Ianto Jones is the last member of the team left standing, in an eerily empty and abandoned Cardiff, in the latest monthly Torchwood audio release from Big Finish. Even more alarming than the unexplained absence of his colleagues is the arrival at his front door of Abigail, a young woman who seems to know all about the workings of Torchwood.
She needs Ianto to investigate why her memories are being erased, and the story of her life blanked out. Is a malevolent force out to extinguish not just Abigail’s history, but that of everyone in Cardiff? Can Ianto keep his own thoughts from being wiped out long enough to find out?
The premise of this latest Torchwood story is far from unique. The trope of inexplicable memory loss leading those afflicted by it to lose all sense of ‘who they really are’ is a familiar sci-fi staple. It’s a dramatic device that’s driven the plot of many genre anthology instalments over the years. It’s good to be able to report then that Alfie Shaw’s script for Ex Machina is both witty and extremely well-crafted.
As Ianto and Abigail race across the city in pursuit of answers (with something in pursuit of them at the same time) Shaw delivers a series of less obvious twists and shifts. It’s a story in which the baleful effects of the ‘law of unintended consequences’ reverberate through the lives of everyone caught up in the drama.
Director Scott Handcock makes good use of the tempo built-in to Shaw’s plotting to keep up the momentum, and sound designer Iain Meadows brings to life a sense of something amiss on the empty streets of Cardiff.
But what lights up Ex Machina from start to finish is the richness of the interaction between the two main characters. Gareth David-Lloyd is dependably fantastic as Ianto Jones. There’s always an extra edge to Ianto’s rising sense of panic when circumstances are spiralling out of his control, and events confound his knowledge. Laura Aikman is no less impressive as the sparky Abigail, who’s direct and forthright but determined not to let bad choices lead to worse outcomes.
The dynamic between the pair is excellent, with no sense at all that this was a lockdown production which kept the actors apart in makeshift home studios. It’s the interplay of the exasperated Ianto and the unapologetic Abigail that keeps this fast paced Torchwood mystery sparking. Pivoting on the theme of human imperfectability, this drama ends without the need for its own deus ex machina to set things right.