The always popular pairing of Jack Harkness and Ianto Jones makes a welcome return in Torchwood: Expectant, an entertaining sci-fi yarn and the December offering in the monthly release range. But their interactions take second place to the main character dynamic of the piece. And that’s the fraught relationship between the pregnant Harkness and his attentive and over-anxious companion and “birth partner” Jonty.
Torchwood’s missions have become more complicated now that Harkness has been awarded an important responsibility by the Empress of the Yainix Empire. Her deep-space kingdom is a delicate alliance of a dozen different systems, and riven by competing factions. This consortium of planets is under continual threat of invasion and plundering by old foes the Vad. This means that although it’s time for the Empress to produce her heir, she cannot trust any of her inner circle with the task of “growing” the next Ruler of the Yainix.
So while it’s an honour for Harkness to be given the role of surrogate parent, it’s a risky commission. When the Vad get word that the Empress’ successor is being birthed in Cardiff, a battlefleet is dispatched. With hunters on his trail, soon-to-be “Daddy” Harkness must evade detection and protect the Empress’ heir at all costs.
Although there are some reflective emotional touches along the way, Expectant is written and performed to bring out the humour of its consciously absurd setting. Harkness is in the thrall of his raging hormones. This means he’s become unpredictable and prone to wild self-pitying mood swings. While the resulting comedy is broad, Barrowman plays things deftly. He’s greatly assisted in the endeavour by Aaron Anthony, who brings a bewildered sense of grounded normality to his portrayal of co-parenting emissary Jonty.
Xanna Eve Chown’s script makes good play of the resulting inversion of expectation. Harkness is a pretty irresponsible would-be parent, rushing about on unnecessarily risky missions and failing to recognise his heightened emotional state. It’s down to visiting alien Jonty to try to bring some stability and calm to proceedings. This sees him trying to keep Harkness’ wilder impulses in check and protect his unborn new leader.
The story of the Yainix provides the background for Expectant. But their intriguing alliance of disputatious worlds is a pretty peripheral presence in the drama. That’s something of a shame, as there’s clearly some good hard sci-fi potential in their story. There are other fantasy and science fiction tropes in this tale, but this remains at heart a character drama.
The last time that Ianto and Jack were together, was in the light-hearted “gated community” parody Serenity. It’s good to hear them reunited here, in the story’s climactic closing scenes; their relationship reaffirmed as as complicated as ever. With its breezy tone and reluctance to take itself too seriously, the pernicious prenatal perils of Expectant will appeal most to those who enjoy the light-hearted and absurdist aspects of the Torchwood universe.
Torchwood: Expectant is available, in both CD and digital download formats, from the Big Finish site.