Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Torchwood: The Conspiracy written by David Llewellyn and directed by Scott Handcock

What's it about: Captain Jack Harkness has always had his suspicions about the Committee. And now Wilson is also talking about the Committee. Apparently the world really is under the control of alien lizards. That’s what Wilson says. People have died, disasters have been staged, the suspicious have disappeared. It’s outrageous. Only Jack knows that Wilson is right. The Committee has arrived.
Here He Comes in a Great Big Tractor: Well where has John Barrowman been hiding these acting skills? Aside from a few moments of near Shakespearean drama, there was always a sense that Barrowman was performing rather than acting. Something of the showman in him. Which made him perfect for Torchwood because it showcased every extreme imaginable. Sometimes the TV wasn't big enough to contain the ambition of the writers and the Barrowman's ego working in tandem. Audio is a very different beast, there's no chance to strut about, showing off your physique or portraying every line as though you are about to break into song. It's a contained medium, one where the story and characterisation comes first. And Barrowman absolutely aces it. He's focused and committed, he's left his showmanship at the door and he's delivering a rock solid performance.

Jack has been keeping an eye on George Wilson for some time and now he has appeared in Cardiff it was time to catch up with him. Torchwood keeps tabs on all of the conspiracy nuts, no matter how far fetched their theories are because one of them might be privileged to know the truth about extraterrestrials in some cases. I love the fact that Jack expects Torchwood to be this secret organisation and yet they drive around Cardiff in a black four wheeled drive with flashing blue lights that advertises their presence to all and sundry. Maybe he needs to re-read the definition of covert in the dictionary. He's happy to threaten people and pull strings if they come close to exposing the organisation. The idea of Jac being immortal was one of the best ideas that Davies ever came up with because it allowed the production team to torture the character in varied and spectacular ways (I think my favourite is still him being blown to pieces in the first episode of Children of Earth but for sheer nastiness the people lining up to take a slice out of him in Miracle Day's Immortal Sins has to take the vote) and it looks like the production tea behind the audios are going to keep up the torment. The Conspiracy features a gruesome moment where Jack is shot in the head unexpectedly. How can you not feel for him after that?

Standout Performance: What this story needed was a stand up performance from whoever played Wilson because his paranoid personality and wild theories are the sort of characterisation it would be very easy to send up. Or at least make a mockery out of whilst trying to ground him in reality. What a coup to score John Sessions then, who does no such thing. He plays the part as if he believes every single word that comes out of Wilson's mouth. There is a conviction there that comes from an actor that is one hundred percent committed to bringing this man to life with as much integrity as possible. I was really impressed, especially when the truth about his character is revealed.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'We've learned one very important thing about humanity. They love a lie.'

Great Ideas: Who are the Committee and where do they come from? Very good questions but it would appear they are in control of peoples lives globally in the shadows and the population doesn't have a clue about it. The powers that be want us to believe that we are all separate, self-controlling entities and that is where most of the worlds problems stem from - these might be the words of a conspiracy nut (albeit one who is privy to some very real facts) but anybody with a semblance of sense knows that their lives are governed to a certain degree. The Committee are the puppet masters, the ones who have been running the show behind the scenes throughout human history. For hundreds, maybe even thousands of years. Was the narrative of the wars throughout history all a fiction? Were they all orchestrated by the Committee? Wars that were caused merely as a catalyst to give human beings the technology to systematically annihilate each other, or at least to keep the population under control. Doctor Who has played about with the idea of aliens having significant input into the progress of humanity for diverse purposes (the Daemons, the Jaggaroth) but this is the first time that it feels truly insidious, like we are being directed towards a dark purpose. The Enablers are the ones working in intelligence agencies and law enforcement, they are the Committee members amongst the people ensuring that events go according to plan. Wilson feels safe because he has enough followers listening to what he has to say. He feels if the Committee come after him it will only make him a martyr and belief in his campaign to expose them would only grow stronger. Skypoint was going to be the tallest building in the city but back then it was only half built (nice to see the audios blowing kisses to what BBC Books did with the series). When Wilson admits that he made it all up I deflated like a saggy balloon...the idea of the Committee and it's insidious tendrils reaching out into society and shaping the world was such an exciting idea. It felt like we had a permanent threat for Torchwood to butt heads with and bring down at last. So much of the show was the regulars self-destructing, being the threat themselves. They regulars were at their best when they had a genuine threat to try and tackle (The Stolen Earth, Children of Earth). If he just made it all up then how could he get so much of it right? Of course it had to be Kate that was feeding him the truth about the Conspiracy because she is member of the organisation. Obvious in hindsight but really well played out in this story. Kate is Wilson's adopted daughter, one of the Committee in deep cover for all these years, from childhood. Many planets fell to the Committee across the galaxy and (surprise surprise) Jack was involved with them at some point. He really does get about, doesn't he? He told the Committee that Earth was a barren wasteland, trying to keep them away. The big question on everybody's lips is why the Committee would want to find themselves exposed, why they would work so hard to make it happen. Is the Committee in every government, ever boardroom, every TV screen? How do we recognise them? What is their ultimate goal?

