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User Rating:
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Reviewed By: thisoldcanReview Date: 10/22/17 2:24 am
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In The Empty Hand, the final story of the second act of Aliens Among Us, Cardiff is on the brink of collapse, and Torchwood right alongside it. The flashpoint? The disappearance of Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), and the murder of a refugee by Sergeant Andy Davidson (Tom Price). Protests are erupting, and the mayor, Ro-Jedda (Rachel Atkins) seems to hold all the cards. Torchwood is struggling to save the city, their friend, and themselves; something will have to give in the end. The Empty Hand closes out the second act of Aliens Among Us with a topical story, with Torchwood's typical flair, looking at issues of police brutality, the nature of protests, and the disenfranchisement of refugees in Cardiff's political scene. Throughout it, it's a strong story for Tom Price, who gets a rare chance to lead a story in this set, but also gives an interesting, if confusing, look at Captain Jack and his actions over the past two stories. Tim Foley's first work for Big Finish was an enjoyable ending to the set, and an interesting harbinger of things to come for the next set.

Tom Price is the real star of this set here, alongside Alexandria Riley as "Gwen" (Ng in reality) and Kai Owen as Rhys Willaims, the long-suffering husband of Gwen. Price does a fantastic job with the material he's given; it's rare to see or hear Price do anything other than play lovable, sweet guys, and so hearing the start of his tirade against the refugee and his attack on the takeaway man (Richard Elfyn) is shocking to say the least. But what really sells Price's work in this story is his excellent work acting absolutely devastated by his supposed actions. There's a deep depression and utter shock that he could ever do those things to the refugee after they happen, and Price does a fantastic job selling that aspect of his performance. Owen returns as Rhys, a role he's done cameos in, in quite a few sets, and also as a lead in a few others, but here, he gets a bit more of an expanded role, akin to the role he had for Visiting Hours. He's very much Andy's support throughout the story, doing what he does best, trying to cheer him up and take his mind off things, all the while protecting him from the assembled masses outside. Owen, who's played the role since 2006, has always done a fantastic job playing the supportive role, and here is no exception.

One of the things I've really appreciated about these sets is that Big Finish seems to be bringing in quite a few first-time writers. Here, for example, three of the four writers have not worked for Big Finish yet, including the writer of this story, Tim Foley. I love that Big Finish is bringing in a bit of new blood for some of their biggest works; it shows a willingness to try new things and branch out. But anyways... Tim Foley is the writer for this story. With this story, Aliens Among Us continues it's trend of being fiercely topical, giving us a story about refugees and police brutality that rings true today. The story takes a risky choice at the end that pays off very well in showing something rather horrific, but leaves a lot of questions, answering very few of them. I liked the way that Foley tore down Andy a bit with this story, breaking his nice guy demeanor a bit, and not quite redeeming him at the end. The ending was probably my favorite part, as Ro-Jedda simply lies, at the behest of Jack, in order to avoid upsetting the city and to save Torchwood.

But throughout the story, topical themes of police brutality and protesting are ever present, but with a distinctly Torchwood flair. What I liked most is the way Foley reconciled these topical themes as a form of quantum control, of hypnotism. It will receive some criticism, but I think, taken together with the guilt that Andy feels, and the ending, where Ro-Jedda lies to Cardiff about the actions of the police, it becomes more of a darker tale, showing the worst of humanity. Of equal horror is the reveal that the previous police officer who shot an immigrant, who also went to the same diversity seminar as Andy, simply shot the refugee because they wanted to. I've really appreciated the way that these Torchwood sets haven't shied away from dealing with sticky, political topics head-on.

But as for unanswered questions, the biggest one, or maybe the second biggest, following the next paragraph is: what the hell's going on with Jack? Jack has seemingly made contact with the Red Door and is helping them out, and playing all side; he's helping protesters, he's helping the Red Doors, he helps the Mayor's office, and he's trying to help Torchwood. What's his endgame? This isn't something I expected them to answer by the end of the story, and I'm not at all holding this against them. But it's deeply confusing to see the Jack of the first story, and wondering just what happened in the intervening weeks between Love Rat and this story. Also noticeable throughout the set is the appearance of Eve Myles as the true Gwen Cooper, in mind sequences. While the first set only had the two appearances, this set has had at least 4-5, if not more. I'm very curious to see what's going on here, and why as well. I was hoping for some clarification, if not fully addressing it, but it doesn't seem like we'll get that until the next set, probably. But as it stands, Ng's goals and motivations are frustratingly unknown.

