Tuesday, 21 July 2015

The Secret History written by Eddie Robson and directed by Barnaby Edwards

What's it about: The TARDIS brings the Doctor, Steven and Vicki to the Italian city of Ravenna in the year 540 – besieged by the army of the celebrated Byzantine general Belisarius. Caught up in the fighting, Steven ends up on a boat bound for Constantinople, the heart of the Roman Empire. Rescuing Steven, however, is the least of the Doctor's problems – because he shouldn't be mixed up in this particular adventure at all. Someone has sabotaged his own personal timeline, putting him in the place of his First incarnation... but who, and why? The truth is about to be revealed – but at what cost to all of the Doctors, and to the whole future history of the planet Earth?

An English Gentleman: The Doctor manages to convince Vicki and Steven in record time that he is a younger version of the Doctor, partly because he is such an amiable fellow that it is hard to distrust and partly because these companions ask intelligent questions. Listening to this story is almost enough to make you weep, Davison instantly raises his game when he is paired up with two such fine actors for his companions and it makes you wonder just how his era would have fared had he been travelling with characters of the calibre of Steven and Vicki rather than the drudgery of Adric and Tegan. The Doctor ponders that all of his problems back in his first incarnation seem to start with somebody wondering off...although that has been a problem throughout all of his lives, let's be honest. Does the Doctor have the weight of history pressing down upon him? During his first incarnation it would often seem to be the case. The difference between what the Doctor and what the Monk do is that the former cares about the consequences of his actions and the latter is relying on the knock on effects of the consequences of is actions. Saving one life could change everything, what a position to the overtly moral fifth Doctor in. The Monk suggests that the first Doctor was much more decisive man and would have made the impossible choice that the fifth refuses to make, the inaction of which results in calamity for the timelines.

Alien Orphan: Vicki manages to boil the setting down to the emotional level and wonders how people managed to live in these times, never knowing if they were going to be conquered and ruled by somebody else. Vicki is appalled at the very idea that she might be expected to perform services of a certain nature for anybody, men of status or otherwise. Vicki is the past mistress at poking her nose in other peoples business and being exactly where she shouldn't be and Robson captures that mischievous streak in her nature perfectly (and oddly enough when acting up like this Maureen O'Brien sounds just like a teenager again).

Aggressive Astronaut: I love the dramatic irony of Steven being paired up with the Monk but being completely unaware of who his companion is. Of all of the Doctor's companions to land on their feet when swept away from the Time Lord I think that Steven fares better than others. At times during his tenure he had to hold up entire adventures and learn to cope on his own. How cool is the notion of Steven as a chariot rider? He's used to handling much more sophisticated equipment than a horse and there was excellent scope for comic mileage in fitting him for this role. For once Steven has doubts that he will be rescued, he knows that his Doctor would risk anything to find and help him but isn't sure that his stand-in would do the same.

Standout Performance: I want hand out praise to Peter Davison, who is clearly stoked at getting such a rich script or Graeme Garden, who once again aces his role as the Monk. However it's Peter Purves and Maureen O'Brien who are going to get the plaudits this time around because they capture their exact voices from the 1960s in such a way that you would swear this was recorded when they were still playing the roles in TV. It's uncanny. Whereas Wendy Padbury and Katy Manning are noticeably older in their delivery, these two are utterly authentic.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'No man should trust himself around beautiful women.'
'Sometimes we need conflict. Often it's pointless and destructive, yes but it's also how tyrants are defeated.'
'Imagine Roman spaceships! Imagine how cool they'd look!'

