Torchwood: Believe boxset review

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While Big Finish have been releasing Torchwood audios since 2015, Believe is the first to reunite the original television line-up with a three-part tale rooted in the latter part of the second series.

The story focuses on Owen’s suspicions about “The Church of the Outsiders”, a religious organisation who believe that our destiny belongs in the stars and who seem intent on getting there as soon as possible.

Writer Guy Adams employs a clever structure to lay in the backstory with short flashback scenes in a mission briefing. This builds up a terrific momentum which breaks into multiple, interweaved strands; Tosh cosies up to the church’s accountant over dinner, while Gwen traces the founder’s errant daughter and Ianto goes undercover as a devotee, to gain access to the church’s campus.

Believe looks at several aspects as the team dig into the church, from the experience of the regular followers, to its administration and leadership, and at those who have taken more direction action to hasten the future; the “greys” who have tripped the line into fanaticism by modifying their voices and bodies. In this regard, Adams’ invokes the work of real-life cybernetic engineer Kevin Warwick, who became famous in the early 2000s for his cybernetic research and experimental implants.

With the church’s founder a former comic book writer, parallels can be drawn with a certain notorious religion, popular with Hollywood celebrities, and these are cemented with the assessment processes used to vet followers’ spiritual fitness.

Naturally, belief is big business, which is where Frank Layton comes in. Playing a character about as far removed from his Doctor Who or Broadchurch roles as you could possibly imagine, Arthur Darvil shines as Layton who is by turns repellent, vulgar and self-important.

All the main cast are employed well, with Jack (John Barrowman) enduring a crisis of conscience which sees him disappear for the early part of the story and Owen take the lead. This generates strong material for both Burn Gorman and Naoko Mori, with the complex relationship between their characters thrown even further challenges. For her part, Gwen (Eve Myles) is paired with the troubled Andromeda (Lois Meleri Jones) and the two work well together, granted some great action moments.

For us though, one of the standout performances was from Rhian Blundell as the innocent Erin, the believer assigned to be Ianto’s “co-pilot”. She has palpable chemistry with Gareth David-Lloyd, and we loved the scenes in which she conducted Ianto’s first “interview” where the questions worked on dual levels; probing his insecurities about his Torchwood role while filling in some of the gaps about the church beliefs for us. Where Erin might have come across as foolish or deluded, Blundell really sells us the notion of wonderful alien beings living among us, as well as being just a little too open about her feelings.

Additionally in the guest cast, Mac Macdonald (Red Dwarf’s Captain Hollister) impresses as Steve Ross, the inspirational speaker whose ideas initiated the church and we hear through archive recordings, while Mali Harris (Doctor Who, Keeping Faith), plays Val, Ross’s widow who continues to lead, administrating the courses through which the church derives its income.

Darkly comic and entertaining, Guy Adams captures the team’s fractious internal dynamics just right, from Ianto’s conflict between his loyalties to Jack and the wider team, to Owen’s helplessness in the leadership role, covered by unpleasantness and arrogant bluster. It also nails that bluntly atheist tone which pervaded the series, with Owen’s motivation rooted in his death and resurrection.

With their usual exemplary production values, this is another Torchwood triumph for director Scott Handcock and his team and, notwithstanding the complications of assembling the busy cast – as the extras attest to – we hope to hear more!