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, let us pray together to our Lord from Space, for Tibère and Scribbles are talking about the first full-cast Torchwood set, “Believe”, written by Guy Adams. Grab your scalpel and your expensive books, it’s time for some religion. And some spoilers after the “read more” tag, as per usual.
TIBERE: There’s loads to unpack in that one. I think that the best praise I can give it is when it comes to its structure. It’s a very polished, very well-crafted piece of fiction – Guy Adams has proven, earlier this year with Vienna: Retribution that he’s really, really good with these three-parts epics, and that holds true here. It’s not quite as good, and we’re gonna get into why soon, but it’s still a really engrossing experience: there’s something wonderful in piecing together the plot, which is told to us out-of-order, scenes taking a new, sometimes radical meaning as they are inserted into the narrative in different and sometimes contradictory ways. So, as set, it coheres. As a crossover … Well, people that want to buy to get the team interacting together might be disappointed – they spend most of their time apart, but really, I don’t mind that. Torchwood always was at its best in small, intimate interactions, and I do feel like all characters get their share of the spotlight. Sometimes in problematic ways, but it does find something to say about all its leads, which is pretty neat in a set that has to juggle five main characters! Finally, there’s considering it, well, as a piece of the rebooted Torchwood range. And then, well, there are bits that really work, and some that feel a bit odd. It’s certainly engaging, and rooted deeply into the aesthetics that have been established since 2015 while finding new angles to tackle them – but it does feel a bit too ambitious for its own good sometimes, and there are many thematic dead ends that could have been developed more. Really, a set like that is an event more like than anything – and I think it hits the mark on that front. The story itself maybe won’t enter the annals as an all-time great, but there’s still a lot to appreciate (well, appreciate – it’s a very, very uncomfortable story, and I would advise you to think about it if certain topics are triggers for you). That’s my hot take, pretty much. Believe it or not.
SCRIBBLES: I have a lot of admiration for this set. It is unafraid of controversy, which it is sure to generate, and tackles a number of phenomenal and relevant themes that are very much in connection with the ongoing pulse of the world. This is a three hour explanation of faith, transhumanism, and sexual coercion and consent. All three are also themes that are particularly important to me, two of which having deep personal connections to my life, and one being a casual academic interest. Unfortunately, I must say, I did not appreciate the way all those themes were handled. Author Guy Adams strives to say interesting things about vital, raw topics, but they do not all land where I wish they would. I was nearly unable to review this set, and briefly considered not even finishing listening to it, because it is a very triggering and dark story that plays risky games with aforementioned topics. I appreciate the boldness and vision, but I think the success of these musings varies greatly, and is in some cases fairly painful for me. It also has some odd impacts on some of the characterization, which is sure to be controversial. I only want to support the drive and ambition that leads to a writer feeling willing to engage with important issues, and I think Torchwood has often been good at that, but compared to a recent dark story, “Tagged,” I don’t think this has quite the same sympathy, understanding and deftness. “Believe” is a good attempt, but a very flawed one.