Torchwood Soho – Parasite

Posted in Audio by - August 24, 2020
Torchwood Soho – Parasite

Released August 2020

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

Of the many characters that Big Finish has introduced to the Torchwood universe both in its official continuation of the television story and in its individual releases designed to flesh out the long history and many branches of the organization, perhaps none has instantly stood out and made such an impact as Norton Folgate. A somewhat enigmatic member of Torchwood One in the 1950s who clearly has a good heart but who also has no qualms acting against the perceived good even well beyond his native time thanks to Torchwood technology, Folgate and actor Samuel Barnett presented a natural avenue for this era of Torchwood to be explored, and James Goss takes up the writing duties for the six-part Torchwood Soho – Parasite.

From the start, it’s clear that this collection will offer one cohesive saga rather that six distinct stories, and Goss takes the opportunity to fashion a non-linear narrative that reveals key pieces of background information at just the right moments. Without ever alienating listeners, this approach allows characters to act with certain knowledge early on and then to explain later how they came to attain that knowledge while further fleshing out this particular world and its occupants’ many motivations. In ‘The Man from Room 13,’ the titular Room 13 is introduced, and Norton who once seemed in line for Torchwood greatness currently finds himself as something of an assistant to Lizbeth Hayhoe who likewise has aspirations to be something much more than the seeming afterthought that this assignment represents. Dervla Kirwan and Barnett instantly bring out a congenial but almost combative relationship steeped in mutual sympathy, and their exploits as they look to find a mysterious package with Nazi ties amidst bureaucracy while something moves in the smog as gangsters continue to disappear from the street should continue to build in excitement and importance. This is a world in which sexism and racism are hardly covert, and Norton attempting to retain his trademark confidence and charisma despite his current situation proves to be fascinating hook for the developing science fiction tale.

‘Meet Mr Lyme’ expertly develops the racism of this world even more as the arrival of Giddeon Lyme and his attempt to find work and housing meet expected but nonetheless disheartening hurdles. Joe Shire made a quick impact as the mysterious man Folgate crossed paths with in the previous tale, but he further develops the determination and forthrightness of his character all the more both as he struggles to achieve his desires and to understand the type of person that Folgate is. It will be quite intriguing to see where his storyline takes him given the position he attains early on after revealing a particular item in his possession, but Lyme quickly proves to be another strong complement to the plan Room 13 has set in motion. The competitiveness of Folgate and Hayhoe continues to feature as each attempts to form the best plan with the information at hand, and although the resulting scheme to obtain a particular package of note is almost ludicrously simple, the ultimate payoff with nothing quite exactly as it seems perfectly sets the stage for the remainder of the set by proving that nothing can be taken for granted when a particular Nazi group of note is involved.

No pairing has been quite as dynamic and engrossing in audio Torchwood as Norton Folgate and Sergeant Andy Davidson thanks to the superb chemistry between Samuel Barnett and Tom Price, respectively, and ‘The Mould’ sees Andy arrive via vortex manipulator to remove Norton from a dangerous situation in just the nick of time. With spores a growing threat, their immediate solution upon escape is all the more embarrassing when Norton’s plan to meet Lyme back at his place- although perhaps ending at the same point- takes on an entirely more direct approach. This trio is instantly engaging as Lyme tries to figure out just who Norton and Andy truly are in relation to each other, and their very human approach to figuring out how to handle the situation that presents itself at Norton’s modest abode captures the building tension and emotion of this problem wonderfully. With disappearances throughout the city mounting and even the safest and most secure public and secret institutions vulnerable to this silent threat that carries such drastic consequences, the scene is capably set for a strong second half to this set with the core cast of wary protagonists now all assembled and primed to ensure time unfolds as its should with no instability.

‘The Spread’ has the necessary duty of highlighting just what this insidious fungoid menace can do to people and what the consequences of its continued propagation could be; however, instead of providing a straight thriller as might be expected, it splits its lead team and continues to flesh out the nuances of this world and just how Norton seems to consider the people he comes into contact with since a traditional friendship seems all but impossible. The Stagnant Pond had become an intriguing plot point early on, but the truth behind this pub caught out of time and its Teddy Boy gang is wholly more fascinating here, especially with Andy and Lyme forced to enjoy the hospitality as Lyme appears to grow more suspicious of the man with whom he has been keeping company. Franchi Webb provides another intriguing voice in this plot that continues to take unexpected turns, and just how this particular element ultimately ties into the larger plot should be an exciting plotline to follow. All the while, Norton is able to showcase his unique morality that is questionable at best at certain times as he continues to work his way through several individuals and forces confronting and combating the mycelial threat with little success. He’s not so callous that he completely disregards the sanctity of life, especially when he realizes that something could still prove to be advantageous to himself later on, and is reunion with Lisbeth as so many colleagues have already fully succumbed to the threat at hand provides a fitting hook for the final third of this set.

With Lisbeth now in focus, ‘The Dead Hand’ explores how this Torchwood operative came to occupy her Room 13 position by unveiling some of the internal and international politics that fueled both personal and practical gain within the organization. Lisbeth proves at every opportunity that she is destined for greatness with the questions she asks and the actions she takes when investigating her Nazi counterparts earlier on, and it’s precisely those well-intentioned ambitions and incisive decisions that earn her only career futility because of the uncomfortable situation that results for her superiors. This is hardly the Torchwood that would come to feature on television, and the bureaucracy, sexism, and even selfishness in place make for an intriguing backdrop for a woman’s well-reasoned intuition. Naturally, Lisbeth is hardly disregarded since her actions do earn her the respect of those paying attention, but the trajectory thrust upon her as well as Dervla Kirwan’s engrossing energy provide plenty of storytelling potential should Big Finish choose to revisit this character in the future. With the apparent trap sprung for Torchwood and Norton once more in the presence of the one person he wanted to find amidst the worsening plight, the final instalment will be tasked with bringing the split team back together while handling the emotional outfall and rectifying the spread of this parasitic plague.

‘The Liberty of Norton Folgate’ represents the end of this saga, and perhaps unsurprisingly given the shorter running times of the individual stories, Norton resolves the threat quite quickly with only brief snippets and explanations of his actions to hint at the tremendous danger he put himself in to achieve it. While the fungoid threat thus never really has a chance to manifest beyond a few key scenes through the six stories, the ultimate success of this story hinges on portraying Norton as a true hero despite the seemingly questionable and even callous decisions he makes along the way. He’s certainly not above reproach as his sympathy for putting one colleague in harm’s way is tempered by his intention for it to have been another instead, but this is clearly a shrewd and cunning thinker who is able to see farther ahead than most, and Barnett again plays this unique enigma of a man pitch perfectly throughout. Particularly when compared and contrasted to Andy who is so very proud of his first attempt to manipulate others’ actions to ensure the best possible outcome, Norton is a monumental presence who again proves to have plenty of narrative potential left in him. From Lyme’s arrival to The Stagnant Pond and even the Festival of Britain’s Skylon, every dangling plot thread from earlier is shown to be interconnected in a master scheme. Torchwood Soho – Parasite proves beyond a doubt that there is a place for these shorter stories as part of a larger arc, and although the particular parasite of the title doesn’t quite come to life here, the thrilling character work and pacing in a non-linear narrative set within this vibrant world that sets up the potential exploration of yet another era of Torchwood is an unmitigated success from beginning to end.

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