Torchwood: God Among Us Part 2

Torchwood: God Among Us Part 2 – Starring John Barrowman, Tracy-Ann Oberman, Paul Clayton, Alexandria Riley, Jonny Green. Tom Price, Samuel Barnett, Rakie Ayola, Laura Dalgleish, Che Francis, Jonny Glynn, Jessica Hayles, Richard Henderson, Rhys Isaac Jones, Jacqueline King, Kyle Lima, Ramon Tikaram & David Warner. Written by Lou Morgan, Ash Darby, Tim Foley & David Llewellyn. Directed by Scott Handcock – 4xCD / Download (Big Finish)

The ‘new’ Torchwood, from Series 5, Aliens Among Us and now into what presumably must be thought of as Series 6, God Among Us, is probably a fairly challenging proposition in and of itself for anyone weened on the likes of series 1-3. It’s post-Miracle Day, back in Cardiff, having apparently abandoned the implications and connections of Miracle Day and bringing in a whole group of new characters. By the time we get to God Among Us, Part 2, it’s probably fair to say that unless you’ve been following since Aliens Among Us, you might not have much of a clue what the hell is going on. It’s like jumping in to Game of Thrones in Season 4. Many people you’ve heard of might already be dead, and there’s always the possibility of dragons.

Or indeed, gods.

The upshot is that aliens invaded Cardiff, not through the whole showy ‘spaceships in the sky, take us to your leader, let us kill your leader, now you belong to us’ schtick of the B-movie, but through council appointments, cutting-edge businesses and commerce. They settled in Cardiff because they were running away from their god. As you do.

Now, God has found them. Apparently, bad things will happen as a result, although the aliens themselves seem mostly to have either been killed or to have sodded off along the way. So now God’s here, more or less kicking her heels.

Just as well there’s some entirely-other alien chicanery, time travel ghastliness and human duplicity for her to get mixed up in, then, all things considered.

Oh yes, and both Jack Harkness and Yvonne Hartman now run Torchwood. Gwen Cooper’s quit, but someone who looks and sounds almost freakishly like her, but who’s also the herald of God, now works for Torchwood. An alien mood-based shapeshifter…has been working for Torchwood, but appears nowhere in evidence in God Among Us, Part 2. One of the best of the new recruits, Mr Colchester, was apparently dead at the end of God Among Us, Part 1. And then, he wasn’t. His current status and the reason for it is undetermined, but on he goes anyway – much like when Owen Harper died, and then simply kept on going. It’s Torchwood, go with it. There’s Norton Folgate, a gay hologrammatical member of 1950s Torchwood who pops in from time to time to stir the pot, and Tyler Steele, a wannabe-Torchwooder who chose the wrong path and backed the alien mayor, but who still hangs around now and then too, as part of the extended Torchwood family. And there’s Sergeant Andy ‘Normal’ Davidson, still involved with the alien embuggerances of the gang, even though his pal Gwen has put them behind her.

This is where you find us as God Among Us, Part 2 opens. Come play our game.

Flight 405, by Lou Morgan, seems like standard Torchwood fare – there’s a plane that’s been crashing since the 50s, and time-travelling Torchwood hologram Norton Folgate (played with a joyful archness by Samuel Barnett) arrives to tell the team they have to solve its problems and let it land because it has a McGuffin on board that could theoretically end or save the world. It’s a story of time-twisting, cause, effect, causality, re-animating bodies and not a little what-the-helling, as Norton, Andy and Yvonne try and break the plane out of its inevitable time loop, rescue the McGuffin and ideally not die – or indeed perpetually not-die – in the process. But once you’re on board the plane, do you not become an inevitable part of the sequence of events that lead it to be crashing but never to crash, doomed to repeat a short sequence of actions time and time and time again?

Barnett, Tracy-Ann Oberman as Yvonne and Tom Price as Andy give strong performances in a story that – by the very nature of its elements – sometimes makes your brain ache. It’s like Back To The Future, but condensed, with less kissing at the Enchantment Under The Sea dance, more ‘If we don’t get this thing off this plane, we’re all going to die…very, very eventually’ and quite a bit more reanimating pilot-corpses.

So that’s nice.

As an episode, it’s very involving – it easily allows you in to sample the mayhem and the humanity at the heart of its concept, and you end up with a satisfying conclusion. What any of it has to do with the whole ‘God Among Us’ arc is difficult at first to understand. You’re gonna want to hold on though. Keep listening.

