ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION: Torchwood: Aliens Among Us I

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. Spoilers after the “read more” tag!

And today, Tibère and Scribbles tackle the long-awaited Torchwood sequel, “Aliens Among Us”. Cardiff says no to hate, but we say yes to it. Spoilers after the read more tag. CWs: discussion of sexual harassment,

 

Spoiler-free thoughts

Torchwood and politics never mix.”

“Maybe they should.”

TIBERE: Well, that was rather amazing. It’s a little bit hard to put all the puzzle pieces together and to deliver a final verdict on “Aliens Among Us”, because we’re dealing with a heavily serialized twelve episodes arc we have only seen a third of; but, just from the first four stories, I think it’s safe to say it’s shaping up to be something truly, truly special, and maybe one of Big Finish’ greatest storytelling successes. Of course, it’s an occasionally frustrating – infuriating, even, experience, that loves to tease and build-up and leaving you unsatisfied. But at any rate – even if they end up screwing up massively (which doesn’t seem likely considering the level of talent involved), the ideas, the concepts and the themes on display here more than justify the existence of this range. Maybe we can’t yet say how good it is at storytelling, but there’s no way to attack its ambition. This feels like Torchwood, and Big Finish, at their most creative, courageous and cutting-edge. I’m all for it, and I’d probably say that if you have to buy a single boxset this year, that one is probably the one to go for.

SCRIBBLES: It almost feels too soon to call, doesn’t it? There’s so much up in the air at this point. I feel like the closest point of comparison is Miracle Day, another serialized story across a bunch of episodes with occasional episodic concerns, which didn’t really make a big statement about what it was going to be until the halfway mark with The Categories of Life.All we can judge right now is the setup and character work, and that certainly is promising. While not as high concept as “Children of Earth” or “Miracle Day,at least not yet, “Aliens Among Us” has set up fascinating and tremendously relevant political storytelling that looks to place characters new and old in remarkably interesting places, while not entirely losing the delightful identity of individual episodes along the way building to that. It feels raw, and, yeah, rather incomplete at this point, but it’s really already set to be an absolutely essential piece of Torchwood and the Doctor Who universe at large.
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ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION: Torchwood, series 3 – “The Dying Room”

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. Spoilers after the “read more” tag!

And today, Tibère and Scribbles tackle the latest Torchwood audio, “The Dying Room”, by newcomer writer Lizzie Hopley! Seat comfortably, don’t mind the handcuffs, and take some more water, here we go …

 

Spoiler-free thoughts:

TIBERE: It’s a nice one. Not necessarily what I’d call a highlight of the range, but considering the range is about the strongest thing BF does at the moment, that’s not exactly a condemnation. It’s a very effective way to expand the Torchwood universe, a bit like “The Dollhouse” was, except instead of finding new and weird territories to explore, it digs into the show’s past, channeling the aesthetics of something like “To the Last Man” or the Victorian bits of “Fragments”. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it’s a very-well executed story that builds up to some great, incredibly fun twists – with a dash of utterly lovely politics. And dammit, when you examine what the story is about, at the end of the day, it’s about the most Torchwood thing to ever Torchwood – the spirit of the show and of the range is alive and kicking here. And as always, it’s a joy.

SCRIBBLES: It proves “The Dollhouse wasn’t a one-off, that’s the main thing to take from it. In our eyes, I think, it’s safe to say that’s a good thing. Like that story, it takes the unique lens of Torchwood and extrapolates it to a different genre to examine the results. The results are, while not quite on the level of Juno Dawson’s camp masterpiece, very enjoyable, and what’s more, very Torchwood, particularly once all the pieces of the story fall together. It finds a bit of space for Torchwood’s campy queer lens in the midst of a Nazi exploitation torture story, and makes that the triumph to focus on. Not going to blow anyone away or convert them to the range, but it’s nice to come out of the third strong series of these audios with a story I just can’t help but say to, “That was so, so Torchwood,” even in the absence of any characters from the show.
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ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION: Classic Doctors, New Monsters volume II

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 BF’s latest boxset, full of old and new favourites. Also, Five and the Racnoss. Eh, the door was opened, there was light, they just kind of came in and the others didn’t want to make them sad. Anyway. Let’s go.