Great Ideas: Much like the early Hartnell adventures, The Secret History starts educating as soon as the Doctor and company land in the selected period of history. The Astardi were exiled here in their form and blended into the world around them, sealed in stone and exiled here by those who resent their power. If the Emperor of the most influential Empire in the world is working under alien influence...well it could mean devastation for the established course of history. Staged like a true historical adventure of the early sixties, the Doctor and Vicki are separated from Steven but the plot conspires to bring them together at a dramatic point. In this case it is the chariot race but it could just as easily be the Doctor rushing in to Ian's trial by combat in The Aztecs of Barbara spotting Ian in the arena in The Romans. When there is money on the chariot racing, even the sick will forced to ride on. At this point in the Doctor's life the Time Lords are new to his very unique style of mopping up evil in the universe and when they spot a discrepancy in the timelines big enough they are ready to pounce on his and cauterise the wound to the timeline. Imagine the very idea of the Monk taking on the role of the Doctor and all the havoc he could cause wandering through his timeline and making alterations to his decisions. He could do a great deal of damage and have a great of fun. Listening to him advise the Emperor in all the worst ways is a great endorsement of the Doctor's lifestyle. The Monk genuinely thinks he is building a better universe but he is motivated by his love for somebody he has lost and that clouds the judgement. Mind you anybody who wants to rewrite the entire universe is clearly suffering from a monumental God complex in the first place.

Audio Landscape: Smashing on the door of the TARDIS, an excitable crowd, doors opening, the creaking deck of a ship, seagulls screaming in the sky, a horse screaming, an owl hooting, whinnying, cheering at the chariots, coughing patients, the Time Lords descending.

Isn't it Odd: As much as I was hoping that this story was going to be the one that introduced the idea of the Locum Doctors with some skill, the pre-credits sequences is as awkward and as unnaturalistic as the other two stories (but at least it gets straight to the point rather than labouring it like the first two). The feeling in this story seems to be less 'let's go along with this guy and hope that he proves himself to be the Doctor' and more 'he is the Doctor and we're stuck together so we may as well have an adventure together and see what happens.' It's not great but it's the more desirable of the two options. When we discover that the other stories in this trilogy were just 'practice runs' for the Monk's plan in this story the writer is as good as saying that those stories were irrelevant as he ploughs on and does something intriguing with the formula himself. It's the equivalent of having three Master stories in a trilogy and the bearded wonder making a grand speech in he final adventure declaring 'those last two schemes of mine were never meant to defeat you Doctor, they were just practice runs for this - my Masterplan!' I cannot believe that a trilogy that was designed to see in the 200th release of Main Range adventures was structured in such a retarded fashion. Should the Monk's actions in this story really be hinged upon his reaction to an event in the long defunct eighth Doctor adventures? I liked Tamsin and her inclusion in the range but an obscure reference to her being the sole motivation for his meddling in this story seems a little underwhelming. If you aren't aware of their relationship from the other range I could imagine you feeling mighty short-changed. I am aware of it and even I find it a little unfathomable. The story definitely switches to an eighties story in the final episode, the Doctor coming up with a less than clever technobabble ending to defeat the Monk. A shame because everything before that was rather smart.

Standout Scene: Savvy listeners will be aware that Graeme Garden played a vital role in the final season of eighth Doctor adventures, a villainous character from the Doctor's past who sold him out to the Daleks. Whilst his name has been left out of the credits, JNT 'conceal the mystery' wise, Garden has such an instantly recognisable voice that it is easy for the regular Big Finish to put two and two together. Especially in this adventure, a historical with time meddling aplenty where there is somebody influencing events in a very cheeky way. I really enjoyed that the reveal of the Monk wasn't a big cliffhanging moment but rather dropped in halfway through part three where there were enough inexplicable things happening that the uncovering of this meddlesome foe provides a perfect explanation for. It feels part of the structure of the story rather than something that has been included for shock effect like so many appearances of the Master did during the 1980s. It might sound like a criticism but the story that has been presented is strong enough to survive without the shock appearance of the Monk but I mean it as compliment in the best possible way. His inclusion adds colour and charm to the piece but it was doing very well before we found out who Quintus really was.

