Welcome to DoWntime’s not-too-regular column, Assessing Stress. That’s where we assess … stress. Or more accurately, talk and debate about the newest episodes to hit the television screen, the new releases from Big Finish, and all these good things.
And today, Tibère and Scribbles tackle the next chapter of the exciting Torchwood continuation, “Aliens Among Us”. Read the talk. Enjoy it. Beware the spoilers after the “read more” tag. Take five packages. Take three packages. Leave a comment. Maybe look up our thoughts on the first boxset. Take seven packages.
TIBERE: It’s still impossible to fully know where the narrative of Aliens Among Us is headed, although we know have some serious clues, and we still can’t pass a definitive judgement on the project as a whole – but as a set of Torchwood stories, this is some absolutely terrific stuff, picking off from the last boxset and expanding the characters in fascinating ways, allowing for some really strong standalones stories.
SCRIBBLES: It’s somewhat frustrating, not having the whole picture. There’s wonderful stories in this set, there truly are. The climax in particular is a favorite of mine from the series so far. But there’s also a slight feeling of a holding pattern, certain beats being held off until the end. Some of that works wonderfully, particularly the end of set cliffhanger. But other aspects don’t, particularly the Gwen plot, being revisited but put on hold with motion. And similarly, a few characters don’t get as much to do in these episodes. On the whole, of course, this is tremendously worth a recommendation. It’s Big Finish doing Torchwood, when isn’t that worth a go? And here it’s with a raw dedication to political fury meaning that elevates the weakest of stories here, all while staying true to the themes at the core of the show from the beginning. Aliens Among Us 2 isn’t quite new ground here, but there is much to enjoy, and some exciting build toward the payoff of the range.
TIBERE: I must admit, I rather enjoy the teasing. It can be a problem sometimes, and we’re certainly going to discuss those, but overall, I’m enjoying the sense of mystery the range is working towards – and the omnipresence of little clues, mysteries and continuity call-backs make it an incredibly intriguing and rewarding object of analysis. It’s not perfect – some characters get a bit sidelined, chiefly Orr, and not all the thematic deep dives land – but it’s unique, challenging and political. Actually – I might take that back a bit. It’s not all that “unique”. That might be the greatest flaw of these stories: while I do really like them, I must say I prefered the first set – because it was carrying a bit of fresh air, presented itself as a reinvention above all things, introducing new characters and problems to deal with. Here, we tread more conventional ground, and while I wouldn’t say the range is playing safe – I mean, that finale! – it certainly does lean a lot more in nostalgia and the classic brand of James Goss-inspired metatextual commentary than in a new bold direction. Still, for what it is, it’s pretty damn fantastic, and if the final set does stick the landing, this will go down as an unmitigated success.
5) “Love Rat”, by Christopher Cooper
TIBERE: I think there isn’t a better example of what you described when you said some plot beats were put on hold. This is a really slow-moving, transitory episode, that tries above all things to re-establish all the moving pieces on the impossibly complicate chessboard that has become Cardiff city. It’s also a really good one, once you’ve got past that caveat.
SCRIBBLES: This story is a slower one, for sure, but actually, it’s up there with my favorite of the set, surprisingly. Because, for all it’s a retreat of old territory for Torchwood, it’s doing it in new ways. Ng, for example, is genuinely a moving plot thread here, with the long-standing tension between Gwen and Jack being paid off in one of the most delightfully icky moments Torchwood has ever done, not to mention one of the most vital.
TIBERE: You really can’t escape that scene – it’s the most important moment of the audio, and really of the set, when you think about it. You pointed it out yourself – I think that’s the moment where the real goal of Aliens Among Us becomes clear: an exorcism of the first series of Torchwood.
SCRIBBLES: I mean, the first series of Torchwood was all about corruption, really. The Gwen affair plot with Owen was key to that from the beginning, losing ties with Rhys. And here, we’re getting a sort of two Gwens plot. A Gwen that we know and love who is better than that, and this unknown Ng who could be anyone and anything, but seems to have been corrupted.