The big spoiler to come out of this set is that it seemingly marks the return of Yvonne Hartman, as played by Tracy-Ann Oberman. That's a... that's a pretty fucking big return. Oberman was absolutely fantastic in One Rule and Torchwood One: Before the Fall, so her return in the final box set of Aliens Among Us should be good quality-wise. But the question remains... how did she return. There has to be some explanation for her reversion from the Cyber Conversion to get her here; or maybe, because her voice sounds just a bit off (though it could be Oberman playing her a little older) that it could be Ng or a compatriot of whatever Ng is doing it to gain control of Torchwood. Who knows. Either way: I'm bloody fucking excited for this next set now, even more so than I was.

The final bit I'd like to mention for this review is the cover artworks done by Lee Binding. Binding has chosen to continue using the same, simplistic covers that he used for the first set in this one; the front cover has a few of the main characters on it, while the individual ones have John Barrowman, Murray Melvin, Jonny Green, and Tom Price on them, representing some of the main characters for each story. I go back and forth a bit on the Torchwood covers; sometimes, like these ones, they're a bit more dynamic, and so they pop and bit more, and feel nicer. But other times, like with Visiting Hours, The Conspiracy, and The Dying Room, the covers are a bit stale, because people are just standing around. I have noticed more of a trend with this past year, that covers are getting a lot less stale; they're using promotional photos that show people in movement and the like, usually, and here, those covers work pretty. I do hope that with the next set, we get to see a cover featuring as good a representation of Orr as we can get, and Ng, to round out the cast (and of course, Gwen.

Overall though, The Empty Hand closes out the second Aliens Among Us set with a strong, topical story, employing themes of police brutality and protesting to tell a story that is deeply Torchwood in spirit. It's a rare story that puts Tom Price's Andy Davidson in the spotlight, supported by Rhys, no less, but all the members of Torchwood have their parts to play here. Foley's story tackles these topical subjects in a strong way, giving a brutal tale that will resonate in the real world, and has special meaning for those who've followed the series since the beginning. It's a strong way to bring us into the third and final Aliens Among Us set, and I look forward to seeing how Big Finish finishes off this series.
From the Reviewer:
User Rating:
9
Plot Rating:
8
Acting Rating:
10
Replay Rating:
9
Effects Rating:
9
Has Prerequisite(s):
No
Reviewed By: thisoldcanReview Date: 10/22/17 2:22 am
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In the penultimate story of the second Aliens Among Us box set, Tyler Steele (Jonny Green) has his sights set on a young man named Hasan (Sacha Dhawan). But soon, Tyler begins to notice that Hasan follows an extremely regular pattern, day in, day out. After making contact, he discovers that Hasan uses an app called Deliverables, which tasks him with delivering packages all day long. As Tyler becomes wrapped up in the app, it becomes clear that something is working behind the scenes, towards an unknown goal. Torchwood may not need Tyler, but he needs them to help him, or he won't survive for much longer. Zero Hour is, in essence, a tragic story of a love... well, a shag never to be, between Tyler and Hasan. It's a rather interesting story too; I love the idea of a "killer app" as a commentary on the current idea of a phone-addicted population (including little jokes done throughout the story poking fun at that idea), and how it plays into the themes of Torchwood. Jonny Green and Sacha Dhawan both did fine jobs as Tyler and Hasan, with a lot of chemistry between the two actors, while Alexandria Riley did a nice job acting as a supporting character to Tyler. Overall, it was an enjoyable story that both built up the overarching plot to the series of Aliens Among Us, but also made for an enjoyable story in and of itself.

