Believe

Posted in Audio by - May 15, 2018
Believe

Released April 2018
SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

Big Finish’s acquisition of the Torchwood license instantly opened the door for continued exploration of the events following Miracle Day and for lost adventures featuring characters both living and dead. While the ongoing audio adventures have succeeded admirably in their presentation and ambition both as full-scale special releases and as more intimate monthly releases, Believe represents the first true achievement of that latter aim as the full original cast reunites for the first time since the harrowing events of ‘Exit Wounds’ broadcast in April 2008 to tell the tale of the Church of the Outsiders that believes mankind must evolve and reach out to the stars and of Owen Harper’s devoted pursuit to stop it.

As with traditional Torchwood tales, the first episode opens with a concise debriefing with the Torchwood Three team, and Believe gets off to an immense start as the Church of the Outsiders formed by former comic book writer Steve Ross who died several years ago comes into focus with a member’s recordings praising both the Outsiders and one Jack Harkness. The Church believes that mankind is at a dead end on Earth and that humans should look to space and hybridization to survive, and it sells conspiracies about what is already known and hidden from the public to maximise its effect and pull. Now run by Ross’s widow, Val, the Church is registered as a non-profit organisation to receive tax breaks even though it is not recognised as an official religion, but its operations in well-to-do territory are at ends with the net loss under which it officially functions. Those joining for the full live-in experience offer everything they have at the door to help them separate from the trappings of an earthbound existence while others pay for one-on-one lessons and subscription channels, and all of this rubs Owen in particular the wrong way.

With Jack’s name being mentioned and recent events at the front of everyone’s minds, he feels that none of his Torchwood colleagues trust him, and he can’t bring himself to blame them. He knows better than anyone the truth of the future that the Church speaks of, and he has grown to at times resent this small world on which he finds himself trapped. With Jack giving the team distance and Owen forcefully spearheading the charge against the Church both because of a spate of recent crimes by certain of its members who have taken to wearing masks and surgically modifying their bodies and because of the naivety of the afterlife at the heart of religion that he so uniquely understands, Torchwood’s furtive assault takes on a multi-pronged approach. As Ianto seeks to enter the very core of the Church itself as a new member, Owen sends Gwen to find Ross’s daughter Andromeda who lives in fear after severing ties with the Church under Val’s guidance, and she proves willing to work with Torchwood before modulated assailants claiming to want to help her bring lethal danger in the their wake. At the same time, Toshiko must find the assumed secret information of accountant Frank Layton played so convincingly by Arthur Darvill, realising that she won’t be able to rely expressly on her brain in this occasion. With Owen pushing her to complete her mission no matter the personal cost, this storyline results in a dark and uncomfortable crescendo where the unspoken grievances and feelings of these two burst forth through subtext and implication, and the raw anger, confusion, and pain is played spectacularly by all involved to develop a second engrossing cliffhanger to an exciting but necessarily exposition-laden story.

In the second episode, Ianto goes undercover as a new addition to the Church, forging an instant connection with Erin who is tasked with welcoming and initiating him into their ranks. Rhian Blundell and Gareth David-Lloyd have an immense chemistry together to the point that Ianto seems much more at ease with Erin than he ever has with anyone at Torchwood, Jack included. Indeed, Ianto’s character and feelings are directly called into question during the initiation procedure, and he must brutally confront his personal flaws, his need to be accepted, whether there is anyone he can truly trust, and whether he honestly believes that he can be useful if given a chance to begin anew alongside the Church. Accompanying this is the rather poignant observation that humans as a whole are only deserving of a second chance if they have learned from the mistakes of their past, but this very much is an internal exploration of Ianto as he continues to gain confidence in himself, and David-Lloyd is magnificent in his delivery. Of course, when he sees Erin’s discomfort when in the presence of the modified individuals who have overtaken the west wing and hold secret meetings by themselves, his attempts to learn more backfire miserably as the members prove less than accepting and forcefully call his motives into question.

