Torchwood: Goodbye Piccadilly – Tom Price, Samuel Barnett, Lucy Sheen, Liam Hourican, Wilf Scolding & Rachel Atkins. Written by James Goss & Directed by Scott Handcock – CD / Download (Big Finish)
The last time Norton Folgate, Torchwood operative from 1960s London appeared in Sergeant Andy Davidson’s life in Ghost Mission, it was to act as a ‘Torchwood assessor’ and a kind of hologram. Before long, there was alien madness, goo, squeamishness, bodies and all kinds of typical modern Torchwood nastiness.
This time, it’s Andy who’s been zapped back through time, in all his fleshy reality, and the two begin this story butt naked, handcuffed together on a bed, with a corpse in the room and the building on fire.
So – typical Wednesday in Torchwood, then.
Goodbye Piccadilly is a joyful, energetic re-pairing of Samuel Barnett as Norton and Tom Price as Andy, the perennial Torchwood bridesmaid who, in recent years, has played more and more of a part in the affairs of the worst kept secret in Cardiff. When Norton came to modern-day Cardiff, it was as something of a will o’ the wisp, a menace, a tempter who might just possibly have been on the side of the angels – but who you probably wouldn’t bet on. The mess they got into was zippy and zingy and frequently nearly fatal, and it dashed along all on all its cylinders, making listeners clamour for more.
Well – here’s more.
There’s certainly plenty of zip here, but on Norton’s home territory there’s rather more reality and – dare we say it – rather less fun. Norton takes Andy on a necessary tour of bits of Sixties London – a brothel-cum-life-drawing class, a psychic alien dancer, a horrifically bad but hunky sculptor’s studio and more – all apparently to remedy a fairly standard sci-fi trope that strikes Andy not long after he arrives in the Sixties. Turns out he has something in his brain that other people need and so Andy Davidson becomes the key to a plot by a particularly repellent mob boss.
The run around London, during which Andy is required (Hand to God, love, it’s necessary for the art) to get naked very much more than he would be in the 21st century, does a reasonable job of showing us the distinct differences between our own world and Norton’s, especially for gay people (Being gay was still illegal in Britain until 1967, and gay men were still arrested after the law changed), but the script from James Goss does feel like it’s focused more on the journey than on any particular destination. Yes, we know the alien thing in Andy’s head is important for some reason, and yes, we do eventually get to find out what it was, but it’s something entirely unconnected to everything that’s come before, so when we learn what it is, it hits us rather more like a slap upside the head and a ‘Wait, what’s happening now?’ than an ‘Aha! That makes sense’ moment, which leaves it feeling slightly like an add-on out of nowhere. Fun, absolutely, in a way that will make you want to dig out your classic sci-fi DVDs and soundtracks. But still, it comes at us from nowhere in the script, and dares you to argue with it on any logical grounds.
If Norton is a somewhat frenetic host in the 1960s, dragging the 21st century copper from pillar to post in an attempt to get him cured, or disarmed, or both, Andy shows again why he’d be pretty much at home in Torchwood, not only dealing with the mob boss in an intelligent ‘Bezzie Mates With Gwen Cooper’ style, but working out an additional twist in the tale just as the end crowds down around the story. It’s an ending that leaves plenty of questions open for a third instalment with this pairing, who are, whatever the storyline, character gold together and so demand more stories that showcase their double act.
Goodbye Piccadilly is value for your Norton-Andy money any day of the week. Just be ready for the breathless Sixties London romp, and a conclusion that probably even TV Torchwood would not be bold enough to offer. Tony Fyler