Review by Cavan Gilbey
Tosh is often placed at the centre of some of Torchwood’s more experimental audio stories. The perfect piracy commentary Cascade, the anger management focused story Instant Karma and Dinner and a Show explored her little seen friendship with Ianto. Of all of the main team, Tosh has the most consistent catalogue of good stories; a catalogue Suckers happily fits in. New writer Alexander Stewart gives a fresh take on the often overused amnesia narrative and mental ward setting by giving us a story with far more human stakes that are more terrifying than any alien could ever be.
Set in a psychiatric ward in Brecon, new inductee Shireen finds the place a bit of dump with the lack of qualified staff, poor facilities and roommate Toshiko who claims she used to work for the secret organisation Torchwood. However she might just be right as those sent to solitary confinement tend to not return, could this be alien machinations or just Tosh’s overactive imagination?
Stewart makes the interesting decision to make Tosh a relatively periphery character for most of the run time of the story; introducing her as an interesting sidekick to the more proactive and feisty Shireen. Tosh spends much of the opening acts of the story in a state of sedation, unable to remember her past or her present as she tries her best to prove the existence of tentacled creatures killing the patience. Naoko Mori’s performance is quite different from other releases, instead playing a Tosh who is far less sure of her self and lacks the professional confidence we’ve seen in other stories like Zone 10 or Cascade. Mori sells this sense of immense doubt really well, often convincing you that Tosh might actually not be getting out of this one.
Setting it before the events of the first series of the television series adds to this as Tosh hasn’t gone through much of the major development that helps her become more confident in the field, instead she falls back to only really feeling confident in her scientific element which does come out in brief bursts when her memories algin and she analyse a body.
Shireen herself is a brilliant character, played charismatically by Emma Kaler. Providing the human angle to this story, she does a great job at capturing the anger felt by those mistreated and demeaned because of mental health issues in a meaningful way. There’s an excellent moment between Shireen and Tosh which solidifies the great chemistry between the two; the conversation leading up to Shireen allowing Tosh to borrow her phone to make a call to Torchwood before being so disappointed but not angry, accepting that she doesn’t think she’s wrong but just confused and in need of a caring friend. Dylan Jones offers a good performance as panicky student nurse Steffan, a character who is constantly eager to please despite doing things which cross his personal moral boundaries.
He doesn’t turn up much but he’s a nice addition, probably acting as a well done self-insert from Stewart who reveals during the behind the scenes interviews that he worked in psychiatric hospitals. Steffan offers an interesting viewpoint for the audience as he highlights the stresses that many hospital staff go through when working, as well as showing that many of them don’t agree with the backwards practices of some institutions.
Now there is an alien threat, but really that is far from the focus of Stewart’s script. The aliens are more so a visual metaphor for the racism and discrimination seen in the medical and psychiatric world. The tentacles have this omniscient felling to them where you can tell they are always lurking somewhere in the background, hidden away behind something as innocent as a filing cabinet or locked door or allotment. The ward’s overseer; the initially warm Felicia, distils all this down to a human element. A character who sees the tentacles as an easy way of getting society’s ‘undesirables’, making use of their malicious intent to further her own twisted agenda.
Many of Torchwood’s best audio stories show that humanity is often a greater threat to it’s own development and existence than any alien threat. And that’s the harsh reality that Stewart gets across so well in Suckers. Put this alongside Lisa Bowerman’s direction capturing this sterile and empty atmosphere and a cast at the top of their game; Suckers is a really great entry into Tosh’s audio pantheon and shows the breadth and depth of social commentary that Torchwood offers as a story telling medium.
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