Result: The most assured of the Locum Doctors adventures by some margin but it's isolated nature renders the other, lesser adventures in this trilogy as something rather irrelevant and even addresses that they are. It's less of a culmination of the trilogy and more of an example of how good all three adventures should have been. The treats are manifold though; a rich an engaging historical adventure in the style of a Hartnell story, a challenging and engaging guest cast of characters affording excellent roles to the cast, the surprise return of an old villain that works beautifully well in this context and with these companions, the surprisingly charming team of the fifth Doctor, Steven and Vicki and typically gorgeous direction from Barnaby Edwards. It strikes me that the last time Eddie Robson and Edwards teamed up they produced magic (Fanfare for the Common Men) and this isn't far off reaching the same standard. Certain contributors to the main range (Morris, Dorney, Robson, Edwards) can always be relied to generate the best results and I wonder if perhaps they should be left in charge of a range that is shockingly inconsistent month in, month out. The last episode opens on the most glorious of conceits and plays about with it successfully to justify the awesome return of a baddie from the past. Appropriately enough, removing the Doctor from the action has the adverse effect of reminding us why we need him there in the first place (Turn Left did something very similar). The Secret History isn't the best of the best as far as Big Finish is concerned (and it's a shame that Rob Shearman couldn't have been tempted back to write the celebratory release because he is still the writer responsible for the ultimate audio knockouts) but it's a stonking good audio all the same from the ever reliable (and showing no signs of exhaustion) Eddie Robson. I was educated, entertained and surprised. The only story of this trilogy I would heartily recommend: 8/10

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

The Fate of Krelos written and directed by Nick Briggs

What's it about: There are dark skies on Krelos… and something gigantic is descending. Meanwhile, the Doctor and Leela set off for some fishing in the mountain pools of Krelos. K9 has interfaced with the TARDIS and has reactivated the architectural configuration from the days of the Doctor’s second incarnation. In passing, the Doctor notes it could do with a good clean. And there’s a familiar piece of material snagged on the console. Far up the mountain, an aged explorer is in trouble. Will the Doctor and Leela be able to save him and his planet? And what is it that K9 has discovered in the TARDIS?

Teeth and Curls: 'I'm just a freckle on the nose of eternity!' The Doctor is in the mood for a holiday, which can only mean that bad things are on the way. Doctors four and six both have fishing in mind when they want to relax, is that because they have such loud and explosive personalities that when they look to unwind a little quiet time of inactivity is the best possible medicine? He hasn't seen the food dispenser in years. The Doctor misses some of the ergonomic features of his old control room from when he was in his second incarnation, seeing it again makes him all nostalgic for those days. He remembers Jamie fondly, a brave and fierce soul. He doesn't quite know what happened to his friend but figures he must have died in battle. You cannot argue with fate. Nick Briggs gets quite a tough rap for his 4DAs but it has to be said this pensive moment from the fourth Doctor is quite touchingly written and played. Don't think the Doctor doesn't think about going back and preventing the fate of Krelos but he recognises if he does anything of the sort he will be as bad as those high minded meddlers in the Celestial Intervention Agency. Listen to how the Doctor growls with disgust at the thought of somebody attempting to wrestle control of the TARDIS from him.

Noble Savage: Leela cannot see what the point of fishing is if you are not going to kill and eat your catch. She has developed a playful relationship with the Doctor, so much so that she can tease him into admitting that he has materialised the TARDIS in the wrong place. Leela reminded me of Donna in this story, acting as the Doctor's conscience. She understands that the Doctor is wise and clever in his observation that fate is determined but she knows in her heart that it is wrong to stand back and leave people to suffer. And she isn't afraid to tell him. Leela knows that the Doctor could rustle up an army in a moment, all those lives he has saved, all those who honour his memory.

K.9: Important enough this month to feature on the cover, there is an unnatural feel to the scenes that feature K.9 right from the off in The Fate of Krelos that puts the listener on the alert during the TARDIS scenes. It's clear that he has been tampered with in some way and John Leeson's subtle performance (how he can find subtleties in a character like K.9 is astonishing) suggests that something is wrong without the script overtly stating it. When it comes to his master, K.9 will fight any outside influences to warn his best friend. Even though he is the cleverest dog that the Doctor knows, interfacing with the TARDIS is likely to scramble his brains.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'It's as if the dead of Krelos have risen...'

