Reviewed By: thisoldcan
Review Date: 3/21/17 7:52 pm
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In Visiting Hours, the opening Torchwood release of 2017, Rhys (Kai Owen) is visiting his mother Brenda (Nerys Hughes) in the hospital, following a routine hip surgery. But mysterious things are happening at St Helen's Hospital; people keep dying of natural causes during the night, but no one can find the bodies. This hasn't gone unnoticed by hospital staff, and questions are being asked. Rhys and Brenda thought this would be a routine hospital stay, but they're in for a rude awakening and a very long night. Visiting Hours was not a strong start to 2017's run of Torchwood releases. While the script managed to wring some humor out of the interactions between Rhys and Brenda, it didn't manage to do much more, delivering a boring story. The main performances by Kai Owen and Nerys Hughes were fun, as they had an excellent comedic back-and-forth, but there wasn't much else in their performances.
Kai Owen and Nerys Hughes reprise their roles as Rhys and Brenda Willliams, with Hughes returning from Torchwood's Something Borrowed. Owen is the main star of this story, delivering a generally funny performance, as a man both frustrated by and scared for his mother. The comedic bits of his performance were excellent, such as his exasperation with his mother constantly telling him to mind his language, while I felt the commanding, emotional moments tended to fall a bit flat. His scene interacting with Karl Theobald and Ryan Sampson about the reasons for why they're taking people, and about their motivations for it, felt forced to me, and fell flat, in my opinion. Hughes fared a bit better, acting as the mother most people have; overbearing, caring, and just a bit bawdy. She too did very well with her comedic moments, and shared an excellent chemistry with Kai Owen. Her emotional moments fared better than Owen's, as I felt she did well in the scenes where she was meant to be scared of being taken.
The guest cast is mainly led by Karl Theobald and Ryan Sampson as Mr. Tate and Mr. Nichols, two men tasked with taking bodies back to the past for rich benefactors. The two were given a decent amount of depth beyond the normal criminal goon, which I appreciated, and I think Theobald and Sampson did a good job together. They had a good rapport with one another, and both brought something fun and interesting to the table. Also making occasional appearances throughout the story was Stephen Critchlow as the sinister Dr. Fletcher. Critchlow didn't really stand out much, which is a damn shame, as he's such a good actor usually. His brief appearances in this story felt like a cameo of something greater, which I didn't really like. Rounding out the guest cast was Ruth Lloyd, playing Nurse Brown in the opening and closing scenes. She did a perfectly fine job, and I liked her bumbling performance at the end of the story, trying to explain to Rhys that there was a mixup with his mother, and they thought she had passed away.
David Llewellyn's script was a funny affair, but it didn't do much beyond trying to be funny. It felt like a very boring, somewhat confusing story overall, and not much else. I really appreciated the comedic elements of this story, as I think Llewellyn did a great job there. The scenes between Rhys and Brenda were rather funny; I particularly liked the way Brenda was constantly telling Rhys off for swearing, and then said, "...because I'm in fucking agony right now..." towards the end. It gave me a rather good laugh, to be quite honest. However, beyond the comedic elements of the script, there isn't really much of substance there. The emotional moments between Brenda and Rhys fell flat, save for the tender ending scene between the two. It never really felt like a mother and her son doing things, but rather like a comedic duo trading banter. I also found the "villains" of the story to be poorly developed. The villain's plan was to kidnap people from the future for rich benefactors, and harvest their organs; they're aided by a mysterious, robotic force from the future, and use the promise of salvation for those who help them out. And yet, most of the story focuses on the people aiding the villains, and their work trying to kidnap people. I can understand if Big Finish is setting up a new villain to replace The Committee, and starting a new arc, but that doesn't mean that the motivation for the villains should be pushed to the side completely. How did the villains set up the time machine to the past? Why was Dr. Fletcher helping them? What are the robotic force from the future? None of those questions are even touched upon, leaving a confusing, and deeply unsatisfying ending to the story.
The music of the previous two series of Torchwood returns, which I'm not too crazy about. The music is rather good, don't get me wrong, but I wish that Big Finish would change it up here and there. Stories like The Victorian Age and Zone 10, which are set in very different places than Cardiff, would've been the perfect stories to experiment with a different soundtrack, but instead, they just use the same old Torchwood theme. I wish Big Finish and Blair Mowat would work on using a different soundtrack for these Torchwood releases, or at least mix it up a little bit here and there, much like they do for other ranges. The sound design by Benji Clifford is rather excellent though, with the hospital setting feeling alive during normal hours, and empty and creepy, yet still lived in during the night. Big Finish has always employed excellent sound designers, and Clifford is really one of the best ones out there, in my opinion.
Two final things I'd like to note about this release are the length of the story and the cover artwork. The length of this story is rather short, coming in at about 46:30; with the behind-the-scenes content, it goes up to about 57 minutes in length. I tend to not really care that much if some of Big Finish's releases are a few minutes short, but when they're over 10 minutes short, I take notice. I always feel a little cheated when I find that a story is shorter than promised; in this case this hour long story is almost 13 minutes shorter, which is the most I've seen in quite some time. Finally, I'd like to make note of the cover art, done by Lee Binding. Binding has done the work for most of the Torchwood range, to mixed results. Some of the art, for releases like More Than This, Ghost Mission, Moving Target, and Made You Look have been quite interesting, while others have been rather boring. This art falls into the latter in my opinion, with a rather simple design of Kai Owen's character in front of a ghastly operating theater. Not the most visually stunning photo ever, but it gets the job done, which is perfectly fine.
Overall, Visiting Hours was not a great start to the 2017 run of Torchwood stories. Featuring two strong comedic performances, but very little else, and some bland guest performances, the cast didn't really stand out in this story. Similarly, David Llewellyn's script was funny, but it lacked an engaging plot, and the ending felt rushed and almost tacked on. The sound design was good as well, but I'm beginning to get frustrated by the same soundtrack being used, and the very similar, bland cover art being used from story to story. It wasn't a great way to start of 2017 for Torchwood, so here's hoping next month's story will fare a bit better.