If Chimes of Midnight has taught us anything it’s that Big Finish fans love a good ghost story over the Christmas period. Nothing quite gets you in the festive spirit that a good fright, and Torchwood audios over the past couple of years have treated us to sci-fi scare for tide us over until the next holiday season. This year’s entry into that collection is from veteran of the Sherlock Holmes audio stories Jonathan Barnes, slipping into his comfort zone of the Victorian period to give us a series of short horror vignettes with Queen Victoria. But this story ultimately ended up leaving me more frustrated than frightened.
Back in the early days of the Doctor Who Monthly Range we would get a bunch of audios that experimented with the medium of audio itself; Whispers of Terror,Scherzo, Special Features and You Are The Doctor to name but a few. Now that same lovingly daring spirit has been revived in the Torchwood monthly range and are often some of my favourite stories done by the company full stop, especially Cascade and Made You Look. A few months ago we got to see Ianto star in one such experimental stories and here he is again in a spooky story exploring one of the most interesting audio phenomena, the number station. Naturally for a release like this one I really think everyone should go in blind so I am going to attempt to speak as vaguely as I can so I don’t ruin the experience for those on the fence about picking up the story.
Tosh and Ianto have had two of my favourite Torchwood audios recently, both of which really utilise the characters to tell engaging and personal emotional character studies which have these great darker edges to them; Ianto’s almost fetishistic need to feel loved or Tosh’s treatment at the hands of institutional racism in the medical world. So putting these two members together specifically is a great choice and worked really well in their previous joint adventure Dinner and a Show. SUV doesn’t quite feel as fresh or interesting as that story, in fact much of this story feels too much like a retread of the character work done there but the pairing are still charismatic enough to make the audio overall fun and snappy.
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.
Ianto Jones, on one of his many routine cataloguing trips to the basement, finds himself stalked by a ghostly presence while he lets out some demons of his own.
The premise of Maddie Wilson’s debut story is shockingly simple; she takes one of our beloved Hub crew members and sends them off to deal with a spook on their lonesome. We’ve seen this quite a lot with Ianto specifically in this range, and they always come out as being exemplars of what the range can do with character development. James Goss’ Fall To Earth and The Office of Never Was are both excellent delves into the man Ianto truly is; just a guy who wants to be liked and seen as one of the team. But Wilson goes above and beyond the call of duty and gives possibly the best solo Ianto story the Torchwood Monthly Range has ever received. Equal parts tragic and unsettling, the story is a fresh exploration of the secret hero of Torchwood Three. Continue reading →
Billis Manger seems to be something of a fan favourite character in the Torchwood community; appearing in a grand total of two episodes of the television series. For many the character made an immediate impression as Murray Melvin brings a slimy charm and eeriness to the villain, but that wasn’t enough for me to want to see him return. However Big Finish, if they are to be known for anything, are known for their resurrection in interest for characters who might not have gotten fair innings on the television. That brings us to the latest monthly range offering; Dead Plates. Manger has previously appeared in four other audio entries but this is my first experience with the character in this format. And based on what I’ve heard here, I may just go and listen to more.
The Year of Martha Jones is the third Big Finish Box Set spin-off featuring a companion from Russell T. Davies’ run as Doctor Who’s showrunner. Recorded in February 2020, but not released until December 2021, this release was a long time coming, having been leaked on performer’s online CVs, but it was only announced in 2021. While certain forums have speculated what kept this release on the back-burner for so long (only Tom Baker’s banked releases, which have been kept back for a number of years, and the missing Fifth Doctor/Marc Monthly Range stories, which were pulled due to the pandemic, have had this kind of a delay in even being announced), yet the only concrete development can be gained from the behind the scenes mentioning that it was originally planned to be a four disc set, reduced to three, and that the same month that this was being recorded, Freema Agyeman reprised her role as Martha Jones in Torchwood: Dissected.
Big Finish’s Torchwood Monthly Range is no stranger to taking deep cuts from Whoniverse canon. Within the span of its range, it’s made Tom Price’s PC Andy one of the most developed characters in the series, saw Murray Melvin’s Bilis Manger return to cause more chaos in several creepy adventures, and even threw a weird trilogy of Queen Victorian stories together that turned out to be some of the best of its respective canon. But ‘Empire of Shadows’is aiming to take the biggest stab of all at time of writing, bringing back a well-liked but not particularly noteworthy character from the biggest (and best) two-parter from ‘Doctor Who Series 2’, Captain Zachary Cross Flane, for a sci-fi conspiracy thriller involving the death of royalty and a potential opportunity for Torchwood to regain its influence on the Earth Empire….
Aaron Lamont got his start with Big Finish Productions with the Dark Shadows audio drama The Haunted Refrain, a story set in a house dealing with the destruction of a once happy marriage as someone wastes away and Quentin Collins is trapped on a gramophone record. Lamont’s script is characterised by character drama as someone wastes away, not taking advantage of the life that they are privileged to have. I bring this up because the first story where Lamont steps away from the Dark Shadows range, Torchwood: Lease of Life, plays with a similar theme in an almost more horrific way. The entire conceit is based on bad roommates, something that every adult has experienced in one way or another at some point. The opening of this audio doesn’t even include Owen, this releases lead, it just takes the necessary time to establish the relationships between Ellie, Seren, and Nye, the three flatmates whose flats is a large fixer-upper. Ellie is stuck home with a hangover, being annoyed by Nye who has been blaring rock music while locked in his room, and Seren is just trying to get to her job. These are people who if not stuck in a living situation would probably be close friends, but the flat just doesn’t allow them to really get along and a surprise inspection from the ‘council’ and Owen Harper makes things worse. There is a dangerous mould encroaching on their living space, the landlord is nowhere to be seen, and Ellie’s hangover is only causing problems. The mould, of course, is an alien coming to consume the house through the Rift and essentially the audio transforms into an hour long horror play in a trapped location.Continue reading →