Torchwood: Sync

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Torchwood: Sync – Starring Indira Varma & Annette Badland. Written by Lisa McMullin & Directed by Scott Handcock – CD / Download (Big Finish)

Orientation, 101.

Suzie Costello was the member of Torchwood Cardiff who was stealing and collecting alien tech, who died in episode one of TV Torchwood, and was briefly revived later on in the series. Torchwood on audio has been slightly kinder to Suzie Costello, showing more of her character and allowing actress Indira Varma to stretch her dramatic legs rather further than she got to do on TV.

Blon Fel-Fotch Pasameer-Day Slitheen was one of the family of fart-gagging aliens who attempted to turn the Earth into a radioactive slag-heap shortly after the Ninth Doctor met up with Rose Tyler, and who – much more insidiously – later became mayor of Cardiff before being youthed back to egghood so she could start her life again with better influences than her family had been.

Naturally.

The point of which is that we’ve seen how both their stories end, and there’s a fairly limited timespan in which their lives overlap. Bringing them together could undoubtedly be fun, but is there a strong enough story to warrant doing it?

Err…yes. Yes, there is. Glad we had this talk. K…bye!

No, seriously – Lisa McMullin delivers just enough plot here to hook you in and keep things interesting. Supposedly crashed spaceship, Suzie goes to investigate, Blon, looking for a way quietly off the planet before the rest of her family catch up with her, wants the ship for herself, and then… then something interesting happens. The two find themselves linked by a safety protocol in some alien bangles, meaning they’re essentially ‘handcuffed’ together until help arrives.

Wellllll…help or a bunch of missiles that will destroy the whole of Cardiff. One of the two. Possibly both.

And so we’re off to the races – there’s a pick-up rendez-vous to make, missiles to avoid, and a cross-cultural exchange between the human and the Raxacoricofallapatorian to go through. Torchwood: Sync is The Defiant Ones with a Torchwood twist.

No-one?

Really?

Google The Defiant Ones right now, it’ll make your life better.

Anyway, the situation’s fairly straightforward – neither of them can kill the other. Neither of them can wander too far away from the other. They’re stuck together till the result of the crash plays itself out. That, while high on concept, satisfies the plot-itch in your brain and allows for much of the rest of the episode to be an exchange of characters, a forging of links, a testing of boundaries and – particularly joyful when you have actresses of the calibre of Indira Varma and Annette Badland playing Suzie and Blon respectively – the formation of an unlikely almost-friendship.

Essentially then, Lisa McMullin gives you the best of at least two worlds in Sync – a plot idea that’s both simple, evocative and works as a way of keeping the two central characters together and alive, and the space to grow what we know about those characters as they interact in interesting ways. Suzie’s a classic outsider, and while she keeps her Torchwood credentials a secret from Blon for much of the episode, we gain insights into the scale of that feeling of isolation as Indira Varma plays her with great sensitivity, adding more shade and detail to the already more fully-realised portrait of the character we’ve had in audio. Meanwhile Blon, an outcast from her clan after the failure of the Downing Street gambit, is forced to come to terms with her own awkward position as a disgraced member of the Slitheen family, and as mayor of Cardiff. They grow to these realisations and conclusions while running from the would-be salvation of the crashed ship, and while slowly peeling back the layers of each other’s’ characters. There are more revelations in store than we’ve detailed for you here, and they show more of Suzie’s character particularly, already turning to the ‘Dark Side’ as a Torchwood operative when we meet her here.

The story ends with an understanding that almost begs for sequels, if not a mini-series of Torchwood stories in the pre-Gwen era, to allow Suzie and her new ‘friend’ at city hall time to explore their friendship arc together, and add extra poignancy to Blon’s eventual undoing at the hands of the especially hardline Ninth Doctor. There’s great chemistry between the characters, and Lisa McMullin’s script allows them both to breathe while they add layers to our understanding of them both as individuals, and as they might be when working together. In fact, such sequels would neatly tie together the mid-2000 world of the Ninth Doctor and TV Torchwood and the eventual audio Torchwood of Aliens/God Among Us, where – surprise, surprise! – there’s an alien as mayor of Cardiff. If you’re going to use previous Doctor Who villains in a Torchwood context, there’s got to be enough of their essence in the script, enough reason for them to be there, and enough of the more grown-up Torchwood vibe to let them sit and act within that new storytelling environment. Lisa McMullin smashes that balance out of the park here, delivering a story which is both logical, resonant and fun, with some lovely beats of character and profundity as it goes along. Annette Badland is almost absurdly faultless in everything she does, and she brings back the turn-on-a-dime playfulness of Blon here with a precision that sends shivers down the spine on audio. Meanwhile, it is a truth universally acknowledged that there should be more Indira Varma in the world, and her performance here is strong enough to balance Badland’s energy, and make us yearn for more Suzie Costello on audio, to fill in the contours of her story-arc between now and the beginning of TV Torchwood.

Get Torchwood : Sync for the balance of performances, the diligence of the storytelling and the layering of character-dynamics and dilemmas as two early favourites in New Who and Torchwood prove why they’ve earned their places in our hearts and minds. The story makes sense, the actors excel, the pace is brisk and you end up wanting more in a similar vein – which can’t be bad. Tony Fyler

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