Great Ideas: Check out the synopsis on the Big Finish website. Somebody was having a laugh, surely? 'In passing, the Doctor notes it could do with a good clean' - what an enticing snapshot of the story to come! Whilst I take issue with the method of which the Doctor and Leela are so rapidly brought up to speed with the fate of Krelos (we don't get to experience much of the world before it is devastated), the way the planet is depicted as thriving and then apocalyptic is potently handled (told through the Doctor and Leela's staggered reactions).

Audio Landscape: Explosions, a ship descending, flames, snoring, the old hum of the TARDIS, a biting wind, falling down the mountain, dead fish floating on the surface of lapping waves, snapping tendrils.

Isn't it Odd: Briggs loves telling his stories through action, doesn't he? Whilst there is nothing wrong with that approach this is such a tasty idea that you have to wonder if this should have been less adventure and more intelligent exploration of his very tasty ideas.

Standout Scene: There is an astonishing moment between the Doctor and Leela in the TARDIS where they argue over the situation and bring their unique perspectives to the fore. I was blown away by this scene because it is precisely the sort of tension that this range usually avoids. Tom Baker and Louise Jameson really go for it too, finally given the chance to get their teeth into something juicy and emotional.

Result: 'It is a terrible sight in the light of three moons...' I can see precisely what Nick Briggs was going for with The Fate of Krelos and to some degree he has succeeded but I think that is mostly down to his work as a director rather than a writer. There is a disquieting atmosphere to the whole piece that is world away from usual fluffiness of this fourth Doctor adventures and it genuinely feels as though it is building up to something spectacular. It isn't quite the Lucie Miller of this line but it is certainly along those lines. I love the idea of the Doctor and Leela going on holiday and causing a chain reaction of devastation because of that but I don't know if this was subtly written enough to explore the idea. The first episode is quite bluntly plotted to ensure that by the time we reach the climax we are dead certain of what the writer is trying to say. It's rather like being bonked on the head with the Doctor's mistakes rather than learning about them naturally. The concept isn't explored imaginatively or emotionally, it's simply presented to you and you are left to make up your own mind as to what you think of it all. However the atmosphere is unnervingly maintained throughout, helped no end by the curious use of K.9. What really stood out to me in this story was the very natural chemistry between Tom Baker and Louise Jameson and how so much of the story was told through the eyes of the Doctor and Leela. Over three seasons the characters and actors have developed a fine rapport and since Briggs has become intimately acquainted with both the actors and their roles the net result is a story of terrific interaction (with some surprisingly touching moments). Surprisingly dramatic and eye-opening, I hope the second half can keep up the feeling of dread: 7/10

Saturday, 11 July 2015

We Are The Daleks written by Jonathan Morris and directed by Ken Bentley

What's it about: The year is 1987, and Britain is divided. In Bradford, strikers are picketing and clashing with the police. In the City of London, stockbrokers are drinking champagne and politicians are courting the super-rich. The mysterious media mogul Alek Zenos, head of the Zenos Corporation, is offering Britain an economic miracle. His partners wish to invest – and their terms are too good to refuse. While the Doctor investigates Warfleet, a new computer game craze that is sweeping the nation, Mel goes undercover to find out the truth about Zenos’s partners.The Daleks have a new paradigm. They intend to conquer the universe using economic power. The power of the free market!

