Big Finish Torchwood Series 5 – ‘Aliens Among Us’ Part 1 box set review

Big Finish Productions has picked up the Torchwood baton with the first ‘Series 5’ entry, here’s our review. 

With no further television adventures on the horizon, and 2011’s Miracle Day now a distant memory, Big Finish have brought us a new audio series styled as Torchwood Series Five.

Under the title Aliens Among Us, the action focuses on present day Cardiff and the story plays out across a trio of four-part box sets, with the second released in October and the third in February 2018.

The writing team on this first set all have solid Torchwood form; producer James Goss with a host of stories to his name, while both Juno Dawson and AK Benedict have provided entertaining adventures in the monthly range. Additionally, the storylines come blessed with the approval of Russell T Davies who has had some input to their direction and characters.

Episode 1

Goss kicks off the series, writing the first two episodes, and Changes Everything – with a title which riffs on that of the show’s first episode – reintroduces the organisation through the eyes of newcomer Tyler Steele (Johnny Green). Looking to reboot his career after some shady News of the World-style shenanigans, Steele writes for an online paper and is on the trail of an upsurge in racist incidents, related to a supposed Cardiff council cock-up which has seen the front doors of immigrants painted red. His investigations soon find him on Torchwood’s radar and picked up by Gwen Cooper amid an alien incident.

The Torchwood of 2017 is much changed; working from the remains of the bombed out hub, Gwen now drives a Smart Car rather than an SUV and the invisible paving slab lift has become a potential death trap. It does boast a new member though; crabby civil servant Mr Colchester (Paul Clayton) has been appointed to keep Cooper and Harkness on the financial straight and narrow as they rebuild. The city is different now, too – and the red doors investigation leads them to uncover some startling facts about alien immigration.

Episode 2

The second episode, wonderfully titled Aliens & Sex & Chips & Gravy, gives us a chance to hear Mr Colchester in action (although some might recall he cameoed the tenth anniversary special The Torchwood Archive). Tipped off by Tyler, he and Gwen attend a hen night with some tanked up Welsh girls who they suspect may be aliens.

As events escalate, the story morphs into a Cardiff road movie. The pair are soon on the run in a Volvo with the hen and Madrigal, a spoilt, gun brandishing alien princess with a remarkable capacity for drink and a liking for prescription medicines. Through her, in a hilarious performance from Sophie Colquhoun (Plebs), we learn more about the Sorvix – who have settled in the city – and her intimidating mother Ro-Jedda, who leads them.

Episode 3

Next up, Juno Dawson’s Orr introduces a remarkable alien character with a flexible biology, which adapts to meet other people’s desires. Rescued from her situation, Orr’s plight makes for a rather touching story, with the addition of a ticking time bomb, in the form of a collar supplied by Ro-Jedda (a villainous Rachel Atkins). At the same time, Gwen and Rhys are coping with significant change on the home front.

Raising some interesting questions about people’s perceptions and personal identity, there is some great work from John Barrowman here, as he battles to save the life of this highly unusual individual, as well as a good section of Cardiff.

Episode 3

Finally, in Superiority Complex (a superb, punning title), the team go undercover at an exclusive, all-inclusive Sorvix-only intelligent hotel to investigate a murder while angry human protestors gather at the gates.

With Jack behind the bar serving up cocktails and innuendo, Colchester and Gwen work the rooms and matters escalate quickly as they try to solve the whodunnit, with Sorvix politics coming into play as the situation threatens to spark into violence.

Conclusion

Aliens Among Us offers a promising new avenue for Torchwood. While the monthly range has produced some glorious episodes, celebrating fallen heroes like Ianto, Tosh and Owen as well as unexplored eras, this new series offers the chance to tell a broader story, which brings the show into the present with diverse, fresh characters to swell the ranks.

The Cardiff it presents is one radically altered from the show’s television heyday, as aliens integrate with humanity, and there are plenty of questions still to be answered about the motives of these new arrivals. Suffice to say that the parallels with immigration and refugees in the real world are front and centre, and it is a far more subtle take on invasion than the show has looked at before.

Naturally, Torchwood retains its more raucous aspects, with Jack’s recruitment strategies as troubling as ever, and there are plenty of vivid moments along the way – with the action superbly handled by director Scott Handcock.

We have been incredibly mindful of spoilers thoughout this review, as there are a handful of jaw dropping moments across the four stories, but it is fair to say that the show’s capacity to shock, and to play with your expectations, remains intact. There is a particularly unsettling twist, perfectly suited to audio, which plays out across the four stories and looks set to run.

With Part Two promising the return of more familiar voices, both allies and villians, the twenty-first century is still where everything is changing, and based on the strength of this opener, it looks like Torchwood is poised to give us quite a ride!

@IanMcArdell