Saturday, 7 May 2016

Torchwood: Uncanny Valley written by David Llewellyn and directed by Neil Gardner

What's it about: What has made billionaire Neil Redmond emerge from his long seclusion? Captain Jack knows the answer, and is prepared to go to any lengths to prove it. A couple of years ago, Neil Redmond was in a terrible accident. His recovery has been long and slow, but now he's back and looking better than ever. Much better than ever. Dark forces have been behind Neil's transformation. Dark forces that Jack has been hunting for a long time. But Captain Jack's never been able to resist the darkness.

Here He Comes in a Great Big Tractor: You can count on Jack to do the wrong thing at the right time and you definitely trust on him following his libido wherever it takes him. When NJ proposes that they have a liaison I just knew he wasn't going to be able to resist. One thing you can say about Jack that is always consistent is that his head is led by his cock, even if it leads him into some awkward situations. And it doesn't get much more awkward than this, sleeping with the duplicate of an ex-lover whilst his disabled counterpart is watching and listening to every moan and groan. Jack probably finds the whole idea quite exciting, not only because he is playing about with the ultimate sex toy but because he is voyeuristically being watched at the same time. It was probably the best shag of his life. And NJ knows precisely how to press his buttons by promising him the best sex of his life without any strings attached. Hang on is this post-Ianto? I don't think it would matter to Jack either way. I reckon some part of Jack would love to indulge with NJ because it would upset Neil so much. I think underneath all that heroism and bravery there are some really ugly desires. The world is made of two types of people; those who like things to remain as they are and those who seek out new experiences. Jack is the latter. He's died so many times but he finds it is always the legs the mend together last. The one thing you need to get up and away.

Standout Performance: NJ is such a fascinating character and played with such restraint by Steven Cree that makes his actions all the more creepy. He's a ruthless, emotionless automaton supposedly and yet his every act seems to bring on an emotional response in people. He is very adept at manipulating people and bringing them to his will by giving them everything that they desire. By the end of the story he exhibits jealousy, rage, revenge, pity, envy...and he does it all without one raising his voice of showing a hint of emotion in it. That's a hard act for Cree to pull off but he does so without batting an eyelid. It astonishes me that Big Finish can edit stories together so well - Barrowman and Cree weren't even in the same continent when this story was recorded and yet you could never tell. Their chemistry is extraordinary, in either pairing. I loved the fact that NJ was beguiled by Jack because he is only the second man who knows about his artificial nature and he will do anything to indulge in him because of it.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'Something physical. Urgent. Devastating.'
'Why are you doing this?' 'Because I can.'
'I don't like all this emotion, it's unedifying.'

Great Ideas: How can one man be in two places at the same time? Neil Redmond had a car accident and it was said that he would never walk again. Redmond went from being a man who suffered a terrible accident to being just about everywhere in the media. The idea that somebody would make an exact replica of you to go and live your life whilst you live the life of a cripple is perfectly cruel. There is nothing to say that Neil couldn't live his own live from a wheelchair perfectly well. NJ is an exact copy but somehow sexier, funnier and more charismatic than Neil was. He is the man that Neil wishes he could be and he gets hooked on the idea of live his life through NJ, experiencing everything that he experiences. Neil still has every desire...he just cannot feel anything anymore. Adding Jack to the already complicated relationship between Neil and NJ tips the balance and before long they are at each others throats. I love the very creepy idea of the perfect mirror image of yourself throttling the life out of you. It's sick.

Audio Landscape: Rainfall, buzzer, cocking a gun, ticking clock, car screeching on the road, mobile phone ring, crackling flames, smashing glass, rain falling, bones knitting together, NJ sparking, fizzing and popping.

Isn't It Odd: With so much emphasis put on the Committee on audio, you start to wonder why it was never mentioned on the TV. Still it is being woven so expertly throughout these tales it doesn't really matter. NJ is the work of the Committee. case by case Jack is blowing their cover and he wont stand for their interference anymore. There's hints that the Committee were invited to Earth...but invited by whom?

Standout Scene: The story dares to stray into the very prickly area of self-love. What would you do if you had a perfect replica of yourself to play about with? Would you be so bold as to take that leap and have a sexual encounter with somebody that is essentially you? Isn't that the ultimate form of masturbation? Ask yourself what you would do in the same situation if there were no repercussions whatsoever. I'd like to say I wouldn't...but in a very perverse way I probably would. Of course this is the tipping point for the story, where Neil and NJ's relationship takes on a much darker stance. Suddenly there are real feelings involved, they are practically having a relationship and Neil is deliberately sending out NJ to have sexual encounters with people. But is it because he wants to enjoy those encounters or because he wants to keep an eye on his new boy toy that has his face? It's a hugely self destructive path that ultimately ends with Neil trying to kill his alter ego when he cannot take handle his selfish lustful behaviour anymore. When it feels like NJ is deliberately trying to hurt him, which he is. And he's enjoying it.

Result: 'Who do you think invited them here in the first place?' Twenty minutes into this story and I couldn't figure out why it had had so many plaudits laid at its doorstep. Sure it was engaging enough but there was nothing there which suggested it was any better than your average Big Finish audio. And then NJ entered the scene and things became a lot more interesting. Suddenly this rather tragic tale of a man who has suffered a terrible accident took a much darker hue, highlighting some very complex feelings to do with disability, identity and sexuality. By the end it becomes one of the most complex audios, certainly in terms of character and definitely one of the most adult ones because it is willing to hold a mirror up to humanity and ask some hard questions. The answers aren't always pretty. That is one thing I always liked about Torchwood, it was never afraid to take a good look at the uglier side of humanity but it rarely touched upon it with the sort of clarity and complexity as Uncanny Valley does. Jack barely features for the first half of the story but he more than makes up for it in the second half, giving in to his baser desires one minute and proving stronger than I thought the next.  The real credit has to go to Steven Cree who gives an extraordinary double performance and isn't afraid to toss caution to the wind and head into some creepy and narcissistic corners with David Llewellyn's involving script. I was pretty blown away by his acting. Astonishing that these Torchwood audios have managed to tell some of the most significant audios by focussing on telling ambitious character tales in a very economical way. Other ranges take note. Uncanny Valley surprises because it is uncomfortable listening and impresses because of it too: 9/10

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