Ex Machina

Posted in Audio by - September 26, 2020
Ex Machina

Released September 2020

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

With so much of the world still in a form of lockdown as COVID-19 continues to persist and resurge, streets and cities have appeared much emptier than usual. Written well before the pandemic took hold but nonetheless gaining an extra eerie quality as it presents a deserted Cardiff, Alfie Shaw’s ‘Ex Machina’ brings forth Ianto Jones as the lone crusader looking to keep the empty streets safe.

‘Ex Machina’ begins simply enough as Laura Aikman’s Abigail seeks out Gareth David-Lloyd’s Ianto to help her uncover why she has no memories of her parents. Assured that aliens must be to blame, the resulting exploration into Abigail’s life and the state of Cardiff as a whole uncovers a strikingly poignant tale about memories and the very different reactions that can be associated with them. All of Abigail’s records seem to be scrubbed of any mention of her family and even her photographs are empty aside from her no matter the locale, but it’s the differently sized shoes and the men’s items in her flat that indicate that something far more profound is occurring with her memory. Realizing that she has been focusing on herself and not on what must have happened to those around her, a surprisingly intimate moment between Abigail and Ianto develops as Ianto delves into his own personal history with Lisa and his continuing attempts to uncover what exactly occurred to her. It’s a relatively small moment, but Aikman and David-Lloyd excel as the similar mindsets of both characters are fully revealed while hauntingly reminding the audience of just how much Ianto has been through at this point.

The situation and stakes become all the more pointed when Abigail’s neighbour, Mrs Evans, appears to be one of the only other Cardiff denizens still present, though she is also experiencing startlingly significant gaps in her memory that no evidence can help to rectify. With Abigail increasingly integral to affairs, a contrast between her and Ianto forms as moral boundaries are confronted head on. Dire circumstances reveal the inner workings and thoughts of everyone involved, but Ianto always remains true to himself as his own knowledge and experiences guide him through this most unexpected physical manifestation of absence and just what that can entail at its most extreme. The timeframe that this Cardiff has come into existence is shocking and effective, and the decision to not reveal the full history about the Absence and to instead focus solely on the effects of its arrival is narratively wise so as to not detract from the very human element on display from beginning to end.

The Absence is an incredible idea, and the very familiar thoughts it forces its audience to confront as Abigail begins to remember more of her past help finish a suitably engaging mystery on a high note. The idea itself is unquestionably too big for a single release, and the full fallout of the emotional turmoil Abigail was experiencing certainly had even more room to develop as her internal void traversed through Cardiff’s physical void, but the emotional journey on display is nonetheless a powerful and engaging one at all times. With incredible acting and a steady direction that are intensified by a stark but effective sound design, ‘Ex Machina’ is another strong and unique outing for the Big Finish Torchwood range that seems unable to hit a wrong note.

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