 

Spoiler-free verdict:

SCRIBBLES: Well, that was a rather nice surprise, wasn’t it? I don’t believe either of us were particularly won over by the first outing of this range, but this hits the spot well. Every story here, really, makes an interesting case for the juxtaposition of their classic Doctors of choice with the modern era and find meaning for their characters, all while expanding in logical ways on new series monsters (whereas in the first set, elements like the ending to Falling Angels made me wonder how much the writing even understood the new series). Every monster here, no matter how different the approach, and they do get quite different, feels like an exciting and worthwhile extrapolation of the modern show in a way that Big Finish really has always provided to other eras at its best. And this fresh exploration of modern narrative space befits the writing of the Doctor, too. Even in the weakest story here, every Doctor really gets a chance to shine in a way they rarely do, using the weight of the modern series to inform explorations of who the Doctors once were, and every lead actor rises to the occasion admirably. It feels coherent and polished and high quality, making a case for the existence of this range that actually has me hoping there will be a volume 3 sometime soon.

TIBERE: It’s weird, BF seems, this year, on a big mission to make their most improbable and kind of unneeded projects succeed. The Ninth Doctor Chronicles, UNIT – Assembled (I mean, I wasn’t too into that one, but it was compelling in its own way), and now this. I’m surprised, but happy about it! But back on topic – this is a good set. Very good, I’d even say. Among the many problems of the first one (writers mostly on the less experienced side of things, a general feeling of rushed production, weird picks for who faces what …), one of the most annoying was they way the stories felt like they had nothing to say, nothing to add to the monsters we knew. That’s not really the case, here – no matter the execution, all of these are cool, compelling premises that do really feel like they expand the universe, and feed into the TV stories organically. Mostly, it’s a sort of laboratory for BF writers to throw some cool ideas and concepts and twist the original premises of these creatures in new ways – and yeah, that’s hardly the deepest kind of stories you’ll encounter, and I wouldn’t cry “masterpiece” at any point, but there’s a real joy in that. Those are good romps, solid action movies – that, importantly, don’t use their nature as romps to get stale and uncreative. It’s a lot of fun, and I’d definitely recommend it.

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ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION: Torchwood, series 3 – “The Office of Never Was”

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. Spoilers after the “read more” tag!

And today, Tibère and Scribbles tackle the latest Torchwood audio, “The Office of Never Was”!

doors closing”

going up!”

SPOILER-FREE THOUGHTS

SCRIBBLES: Rather excellent, all in all. Ianto’s always been a bit of an odd character in Torchwood, a focal point for fandom but rarely explored as the central focus onscreen. This is easily one of the meatiest explorations of him, and of his place in Torchwood. Every character in the series has a bit of darkness to them, and it was clear Ianto did judging by the whole keeping a Cyber-converted woman in the basement incident, but here, we really get to see him stripped down and desperate in a really wonderful way. It’s not quite the tallest triumph of this range, but it is very, very good at what it does, and what it does is something this range could always use. So, highly recommended, really.

TIBERE: It’s James Goss. Surmise. I mean, I know we do tend to praise him maybe a bit too much, and if we keep going a restraining order might be on its way, but still! The man is brilliant, and this is a perfect exploration of why his writing style is so good, and why it fits Torchwood so well. Admittedly, it’s not a revolution or anything, it doesn’t do the kind of things “Cascade” or “The Dollhouse” have done this year, and I think you could say there is a sort of comfortable Torchwood audio formula at work now – the writers have settled into their groove. But eh, said formula is terrific – taking, in every new story, a specific aspect of Torchwood and examining it in very critical, dark and upsetting ways. Can’t really mention what that story does in the spoiler-free part, but it manages to find a new and compelling angle to base a Ianto story on while being utterly faithful to the tone and principles of the show. It’s a lovely conceptual horror tale with absolutely stunning sound work and direction (seriously, can we agree that the TW audios have like, the tightest production work in all of BFdom?), and that’s plenty enough already.

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ASSESSING STRESS #12: “The Doctor Falls” and series 10 wrap-up

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 at long last, this is the end – the last episode of our weekly coverage of series 10. And, to give this piece of fiction a worthy eulogy, we have gathered alone, the three of us, in silence and meditation, ranking episodes through complex mathematical processes (that involved both Excel and darts, as it happens), sharing insight, and crying profusely over a finale that hit, as young people say, #rightinthefeelsbruv.

Thank you all for having followed us so far – we’re not going anywhere, and have plenty of exciting projects to launch during the hiatus! But let’s not wait anymore, and let’s dig right into the finale. Spoilers follow, obviously, both from the episode, the series, and the third series of “Hannibal”.

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ASSESSING STRESS #11: “World Enough and Time”

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 for the finale, all the team is here, ready, sharp, even Tibère who watched the episode drunk (true story – apparently pina colada and Cyberconversions are a great mix), and joined by our last guest of the series, Sam Baker – who you might remember from our article on Bill Potts and sexuality in Who! -. His blog, Sam’s Random Musings, can be found here – https://samsrandommusings.wordpress.com/ .

Spoilers follow, obviously.