TIBERE: But the interesting part is that the stories complicate that, muddy the waters. Ng is a corrupted version of Gwen, going through the same beats as the original. But, in many respects … She kind of is better than Gwen at, well, everything? If you’ve gotta have an affair with one of your co-workers, surely it makes more sense to shag the guy you’ve shown attraction to, once, under alien influence, and never do it again, rather than having a consensual affair with a slimeball like Owen. And while Gwen ended up drugging Rhys and crying her eyes out while eating pizza, Ng simply talks things out with him, like an adult, in a truly, truly beautiful scene – that initially lures you into thinking you’re going to be witness to a murder, before switching to emotional dialogue.
SCRIBBLES: And yet, it’s a cold thing, what Ng does here. The ending took my breath away. The whole audio is about sex as something weaponized, and in the last moments, Ng has sex with Rhys to repair their relationship. It’s horrifying. Initially, my suspicion was she was infecting Rhys with the alien sex virus at the ending to subtly stop him.
TIBERE: Exactly. It’s kind of an uncanny valley effect, really. She’s so good at imitating the original, but yet there’s something fundamentally off, an original sin that cannot get away from. Almost human because she’s too human.
SCRIBBLES: Which, really, suits how Alexandria Riley voices the character. She does a very good impression, but there’s something unsettling and wrong about how she voices Gwen, particularly alongside the scenes with the actual Eve Myles, when you hear how different they are. Speaking of original sin, though, how daring is it to do an entire story about a sex virus given the much maligned early Torchwood episode?
TIBERE: It’s funny that we talked, in our talk on the first set, of “Aliens & Sex & Chips & Gravy” as an exorcism of “Day One”, considering this was waiting around the corner … But yeah, this absolutely is a take on that very same concept. Which sometimes is not the best – that scene with Orr having a seizure felt very long and uncomfortable and kind of pointless; exploitative in all the bad ways. Except they push it a lot further than in that original episode, which in all honesty, while not as bad as people say, was pretty bad – the sheer excess and ridiculousness of the sex scenes is proof of that, from the opening neck-breaking gay moment, to the mortuary slab sexy times between Jack and Tyler. Tying it to alien rats infesting the city is a nice piece of symbolism, too, I found – it very much echoes your good old black plague, falling into a very Torchwood sort of symbolism, where very Gothic and medieval elements are susceptible to be brought back to the forefront all of a sudden (I’m thinking “Dead Man Walking”, with its cathedral and creepy tarot girl, for instance).
SCRIBBLES: And with all the rift shenanigans in this set, lets not forget the way the literal black death was a present threat in the series 1 finale.
TIBERE: And also seen as punishment from God – that same “God” the Sorvix are fleeing, or searching for, depending on which account you listen to. Another element that this story takes from “Day One”, but improves upon, is the way the victim of the infection is treated and humanized. There’s something really interesting about the main carrier of the disease being a closeted gay man.
SCRIBBLES: Speaking of interesting, there’s something gloriously suggestive in the cure being to swallow a phallic, wriggling living thing down the throat. Though I love how Gwen/Ng has to specify whether it’s taken orally or…something else.
TIBERE: Didn’t the dialogue specify that you shouldn’t chew it, too? That was pretty shameless. Say what you want about these audios, but the innuendo game is strong.
SCRIBBLES: There was an interesting juxtaposition there, too. Duncan, the original carrier, also had to swallow retcon pills to try to get back to his crumbling domestic life. Given how loaded the audio makes the act of swallowing in that scene … it’s interesting.
TIBERE: There’s also something quite interesting in the portrayal that audio makes of Jack. Really, it might be, so far, the most Jack-centric piece in a series that has kept him at a certain distance. His queerness and behaviour are almost perceived as something monstrous – there’s a corruption at work here, through the form of a STD he carries. He infects the people around him.
SCRIBBLES: Jack’s use in this set is fascinating. Increasingly, he becomes a very distant character, almost a liability. He’s broader and more dangerous than ever, feeling a bit like a willful engagement with the people who complain that Jack was characterized differently in Torchwood than Doctor Who. Speaking of series 1, Jack has never been held at such a distance since then. It’s curious, but interesting, particularly given how Orr is being used to fill his role in the alien exposition. I mean, we commented last time how Orr in some ways feels like the modern way Jack would have been imagined, free of boundaries of gender as well as sexuality, the liberating figure Jack was in the early 2000s for the modern age (I guess the post-Orr step would be to not be white).
