Torchwood: The Hope

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Torchwood: The Hope – Starring Burn Gorman, Tom Price and Sian Phillips. Written by James Goss & Directed by Scott Handcock – CD / Download (Big Finish)

Torchwood has always been able to tackle mature themes. In its time, both on TV and in audio, it’s done that many a time, sometimes going into the darkest areas of human experience.

Welcome to The Hope.

The Hope is an isolated part of the Snowdonia hills.

It’s where Megwyn Jones, the most hated woman in Britain, buried the bodies.

The bodies of children who were funnelled to her children’s home. Bodies that were photographed in death, as mementos of unspeakable acts.

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When her crimes were eventually discovered, Megwyn Jones became that hideous avatar of our age – a celebrity serial killer. One of those whose crimes are picked apart, for the mystery, for the sensationalism, for the shiver down the spine while families weep. The bodies have never been found.

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Now, old and in near-constant pain, Megwyn Jones is finally prepared to point the authorities to the bodies of her charges, to allow families to properly mourn as a final act of – what? Contrition? Nooo, that’s not Megwyn’s style. Not her style at all.

So on the day when she’s released to find the bodies… why are Torchwood there? Why is Owen Harper, Torchwood’s very own dead man walking, up on the icy hills of Snowdonia, along with Andy Davidson, a leading policeman who’s been cashing in on his involvement with the case for years, and the sister of one of Megwyn Jones’ victims?

Are there secrets The Hope still has to give up. beyond the location of the bodies?

Let’s say this. Sian Philips is an actress of astonishing power. When she first popped up in Big Finish, it was in the Jenny series, arguably somewhat miscast as a kind of female Terminator.

The Hope gives you Sian Philips at full power, in a meaty role that allows her to leave the same kind of mark on your memory as other highly skilled performers, like John Hurt and Derek Jacobi. That’s her league, and in this relentlessly tense and occasionally horrifying script by James Goss, she gets to really show it, as she dances back and forth over the line in your mind – the line that makes you wonder if she’s really as evil as the mob thinks she is, or if she’s been hiding some ultimately benevolent secret all these years.

It’s practically killing us not to answer that for you. Honestly, the Editor’s had to tie me to a chair facing the window, and won’t let me back in front of the keyboard until I swear on the lives of my pets not to give it away.

*Pause, while some intense negotiation takes place.*Fine, we won’t spoiler the story or its deeper mysteries for you. Suffice it to say then that The Hope is a story with a scope that’s relentlessly grim, but which does pull you back and forth over that line more than once, and plays with your expectations from its set up. Where there feels like brightness, a deeper darkness is revealed, and yet from that deeper darkness, at least one of the Torchwood regulars manages to actually extract some…well, some hope, taking the overall story arc of Torchwood as we know it into new, unknown, exciting territory at the end of this story.

*Pause, while some intense negotiation takes place.*

Burn Gorman being sarcastic and yet compassionate as Owen Harper is the kind of thing your ears evolved for, and there’s yet to be any bad in his performance. When he’s teamed up again with Tom Price as Andy Davidson, there’s a peculiar alchemy that takes place – Andy’s by no means a fool, and never was, but he’s getting wiser to the ways of Torchwood, without especially sacrificing the core of his everyday morality to the sights, sounds and dilemmas that involvement with Torchwood bring. Matched with Owen, it’s not that Andy becomes some everyman white knight, but there’s a sense that he imbues Owen with a more immediately visible compassion than was ever his wont to reveal on screen. There’s also the potential for the comedy of desperate circumstances with these two, which means the background and the thrust of the stories they can get involved in together can be pitched much more towards the humanity of horror than necessarily to the science-fiction end of the storytelling spectrum, and The Hope takes advantage of that dynamic to pitch Torchwood into the crimes of a serial child killer – and the mindset that lies behind her actions. If you’re a fan of TV episodes like Countrycide, or of the previous team-up of Gorman and Price, Corpse Day, this story will take you down all the right alleyways, club you senseless and leave you for dead on the icy hillsides of The Hope.

Whether that’ll be the end of your story – well…that would be telling. A precisely written but emotionally murky script from James Goss, top-drawer performances from Burn Gorman and Tom Price, and perhaps above all, a spider-like and yet down-to-earth performance from Sian Philips will burn The Hope into your memory long after your first listen.

And long after your second and third listens too. Tony Fyler

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