The first of Big Finish’s forays into the world of 21st Century Doctor Who is actually a sidestep into the series’ first official spin-off, Torchwood. The series has had a rocky time, with two regular seasons of varying quality followed by a five-night event on BBC One (Children of Earth) that drew in many who would normally not be seen dead watching a genre show, before its final TV airing, Miracle Day, a ten-part co-production with US network Starz that often felt like six episodes’ worth of plot overextended. The show has been kept alive with novels – including a post-Miracle Day tale co-written by star John Barrowman – as well as a number of BBC Radio plays. In a sense this takes some of the pressure off the Big Finish production team, as they’re not having to break new ground with an audio version of the show (unlike recent revivals such as Survivors and The Omega Factor).
It also means that the range doesn’t have to begin with a huge season opener; wisely producer James Goss has commissioned a story from David Llewellyn that is a solid piece of Torchwood, focused around Barrowman’s Jack Harkness, sowing seeds for the later tales and filling in a little bit of Jack’s own backstory. (Incidentally it’ll be great if Jack’s “missing years” mentioned in his very first appearance on Doctor Who can be dealt with finally in these audios!) Barrowman knows his character extremely well – Jack’s unique ability (at least unique at this stage of the series) to return from the dead gives him an appreciation of life that others may not have – and he gives each scene the necessary dramatic weight.
Director Scott Handcock has assembled a strong cast around Barrowman: John Sessions is terrific as George Wilson, with Sarah Ovens and Dan Bottomley equally good as Kate and Sam. Blair Mowat’s incidental music feels as if it’s come from the UK versions of the show, while Neil Gardner rises to the challenges of the multiple settings of the story and its occasional monologues with an effective sound design.
Verdict: A solid start that plays to the strengths of the series. 8/10