TIBERE: I feel like there is, somewhere down there, an attempt by the writers to try and engage with Torchwood’s complicated history with LGBT+ topics. Like, the show was definitely progressive for its time, and the audios have done a wonderful job at keeping that legacy up, but there’s no denying some of the most emblematic figures of queerness within the show’s framework are deeply problematic. Jack is problematic; John Barrowman, the real-life actor, is definitely problematic. In a world where you have to deal with the complex interplays of religion and sexuality, and with an increasingly fluid view of gender, the white gay man can turn into a bit of a reactionary figure. Class definitely did that with Charlie Smith – and I feel like that very ambivalent, critical lens is something Aliens Among Us is adopting.
SCRIBBLES: That’s certainly possible. The eternal frustration with analyzing Aliens Among Us, like Doom Coalition before it, is it’s hard to say what the thematic endpoint is until it has reached its last stretch. We can see threads in the air, but we don’t know where they’re going, and particularly with the final twist of the set, there’s a lot of different directions Jack could be moving in. Certainly, he’s being interrogated as a character, here through his irresponsibility and soon after through his absence (note there’s even foreshadowing of his terrorism here, as later expanded on in “The Empty Hand”), but we can’t say what the exact point being made is yet. We can only wait four months for the end of the ride. That’s exciting to follow, but it’s probably also the main thing keeping me from falling fully in love with Aliens Among Us for now: we have no idea of what the whole can be. That does also add power, though: ambiguity is what makes the ending here so chilling. Hearing Gwen beg Ng not to hook up with Rhys suggests the possibility of her still being infected at the time of the hook up, carrying out the murder she feared Ng would do. It’s unclear, and unlikely that ever is how it ended, but it’s a fantastic horror beat that had me very, very scared for Rhys.
6) “A Kill to a View”, by Mac Rogers
SCRIBBLES: Well, this was fun, wasn’t it? I mean, I certainly know in my family, getting ready for a dinner party feels like preparing for war. God, hosts flip out when having people over, don’t they? Everything’s gotta be perfectly clean, the best possible food, so much effort in impressions, all of that. And making that into gladiatorial combat is in no way subtle, but it is totally delightful.
TIBERE: Gotta admit, I did have some flashbacks from some parties my mum threw … Overall, I was a little more lukewarm than you on this one, I got to admit. The central conceit is absolutely delightful, there’s no denying that – especially the way it uses architecture and buildings to re-emphasize the point (the use of architecture was always one of the most interesting things about the original show, and it has very much been present in Aliens Among Us, from the hotel in “Superiority Complex”, to this, to the whole town in “Zero Hour”). A tower as a space to conquer – it’s The Raid as a sophisticated murder play.
SCRIBBLES: Speaking of architecture, I loved how the main point of motivation for “Sandrea” came from the view. They needed to get on the right side of the building, looking toward the “New Cardiff” of the Sorvix investment in the city that, like you say, we’ve been exploring for a while, rather than looking back at the dispossessed of the city at large. And that juxtaposes nicely with Colchester’s own motivation, the view being the only way he can make Colin feel safe, high and away from the new explosion of terrorism in the city. It’s a great way of tying a subtle human craving for a better home into something with greater symbolic and character gravitas.
TIBERE: One of the best beats of the story was, for me, the fact it pitted against each other two queer couples. It’s just very interesting that the ones that feel under-privileged, that feel like they have to fight, to earn something, are the lesbians. Once again, there’s this sort of muted and subtle critique of the figure of the white queer man – Colchester definitely is a problematic figure, after all, with all his talks of “liars and feminists”, but he is so in a much more human, flawed and relatable way than Jack. Focusing on him just after the agitation and chaos of “Love Rat” is a smart move – especially in how it allows the story to focus on Colin’s perspective and emotions. Those are just lovely, lovely scenes.
SCRIBBLES: Speaking of queerness and collapsing such problematic characters, it’s nice to hear Duncan from the set opener return, his family totally having fallen apart, likely due to his gay (well, his own sexuality is never exactly defined) affairs. He has nowhere else to go to live, easily the most desperate inhabitant of the Ritz. There’s so many collapsing queer figures held in parallel here. It’s also a nice continuation of the thematic corruption of the domestic world Torchwood is so used to. There’s so many lovely little moments showing Colin and Colchester as better at communication through the job than Gwen and Rhys were, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t take its toll. Not only is Colchester’s own boss responsible for some of the acts of terrorism that are causing Colin to live in fear, but the building itself that he chooses to keep Colin safe is weaponized, with the normal pleasures he embraces like being friends with neighbors instead becoming a Torchwood-infused threat. Torchwood rips into the ordinary life and tears it apart. Love how Rhys called himself and Colin the “Torchwood widowers,” because in many ways, that encompasses the core issue of Torchwood. There’s endless corruption and loss for the people who join up.