This story featured Jonny Green and guest star Sacha Dhawan as the main stars of this story. Green has always been enjoyable as the cocksure yet vaguely inept character he is, but here, he gets a chance to shine as the lead of a story, for the first time portraying the character more vulnerably. Green plays the role as a bit horny, but also very curious about what's going on with Hasan and Deliverables. He's insistent to Riley's Ng "Gwen" that something is wrong, and eventually wins her over to his side. But all that drops to the wayside, as Green's finest moment in the series comes, as he discovers that Hasan has been cremated by "HR". It's a jarring moment, and it's well acted by Green, who projects a lot of quiet pain in his performance. Sacha Dhawan is another highlight of the cast, portraying the would-be lover of Tyler, Hasan. Dhawan's Hasan is a rather sweet character, seemingly innocent, and driven to do his job, regardless of distractions, but there's a bit of desperation in his performance that belies the big reveal about Deliverables throughout the story. It's a nuanced performance, as you can almost take it as Dhawan trying to clue listeners, and Tyler, into realizing that there's more to Deliverables than meets the eye.

Janine H Jones, in her first contribution for Big Finish, ahead of December's The War Master set, writes an interesting story about patterns and repetitions. Originally titled "Groundhog Day", Jones draws a lot of parallels with the movie of the same name, as Tyler and Hasan circle around each other in a never-ending cycle of repetition. The highlight of Jones' story is the way she crafted a "killer app" story without it coming across as corny. The mechanism for the story, the idea that the Sorvix crafted this app to try and take control of the Cardiff Rift, is a brilliant way of marrying the theme of the series, the Sorvix occupation, to a killer app story, elevating it, and avoiding your typical, cheesy stories. It's enhanced by the emotional stakes of the story, a rather sweet love story cut tragically short by the utterly apathetic Sorvix. It's the idea that they think it's a win-win situation, as they gain control of the Rift, and solve the population issues, in one fell swoop, that really hits the hardest for this story.

Beyond just the rather sweet, poignant love story between the two, I really liked the development for Tyler in this story. He's often felt like a miniature Jack, but without any of the tragedy. He's always just sort of been that kind of asshole character, flirting relentlessly with everyone, but with nothing really behind it. But this story changes that, by giving Tyler a lot more depth, showing some of his motivations. While at first, he clearly just wants a quick fuck and to be done with it, he's motivated, once he realizes the irregularities, to help out and try and solve these issues. His desire to discover what is truly happening with Deliverables is admirable enough, but it's the ending, as he confronts Ro-Jedda (Rachel Atkins) about the Sorvix and their part in the Deliverables app, that really seals the deal for Tyler's development. It's a blistering attack on Ro-Jedda, made all the more horrific by her indifference and outright threat to Tyler by the end. Ro-Jedda is entirely unsympathetic as a character, and it brings out the best, and worst, in Tyler, as he tries to fight against her, but realizes that he has no way to survive without kowtowing to her demands.

I'd like to take a moment to mention the great sound design work done for this release, by Steve Foxon. Foxon, who has done a lot of sound design work for Big Finish, including much of the recent Torchwood output, does a fine job here especially. I was impressed by the work he did making Cardiff really come alive at the right times, while also making it feel artificial. I also want to mention the music work, done by Blair Mowat and Steve Wright. Mowat and Wright have done the music work for many of Big Finish's Torchwood dramas and... well, to be honest, it's all the same work, by and large. It hasn't really changed from The Conspiracy when that was released over 2 years ago. Which is fine, it works well. But it doesn't make for the most inspired soundtracks on the planet. I wish they'd shake things up a little bit here and again, but I'm guessing it'll come down to money, in the end.

Overall, Zero Hour is an enjoyable tale that begins rather sweetly, while slowly revealing something sinister, until events reach a climax. Jonny Green is a delight as Tyler Steele, really getting a chance to flex his acting muscles a bit, showing off his depth and range. He's joined by the excellent Sacha Dhawan, who provides a great counterpart to Tyler, as Hasan. Janine H Jones did a great job with the script for this story; I quite liked her way of working around the pitfalls that often befall those who write "killer app" stories, and I really appreciated the character development that she gave to Tyler in the story. It's another strong release in an already excellent box set, and a great sign of things to come.
From the Reviewer:
User Rating:
10
Plot Rating:
10
Acting Rating:
10
Replay Rating:
10
Effects Rating:
10
Has Prerequisite(s):
No
Reviewed By: thisoldcanReview Date: 10/22/17 2:22 am
0 out of 0 found this review helpful.

