Torchwood – “Uncanny Valley”

Torchwood - Uncanny Valley

Torchwood – Release # 5
Written by: David Llewellyn
Directed by: Neil Gardner
Performed by: John Barrowman, Steven Cree & Emma Reeves
Duration: 60 mins approx
ISBN: 978-1-78178-924-7
Chronology Placement: Wales, 2008 (set after “Fall to Earth”)

Synopsis: What has made billionaire Neil Redmond emerge from his long seclusion? Captain Jack knows the answer, and is prepared to go to any lengths to prove it. A couple of years ago, Neil Redmond was in a terrible accident. His recovery has been long and slow, but now he’s back and looking better than ever. Much better than ever. Dark forces have been behind Neil’s transformation. Dark forces that Jack has been hunting for a long time. But Captain Jack’s never been able to resist the darkness.

Returning the focus to Jack Harkness and his investigation into the mysterious Committee of Erebus, “Uncanny Valley” acts as a pseudo-sequel to the series’ premiere adventure “The Conspiracy”, drawing upon plot threads from the preceding adventure to take the narrative down a surprising new route. While previous stories in the range have featured brief references to the shadowy organisation pulling the strings on various alien phenomena occurring on Earth, this adventure once again uses the sub-plot to fuel its narrative, offering listeners a degree of pay-off to the set-up in “The Conspiracy”.

David Llewellyn does a great job at channelling the essence of Torchwood in this story, and while it isn’t as fast-paced and slick as his work on “The Conspiracy”, it delivers a stronger core storyline that benefits from the various narrative techniques employed, such as flashbacks and an authorial voice. Neil Gardner’s superb direction is vital in ensuring that the various switches in perspective does not confuse listeners. Pushing the boundaries and subverting the audiobook format feels like a natural part of the Torchwood experience, and this adventure certainly feels like a lost episode from the early years of the series. Of course, I can’t continue without mentioning Blair Mowat’s simply amazing title music and fantastic use of incidental music to set the right tone and atmosphere.

John Barrowman is effortlessly charismatic as Jack Harkness, and his charm and natural magnetism shines through in audio form. However, the real star of this release is Steven Cree, who undertakes a compelling dual-role as both Neil Redmond and his robotic doppelganger NJ, resulting in the emotional core at the heart of the tale. At its most basic, it’s a dark and twisted love story and one that brings a whole new meaning to the term, “self-love”. As a result, this release certainly earns its “adult material” warning, but without needing to throw in bleeped-out swear-words to show off. It’s mature, hard-hitting and exactly what you’d expect from the Torchwood franchise.

While the adventure is essentially a conversation between two men, peppered with some explanatory flashbacks, David Llewellyn’s flair with dialogue and pacing means that it never feels dull or tedious. It’s engaging from the beginning, and the introduction of the robotic duplicate midway through the adventure makes it absolutely riveting to listen to. I loved the morally dubious angle that Jack takes in this adventure, willing to do whatever is necessary in order to get results, and how his cavalier approach always results in casualties. This adventure feels very reminiscent of Season One of Torchwood, revelling in Jack’s morally grey positioning and ultimately, the inefficiencies of Torchwood. If I remember correctly, they seemed to cause more problems than they solved in those earlier stories.

Uncanny Valley” does a great job at developing the ongoing threat of the Committee, continuing to present them as an omnipotent threat always one step ahead of Jack Harkness and his team. I cannot wait to see how this over-arching plot thread develops over the series’ future releases. I also found myself quickly invested in the plight of Neil Redmond and his odd abusive relationship with his robotic boyfriend/doppelganger – it felt like classic Torchwood, tackling adult science-fiction themes with maturity. Big Finish has done a tremendous job with this range of audio adventures, honouring the tone of the series but moving it forward at the same time. It has quickly become my favourite franchise to listen to, and I cannot wait to work my way through the rest of the back catalogue.

Score – ★★★★

Torchwood: Uncanny Valley is available from Big Finish on physical CD or digital download. It can also be found on Amazon UK in the physical CD format.

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