TIBERE: I mean, the beat about having a “dinner safeword” is played for cutesy laughs initially, but when you think about it, it’s the most Torchwood thing imaginable, invading the space of that lovely couple. There’s a form of corrupted, sexual violence at work here – and really, that’s what Bilis Manger’s plan turns out to be all about: channeling violence and aggressivity. He’s taking the very ethos of Torchwood and turning it into a weapon, an energy that allows him to open the rift once again. I do love the way he’s integrated to the audio, really – there are a lot of subtle call-backs to his initial series 1 appearances, from his collection of clocks to having a plan that, once again, relies on perverting the core of Torchwood (and a plan that works – he freed Abaddon, and now Colchester throws Sandra off the roof allowing all the pieces to fall together). But I do feel like that audio suffers a bit from having to pay homage to these past ideas and concepts – while it is a very good story, packing plenty of characters and themes, I’ve got to admit it does feel kind of “business as usual” for the Torchwood of the Goss era. From the clarity of the metaphors to a sometimes odd dramatic construction (I’m not sure about opening the episode on a murder – while it does allow for plenty of tension-building later on, it also gives away the main conceits really early on), there’s something kind of obvious about it. I never felt shocked or surprised, or challenged, by the material that was thrown my way.
SCRIBBLES: I disagree. I mean, that opening murder, for example, is vital. You need to know that lens is the point, because otherwise there is no tension driving the story. If there’s one thing I don’t think works here, it’s not it being business as usual. I think this story does a lovely job of exploring new and exciting spaces and pushing the mythos forward with Billis and the reopening of the rift (which Goss previously closed in “House of the Dead” to close off the original era of Torchwood, so that makes for a particularly fascinating statement on the future of Torchwood). No, I think if there’s a flaw, and it’s not the worst offender in Aliens Among Us at it by far, is that the way the central metaphor’s mechanics work doesn’t entirely work as a science fiction plot logic. It’s not entirely clear how the emotional energy used on the Rift works. It’s forgivable here on the strength of the character work feeling volatile and violent enough to be a source of chaos, but the connections are definitely somewhat slim.
7) “Zero Hour”, by Jay Harley
TIBERE: … And I feel like you’re going to apply that exact critique to this episode.
SCRIBBLES: I have to, I’m sorry. I know you dearly love this one, and I’ll grant this is a thematically brilliant, wonderful installment of Torchwood, but it doesn’t entirely match the strength of its ideas and themes on a formal or plot or character level. It makes a damn good stab at it, don’t get me wrong, with moments like the false start to the titles or the mapping of incomprehensible data logic onto Tyler having a crush, but I don’t think it ever quite finds the right balance. Not to say it’s bad by any means, but the script as a whole could use a bit more focusing, I think. There’s a lot of ingredients all very worth doing, but it doesn’t quite find a way to tie that into satisfying payoff.
TIBERE: I absolutely loved it. On first listen, it was my favourite of the whole series so far – after some pondering, it does have some major flaws, but I’m ready to look past those because the ideological content is just so good. For me, it works in a way “A Kill to a View” never really does, because the central metaphor here is much more layered and complex – it really needs time for you to fully grasp it and sink your teeth into it. I saw it as an absolutely wonderful continuation of that very Marxist kind of Torchwood, the one that adequates aliens and alienations, represented by stuff like “Meat” and most of James Goss’ monthly stories – but taking things a step further, adopting a situationist approach, examining the impact of structures and capitalism on the very space of the city, on the very spaces of the characters’ lives. The idea that by controlling all movement, you are able to perform what is fundamentally a magical ritual allowing you to gain control of a city and the forces that depend on that town is wonderfully disturbing and powerful. People of all kinds forced into an almost ritualistic repetitions of abstract tasks to allow an elite to gain power – there’s a wealth of imagery in this, with gruesome details, from the fancy coffees thrown into bins to pizzas (a oh so crucial part of the Torchwood past, we can all agree) rotting on the ground, and of course ending up with the superpositions of human ashes being put into neat little packages … There’s a wealth of imagery and ideas at work here. It’s a bit messy, and the characters aren’t perfectly integrated into it, but it has an anarchic youth and vitality to it I can’t help but admire. Jay Harley, writing under her former name of Janine H. Jones here, has a really promising career ahead of her, methinks.