The Real McCoy: This is precisely the sort of thing I think they should have been doing in 1987, a contemporary setting and a Doctor and companion team that are actively driving the plot in smart ways. Instead what we got was a clownish Doctor looking like a tramp bouncing around a quarry with a reject from Dynasty, trying to pull off her explosion of ginger curls and avoiding rainbow bubbles littering sad skeletons over the surface of the planet. After the PR fiasco that was Trial of a Time Lord the show needed to remind the audience that it could be taken seriously again and this kind of sharp characterisation for the Doctor and Mel would have been just the ticket. I love the idea of the two of them working independently to uncover the mystery of War Fleet and the Xenos Corporation, the Doctor dressing as a businessman and doing the capitalist bit and Mel's technological knowledge being brought to the fore. Listen to how McCoy growls that a Dalek is a bubbling lump of hate, he sounds as though he loathes to even mention them. When the Daleks don't offer him a reception party he is appalled, he expects to be expected! Does the Doctor have a right to complain if he isn't interested in politics? Does the Doctor know better than the average man on the street? The Daleks think that without the Doctor their enemies will give up all hope and stop resisting, they have truly bought into the myth that he is symbol for their cause. Alone and defenceless, that is when he is at his most dangerous. He gets by with a little help from his friends.

Computer Programmer: The Doctor suggests Mel avoids bumping into somebody she knows since they have landed one year into her future - it could lead to some awkward questions. Mel, a computer programmer from Pease Pottage scores 'fairly adequate' at computer games. But then she doesn't like to be the sort of person that is good at computer games.  It would seem that 'have you tried turning it off an on again?' is the standard IT response the universe over. In Mel's experience things that seem too good to be true usually are. Mel never gives up, she never surrenders and she is smart enough to think outside the box and play the Daleks at their own game, by refusing to behave in a way that a character in a computer game would. The best computer hacker there is, apparently. She can't see an international network catching on somehow and declines Brinsley's offer to try it out.

Standout Performance: Mary Conlon gives Sheila Handcock a run for her money as most terrifying impersonation of Margaret Thatcher in Doctor Who. Her closing line is just perfect. Prime Minister of the Daleks? She has all the credentials.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'Ambition is not a dirty word' - the 80s in a nutshell. Mind you 'All we want is a deal' from strikers to the management is another familiar trope of the decade. 'Would you a Prawn Cocktail?' from a Dalek pretty much completes the eighties love-in.
'Daleks invest and return!'
'Given we offer full employment and prosperity, even a trade unionist would be hard pressed to find something to moan about' - Skaro, living the entrepreneurial dream.
'Good grief. Who needs Daleks when you have politicians?'
'You're taking innocent children and using them as your killers?' 'They enjoy it. They find it amusing. Addictive. They are as good as Daleks.'
'People don’t care. They don’t care if their petrol is provided by an oppressive regime, or if their oranges are grown by a country with apartheid. They just want to be allowed to get on with their lives' - a frightening truth when it comes to the masses in a progressive society, I'm afraid.
'Too much hate will kill you, every time.'

Great Ideas: How's this for potent imagery? A skyscraper slap bang in the middle of London in the shape of a Dalek. Bang, there's your story right there. They popped it there just to get the Doctor's attention, assuming that he would be up to something terribly devious. There is a new computer game on the market which is taking the world by storm and it is utterly anachronistic. An automatic conveyor belt producing a mass market product, 100% productivity and no human labour to hamper profitability, that's the capitalist way. The Daleks are manufacturing the games on another world and sending them to Earth. In the future the Earth will be competing against thousands of other worlds in the intergalactic market and it is going to survive in the cutthroat market of universal capitalism it is going to need financial investment, which is what the Daleks are offering. The Daleks will deal with the UK and the UK will act on behalf of the Earth, naturally. It's always fun to see the show pushing the Daleks out of their comfort zone of simply gliding around killing people and having the Daleks get a strategic foothold in the UK rather than punching their way through with military might is just as terrifying as their suspect benevolence in Power of the Daleks. In both cases they are exploiting humanity's greed to achieve their aims, a powerful statement about our need to always come out on top. The vision of the UK's future as glittering skyscrapers, palm trees and swimming pools (basically the image of Paradise Towers before it fell into wrack and ruin) is the capitalist dream. The reality is that under Dalek subjugation the Earth will become factories and ruins and chain gangs, the sort of future we saw in The Dalek Invasion of Earth and Day of the Daleks. Warfleet isn't simply a game but a direct interface between humanity and the Dalek war, the people playing the game are guiding Dalek drone ships against their enemies. Somehow I think that if the kids knew the reality of the situation, they would be even more hungry to play. Warfleet is the ultimate computer game where humanity is free to kill without being killed. It's terrifying. Celia is a stand-in Margaret Thatcher ('you can't negotiate with rebels'), the mouthpiece for a whole generation of industrialists that share the Dalek ideals. Brinsley playing the game and crying 'Exterminate' with joy is a supremely chilling moment, a moment when you realise that with very little coaxing humanity can be made to behave just like the Daleks. I wish we could put Celia's supposition to the test - that the majority voice of Britain would accept the Daleks offer to turn their world into a productive, industrialist landscape. I'm almost willing to bet she is right if it meant a guarantee of food in their mouths, power for their devices, heat and light for their homes. What's even cooler than a skyscraper in the shape of a Dalek being built in the middle of London? Mel transporting said skyscraper to Skaro! A giant Dalek shaped building appearing in the city? Reminds me of a visual in Asylum of the Daleks...  If the Daleks are brainwashing people to behave like them...what happens if that technology is turned back on them? All that Dalek rage and paranoia, raged to the power of ten. So much fear an anger they will literally blow their tops. Poor Michael Fish, embarrassed for the rest of his career by the Daleks.

