Posted in Audio by - January 25, 2022

Aired 01 July 2009


With the third televised series of Torchwood set to debut within a week, the franchise first returned to BBC Radio 4 with three audio dramas beginning with Anita Sullivan’s ‘Asylum.’ When PC Andy Davidson arrests a young girl for shoplifting and finds a weapon like nothing he has ever seen before, he knows that he must call in Torchwood. With few memories and using a strange amalgamation of languages and accents, however, Freda is a mystery that is about to change everything Andy thought he knew.

Like ‘Lost Souls’ before it, ‘Asylum’ is hampered somewhat by the fact that it has to remain accessible to casual Radio 4 listeners who may have little to no exposure to Torchwood as a franchise. Accordingly, it never tries to do anything too dynamically outside of the box for the length of its running time until at the end of it all revealing that Torchwood in the future has sent this part-alien girl back to this time in order to avoid the anti-alien prejudice in her own where her mother seeks asylum. That by itself if a fascinating hook that is rife for exploration, but since Freda is attempting to regain her own memories with Gwen’s constant assistance, there is little opportunity to explore the troubled world that she comes from aside from fragmentary details and no chance at all to explore what this furtive organization will become as the world continues to change. While it is understandable that Gwen should not want Andy to be involved in Torchwood business, the two spend far too much time arguing about jurisdiction and discussing wholly inconsequential matters that take away from the great potential that understanding Freda’s world so clearly holds even with the letdown that her strange gun is in actuality a universal remote control.

Regardless of the material that certainly has flashes of brilliance, the performances are uniformly strong throughout, and Erin Richards helps to create an intriguing mystery as Freda slowly comes to remember where she comes from and who she is. ‘Asylum,’ likewise, highlights the strengths of Gwen as she takes on a more understanding and even compassionate role while attempting to help Freda, and Eve Myles adeptly steps into a slightly softer role than Gwen usually anchors while still resolutely highlighting the character’s steadfast determination. Similarly, Tom Price is superb as Andy slowly comes to comprehend the scope of the mystery before him, rightfully refusing to step down from Gwen’s blanket requests and ensuring that he is not simply swept aside once again. This is a massive step forward for the character who has remained on the fringe of the inner workings of Torchwood for so long, and it’s wonderful to hear him voice his principles and morality so clearly. On the other hand, Jack and Ianto are sidelined much more than is typical as they attempt to gather more information about Freda, and while John Barrowman and Gareth David-Lloyd certainly captivate in each scene, there is little character development in these scenes that ultimately add little to the plot despite the important details they uncover.

‘Asylum’ is certainly enjoyable enough, but refusing to truly explore and develop Freda’s world is a glaring omission that only further highlights the significant time the story spends on unimportant affairs. Still, it capably reintroduces Torchwood to the masses even if it refuses to take any significant risks, and there are certainly worse ways to spend forty-five minutes than with excellent performances elevating a fairly standard script.

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