❉ The first of a new run of single-disc Torchwood dramas reunites Nerys Hughes and Kai Owen.
“Kai Owen deftly reminds listeners that Rhys Williams has been one of the unsung heroes of Torchwood.”
Visiting Hours, the latest release from Big Finish Productions’ series of Torchwood audio dramas, is a prime example of the old saying that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. After two series of standalone single-disc releases, the larger-scale multi-part stories The Torchwood Archive and Outbreak were an appealing change of pace. The resumption of standalone releases is in turn welcome not just for the return to more intimate narratives but also for the character the first one focuses on.
Paired here with Nerys Hughes, reprising her TV role as his mother Brenda, Kai Owen deftly reminds listeners that Rhys Williams has been one of the unsung heroes of Torchwood. The notion of ordinary people displaying extraordinary character was central to Russell T. Davies’ reinvention of Doctor Who. Even if Torchwood veered into darker territory, that mindset was still there, especially when Davies took greater creative control with Children of Earth. With key cast members John Barrowman, Eve Myles and Gareth David Lloyd – not to mention Tom Price as PC Andy – all having had solo turns, Kai Owen’s moment in the sonic spotlight feels perhaps a bit overdue but is no less satisfying despite the wait.
It helps that the premise is perfectly suited to the character. Rhys having to protect his mother from mysterious happenings at the hospital where she’s convalescing is one of those deft mixes of the everyday and the fantastic that Torchwood (like Doctor Who) does so well. As a crossroads between life and death, a hospital is an ideal setting for life or death scenarios. That element combined with Rhys’ unwavering devotion to his family gives it undeniable gravity.
The key word for Visiting Hours is intimate – and not just because the dialogue references Last Tango In Paris. For all the incident and paranormal events throughout, the focus is still very much two people forced to fight for their lives. Neither of them is intrinsically comfortable with being in that position, and that’s what makes it the crucible that enables them to get to know each other better in the process. Though the two characters only appeared together once before, the actors create a thoroughly believable rapport, portraying all the shades of affection and frustration that characterize the bonds between parents and their adult children.
“Torchwood is seeing a terrific burst of creativity in its time off television, especially in the past couple years. It isn’t the only science-fiction oriented series that endeavours to make their spin-off work worthy companions to the “mothership”, but it’s certainly among the most committed to it.”
Where the production excels beyond the performances is its use of sound to create tension. While the plot could generally have worked on-screen, it’s unlikely that it would have conveyed the same psychological impact in a visual presentation that it does when articulated solely through sound. Noises that would typically be part of the background can take on an ominous quality when you know the characters are desperate not to be found. In addition, the shifts in sonic perspective between Rhys and Brenda and those hunting them are particularly effective at drawing the listener into the environment and building suspense in the process.
Torchwood is seeing a terrific burst of creativity in its time off television, especially in the past couple years. It isn’t the only science-fiction oriented series that endeavours to make their spin-off work worthy companions to the “mothership”, but it’s certainly among the most committed to it. This new run of Torchwood audio dramas starts as Station Zero, a new comic series written by John Barrowman and his sister Carole, is already continuing the team’s story in its own way. It remains to be seen if that story will ever be continued on TV, but as was the case with Doctor Who after its “wilderness years”, the bar will be set very high creatively if it does.
❉ ‘Torchwood – Visiting Hours’ by David Llewellyn is released on 14 March 2017. It will be exclusively available to buy from the BF website until April 30th 2017, and on general sale after this date.