Audio Landscape: There's no denying that Wilfred Acosta captures that energy and excitement that comes with the best computer games. The pacing helps too but the music and sound effects combine to make the action scenes explode into life with some punch. Cars passing, music thumping, cafe atmosphere, writing on paper, protestors, lift descending, water fountain, Dalek heartbeat, drones firing, extermination blasts, playing Warfleet, ships screaming through space, exchanging fire, growling taxi driving off, an explosion in a building, the internet dial up connection.

Isn't it Odd: Because they are essentially characters in a computer game, the Thals are not given much characterisation beyond what you would expect in that scenario. They're violent and reactionary and lack shades of grey. 'We must fight to the last Thal!' is the sort of dialogue we're talking about here.

Standout Scene: I really enjoyed the revelation that whilst the Daleks scheme is typically overcomplicated, it is a plan within a plan to leave Skaro undefended and open to attack. You have to give it to the anti-Dalek league, they think big. Plus the end of part three deserves a mention, just because it's so fucked up to hear Mel crying out 'Exterminate!' like a crazed Dalek.

Result: 'It is our new paradigm! To extend our influence through economic power! The power of free market!' Remember when I said that Jonathan Morris had written the type of giddy and creatively fertile Dalek tale that Douglas Adams might have concocted in The Curse of Davros? Well he's done it again in We Are the Daleks, possibly even moreso because this has a very intelligent point to make about the worst aspects of humanity and uses humour as skilful weapon to get that point across. Human greed, or rather capitalism can be both our salvation and our downfall depending on how far we let it dominate our lives and the Daleks exploit that need to have more to gain a foothold on Earth and have their wicked way. The terrifying truth that Jonny Morris has uncovered is that if you strip away our humanity and focus on our capitalist nature ('the favoured elite rules and the rest of the inhabitants become a slave labour force'), we are the Daleks. Elitist attitudes, computer games exploding on the market, worker strikes and a vision of chrome and glass...somehow Morris manages to out eighties the Doctor Who of the period and offer a peak into a world where ruthless capitalist ideals thrived, both as a dream and a nightmare. If I'm making this sound too dry then comfort yourself in the knowledge that We Are the Daleks also flaunts the gloriously offbeat premise of a computer game that is directly plugged into the Dalek War that has taken Great Britain by storm. In fact I think I would have preferred it if the story had taken a less entertaining and more scathing approach to it's psychological exploration of our baser instincts but there's no denying that the swift action and bouncy dialogue provide a rollicking good time. We Are the Daleks kicks off a new trilogy with great verve, it's wildly entertaining but like the best Doctor Who stories it also has something to say. It's a delight to have Sylvester McCoy and Bonnie Langford back together again too, both the Doctor and Mel get a strong role in this unusual and quirky story. Score one for the main range: 8/10

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Something Borrowed written by Phil Ford and directed by Ashley Way

What’s it about: On the morning of Gwen’s wedding she wakes up heavily pregnant…

Hunky Hero: Proving his sexual loyalties to be divided he moves from Gwen to Ianto on the dance floor. Daring to publicly expose his love for Gwen is just wrong and hanging onto Ianto but pining after Mrs Williams makes it look as though the butler is jut a stopgap. Either way Jack comes off looking like a right bastard.

