Empire of Shadows

Posted in Audio by - August 28, 2021
Empire of Shadows

Released August 2021

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

At a time before the Tenth Doctor crossed paths with Yvonne Hartman and Torchwood was simply a word he continued to encounter on his journeys, Zachary Cross Flane in ‘The Impossible Planet’ and ‘The Satan Pit’ proved that the organization started by Queen Victoria in 1879 to investigate and fight alien threats still existed in the forty-third century. In James Goss’s ‘Empire of Shadows,’ Flane takes centre stage in his first Torchwood appearance, summoned to the opening of the late Empress’s Library that the Empress’s son is sure holds the key to the conspiracy that deposed his mother that he believes to still be active.

Of course, this time period within the Doctor Who universe is hardly the most well-defined, and so focusing on the current Emperor Merdiven who still seems to exhibit psychological scars from surviving the assassination attempt that took his family’s life is a natural means by which to develop this world and to integrate Torchwood. This is a man who is arrogant and unafraid of sharing his opinion, but he does seem to have the interests of others in mind as well, and Big Finish newcomer Mateo Oxley gives a fittingly dynamic performance to display the Emperor’s emotional extremes as he becomes convinced that his life is in danger with a secret at the heart of the Library his only hope. And while the presence of the Emperor allows for discussions about motivations and intentions in an empire with declining sway, the inclusion of the artificial intelligence Chloe allows for introspective moments about consciousness and rights to take hold to further flesh out a more personal side of the empire at this time. Amanda Shodeko is equally strong as this synthetic being who recognizes self-worth and who will speak up against actions and impulses she believes to be incorrect, and although this type of character is becoming increasingly common in Doctor Who, she nonetheless becomes a standout presence that could potentially open the door to further exploration of the dynamics of synthetics at this time.

The monthly Torchwood audio releases typically feature only two actors, and so including two supporting characters in addition to the lead unfortunately means that less time can be dedicated to the exploration of that lead. In this case, because Zachary Cross Flane is still all but unknown, that fact is all the more unfortunate since little new is learned about the character. Shaun Parkes is superbly charismatic in the role and more than capably drives the action-adventure forward, but Flane becomes the least defined character of the three and ultimately serves more as a device to explore the other two. Still, Parkes’s obvious enthusiasm and energy are contagious, and hopefully he will be tasked with leading another adventure that will highlight him more and follow less of a linear and predictable path. As it is, verything in ‘Empire of Shadows’ has been done elsewhere to greater effect, and what essentially amounts to something of an Indiana Jones adventure with set pieces and dangers pervading is let down all the more by a twist ending that had been telegraphed multiple times before its arrival. The ultimate resolution is fitting enough, but the lack of character work for Flane along with little suggestion that these events will have any greater impact on the franchise as a whole mean that three genuinely strong performances still leave the story as a whole feeling somewhat hollow and less than what it might otherwise have been.

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