When Big Finish announced that they were making a brand new audio series based on successful TV spin-off Torchwood, I was hugely ecstatic. It wouldn’t be the first time that audio stories based on Torchwood would be made – there have been a few stories made by BBC for the radio, for example — but it was another massive step for Big Finish towards merging both the classic and new eras of Doctor Who. Also, it’s great that a series like Torchwood is joining the world of other great spin-offs, including Gallifrey and Jago & Litefoot. Finally, after months of waiting, Big Finish have released their first episode, ‘The Conspiracy’.
The way the new audio series is told is interesting — there’s a heavy use of narrative from Captain Jack, but it’s not a straightforward audiobook. In fact, a lot of the time it feels like a full-cast drama, albeit one of only four people, so the story is kept very tightly-focused. Captain Jack is also the only member of the Torchwood team to appear in this episode, as each episode will focus on a different main character. While I miss the banter and interaction between the team members, the story still retains that distinct Torchwood feel.
What made the original TV series so distinct compared to Doctor Who and other spin-offs isn’t just that it aimed to be ‘darker and more mature’ than its parent series, (although in my opinion, there were times in its first season when it almost tried too hard at being more ‘adult’ instead of ‘mature’), but that it was a science-fiction series that still felt very much grounded in the world of flawed, ordinary people facing difficult situations and choices. Children of Earth was my favourite series because whether it was the heroes, the politicians, or even the families, there was a lot of focus on human beings facing a terrible situation and all trying to deal with it as best they can, even if it meant sacrificing some of their humanity to do so.
‘The Conspiracy’ gets off to a great start because it still deals with the dark and yet ordinary side of humanity. John Sessions is great as Wilson, a man claiming that the world is really under the control of aliens known only as ‘the Committee’. While he draws in crowds in the hundreds, if not thousands, unsurprisingly, most people in the world don’t believe him. But Jack does. And he has very good reason to…
Jack and Wilson are the focus in this story, and some of my favourite moments are the dialogue exchanges between the two. John Barrowman and Sessions really are great to listen to. Both give really great performances, and it’s wonderful to hear Barrowman return to the role of Jack and play it so easily it was like he had never left it. Fans of Harkness are going to find plenty to enjoy in this story, particularly as some of Jack’s shady past is briefly explored.
The other two characters in the episode – namely Kate, Wilson’s daughter, and Sam, a man who loves his conspiracy theories – also really help add to both the story and the drama. There’s one moment of tragedy in particular that really made me feel sorry for one of the characters.
Overall, ‘The Conspiracy’ is easily a success at bringing that old Torchwood feeling back. Partly self-contained, but also part of a much larger arc, the episode feels like it could sit very comfortably in the TV series’s first two seasons. Despite having a very small cast, the story still retains a lot of what made the original TV show so great, including the darkness, the drama, the humanity, and perhaps most importantly, the distinct mix of the ordinary with the alien. If this first episode is anything to go by, then Big Finish have another great success on their hands.