Audio Landscape: People chattering, applause, a hanging rope, sirens, telephones ringing, strobe lighting, cocking a gun, a ticking gun, birdsong, cafe atmosphere, Jack bursting through a door (why can't he just knock?), being slapped, laser fire in civil war, battle cries, gasping from water, sirens.

Musical Cues: A gorgeous mutation of the TV theme for audio, taking out the ohmyGodI'mgoingtohaveaheartattack nature of the theme but maintaining it's identity and bombastic nature. Exciting but not so over the top that it screams of trying to make an impact. I think the recognisable TV Torchwood theme would make my ears bleed on audio. Thumbs up to all concerned, it certainly got me geared up for the story ahead.

Isn't It Odd: I really don't have very much to complain about, which feels like something of an anathema with Torchwood.

Standout Scene: Sam hanging himself on Skypoint is far more graphic than I am used to on audio. That is my own doing, I have only really explored Big Finish's Doctor Who ranges which is for a family friendly audience.

Result: 'and I am coming for them...' This is my first exposure to Torchwood on audio although I realise that BBC Books have quite a history with the series. I cannot think of a better idea than handing a series that has the ability to dive bomb into sheer ineptitude to Scott Handcock and James Goss. The former is responsible for some of the most economically told and adult material Big Finish have ever released and the blame for some of the most gripping and thought audio dramas can be laid at the door of the latter. Giving them Torchwood seems like a perfect fit, I can imagine them toning down it's excesses whilst still staying true to the show we know and love and embracing it's quirkiness and willingness to experiment. I always found Russell T Davies did the majority of his best work when he was forced to rein in his love of sex, swearing and intense domestic melodrama (Doctor Who and Sarah Jane) because it forced him to be more creative instead. Torchwood allowed him to indulge his excesses and they were such extremes at time the show fell flat on it's face. Once he realised what the show could be without the tremendous torrent of abuse and sperm it transformed into something rather magical...and that is what the writers of this audio series need to focus on. Parts of series two, Children of Earth and the first half of Miracle Day contained some of the finest material to have been shipped out of BBC Wales. The Conspiracy turns out to be a remarkably robust first outing for Torchwood, a tale that manages to be told economically about a few characters with some lovely twists and turns but with far reaching consequences for both the range and the world. It introduces the concept of the Committee and has a great deal of fun with it, a sinister organisation and a conspiracy nuts wet dream. Wilson is a great character, well written and perfectly played by John Sessions and he plays beautifully against John Barrowman who seems much more convincing and comfortable on audio than he ever did on TV. I love the fact that this story focuses on the nuts and bolts of audio drama, a small but riveting drama amongst a four characters and an interesting story. Torchwood the TV series lead me to believe that it could only be played to extremes and I was expecting an overpowering soundtrack, the death cries of thousands of extras and at least one gratuitous bit of humping (just imagine that on audio?). Laying seeds for the future, telling a gripping story and using it's chosen Torchwood member very well indeed, I felt like applauding at the end. If the entire range reaches this sort of quality I could be in for a grand old time: 9/10

4 comments:

Carrick Nisbet said...

I'm not sure Big Finish's main range is exactly family friendly *cough* Jubilee *cough* Torchwood just comes with added swearing.

Other than that, yay! You're reviewing these! And yes I loved this one too! (Although not as much as most of the later installments)

Matthew Goodacre said...

Great review Joe. I'm so glad Big Finish have got the rights to this, the range has so far been excellent. I was just wondering what you think of the new companion Bill/asBill?

Dan Lee said...

Aw, fab! Now you're reviewing Torchwood! I was wondering where you went ;)

I would very much like to read your review of And You Will Obey Me, and as a second thought, maybe Hounded?

Anonymous said...

I find a pity Joe stopped reviewing Jago and Litefoot