more about how desperate this version of Gwen is to survive and the lengths she is prepared to go to, as well as her fractured relationship with the dependable Rhys (Kai Owen). We also see the impact of Torchwood on the relationship of Mr Colchester and his husband, who is played delightfully by Ramon Tikaram.
Finally, in ‘Herald of the Dawn’, things get both political and potentially explosive as James Goss ups the tensions; Yvonne makes a deal with the Sorvix mayor Ro Jedda which has the potential to deal with both the terrorist threat and Jack Harkness too, while Jack teams with Orr to thwart their plans, coming to the aid of a beleaguered counter-terrorism officer.
Meanwhile, the Mayor decides that Tyler Steele has outlived his usefulness and unleashes an assassin on him – one he leads unwittingly to the Torchwood hub, creating added pressure on Mr Colchester who is busy attempting to soothe a restless temporal rift.
This is a tale of chickens coming home to roost; Jack’s flirtation with the terrorists blows up in his face, literally, while Gwen’s season long storyline appears builds to a conclusion – albeit one which focusses on the character and emotional impact, rather than the details. All the while, the rift bubbles with a game-changing shift to the Sorvix situation…
While all the stories here are entertaining in their own right, conclusions are the thing this box set is short on; if Big Finish were to announce tomorrow that Aliens Among Us was to be extended to fill another three box sets, it would come as no surprise. We can only assume that, sure in the knowledge that this iteration of Torchwood will continue, they have chosen to deliver us into a situation which sees almost every member of the team imperilled in some fashion!
As expected, the conflict of Yvonne Hartman vs Jack Harkness was a joy, but in truth they spent remarkably little time in each other’s company. We hope there will be more to compe from the pair and particularly enjoyed their animosity; probably our favourite line from the whole set is her description of him as “yesterday’s man”
This has been a series which has brought us new principal characters like Mr Colchester and Orr, and it is a testament to both the production and the actors that we are as invested in their fates as we are those of Jack, Gwen and the others. Paul Clayton’s Mr Colchester is by turns wry and utterly badass, while Samantha Béart’s vocal dexterity as the fluid Orr never ceases to impress.
The extras on this release feel more structured than usual, with producer James Goss helming us through interviews that look at the themes of the series with director Scott Handcock, as well as the new recruits and new writers. There is also a lovely interview with Murray Melvin, who returned as the villainous Billis Manger in Part 2 and is set to reprise the role again for August’s ‘Deadbeat Escape’, as well as one with composer Blair Mowat.
So well produced, involving and highly entertaining – if ultimately frustrating as we are left hanging. Luckily, there is plenty more Torchwood on the audio horizon; monthly releases return in March with ‘The Death of Captain Jack’, guest starring James Masters (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel) as Captain John and the original television line-up are reunited for the first time for Torchwood: Believe in April. Additionally, Yvonne Hartman’s back for Torchwood One: Machines in July, so there will be plenty to keep us going until they come back with some answers in Series 6!