SCRIBBLES: For me, it just hits home to my own shortcomings as a writer. It’s easy to think in big thematic terms, and it’s wonderful to, but the thing is, if you can’t ground that on a plot and character level, there’s no point in it. That’s something I struggle a lot with when writing sometimes, and that I’ve been working very hard in overcoming. I think “A Kill to a View” does a good job of that with the Colchester and Colin relationship and the extremely simple metaphorical terms, but “Zero Hour” can’t quite. Perhaps the most glaring shortcoming for me is in the death of Hasan, which is a very poignant idea for a beat played very, very cold. By that point, Tyler is barely even himself, and can barely even show much grief at the loss of the man he was crushing on. We also, as a result of the thematic commentary of how much Hasan is marginalized by the job, never get much of a picture of him as a person or what any relationship between him and Tyler could be, which unfortunately makes Colchester look like he has the right idea in putting his money on “I don’t care.” It’s a sweet idea, but like the opening that promises more formal weirdness than the story continues with, it sets up more than the audio really finds a way to pay off and tie together. That’s not something I’m going to hold against the writer, who clearly has a lot of great instincts and ideas for what to set up here and what issues to engage with through character beats, but the execution just needs practice. Could have used a bit more editing, maybe another draft, to be the special something I can understand you seeing in it. This audio has the seeds of something truly special, but scrapes through into being okay. But hey, it’s a first effort from a new writer. That’s okay. I expect shining things in future.
TIBERE: I’d agree on Hasan being the weakest part of the audio. There are promising angles with him, especially with the way Tyler (yet again, a white privileged gay man) initially seems to treat him as an object, of desires, of fantasies, a property he wants to consume. But it never truly blossoms – they could have done something with a gay relationships being the key to defeating forces of control, but no, it just kind of fizzles out.
SCRIBBLES: I think the plot that hits the right character balance in this is easily the subplot of Orr assisting Ng in working out how to make Anwen happy. It’s very simple, very understated, and very human, in a way this story needs. Because, at heart, “Zero Hour” hits at that core Torchwood theme of an institution, a job, corrupting and erasing humanity. Ng’s plot hits a fascinating complicated examination of that there, on very simple and fairly established plot terms
TIBERE: I think we can both agree on Gwen/Ng’s plot being the highlight of the episode – especially when the resolution comes. It’s still probably my favourite part of the whole set – after mastering her mum skills, Ng goes and plants bombs throughout the city to disturb the structures the Sorvix have put into place. It’s a great call-back to “Miracle Day”, to the revolutionary ethos that miniseries had (“You just say no!”), but it’s also a great way to muddy further still the morality of the show, with a main character that’s both human and alien committing what essentially is an act of terrorism to save a city that has fallen prey to terror.
SCRIBBLES: That was a fantastic way of tying Ng into the main plot and grounding it on simple terms, having Ng win over Anwen by getting her out of school that way. I almost wish there was an earlier scene about Anwen having an exam or presentation or something to worry about that day at school that means Ng really saves her, that’d be lovely. I feel like the story might have benefited from spending more time on that subplot, really. But what we got was lovely. Speaking of tying character threads to plot, the final beat between Ro-Jedda and Tyler comes close to making the Hasan plot really hit hard, it’s absolutely chilling. Making Tyler the person responsible for making the atrocities of the Sorvix palatable to the average people is such a wonderful political conceit, and it’s a shame this set doesn’t lean on it more. But here, at least, it does, and it hits in just about the most amazing way imaginable, with sheer, utter, bureaucratic horror.
TIBERE: Ro-Jedda really improves leaps and bounds over the course of that set. She did feel a bit generic in the first set, but her brand of callous malevolence really hits hard here. Rachel Atkins’ performance and that absolutely fantastic musical leitmotiv go a long way towards building up the menace that emanates from her.
