In preparation for the impending doom that is Torchwood Week, I decided to listen to the three Radio Four plays broadcast last week. It was a mistake...
The first play is 'Asylum' and it's available here. Have a listen if you dare, or start listening then skip to the last couple of minutes because you won't miss anything. The plot focuses on a teenage girl who arrives in present day Cardiff through one of the rifts that always flares up and dumps time lost people in the city centre. PC Andy arrests the girl after she's accused of shoplifting and then we spend forty God damn minutes listening to Gwen, Andy and the girl discussing bath water, future immigration laws, crap future slang, and future racism. What will happen to the girl and where does she come from? You honestly won't care after about ten minutes in.
It's excruciatingly dull and doesn't take advantage of the format (audio should mean that your special effects budget is only limited to the number of unusual noises you can make) to include any spectacle or high concepts. Frustratingly, the episode even gives Ianto next to nothing to do other than be someone for Jack to talk to and explain events. Yes, even though the Torchwood crew is down to three members, Ianto still can't do anything other than follow Jack around and occasionally ask questions. Oh, wait a minute, he did do the shopping at one point.
I can't stress how dull and unimaginative this story is. It may as well be an episode of The Bill with future half-alien girl replaced with a homeless Polish immigrant run away. Torchwood is a show of wildly varying quality but this is quite simply awful and possibly the worst of the lot due to it containing nothing of interest, wit, or excitement.
The next play was of slightly more interest but was oh so stupid:
'Golden Age' is set in modern day Delhi. Jack and co have followed traces of an energy field there and are keen to find out what's creating it. Ianto discovers that a shipment of technology with the name Jack Harkness emblazoned on it has been delivered to a familiar looking gentleman's club. Jack last visited the club 80 years ago when it was Torchwood India and is shocked to find everyone he met then is inside alive and well. How are they still youthful? What is generating the strange energy field? If you can't figure it out within five minutes then you are quite possibly a human vegetable.
'Golden Age' suffers from a thin plot and a clumsy script. Whilst the ideas contained within are suitably imaginative, they're very simplistic and are immediately hamstrung by some awful dialogue and performances from the guest artists. The Duchess is the leader of Torchwood India (which only seems to consist of her and a butler and an Indian servant) and she starts of as a mad woman and degenerates from there, it's an incredibly over the top performance. I also noted a couple of lines of dialogue that are not only awful, but are delivered terribly by the actors.
Captain Jack: "I didn't choose to be immortal; I just can't die... no matter how hard I try... and that's just wrong!"
For some reason John Barrowman decided to inject some Shatneresque pauses in his delivery making the line much worse than it already is.
Next was this exchange where the villain's device was given an incredibly stupid name:
Captain Jack: "What is it? What did you keep?"
The Duchess: "A time store, that's all - a space refrigerator."
A space refrigerator. Really? Jack then goes on to suggest that you should use it to store a bacon sandwich instead of people. I hope the bacon is made from space pigs otherwise you could just save money and buy a regular fridge.
The whole episode focuses on Gwen, Ianto and Jack being given a very long and tedious tour around Torchwood India. Gasp as they see - the lawn! The rose garden! The kitchen! The whole episode contains padding from start to finish; long conversations about what drinks characters are ordering, the incidental music between scenes seems to go on for a few seconds more than usual, dull descriptions of rooms, it's an exercise in tedium when the solution to the mystery is obvious. Torchwood India only deceive Jack and co because Jack and the others are curiously too polite to call them on their bullshit.
Ultimately it's an interesting concept that has no meat on the bones, you'll feel like you're being told a once entertaining story by an incredibly dull chartered accountant.
The third and final play, 'The Dead Line' sees an evil phone network send people into comas. Jack is stupid enough to ring the evil phone number and he receives a call that sends him into a deep coma. Ianto spends the episode sitting by Jack's bedside, leaving Gwen (with the help of husband Rhys) to do the investigative legwork. What is this insidious phone menace? Where did it come from? All signs point to the premises of an old abandoned building society...
This is probably the most competent of the three plays but suffers, like the others, from having a somewhat leisurely pace. Still, at least this play has supporting characters that aren't annoying or over the top like the previous ones. Rhys was a welcome inclusion in this episode as his common sense adds something that the Torchwood team usually lack, and the big oaf is likeable enough.
Of the three, this is closest to an actual episode of Torchwood but still suffers from a lack of scale or big 'visuals' that audio could conjure. It's a bland piece of entertainment, it won't engage you on many levels but it won't have you shouting at the radio in frustration.