The middle instalment is perhaps not the greatest in terms of advancing the plot until key segments at the very end, but it is amongst Torchwood’s finest in terms of characterisation and exploration, and the standout sequence of Believe and perhaps of the entire Big Finish range as a whole comes during the monumental fallout of Owen’s disastrous plan that he continues to make worse every step of the way. With a man dead because of the best and worst of humanity shining through in one instant, Tosh must reconcile the Owen she has so admired and even loved with the man before her who has proven to be relentless and merciless in what looks more and more like a personal vendetta against the Church as he brazenly shows that no price is too high and no sacrifice is too great for the knowledge he requires. Tosh and Owen had such an intriguing relationship on television in which so much went unsaid for so long, and Guy Adams captures the nuances and mindsets of each character spectacularly as they confront the horrors of what has just occurred from their own perspectives and try to establish a manner of continuing onward from this point. It may have been ten years since their last appearance together in character, but Burn Gorman and Naoko Mori give arguably their finest performances in their roles yet as they deal with physical and emptional repercussions of very human flaws and mistakes from both, lending an immense amount of depth to this relationship that would become so central to events as ‘Exit Wounds’ neared and firmly proving the wealth of intrapersonal and inerpersonal exploration still possible within the well-established original team.

As events turn to the final episode, Jack has revealed himself as the Face of Tomorrow within the Church as the man who cannot die and who can help them reach the future, his team hoping that he has a plan and that his recent actions and words are not a cause for concern. This is a man who is initially hesitant to be seen around the Church after going to great lengths to prove to Val that he is the man of legend who has been involved in so many impossible stories for so long and who knows that the future she preaches will come to pass, but he slowly comes to accept his role in the furthering of Val’s work. Meanwhile, with Andromeda safely in the Torchwood Hub, the assumptions about her break with the Church prove not to be quite as factual as Gwen may have believed, and the presence of the rift as a doorway to everything she has ever wanted proves all too tempting for her to pass up, even when warned of the inherent dangers to Earth of doing what she proposes. With the emergency lockdown in place and their first alien encounter not quite as peaceful as hoped, she remains undeterred and sends a message from her father to the stars to which all humans must return, the climax of an exciting character arc so tied to her past and hope for the future that Lois Meleri Jones has brought to life perfectly.

As the team regroups at the Hub and carefully eliminates the rift threat after playing on the despair of unfulfilled dreams, the true scope of Jack’s actions become known. Owen has always held something of a grudge against Jack and acts as if he has something to prove, a dynamic that in some ways extends to all of the team members and one that Tosh suggests may be their own doing rather than Jack’s alone. Whereas Owen’s plan relied on attaining damaging facts at all costs, Jack has led these types of missions before and understands that this Church and religion as a whole are based upon perception, and Val brazenly advertising the seemingly impossible abilities of a man who has been the fodder of rumour and speculation for an impossibly long time has disastrous consequences for the Church in the public eye. Having become the laughing stock of the press as Jack proclaims that the best way to hide a secret is to have people talk about it in flippant tones, the Church’s most devout members who literally have nothing else find themselves at a crossroads, and the importance of the single individual in comparison to the group as a whole is again wisely questioned and discussed with Erin the emotional voice of reason breaking through the Church’s more verbose and ostentatious showings.

Guy Adams had an immense task at hand when reuniting the original Torchwood cast for the first time in ten years, and though Eve Myles’s Gwen here is a bit less featured than might be expected, Believe is a standout success that hopefully becomes the first of many full-cast dramas set within this timeframe. Ditching Big Finish’s own established continuity to keep this set as welcoming and familiar as possible for long-time fans and new listeners alike, the immense character arcs that on several occasions tread into morally dubious territory make for some of the most hard-hitting and emotional science fiction that Big Finish has ever released. With the usual superb performances- highlighted by the powerfully heartrending and poignant performances from Naoko Mori and Burn Gorman- to go along with stellar direction and sound design, this multi-faceted tragedy is a triumph for all involved and believably develops those within the Church of the Outsiders as both powerful antagonists and sympathetic, misguided figures during the course of its explosive but thought-provoking narrative in which right and wrong are anything but clearly defined.

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