London’s Soho district in the 1950s was an area in transition. A bustling crowded enclave of pubs, clubs and cafes that had emerged from the harshest restrictions of post-War austerity but which was a decade away from being able to embrace the seedy and the satirical sides of the swinging Sixties.
The swirling pea-soup smog that envelopes the district adds to the sense of it being a place apart. It’s a fantastic combination of location and era in which to reconnect with the world of mid-twentieth century Torchwood. All the more so now that the organisation is facing a remorseless enemy that threatens to overwhelm it.
An ambitious six-part audio, Torchwood Soho: Parasite follows the intersecting stories of Norton Folgate and Andy Davidson who have to confront a threat cooked up by deranged Nazi scientists in the dying days of the Third Reich. As events begin, a disgraced Folgate has been sidelined within Torchwood. Demoted to a dead-end administrative job in Room 13, Folgate is answerable to the no-less-frustrated Lizbeth Hayhoe (Dervla Kirwan, who puts in a superb performance of restrained resentment). Hayhoe is indignant that she was overlooked for the top job in Torchwood; a role awarded to the undeserving Reginald Rigsby (David Troughton on fine form as a patronising jobsworth).
The threat posed by this resurgent Nazi menace is so serious that Davidson is sent back in time to aid Folgate’s efforts. He crosses paths with aspiring journalist Gideon Lyme (Joe Shire), an immediately sympathetic new protagonist joining two of the series’ regulars. The trio are soon entangled with Belle Epoch (Franchi Webb, clearly relishing the role), a striking figure with an interest in Teddy Boy culture that has unexpected dimensions.
The rhythm and tempo of the shorter-than-usual episodes of this six-part serial are a good fit for the material. Writer James Goss makes time for many character moments, and some particularly memorable two-handers. But it’s the fast-moving momentum of the story’s surprising plot that defines this particular Torchwood outing. The nature of the threat this impromptu team face has (very deliberate) echoes of 1950s’ sci-fi pulp culture: the creatures are, essentially, ridiculous rather than terrifying. But the chilling reality of what they represent is continually brought back into focus.
While the opening instalments shift the focus between different relationships, the later episodes move the attention back to the core trio: Norton, Andy and Gideon. The dynamic between these three characters is consistently entertaining. Goss’ dialogue for Norton is always honed beautifully, and once again Samuel Barnett excels in its delivery. Tom Price gets the chance to bring out Andy’s more devious and cunning sides; while Shire makes the most of Gideon’s journey from bewilderment through acceptance to full-on commitment.
The extended final showdown holds true to that sense of heightened, high-stakes peril. Matters end with an exposition from Norton which quietly nods to the absurdity of how their predicament is resolved. It’s highly entertaining stuff, and delivered with all of the panache you’d expect.
The intersection of Soho in the 1950s and the decade-shifting missions of team Torchwood make for a conducive dramatic setting. It’s a time and place that Big Finish could fruitfully return to in the future. Before long, the series could explore how this enclave of London responds to the arrival of the new permissive cultures of hippy or the anti-establishment rebellion of punk. After all, many Londoners saw those phenomena as alien incursions in their own right.