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ASSESSING STRESS #10: “The Eaters of Light”

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 this time, our roster is full, with Scarves, Scribbles and Tibère all there to answer the call (we’ve been doing some tai chi together through Skype, it is di-vine), along with guest contributor Ruth Long (who has already written for us, go check her stuff out! Also, her Tumblr is that way), aka the Lazy Cat, aka the world’s leading expert on Clara Oswald, aka an all-around awesome person.

Spoilers follow, obviously.

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ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION: The Lives of Captain Jack

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 Lives of Captain Jack”. A very rich (we wrote more about it than about some TV episodes!), very Marxist, very gay boxset from Big Finish.

 

Spoiler- free verdict

TIBERE: It’s a good set. If you got to take the obvious route and compare it to “Diary of River Song”, it works much, much better. It’s just a solid set with a good handle on Jack’s character, that aims for a collection of very specific, if not very original, storytelling beats and generally nails them pretty well. Really, above all it’s a really lovely homage to the tone of the Davies years, mostly series 1 but not only, with tons of fun little nods and fanservice. It’s nothing spectacular, but it’s strong – and very, very thematically cohesive – work that definitely feels at home with Big Finish “fill the storytelling gaps” approach. It’s a lot like the Ninth Doctor Chronicles, that we tackled a couple months ago, that way – a loving and lovely little slice of Who exegesis. Although, maybe it doesn’t quite reach the same kind of heights – nothing too new under the sun. But still, it’s a really nice throwback, and, with two of BF’s best writers at the helm, it’s an ultra-competent, well-paced, really fun ride. I’d recommend it.

SCRIBBLES: I think the term for all this is “extremely competent fanservice.” Your mind will not be blown. You will not be shaken to your core. You won’t hear much that’s really too novel. But what you will hear is very well tailored to what it wants to be, channeling a series 1 tone and some political storytelling to create a pleasant love letter to the character. The format is a bit like “The Sixth Doctor: The Last Adventure,” really: a tribute to the phases in the life of a character, each showcasing a different aspect of what makes Jack a loveable character and each, while perhaps not saying anything new about him, showcasing the many aspects of his self. If you love Jack and the Russell T Davies era, it’ll be a bit like slipping into something comfortable and familiar from your childhood. It does what Big Finish often does well, a pleasant little nostalgia trip through new stories.

 

Spoilers follow.

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ASSESSING STRESS #9: “Empress of Mars”

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, in what is starting to feel like a running gag, Scarves is sitting that one out. He was out at a cricket match. Little known fact: he’s actually the Fifth Doctor. I mean, he does have “celery” in his username. That’s a giveaway if ever there is one. But still! We soldiered on, and, for Queen and country (aka Michelle Gomez and the United Nations of Whozistan), we tackled the latest episode of series 10.

But eh, we have a guest! A jack-of-all-trades Who that we are only going to refer to as “Timey-Wimey” here (apparently he has a hit on his head, that’s why, don’t go and ask me, I know jack shit about it).

Spoilers follow, obviously. For both the episode and the fifth series of Game of Thrones, because of a shitty Tibère joke.

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ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION #5: Torchwood, series 3 – “torchwood_ cascade_ CDRip.tor”

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. Spoilers after the “read more” tag!

And today, Tibère and Scribbles tackle the latest Torchwood audio, “torchwood_ cascade_ CDRip.tor”

And today, Tibère and Scribbles tackle the latest Torchwood audio, “torchwood_ cascade_ CDRip.tor”

And tay, Tibère andribbles tackle e ltest Torcood audio, “torood_ casDRip.tor”

Adtaytreadrblestckleeltestorcoaudiotorood_ sDRp.tr

[critical programm error]

 

Spoiler-free verdict –

TIBERE: It’s a terrific audio. One of the best of an excellent range, really – maybe other episodes hit harder emotionally or have better character development, but this is a serious contender for tightest, best-constructed script so far. It’s complex, and voluntarily hard to approach and listen to, and I can get that it’s not necessarily for everyone, but it does what it does perfectly. It’s a continuity-heavy, meta, weird-ass triumph. And I love it.

SCRIBBLES: “torchwood_cascade_CDRip.tor” keeps up the pattern of this audio series, which is to say, it uses the trappings of Torchwood to tell stories daring and strange and unlike anything else we’ve really seen before. It’s a difficult story to dissect, at the very least on first listen, and builds a lot on the context of previous audios; certainly, some of its structural tricks wouldn’t work without hearing other audios, like “Zone 10“. But for fans of this range so far, you’ve gotta check this one out. It’s continuing to push and provoke with some of the most interesting aspects of Toshiko Sato, already one of the strongest Torchwood characters in my mind, and does inventive and clever things with the format beyond just the storytelling in a way that really makes for a compelling listen. Recommended for sure.

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