SCRIBBLES: There is, of course, one aspect of this episode we haven’t mentioned, but I think it’s a meaningful absence. There is no Jack. He sits it out entirely, with Orr again left to exposition duty in his place. That’s striking, particularly given the general way he’s been used in this set. It creates a definite tension and sense of the uncanny, which the range becomes primed to pay off…
8) “The Empty Hand”, by Tim Foley
SCRIBBLES: Best Aliens Among Us story so far. Let’s just get that out of the way.
TIBERE: Yeah, this is … pretty amazing.
SCRIBBLES: It’s funny, the plot is wonderfully simple, in that old school Torchwood way. It reminds me a bit of “Ghost Machine.” One very simple piece of alien technology, the number one thing Torchwood exists to deal with in its initial conception, is used as the catalyst for a furious, fantastic character story, and additionally, in the latter-day Torchwood mold, a very, very political one. This to me feels like Torchwood working well within its wheelhouse, and using that wheelhouse to ascend to new heights. I don’t feel like Aliens Among Us has made quite as bold an early statement as Children of Earth made by blowing up the hub or Miracle Day did with Categories of Life, but this story nearly comes high enough to match those, not so much for daring but just for the confident way it ups the tension to unbearable, horrific new highs.
TIBERE: But of course, it’s all made a lot more complicated – that alien technology isn’t falling from the sky, but manufactured by the government in service of a political plot; and its use is allowed by the very people that should lead the resistance because it’s more convenient. What you get is a complete disintegration of all moral standards – Andy, arguably the kindest, gentlest soul in all of Torchwood (and a person very much placed at the core of the anti-government ethos of “Children of Earth”), becoming a corrupt, dark mirror of himself. I mean, it’s a wonderful metaphor – a good man that becomes bad and alienated purely because of a system trapping him, because he has been chipped, instructed to act a certain way. If there’s a better metaphor to tackle police brutality, I don’t know it.
SCRIBBLES: There’s a great point in that in general. I mean, Torchwood began as a show with a very positive view of the police, and of law agencies in general. I mean, Gwen coming from the police force is a signifier of her strength and heroism and care for people. But you just can’t do that now, not in the era of Black Lives Matter and such. Police brutality has become such a hot button issue that it has to be interrogated, so your friendly neighborhood policeman like Andy has to be questioned. I love how cynical Colchester is about him, entering the narrative of Torchwood from the modern world at this late a point in the story. He’s not lived around this trope for the duration of the show, and so he can bring the modern perspective of justified police cynicism to drive the drama.
TIBERE: There’s the Iraq War spectre again, I think. After 9/11, you looked at the institutions of law and order as signifiers of stability (I don’t think it’s a coincidence you had like 150 000 police procedurals taking off in the early 2000s, and while Torchwood isn’t exactly a straight procedural, it still draws inspiration from the aesthetic and thematic codes of the genre), but as the full extent of the corruption behind the war and the governments of the time became more evident (and that was also the case in England, with Blair and all), there was a big rejection of those. And of course, that escalates in a time where the police is seen as a force of pure social conservatism that maintains an unfair status quo. The moral categories Torchwood lived by at the beginning have no relevance now – so what should one do in a world that’s defined by the lack of “good guys and bad guys”, to quote the text of the episode. That’s what the interplay of “human” and “alien” throughout the sets is getting at, I think – and it works wonderfully here.
SCRIBBLES: I think part of what makes this installment work so well is the way it interrogates so many of the core characters politically. It’s not just Andy cast into a dubious light. Here, we get the revelations of Jack’s terrorism, and the plot resolves in him essentially taking the position he was long holding against Tyler, that of working with Ro-Jedda’s PR to make a horrific statement not too different from the one that capped off “Zero Hour.” The best part of that awful resolution was making the genuinely corrupt cop that preceded Andy into a martyr for killing an innocent refugee just to clean up Andy’s image. That was beautifully sick.
TIBERE: The audio works fantastically well in that it keeps making you wait for a full and fulfilling resolution, for a last second deus ex machina, especially when Gwen bursts in Ro-Jedda’s office (using the receptionist as a battering ram – god, I do love that running gag). But no – it doesn’t work. The synopsis says that “it’s the end of Torchwood as we know it”, and in a way, yes, it is – because while the team had much more spectacular falls from grace, this is probably the most morally compromising thing they have ever done: in that it targets specifically minority groups, and people already disenfranchised and vilified. They throw them under the bus to save their own skins.
