This much-anticipated second release in the new series of Doctor Who monster-themed Torchwood audios returns to the setting of the classic 1973 Jon Pertwee story The Green Death: “the one with the giant maggots” as it is ubiquitously referred to in pop culture.
For the majority of the story this is a double-act, as Torchwood’s Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) and Who’s Jo Jones (née Grant) (Katy Manning) encounter the descendants of the maggot colony which menaced the Doctor and the mining families of Llanfairfach back in the Seventies.
This is a well-realised and inventive story, which updates a much-loved mythos from the Who timeline to impressive effect. As the maggots were not particularly vocal back in the 1970s, and have evidently not evolved the power of speech in generations born since, this is not a story in which the monsters can speak for themselves. This means that, while their actions can plunge our protagonists into peril, it’s up to Jack and Jo to give voice to their predicament.
Manning and Barrowman make for a superb pairing. They both find just the right tone and emotional texture for the reflective, the comedic and the action-and-adventure elements of the drama.
David Llewellyn’s craftily plotted story makes the wise decision to have the relationship between these two as based on friction and mutual irritation rather than on shared adulation. Jo has remained as passionate and principled as ever, determined that any dilemma or conflict can be resolved without recourse to bloodshed. It’s a strictly observed moral code that the more pragmatic Harkness finds insufferable, as Jo repeatedly frustrates his preference for quick and terminal solutions to the maggot threat.
That their underground lair has remained undisturbed for decades, while the alternate vegetarian protein business of Jo and her husband has thrived, has allowed maggot-kind to evolve and thrive unseen in the darkness. That idea allows Llewellyn to imagine how a subterranean maggot culture might have developed its own independent ambitions.
When compared to the first release in this new imprint, Night Of The Fendahl, Llewellyn’s integration of this new audio with the source material is more straightforward (and arguably easier for the new-to-this listener to absorb). Longstanding fans will be heartened to hear a storyline that suggests that the pairing which led Jo to leave The Doctor, has thrived in the decades since, and that the wild (and perhaps naive) ambitions of the Nut Hut have been able to evolve into a sustainable business. One which allows Jo’s husband Professor Clifford Jones to continue his explorations and research missions.
The titling of the story is a clear sign-post of Llewellyn’s narrative intentions. Despite the mortal peril which threatens our heroes as the truth of what’s been developing below ground is revealed, this is a modern-day story concerned with questions about the nature of exploitation, ecology and “ethical consumption” rather than simply with death.
There are reflections too on the completely transformed industrial and economic realities of former pit villages that were still thriving at the time of the original TV serial. New sources of employment and local income have since developed around tourism, leisure and heritage, which, it is recognised here, are just as vulnerable in their own way to new economic upset.
The story is greatly enhanced by some rich sound design, courtesy of Richard Fox and Lauren Yason of FoxYason Studios. The evocative atmosphere of the soundscape, which captures the sense of underground confinement so well, is particularly important here given how memorable the visuals of the original TV story were. Ultimately though, this audio thrives on the strength of the interactions of the two characters on which the drama pivots. It’s because the scripting, the dialogue and the performances are all so strong that this succeeds so convincingly.