Welsh Babe: This is the week that Gwen is getting married so naturally something terrifying and otherworldly had to befall her. Heaven forbid this show attempted a straight drama at any point! Mind you Gwen’s reaction to her massive stomach is perfectly timed by Eve Myles so for once it’s a gag that is given some time to brew and is pulled off with surprising success. Personally given the amount of flirting (and we’re talking about the eye locking equivalent of dry humping) that Gwen and Jack have done over the past season and a half she doesn’t deserve to be tying the knot with somebody as fabulous as Rhys. Beyond watching the film Alien and panicking a great deal can you even imagine the psychological ramifications of having a giant alien egg incubating inside your stomach? Did I just write that sentence? I feel sorry for Gwen’s father having the knowledge of Torchwood dumped upon him on her wedding day. Surely there was a better time to have this conversation? Gwen and Rhys’ assembled guests comes to no more than 30…surely they know more people than that? Unbelievably Gwen looks shocked (but not in an unpleasant way) when Jack lives up to the cliché and comes rushing in to stop the wedding – was she hoping he would whisk in and sweep her off her feet? What a cow. I think it is supposed to be a boost for his ego Gwen’s speech about Rhys being the only man who is willing to marry her when the possibility of being impregnated by an alien exists makes it sound as though she has settled on the one man daft enough to see past all of her flaws. Of which there are many. The scene between Jack and Gwen in front of the mirror made me feel physically sick – how could she say those things to somebody else on her wedding day? She’s the sort of woman that gives marriage a bad name. Had it been Gwen who was the zombie I could forgive them but as usual the heroine of Torchwood is proven to be morally corrupt. It doesn’t matter that Gwen and Rhys get married and are smiling all over because this episode has proven that her heart is still alienated. Wouldn’t it have been nice if just for once this show could make an expression of monogamous love? Jack and Gwen are so apparently obsessed with each other they even have a moment together on the dance floor in front of all the assembled wedding guests. The idea seems to be that this is the two of them looking longingly into each others eyes for one last time before she heads off to her husband and never looks back. But all that should have been tied up long before the wedding. Its not bittersweet, it adds a touch of dirtiness to the proceedings. And that’s annoying when this could have been really heart-warming stuff.

Big Softie: Entirely selfless to a point, Rhys doesn’t care how much money they have poured into the wedding because he just wants to make sure that his bride is safe.

Jack’s Gang: Owen admits that weddings aren’t really for him but I think the truth might be that he finds it awkward being around Rhys given he was screwing his bride just one year earlier. He would do well to keep his distance, if only to maintain a modicum of respect. Tosh might be as dull as dishwater (is dishwater really that dull?) because any character who is as nice as she is isn’t exactly going to set the screen on fire but the writers have latched onto a sense of forlorn sadness that she will forever be a spinster in season two that does make you feel for her. Whilst she is congratulating Gwen on her wedding day there is a bitter sentiment behind the smile. I rather like that. 

