Torchwood: Instant Karma – Starring Naoko Mori, Jonny Dixon ,Sara McGaughey, Duncan Wisbey, Simon Ludders, Ross Ford & Liz Sutherland-Lim. Written by David Llewellyn, James Goss and Jonathan Morris & Directed by Lisa Bowerman – CD / Download (Big Finish)
Great science-fiction is frequently about asking the ‘What-if?’ questions of life, extrapolating from where we are and changing one thing, making one thing possible that isn’t, and seeing what kind of world you end up in.
Instant Karma sells itself openly on that premise – what if you could make all the annoying people pay for their tireless campaign of making the world worse? What if you could repay the inconsiderate git in the supermarket or bank with the bagfull of penny pieces, make them hurt for their thoughtlessness. What if you could make the driver who cuts you up at a corner feel the impact of his behaviour, feel your anger as pain.
What if the anger of a protest could hurt, could even kill, the person being protested? If instead of a satirical blimp, you could make their heart explode, or their brain melt, or you could make them tell the truth? What if you could change things on that level?
Would you do it?
Sci-fi with philosophical underpinnings? Big tick, Big Finish.
The story itself is anchored by Tosh (Naoko Mori), seemingly shortly after the Greeks Bearing Gifts TV episode, when she’s recently become aware of how her colleagues really feel about her, having briefly gained the ability to hear unguarded thoughts.
There are two other main players that make this a solid three-hander, Johnny Dixon as Simon (bus driver by day, self-help group guru by night), and Sara McGaughey as Janet, who loves him, whether or not he returns her affection.
The triple whammy writing team of David Llewellyn, James Goss and Jonathan Morris is unusual for Torchwood at Big Finish, but here it means that as well as the strong philosophical questions at the heart of the action, there’s a lot of solid character background given for Simon and Janet, which means we understand them as very different people, united however briefly in a moment of something potentially wonderful, potentially deadly. Simon in particular has a complicated, believable history that we learn as he tries to get to know Tosh better. Ultimately though, Instant Karma blends a couple of strong messages together in its storytelling. On the one hand, you can listen to it as a parable of how anger can make you powerful, but power can turn ordinary anger into a deadly force. And on the other, you can listen to it as a parable about not letting anger change who you fundamentally are – if, for instance, hurting people is wrong in one case, the wrongness or irritation-factor of the people doesn’t change the wrongness of inflicting pain. There are moments in Instant Karma when Simon and Janet are on the same side, and moments when the differences behind them, their needs, their self-soothing methods and the ways in which they process both the anger they have and the power it brings them show them to be very different people. And that, in the end, is what brings the conclusion its power, as each pathway has a destination-point, and ultimately, while Tosh may work for the super-duper secret organisation, it’s not she who decides the outcome of events in the story. If anything, it’s she who learns the lessons laid out for her by the examples of Simon and Janet, and, we can only assume, uses them to get over her sent of violation and outrage at knowing what everyone really thinks of her, to understand that processing anger in a healthy way is a mark of individual progress, individual conquest of the hot, powerful basic instinct to repay hurt with hurt.
Instant Karma’s a very impressive three-hander, with both Dixon and Sutherland-Lim delivering the drama, the realism, and the fundamental philosophical questions in persuasive and powerful ways, and Naoko Mori working well as the actual driver of questions and learner of lessons. Pick it up, and remember, if people are being annoying, that’s on them. How you respond to them…that’s on you. Tony Fyler