The Five People You Must Kill in Middlesbrough

Posted in Audio by - June 25, 2021
The Five People You Must Kill in Middlesbrough

Released June 2021

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

Despite only appearing on screen in the Doctor Who two-parter ‘Army of Ghosts’ and ‘Doomsday,’ Yvonne Hartman as so perfectly played by Tracy-Ann Oberman has endured as one of the most consequential and defining characters within the Torchwood universe. Pragmatic, decisive, and wholly unafraid to do what needs to be done no matter the situation or possible costs, Hartman and her tenure within the furtive organization have unsurprisingly continued to provide ample storytelling opportunities for Big Finish to continue to explore. In what is cheekily billed as something of a tell-all memoir written by Hartman herself, ‘The Five People You Kill in Middlesbrough’ offers an unfettered look at just how decisively she must act as a spaceship crashes in Middlesbrough and a cloud of deadly particles begins to spread across the United Kingdom.

It’s no secret that this story is a thinly-veiled metaphor for the threat of and various responses- or lack thereof- to the spread of COVID-19 within the United Kingdom and many other countries. Unfortunately, that means that Yvonne’s determined attempts to enact the Icarus Protocol to save her country are repeatedly met with incredible actions of corruption, ineptitude, deception, and apathy while the danger continues to spread. It’s not that everyone she meets is explicitly evil, but the self-serving nature of every figure she must try to explain the truth to is a damning indictment of society at large. Whether through misappropriated funding that detracts from the best possible defense, conspiracy theories that completely ignore the truth staring everyone in the face and that serve to undermine public confidence in the facts, a focus on celebrity or maintaining the status quo rather than on helping, or a need to run away after ignoring for so long, the almost unbelievable actions of some of the country’s most influential people are made all the more effective because of their real-life analogues that have been witnessed and uncovered as the world has grappled with the pandemic and the many different responses that different governments have employed to combat its spread.

‘The Five People You Kill in Middlesbrough’ features a surprisingly large cast for a monthly Torchwood audio, but Kacey Ainsworth, Timothy Bentinck, Nathaniel Curtis, Denis Lawson, and Sara Powell all give brilliant performances to lend a genuine sense of scope to the affair as the threat continues to spread. Hartman implicitly knows that she is always the smartest person in the room, and though the use of black humour and incorporation of cancel culture and its effects do somewhat lighten the affair, this dark satire provides a brutally honest look at many facets of society and the threats it faces, for better or for worse. And while Oberman is wholly entrancing as Yvonne confronts and deals with every challenge presented, showing not one glimmer of hope or competence outside of Yvonne does create something of a repetitive and trying experience as five different variations on a theme are presented in rapid fashion. This means that there is no opportunity for Yvonne to work and elicit change from within the system, instead suggesting that only extreme measures to take unhelpful individuals out of the equation and to instate more useful choices is the only effective solution. To be fair, this is perfectly fitting for Yvonne’s characterization and certainly emphasizes many of her most famous characteristics, but presenting her as such an antihero who takes such drastic measures so casually of her own volition paints her as too cavalier and powerful despite it all being in the name of serving and saving her country.

Whether because of the extreme political loyalties that have come to be so defining in the world or simply because of how extreme Yvonne’s continued actions become in a country that doesn’t seem to want to be saved, this will probably be one of the more divisive releases in this range. Still, there’s no denying just how strong the performances, direction, and sound design are as some of Yvonne’s earlier exploits are chronicled, and ‘The Five People You Must Kill in Middlesbrough’ confidently presents a unique twist on the typical Torchwood tale that is certainly worth experiencing.

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