As the second instalment of this latest Torchwood audio trilogy opens, the team is not in the best of shapes: colleagues are scattered and distracted, mutual trust is at an all-time low, several team members compete to set the organisation’s priorities, while behind the scenes an all-seeing deity and a mysterious Committee battle for control of its fate. All of this combines to corrode Torchwood’s confidence and credibility – and provides a very effective launchpad for the drama that follows.
Things get off to a tense and thrilling start in Flight 405 by Lou Morgan, as time-travelling 1950s’ Torchwood projection Norton Folgate conscripts Andy Morgan and Yvonne Hartman to join him aboard a plane carrying a deadly cargo and trapped in a perpetual time loop. Without their help, a calamitous crash appears to be the only way out. The second part of this story takes the form of a podcast, in which conspiracy enthusiasts, and co-presenters of ‘Cardiff Unknown’, Neve and Geoff clash with uber-conspiracist Sam Hallett (author of ‘The Eye Of Providence’ blog) over their shared obsession with the “truth” seemingly hidden beneath the veneer of Cardiff’s extraordinary “normality”. It’s an interesting way to revisit and recap earlier Torchwood storylines from an outsider perspective but, as any kind of recurring narrative device, less of this would definitely be more.
There’s a darkness to Ash Darby’s grim tale of life on the periphery of society in Hostile Environment, which explores Tyler Steele’s slide into homelessness, begging, petty crime and prostitution. As Steele flounders, mired in self-doubt and self-disgust, residents of Cardiff use a mobile app to tag the city’s street sleepers “for attention”. It soon transpires that the help that this summons is punitive and merciless, clearing the destitute from the streets but without empathy or compassion.
Hostile Environment is a tough listen, as the realities of Steele’s horrendous plight are presented in unflinching, unsanitised terms. Jonny Green delivers a heartfelt performance and, as Steele is forced into the darkest of corners, he’s tasked to deliver some challenging and deeply uncomfortable material. This is a story brimming with contemporary real-world references and social observation and provides the gut-wrenching emotional core of this latest set.
The tone lightens considerably (if not entirely) in Another Man’s Shoes by Tim Foley. A fresh take on the genre staple of the body-swap, this story matches multiple pairs of characters in the switcheroo at the same time. This is the comedic counterpoint to the bleakness of Hostile Environment and sees the whole cast having fun with the opportunities of Foley’s script.
There are some strong character beats amidst the humour and, under Scott Handcock’s attentive direction, the cast pull off the far from straightforward task of creating a clear and convincing picture of body swapping on audio – without any of the usual visual comedic cues. It’s slightly disconcerting that not all of the cast attempt to adopt the vocal mannerisms of the character they’ve swapped with. But each set of “swappers” enjoy strong juxtaposed storylines, with Yvonne standing in for Andy at his internal affairs review being the clear highlight.
Things come to a suitably high-stake finale in David Llewellyn’s rousing Eye Of The Storm. The team attempt to neutralise an unstable alien power station hidden beneath the seas off the Welsh coast. Yet, as the difficult undersea operation unfolds, it becomes clear that not all of the agents involved are committed to the same outcome. With some strong set pieces, surprising plot twists, and major revelations in the ‘God Among Us’ arc, this closing story is shaped by some of the most familiar Torchwood storytelling tropes in this boxset – and is all the stronger for it.
It brings things to an energetic and powerful conclusion, with the full extent of The Committee’s powers and ambitions revealed, and with the Hub, the city of Cardiff and a whole section of coastal Wales left on the brink of disaster by the cliffhanger. With even God seemingly wrong-footed by the scheming of others, it’s difficult to predict what form the decisive showdown of the upcoming final instalment of this trilogy will take.