SCRIBBLES: I think the best part of this set is the escalating sense of “how the hell can they get out of this,” with the exciting answer becoming clear over time: they can’t. This is a case where things do have to change, because they spiral out of control so hard and so far, all through violence against the core, innocent character of Andy. By the time the footage of him shooting the man is out he’s harassing a delivery man on camera in front of a protest mob, you know there can’t be an easy way out. The Internet is forever, as they say. There has to be a terrible price, that’s how you get drama to work this well, and that’s something I think Aliens Among Us has previously somehow shied away from. Same sort of thing that made “A Kill to a View” work, there was a terrible price for its increasing of personal stakes, just on a more abstract and less meaningful level. This story just hits it perfectly, collapsing the stability of Torchwood’s established narrative and characters and leaving things very raw and open for the final four hours.
TIBERE: All possible solutions are rejected – there’s this great part about a student uprising: I was afraid it was going to ridicule the student protests, for a while, but the final reveal that they are being manipulated by Jack and a bunch of different think-tanks and activists group that all have interest in innocent lives being lost was absolutely fantastic. There’s a great contrast between the genuine anger of people preparing stink bombs to defend people they used to be friends with, and weaponized protest, with flash grenades and all – the tools of the rebellion are seized by people that ultimately jeopardize it. Jack, under his appearance of a queer figure of anarchy converting people to leftist politics by sneaking into their dorms, turns out to be here to maintain the status quo, to protect what is at the end a pretty conservative order of things. There’s just no escape – there’s a bitter, disabused, aggressive hopelessness to this audio: what is remarkable about the story is not so much what it says, but just how far it’s willing to push its message. It makes no concessions – I absolutely understand why Tim Foley has been granted two new audios next year, based off that script.
SCRIBBLES: I definitely agree there. I think that’s what sets the story up so well for the cliffhanger, too. Things get pushed past the breaking point, past the point where Jack can be a stable source of authority. Torchwood as a trustworthy organization has fallen, so no wonder it’s time for the glamorous, bourgeoise, blonde vultures to strike.
TIBERE: I mean, Yvonne is one of my favourite characters in the whole Whoniverse, so I couldn’t contain a little scream of excitement or two when she waltzed back into the story – but outside of my personal preferences, it is an absolutely terrific storytelling choice. Really, when you get down to it, the whole of Torchwood the show is a story about the fall of that organization. It starts after the prestigious headquarters, the actual people in power, have already disappeared and perished – and now that we have reached rock bottom, of course, the only way to go back up is to get back to the symbolical origins of Torchwood. To the mix of monstruous nationalism and corrupt, exciting glamour that is Hartmann.
SCRIBBLES: It just makes sense. This whole run of audios has had so many distorted echoes of the beginnings of Torchwood as a narrative, particularly reflecting upon and dissecting the first televised series. Of course we’re going to take the next step further back to its origins on the parent show and the original sin of Torchwood as a deeply monstrous, jingoistic bureaucratic force. And particularly given the whole interrogation of xenophobia and the alien in Aliens Among Us, Yvonne is a natural choice to return to. As she used to say, “If it’s alien, it’s ours.”
TIBERE: A sentence that has an especially awkward impact in a Torchwood team that now has two aliens in it. But yeah, there’s not that many ways to say it: “The Empty Hand” is a triumph. It’s a hard listen – god, those racist attacks are vicious -, but it’s a necessary one, showing the victory of the forces of conservatism, in all their various faces and incarnations, against the progressive core of Who and Torchwood. Big Finish has, sadly, rarely felt that relevant. And if the third set can keep that level of quality … Well, interesting times are ahead. I have no idea of how they’re going to juggle the Sorvix God, Ro-Jedda, Bilis, Ng and now Yvonne, but I’m excited to find out. It’s going to be a long wait to February …
SCRIBBLES: Four months! Big Finish has never had that long a wait between Torchwood releases, not since the range started! Diabolical, getting things right to the highest dramatic point and then leaving us hanging. If I hadn’t preordered before, I certainly would now. This line has us hook, line, and sinker, and I think Big Finish knows that.
TIBERE: Big Finish – they love our money.
SCRIBBLES: DoWntime – we love giving them it.