In A Kill to View, Mr. Colchester (Paul Clayton) and his husband, Colin (Ramon Tikram) have moved into a new building of luxury flats: the Ritz Towers. Purported to be the safest place in all of Cardiff, Mr. Colchester is happy to protect the love of his life. But all is not as it seems in the Ritz Towers. Tenants don't move out of the Ritz Towers, there are constant invitations to dinner parties by guests, and throughout the building, a creepy caretaker unsettles the guests. Colchester brought his husband to the Ritz Towers to be safe; but with events spiraling out of control, no one in the city may be safe by night's end. A Kill to a View is a charming look into the life of Paul Clayton's excellent Mr. Colchester, marking the return of Murray Melvin as Bilis Manger as well. It's the kind of story Torchwood tells best, about the awful nature of humanity and their desire to help themselves above all others, told extremely well by Big Finish newcomer Mac Rogers. The three main stars, Paul Clayton, Ramon Tikram, and Murray Melvin all shine in this story in their respectively roles, elevated by some excellent dialogue by Rogers for the story. Overall, it's an excellent look at the home life of one of the more enigmatic Torchwood members, and an affecting, horrific story.

Paul Clayton is the star of this story, as the civil servant turned Torchwood member Mr. Colchester. Clayton has nearly always stolen every scene he's involved with as Colchester, and, while he faces stiff competition from his co-stars Ramon Tikram and Murray Melvin, this story is no exception. Clayton gives a lot of depth to his performance here; we've not really seen much of his private life, if any of it, and we've certainly almost never seen him more than dryly witty and sardonic. But the highlights of Clayton's performance throughout the six stories I've heard has always been the more vulnerable moments; the moments where Orr discusses Colchester and his husband's relationship in Orr, and the previous story's moment as Colchester tries to save Orr, looking out for her. Here, we get to see Colchester at his softest, in several affecting moments with his husband. Clayton is a highlight in a small scene where the two are in bed, discussing the day, and the final scene as Colchester holds Colin's hand as he passes out from his wound. Clayton shows a lot of emotion in those scenes, solidifying him as one of the best things to come out of Big Finish's Torchwood ranges.

Ramon Tikram and Murray Melvin both guest star in this story, with Tikram appearing as Colchester's much-beloved husband, Colin, and Melvin reprising his role as Bilis Manger, former servant of Abaddon, now caretaker for the Ritz Towers. Tikram is a delight as the, "gay, Muslim husband" Colin, taking the role, and running with it quite a bit. He takes the role head-on, crafting a deep character who has a lot of similarities to Rhys and his relationship with Gwen. He's worried for his husband, and he also is frustrated by the way that he often doesn't show up on time, but Colin, through it all, still deeply loves Mr. Colchester, and is willing to forgive him, regardless. Tikram really sells the deep love that his character shares with Mr. Colchester, especially in their interactions at the end of the story, as he forgives his husband for being unable to keep him safe. That final scene is a powerful moment for Tikram, and the best of the set so far. My only hope is that that scene isn't Colin dying, but simply him lapsing into unconsciousness. Melvin also returns as Bilis Manger, the unsettling former servant of Abaddon, now caretaker and puppet master for the events occurring at the Ritz Towers. Melvin really sells the unsettling aspect of Manger, popping up unexpectedly with a grandiose, sweeping gesture of welcome, but with a sinister undertone to the line. He's at his best when he's letting hints of his plan slip to taunt Colin and Colchester, and is absolutely brilliant when he's explaining the horrors of the Ritz Towers to Colchester.

Mac Rogers, a first time Big Finish writer, delivers a fascinating script, marking both the return of Bilis Manger and the appearance of Colchester's husband, as well as delivering a distinctly Torchwood story, filled with horror, aliens, and the worst aspects of humanity. Rogers has a lot of balls to juggle in this story, but manages to do so exceedingly well, building a disturbingly creepy story to start. I found the "game" that Manger had the tenants playing in the story, that of killing their neighbors to get a better flat, to be a truly horrific idea, and a really nice idea, akin to Countrycide. There's a great moment too, at the end, as Mr. Colchester explains to Sandra (Diveen Henry) that no matter how high they go, there will always be a better flat, and that it will never end, and I think that that truly sums up the horrors of humanity in this story. The people of this story, from Andrea (Ellie Heydon) and Sandra, to Rowan (Luke Rhodri) and Poppy (Charlotte O'Leary), and even to Duncan (Ewan Bailey), reprising his role from the first story, are all willing to kill just to get ahead and get a better flat, or a better chance in life. The scene where Duncan tearfully explains that he can't go back out on the streets, because it's not safe out there shows just how horrific the hotel is.

