The Black Knight

Posted in Audio by - March 27, 2022
The Black Knight

Released March 2022


Labeled as release 50X in the Big Finish monthly Torchwood range and thus ostensibly serving as a replacement of sorts for ‘Absent Friends’ that seems to have been shelved indefinitely for understandable reasons, ‘The Black Knight’ by Lizbeth Myles turns to the space race and scientist Lynne Sharman who- after multiple inexplicable mission failures- has detected an asteroid that destroys any craft entering the Earth’s orbit. Only the mysterious Norton Folgate from Torchwood believes her, however, and he quickly takes her on a most remarkable journey to explore her findings.

Tapping into the overt gender politics of the time, Myles presents Sharman an incredibly intuitive, intelligent, and dedicated woman who is unafraid of confronting the men in power when they are quick to place the blame on her for overreaching in a male-dominated field and world. Sharman is quite graceful in her attempts to defiantly support her own abilities and knowledge despite the at times reasonable and at times unreasonable accusations and insinuations that her position and gender bring, and Safiyya Ingar expertly captures the inherent frustration of a woman in such a position who should be celebrating success after success.

Interestingly, while it’s no surprise that Sharman should eagerly latch onto any opportunity to prove her latest theory of an outside element preventing humanity from traveling beyond the magnetosphere, especially once traditional avenues of funding and research have all but abandoned her, the relationship she forms with Norton after he flaunts his position and power to assure Sharman of another chance is wholly surprising and genuine. Norton, of course, is another male figure for her to navigate, but she clearly respects his opinions as- after other potential crew members prove to be unavailable for any number of reasons- they travel to the so-called Black Knight that is preventing crafts from passing in either direction. Their final companion, Freddie Talbot, is quick to point out the social and economic boon that the technology aboard this craft could bring Britain, especially with the world beneath them poised to succumb to nuclear warfare as the worst of human nature continues to rear its head. However, while questioning whether this craft is meant to keep aliens away from Earth as a means of protection or to keep humanity from leaving Earth as a means of entrapment, Sharman is wisely less interested in those more superficial aspects and manages to paint humanity in a much greater light than Freddie who thankfully is written as anything but a one-dimensional caricature given his comparatively selfish outlook.

Throughout Norton’s many Torchwood adventures, he has proven himself more than willing to betray anyone in his own personal orbit. He constantly straddles the murky line between good and bad without revealing his true motivations or intentions, and so it’s not wholly surprising that he has ulterior motives beneath what appears to be a genuinely congenial and respectful relationship with Sharman. It’s a testament to both the writing of Myles and to the performance of Samuel Barnett that this relationship is so believable, in many cases giving the sense that Norton has finally met a kindred spirit in this gifted and determined outsider whom he can help and guide with the resources and influence he has available. This makes the inevitable twist at the end all the more gut-wrenching, and while Norton’s motivations are sound and certainly can be defended given the good and the bad that the potential for humanity’s future holds, being forced to confront his current and earlier decisions head-on even if he doesn’t have to make the same sacrifice that Sharman assumes is a blisteringly effective moment that is sure to be a formative one for Norton going forward. Indeed, no matter the numbering of ‘The Black Knight,’ it’s a profound character piece within an ambitious science fiction setting that pays due respect to the British space programme and the influence of women in society as a whole, creating a gripping and wholly entertaining experience from beginning to end.

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