Hostile Environment, by Ash Darby, is by quite some considerable margin the hardest hitting of the episodes in this set. It’s homelessness, as experienced by thousands of people in Britain today – just with a Torchwood twist. Hostile Environment imagines homelessness policed by drone, where penalties range from immediate injection with experimental drugs to death, and where those who don’t give immediate practical aid to the homeless are encouraged to ‘tag’ them with a phone app – the idea being that once tagged they get help, when in reality, the drones arrive with their stark choice – drugs of death, putting the hostile into the environment, empowered by hapless, deceived would-be doers of good. It’s fitting that wannabe Torchwooder Tyler Steele takes this journey for us because he’s always been particularly slick and morally complex, but the journey is a harrowing one, while always giving us a new view on situations most people are uncomfortable thinking about. You’ll find it hard to breathe listening to some of Hostile Environment, and it finishes with a denouement that, while sad, is probably truthful, and will make you think long and hard once it’s done.

Another Man’s Shoes, by Tim Foley, takes the premise of many a frothy comedy – body-swapping – and, while giving it its comedy due, also highlights the complexities of individual lives, and how we don’t perhaps ever know quite as much as we think we do about even the people we like, love or work with.  To tell you too much about one particular pair of body-swappers would be spoilerific, but suffice it to say, two Torchwooders swap bodies and then have a knee-trembler in a menswear fitting room, while their personalities are in each other’s bodies. Romantic relationships are explored from new perspectives, working relationships are redefined, retcon is deployed to hilarious effect and secrets are unwittingly revealed, which bring the actual threat in the box set into sharper focus. Could it be that the god of the aliens is not such a baddie after all? At least not compared with the resurgence of another group with whom we’ve had dealings in Torchwood before? Another Man’s Shoes is probably, when you boil it down, mostly still comedy froth, but being able to see things from whole new perspectives as regular cast members do impressions of the idioms and mannerisms of their colleagues gives some sense of the easy flexibility with which honesty is treated in every day-to-day walk of life – and the consequences that brings with it.

Eye of the Storm, by David Llewelyn, is one of those Torchwood stories that turns a run-of-the-mill Torchwood day – alien power stations turning people to stone, sending out waves of energy and stoking a tidal wave…as they do… – into something potentially Biblical and cataclysmic that could wipe the Earth clean unless a handy McGuffin is used that could sort everything out. From that straightforward base though, David Llewelyn gives us a story where lies are uncovered, partnerships dashed, allies revealed as having their own dark agenda, and quite possibly, not everyone makes it out alive. There are hair-breadth escapes and dime-turns and plotlines that turn out to be cyclical and the competition between God and a group of would-be humanity-destroyers is played out over tea and chat, while Torchwood does its best, as ever, to stand between the Earth and the Abyss.

Whatever happens in the next Torchwood box set, the dynamic as it’s been set up over the last few sets is probably set to change – or at least, if it doesn’t, it’ll rely on a great deal of luck and some possible classic cliffhanger sleight of hand to get out of the consequences of the end of this set. In some respects, it feels as though God With Us could end on this note, and wake up to a fresh new day in a fresh new arc when ‘new’ Torchwood comes back to us. But the ultimate point of God being among us has yet to be revealed and dealt with – or at least, that’s how it feels.

Overall, God Among Us, Part 2, by virtue of the epic arc that ‘new’ Torchwood is on, by virtue of being quite deeply embroiled in that arc, and because the listener subsequently needs to know quite a bit about the past that Torchwood’s had in order for the dramatic beats to land as heavily as they should (and do, if you know the history), is potentially quite heavy going. On the other hand, if you know all the history, there’s a sense in which, as with the Eighth Doctor Ravenous sets, you could easily become impatient during the individual stories here, waiting for the arc-advancement to come along. It’s a tricky balancing act and no mistake. Does it pull it off? Yes, but only because each story offers the listener something in and of itself – a classic timey-wimey conundrum, a bleak look at homelessness, comedy body-swapping with consequences, and a big apocalyptic drama – and because the writers give some of the new characters enough to do. Paul Clayton as Mr Colchester and Ramon Tikaram as his husband Colin are worth their weight in emotional gold, Tracy-Ann Oberman and Tom Price as Yvonne and Andy are glorious, Samuel Barnett’s Norton Folgate is both waspish and en pointe, and Johnny Green as Tyler Steele has probably the most scary, close to the bone tale to tell us this time out.

God Among Us, Part 2 could well fall between the stools of long narrative arc and individual ‘drama of the week’ for some listeners, and it’s quite a financial investment, so if you’re new to ‘new’ Torchwood, under no circumstances start here – go back and put the hours in with earlier sets. If you do that, or if you’ve done that, there’s plenty of protein for your money here, plenty to get your teeth into, and some cracking performances to advance what you know, and think you know, about Torchwood’s latest iteration. Tony Fyler

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