An urgent autopsy for a young man who’s suffered a suspicious death provides a stressful context for an overdue reunion, as Gwen Cooper meets up with former colleague Dr Martha Jones in the latest Torchwood monthly audio release from Big Finish. Dissected is a skilful two-hander character-piece brought to life (in the midst of death) by two assured, pitch-perfect performances by Freema Agyeman and Eve Myles.
Gwen arrives unannounced at a UNIT facility with a dead body in the boot of her car, and a lot of questions she wants answering. Martha has spent her last day in post working on the aftermath of an alien crash-landing that has sent multiple victims to the holding morgue. She has an appointment at what’s supposed to be a “surprise” leaving party in a few hours’ time. All of which means that she’s more than a little irked by Gwen’s impatience and apparent lack of respect for her forensic expertise.
Yet when doubts about the fate of the unfortunate young man multiply, and the cadaver reveals some unexpected features, the former Torchwood colleagues have to set aside their differences. They have to deal with a worsening crisis that threatens not just them but the world beyond their locked-down compound.
Fraught and friendly
The pairing of two of Torchwood’s most confident, experienced and self-assured female operatives is an exciting prospect, and this reunion does not disappoint. As it begins, the latest encounter of these two passionate, motivated women is more fraught than friendly. There’s a lot of mistrust between the pair as each of them tries to get the other to recognise and acknowledge their respective talents.
Scriptwriter Tim Foley’s dialogue and pacing is spot on, as the story shifts between the pair’s attempt to negotiate a new mutual appreciation and the wider peril that sneaks up to threaten both of them. This is Ageyman’s first Big Finish audio, and the obvious relish that she has in returning to this signature role is evident throughout her performance. That’s something that also comes over clearly in the cast interviews included in the release. Myles is as fantastic as ever as the irrepressible Gwen, switching back and forth between persuasive and stubborn as she tries to secure Martha’s support.
The autopsy elements of the story unfold in a matter-of-fact way, without being unbearably gruesome. For an experienced Torchwood field agent, Gwen does appear to lack some pretty basic post-mortem knowledge. Perhaps though she’s being a little disingenuous in order to tease the truth from Martha?
On the surface, the two characters seem to be irreconcilable. Gwen seems impatient and impulsive, fixated on her own interest in solving a baffling case. Martha comes across as a stickler for procedure and paperwork, determined to abide by the approved protocols. But as events transpire, it’s clear that Gwen and Martha have a much fuller appreciation of what makes the other tick, and of what may be at stake here, than they first admit.
There’s deliciously creepy sound design courtesy of Peter Doggart, with director Scott Handcock using some simple but effective techniques to build up the sense of claustrophobia and paranoia. Inserting itself very effectively into Martha’s existing timeline, this story fills in many of the gaps between “Martha the UNIT medic”, after her regular TARDIS travels, and “Martha the fearless freelancer” glimpsed in The End of Time. Through an engrossing (and occasionally gross) hour long dilemma, Dissected peels back the surface layers of these characters and their shared predicament to reveal hidden truths that are unsettling but also a cause for hope.