Reviewed By: thisoldcan
Review 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.