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 last Torchwood monthly of the year. Come, sit, and relax, we shall lead you to your room … Watch out for the spoilers after the read more tag … Yes, that way …
TIBERE: Well, this is not quite perfect, but it’s the most … Torchwood-esque the range has been this year. After a rather uneven and frustrating series, it’s nice to end things on an audioplay that’s neither of those. It’s textbook James Goss: strong aesthetic play that puts aspects of the show under pointed thematic scrutiny, lovely low-key existential horror, and an ending where everything goes to shit in the most spectacular way. As far as the flaws go, well, it’s textbook James Goss. It’s not very surprising, and even though it is very good, I’d struggle to call it the best thing he’s ever done (to be fair, lots of competition on that front). But whereas some stories this year played the card of easy fanservice, this rather feels like the continuation of a coherent and interesting thematic approach. Not its crown jewel, but a great reminder of why exactly that range is so loved – to the point where it’s going to become year-long from 2019 onwards. Plus, there is a level of originality at work here, with a new character added to the monthly pool, in the person of Bilis Manger. This is an absolutely perfect showcase both for him and Murray Melvin, which injects constant unpredictability and complexity into a part that could be quite flat in less capable hands. It’s an engrossing, and deeply satisfying, listen.
SCRIBBLES: Above all else, this story oozes atmosphere. The soundscape is one of the most engrossing of recent Big Finish, an oppressive world of rain and confinement. This is a tone piece, and it excels at that, building a world of intriguing horror aesthetics out of the loosely defined quantity of Bilis Manger and going a long way to defining him. That means that, as a showcase for what the character might be and for Murray Melvin as a menacing presence, it’s exceptional. What those excellent aesthetics are used in service of has the potential to be more divisive. There’s an interesting character story at the heart, but one that didn’t tug at my heart as much as I wish it did, and the plot is even more loosely defined, in service of those beats. But at the end of the day, that’s a Torchwood thing to be. This is the first time Torchwood’s audio series has approached the pure weirdness and aesthetic wonder of episodes like “Small Worlds” and “From Out of the Rain”, and just as those episodes elevated the series on television for being so different and oddly engrossing, so too does this. I’m glad this audio exists. There’s moments I could wish for more from, but if you want to lose yourself in weird, wonderful Torchwood atmosphere, this is hard to top. And if you don’t want that, well, you should.