Torchwood: The Green Life

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Torchwood: The Green Life – Written by David Llewellyn & Starring John Barrowman, Katy Manning & Stewart Bevan. Directed by Scott Handcock –  CD / Download (Big Finish)

The idea of bringing back classic Doctor Who monsters and dealing with them in new, Torchwood-appropriate, more adult scenarios is a fundamentally great thing in principle.

Whether what you get as a result of doing it is a fundamentally great story depends on how you handle and balance the elements.

The Green Life brings Jo Jones, who has now appeared on TV with a New Who Doctor and alongside the Kate Stewart iteration of UNIT in audio, on a mission with Torchwood’s Captain Jack Harkness, back to the one-time mining town of Llanfairfach, where the computer known as BOSS and the giant green maggots grown at the bottom of its mining operation were once intent on taking over the wooooorld!

It’s been a while between visits. Llanfairfach isn’t the same place it once was – there’s an evolution of the Nut Hutch in the town, and a focus on providing ecologically sound, ethically sourced protein-based ready meals and ingredients to the world at large.

So why are Jack and Jo coming to town?

An unexplained death, a degree of disbelief…and a memory of the maggoty shenanigans of an earlier time.

Here’s the thing. Every Who-fan, every Torchwood-fan, every nostalgia-fan is going to want to love this story – it’s the coming together of Jo and Jack, it’s the follow-up and semi-corollary to The Green Death, it’s got giant maggots in it, and, not for nothing, it’s written by David Llewellyn, which is usually a cast iron guarantee of a good time.

But…

It gives me little pleasure to say this, but this Torchwood story feels rather like it misses its mark. On the one hand, the giant maggots of The Green Death are an intensely visual scare – everyone who ever saw them remembered The Green Death as ‘the one with the giant maggots’ because they’re enough to make you squirm, just by looking at them. On audio… meh. They sound fairly nondescript, because of course, what’s a maggot going to do to make them an exciting audio proposition? Now, Big Finish has strong form in overcoming the silent or simply roaring monsters – it’s delivered Weeping Angel stories and Drashig stories that both told effective stories and also scared the pants off listeners. But with the maggots, other than their trademark, still rather small-scale hissing, there’s little to be done to make them audibly awe-inspiring. That means you’re left with little option but to narrate-along-a-maggotfest, with Jo and Jack having to describe what they see, hear, smell and so on to deliver the oomph that a visual giant maggot carries with it in just a second or twosworth of screen time.

Apart from which, what we have here is a story that’s linear to the point of oversimplicity – it’s Jo and Jack, travelling to find the source of the maggots, squelching their way through a squishy soundscape of damp and mulch and occasional hissing, and then reaching that source, having one fairly important, exposition-heavy conversation with a third party (the revelation of which will absolutely double, if not triple down on the nostalgia factor of this release), Jack doing a thing for which he’s already fairly well-known, and then them going away again. Conversations along the way are great, and we get to catch up on some post-Green Death developments for Jo and Cliff – which again, is at least partly what anybody buying this release is looking for from the purchase –  but conversations en route to a conversation, followed by more conversations heading in the opposite direction leaves the listener echoing Elvis – a little less conversation, a little more action, please.

Ultimately, as we said at the beginning, any Jo fan is going to really want to love this story, and for the sake of everything we learn about her and Cliff, her and Jack (not for nothing, there’s a sprinkling of distinctly Katy Manning fabulousness in her conversations with Jack), for the fact that this is a legitimate follow-up to The Green Death and for a surprise or two towards the end, there’ll be enough here to satisfy the cravings they have. But in the fact that it doesn’t move far beyond the remit of Jo and Jack, giant maggots and Llanfairfach, it feels constricted by the short run-time into being only a hat-tipping sequel to the sprawling creepy madness of the original Green Death, rather than something which, given the time and space to evolve into, could have updated the ideas of the original on a broader canvas than either the budget could allow back in the Seventies or than the demands of nostalgia and fan-service within a one-hour release allow on audio today. Tony Fyler

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