Beyond just the excellent, horrific story, there was an even better bit of character work done for Mr. Colchester and his husband, Colin. This story is very clearly the story of those two characters. Other characters, such as John Barrowman's Jack, Jonny Green's Tyler, and more, all appear briefly throughout the story, but never as anything other than something to spur along Mr. Colchester's story. Even the subplot, a Sorvix hostage situation, is unimportant to the main story. This is the story that builds up the relationship of an intensely private man, and gives us a glimpse at his life beyond Torchwood. And it's a fascinating look; it's quite lovely to see a lovely relationship in Torchwood, often a show that tears down relationships and shows how they can never be together truly. So it's heartening to see such a strong relationship on the show, and one that's developed so well. The character of Colchester is given an incredible amount of backstory, especially with the revelation that he simply wishes to protect his husband, no matter the cost. It shows a deep love for Colin, but also informs many of Colchester's actions throughout the previous five stories, such as his care for his teammates, particularly Orr. I feel that with this story, I can really appreciate the story a lot more.

Overall, A Kill to a View is a shocking, brutal story about a hotel that is not all it seems, but underneath the surface is a rather beautiful character piece for Mr. Colchester, that reveals quite a bit about his personality and motivations. Paul Clayton is the definitive star of this show, stealing every scene he's in, as he's given a chance to show off some of his excellent range, and really develop his character. Ramon Tikram and Murray Melvin guest star in this set, in two excellent performances; Tikram as the loving husband, Colin Colchester-Price, and Melvin as his unsettling, sinister Bilis Manger. First time Big Finish writer Mac Rogers delivered a powerful story, with some great character work, and a truly horrifc story, that promises to lead into something interesting, given the ending of the story. It's a story that matches the quality of the previous set's Orr, if not surpassing it.
From the Reviewer:
User Rating:
8
Plot Rating:
7
Acting Rating:
8
Replay Rating:
8
Effects Rating:
8
Has Prerequisite(s):
No
Reviewed By: thisoldcanReview Date: 10/22/17 2:21 am
0 out of 0 found this review helpful.

In the fifth story of the Aliens Among Us series, Love Rat, Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) has died how he lived: shagging someone who snapped his neck. But when he wakes up, Jack finds that he has an insatiable need to shag anyone who comes in his path. But with Torchwood called in by Sergeant Andy Davidson (Tom Price) to investigate some dead bodies that have no right being dead, this desire comes at the worst possible time, as the team fractures due to alien influences. Love Rat opens the set with an inconsequential, but nevertheless enjoyable tale. The story was an interesting one, with lots of funny moments throughout, mostly Jack's flirtations with nearly everyone he comes across, and several more quiet, powerful moments. John Barrowman is excellent as Jack in the story, while other cast members, such as Alexandria Ng, Tom Price, and Paul Clayton are all given chances to shine in this story.

John Barrowman returns as the leader of Torchwood, Captain Jack Harkness. Barrowman has always held an affection for the role of Jack that I feel enhances his performances as the character. He always throws himself rather deeply into the role, regardless of the medium, and he does the same here. The Jack we get in this story is the more comedic, flirtatious Jack, but with occasional hints of the more serious man underneath. Barrowman has the time of his life here, getting the chance to flirt with nearly every character in the story. I quite liked how Barrowman was able to make the awkwardness of the flirting so funny; the scenes where he flirts with Tom Price's Andy Davidson were hilarious because of the exceedingly poor timing of it all. Speaking of Price, Andy Davidson is back! After his absence from the last set, Price's well-meaning, simplistic police sergeant makes a welcome return here in this story. Ever since Ghost Mission, I've always looked forward to the appearance of Andy in a story, because he brings a bit of deadpan, unintentional humour to a story rather effortlessly. I particularly liked his back and forth with Barrowman and Alexandria Riley throughout the story.

