Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Torchwood: Forgotten Lives written by Emma Reeves and directed by Scott Handcock

What's it about: It has been four years since the Miracle, and Gwen and Rhys's lives have gone back to normal, very normal. They're raising their daughter (they've got pictures they'd be only too happy to show you), they're living in a nice house, and they're almost on top of the laundry. Captain Jack Harkness has been missing from the world and their lives for a long time. But late one night the phone rings, and they're summoned to an isolated part of North Wales. The Bryn Offa Nursing Home contains a dark secret, an alien threat, and someone who really shouldn't be there. Gwen and Rhys are about to discover that Torchwood stays with you for the rest of your life.

Welsh Babe: Ahhh Gwen, our identification figure (supposedly) through the first season of the show. Bizarrely that is the only season where I don't get on with the character. I found her too selfish, too enticed by the whole Torchwood world and too morally corrupt (flirting with Jack and sleeping with Owen) to be somebody worth investing in. It was when the writers decided to settle down the character, to focus on the positives of her relationship with Rhys (who she ultimately chooses over the organisation) and to allow her to show some genuine humanity (especially in standout episodes like series two's Adrift) that she found her place in the show. I think Eve Myles' performance improved greatly with each passing season too, from boggle eyed wonder and horror in series one to some haunting reflections in Miracle Day. It's nice to catch up wit Gwen ad Rhys after the Miracle to see what they have been up to. This is the first story to pick up the reins from where the TV series left off so I assume that there are no plans to do anything with the characters at the moment. She's unsure whether Jack is who he says he is...probably because she never thought he would be humble enough to let himself grow old. It would appear that no matter how much they reject the Torchwood lifestyle that it will always come back to bite them in the ass. Gwen always was pretty hooked on the lifestyle so it doesn't take her long to get back in the mode of taking charge and saving the world. Even Rhys notices it. She certainly remembers her strong arm tactics, learning from Jack in all the worst ways by brandishing a big gun and bullying her way to the truth of matters. If they want to warn Gwen off then stealing the mind of her daughter is not the way of going about it. Nothing would make her fight more. There does seem to be an uncanny link between Jack and danger, as soon as Gwen invites one in the rest of her family gets a healthy dish of the other.

Bulldog: 'Bloody Torchwood!' I love love love Rhys! In the first two series he was the everyman that cut through all of the organisations pretensions and pointed out how ridiculous they were, whilst still being a little bit in awe of what they do. Meat was a wonderful turning point for the character, where he was suddenly in on the secrets and taking part in the operations. He's earthiness is exactly what the series needs to ground it. He had me laughing before the title music kicked in in this audio. Rhys admits that he is working for Torchwood now - well he's helping his wife and the organisation seems to only consist of the two of them - which is a huge step. He's a little overdramatic when it comes to he threats.

Standout Performance: A huge round of applause to Kai Owen for managing to ride over the usual embarrassment that is produced when characters are possessed and instead managing to completely embody another character.

Great Ideas: One of the great strengths of the Torchwood audio range for Big Finish is that they aren't telling much of an arc story (beyond the mentions of the Committee that are running through all of these tales) and so they can dip in and out of the entire timeline of the series. The show had changes of regular cast so often that it is easy to pinpoint precisely where any particular story is set simply by who is taking part. The creators are not going for obvious choices all the time too. As well as featuring the main characters (Jack, Gwen, Ianto, Tosh) there is space to flesh out intriguing one of characters such as Yvonne Hartman and semi regulars such as PC Andy. The series is taking a similar route to Dorian Gray, the stories not following in chronological order and thus each is a terrific standalone tale in it's own right and offers something very different to it's neighbours. A great deal of thought has been put into what will make this series work on audio. It's suggested that the Committee caused the Miracle, giving the idea to the Three Families. Wheels within wheels. Nice to see established continuity and new continuity bound together like this. Has Jack really wound up in a nursing home in his late 2000s? There's a great deal of mystery surrounding this character and whether he is who he says he is. The story never shies away from the fact that dementia is hell, not only for those suffering it but for those who are trying to pick up the pieces. It's a generally forgotten illness because it is one that is put down to old age and very often we like to tuck the elderly away in this country and forget about our own dwindling mortality. Losing somebody, piece by piece, is absolute hell. You want to help them but it is difficult. Looking out, they think they are the ones that are making perfect sense. The Evolved are the only species that managed to resist the Committee. Mind swapping is the basis of their society. It is their gift, you treat everyone well because you could be them tomorrow. They want to bring their gift to the Earth, to eliminate judging of the weakest members of society because that might be you in the morning. They see potential in the planet, offering peace. It's a benevolent invasion, in the words of Terrance Dicks 'the worst kind.'

Isn't It Odd: The idea of Anwen being brought into the story in such a dramatic way is excellent, it's just a shame that the performance lacks any kind of delicacy. 

Standout Scene: People that want to make your world a better place because it is for your own good. Every planet needs a Gary, somebody who is willing to take a hit for those around them. He embodies the best of humanity. Selfless individuals do exist and he is the only person on planet Earth that is worthy of the gift of the Evolved. The fact that he is taken against his will away from a life he loves almost seems like a punishment for being a nice guy. Let's not try that then.

Result: Dementia is very close to my heart. I have relations that suffer and in my volunteer work duties I have seen the damaging effects of the illness, the resilience of the families that are dealing with a sufferer and how it can be managed. When the Sarah Jane Adventures tackled the subject in Eye of the Gorgon I thought it was superbly done and now it is Torchwood's turn to take on the same theme. If this had been the TV series (certainly the first two series) I dread to think what might have transpired - alien hosts eating away at the mind and turning the elderly batshit crazy probably. But in the freshly laundered Torchwood audio series subtlety and thoughtfulness are the new watchwords and the Emma Reeves has written an elegant script that takes hold of dementia and ensures that nobody comes out the side of the audio unaffected. It brews up some heady emotions, some that sneaked up on me. I loved the are they/aren't they nature of the nursing home, are the suspect experiments and alien involvement just the paranoid delusions of somebody whose mind is atrophying or are they a genuinely up to something sinister? Like the first two stories in the range there is nothing predictable about this tale, it sets up an interesting scenario and always takes a surprising path. I'm almost regretting the fact that I am going to have to head back to the world of Doctor Who, these Torchwood audios are truly blazing a path of quality through everything else Big Finish is doing at the moment. Great title too: 8/10

1 comment:

Dan Lee said...

There are actually people ridiculing Forgotten Lives because the plot was "weak" and the characters "unbelievable". Would you believe.