The Good: The zombie attacks are very nicely directed, the film sped up to give it a real sense of frenzied violence. Gwen’s mum and dad (with understated performances from Sharon Morgan & William Thomas) are so damn normal. I was half expecting them to be as wild and melodramatic as their daughter. Nerys Hughes turning up was a surprise (can you imagine more ideal casting for Rhys’ mother?) and the unspoken rivalry between the two sets of parents is beautifully observed. The gag of the alien baby acting like a ticking time bomb that threatens to go off during the ceremony provides a number of moments that are both tense and funny – not the easiest of combinations to pull off. Bodies with guts ripped out discovered, a zombie attacking the wedding party and leaping through a window, Gwen packing a gun away in her bouquet and blowing away a zombie version of the mother in law - just a normal day in the life for Torchwood! Its all completely gaga but for once that’s okay because this is a comedy so everything being turned up to madness factor ten is expected, rather than a nasty surprise. Jack screaming ‘get back you ugly bitch!’ at Rhys’ mother shouldn’t be funny but it really is. The alien scalpel has been well established earlier in the season as being about as reliable as a chocolate teacup which makes Rhys’ attempts to cut free the alien baby at the climax very anxious.

The Bad: Most shows would open on a sexy and stylish night club to introduce Gwen’s hen do but not Torchwood. As if to accentuate that Wales isn’t a hip place to hang out we wind up in a cheesy wine bar with a tiny dance floor with a wealth of middle aged women grooving their thing to some pretty horrendous music. Yes this is sexy stuff. Upon closer inspection the make up for the pregnant stomach is decidedly rubbery looking. Talk about immaculate conception – how could anybody (least of all those who saw her only the night before) buy into the idea that Gwen has suddenly fallen heavily pregnant overnight? Its one thing to ask the cast of Torchwood to believe in these truly bizarre concepts (like the many sex-obsessed aliens out there) but quite another to expect the periphery (let’s say ‘normal’) characters to do so as well. Its exactly the same venue that Sarah Jane had her (almost) wedding at but I better not start comparing the two shows again because it might expose my favouritism between one show and the other (hint – look at which section of the review this sentence is in). I realise her hormones are unbalanced but Gwen telling her father that the baby isn’t Rhys’ is one of the stupidest things she has ever done. Are they saving money for something spectacular at the end of the season because Tosh and Banana Boat are bonded together in what looks like a web of black refuse sacks. Rhys going at his zombie mother with a chainsaw is insane, almost as crazy as Jack blowing her up with a gun the size of Wales.

The Shallow Bit: A lot of sentences in these Torchwood reviews start with ‘only Torchwood would…’ Only Torchwood would have one of the grooms guests seduced, have his hairy blamange of a gut exposed as a gorgeous babe kisses him all over and then have said babe turn into a zombie and literally eat into him. Bleugh. Although it is odd for Torchwood to shy away from the guts on display as it does here. Don’t tell me this show is developing a sense of good taste?

Foreboding: Did the handling of Gwen’s pregnancy here encourage Russell T Davies to have her experience the real thing in the next season?

Result: A Torchwood comedy? Aren’t they all? Actually there is something enjoyablyShaun of the Dead about this black comedy featuring zombies crashing Gwen’s wedding that helps it to pass muster. My only real complaint is the lack of subtlety in any respect (which can be found even in the best of zombie features, especially The Walking Dead) but then why change the habit of a lifetime when that is this shows modus operandi? I’ve noticed that I write these Torchwood reviews with a really sarcastic tone but in many ways I think that is the only way you can approach a show that happily features a bloodbath on the lead characters wedding day and turns the mother in law into a slavering zombie. Phil Ford’s record is decidedly schizophrenic; he’s the meat and potatoes writer on Sarah Jane, occasionally producing magic but more often than not turning out solid, if unspectacular scripts that are buoyed by confident directors and his one joint credit on Doctor Who is perhaps one of the strongest ever adventures since the series returned (The Waters of Mars). I had no idea what to expect from his Torchwood scribblings and to his credit he has tried to do something very different and quirky whilst still remaining focused on a tone that is undeniably Torchwood. The pregnancy storyline defies belief but there are some fun moments along the way (especially involving the duelling parents) although the dialogue is nowhere near as witty or clever as it should be for a wedding episode. Everything bubbles along quite understatedly for the first 30 minutes (or as understated as an episode with this premise can possibly be) but all hell breaks loose before the end and soon we are back in madder than a box of frogs Torchwood territory. Above average Torchwood, which makes this pretty middling television for any other show: 6/10