Alexandria Riley and Paul Clayton return as Ng, the woman who has taken over Gwen's life, and Mr. Colchester, the civil servant assisting Torchwood. Riley is, in essence, playing Gwen Cooper in these sets, with her character having somehow taken over the life of Gwen completely, fooling friends and family alike. Her character reminds me a bit of Adam from the episode Adam, a memory changing creature who inserts itself into the lives of Torchwood. Her character is interesting for that reason alone, but Riley really does a great job playing "Gwen" in these stories. Her impression isn't spot-on, but then, it's not meant to be. I was rather fooled during the last set, at least to start, thinking that maybe Myles (who makes some occasional appearances here in this story) had a cold or something. It's not quite Gwen, but it's enough to pass for Gwen if you're not listening hard. It works well within the story too, because it makes it clear, to audio listeners, that while this is Gwen, there's something off about her, and I really appreciate the work that Riley puts into the character. Paul Clayton delivers another excellent performance as Mr. Colchester in this story, once again through the use of Sam BĂ©art's Orr. Clayton has an extremely dry sense of humour as Mr. Colchester, which is always welcome in a story, but the moments that stand out in this story are the moments that reveal things about his character and his person. The scene where he saves Orr's life, and tells everyone to exit the room to prevent everyone from affecting her, is a sweet moment, as Orr simply states that he must love his husband. Clayton really sells the hell out of this moment, and the build-up to it, giving a rather affecting performance that stands out among the others.

Christopher Cooper, a longtime Doctor Who comic writer, takes the audio writing helm for the third time, with a story about sex, plain and simple. Well, maybe not so simple, as it's about alien parasites affecting alien rats, which are affecting humans, and causing them to want to spread the virus and shag anything in sight. The script wrings a lot of humour out of Jack and the way he flirts with everyone and everything in sight, but there are some surprisingly affecting moments as well. Most of this story felt like a combination of elements of several episodes of Torchwood; elements of Adam, Day One, Countrycide, and Combat all pervade this story. But rather than being a Frankenstein-ed mess, the story mostly works, making the elements feel novel, putting them together in new ways. The story feels both like it's own thing, but also as a continuation of the overarching story of Aliens Among Us. I appreciated the alien menace of this story, and the way Orr and Jack reacted to it, finding it almost amusing that such a stupid pest could be the cause of all Torchwood's problems. I also quite liked the little aspects of the story that drove the main plot forward, like Tyler's (Jonny Green) interactions with Ro-Jedda (Rachel Atkins) and how they're trying to move forward that aspect of the story a bit, as well as the parts of the story that dealt with "Gwen" and her being taken over by Ng.

However, there's one aspect of the story I'm quite mixed on, and that's "Gwen" sleeping with Jack, while under the influence of the alien parasite. This thread is a familiar thread to those who've seen Series 1 of Torchwood, where Gwen begins an affair with Owen, following a trying period of her life. I don't quite know how I feel about Cooper bringing this aspect of the story back up. On the one hand, my initial reaction is to dislike it. We've had the arc of Rhys being unhappy with Gwen's life and with her leaving him alone without calling, and the secret-keeping, and the affairs. But, on the other hand, we've never really had the arc of Gwen's affair resolved in the show. Gwen slips Rhys retcon, and it's really not brought up again in the show; if this is being taken as a rehashing of that arc, then I think it's a negative thing. But if this is a continuation, and the story will culminate in Rhys finding out about the affair, and leaving "Gwen" for the repeated affairs, then that will be an extremely interesting arc. For now, I'll leave this thread where it is, but it's an idea that I'm not quite sure how I feel about.

Overall, Love Rat opens the set with a story that is mostly funny, but that has some tinges of more powerful elements. John Barrowman gets a chance to play up the over-sexed aspect of Jack, and does it with relish, while Paul Clayton gives yet another impressive performance, and Alexandria Riley and Tom Price give enjoyable performances. Christopher Cooper's writing was a fun affair, capturing the funniest elements of each character well, and giving some strong, emotional moments for characters like Gwen and Mr. Colchester. It was a strong opening story to the set, and an exciting tease of things to come.

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