The Dead Line

Posted in Audio by - January 27, 2022
The Dead Line

Aired 03 July 2009

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

To conclude the Radio 4 audio prelude to Torchwood’s televised return with the event series Children of Earth, Phil Ford adapts his own unproduced television episode for ‘The Dead Line.’ Here, Torchwood’s members investigate a hospital that is suddenly inundated with patients who have fallen into a comatose state. They soon find that the trances have been caused by phone calls from a number that hasn’t been in service for thirty years, and while Jack discovers only a dead line when he calls the mysterious number, he triggers a race against time when he likewise succumbs to the effects of the call back he receives.

Distressed, Ianto calls in neuroscientist Professor Stella Courtney- who just so happens to be a former flame of Jack’s- for help. Through her, the audience is able to glean just how the remainder of Torchwood has come to be standing over Jack’s motionless body. The victims here are not coincidentally comatose, however, as Courtney soon discovers, for their brain activity as displayed on the hospital’s monitors is synchronized. As she works through the medical conundrum and its implications, Gwen and Rhys must track down the source as they attempt to discover just what happened at Maddock House over three decades ago, hoping against hope that they can succeed before this virus spreads beyond containment.

‘The Dead Line’ features some incredibly strong characterization, and this is perhaps best exemplified by Ianto who is almost immobilized as the thought of losing Jack forever consumes him. The burgeoning relationship between Jack and Ianto has always been one the more fascinating elements of Torchwood, and seeing all pretenses dropped as Ianto opens up to the motionless man before him is an extremely well-written sequence that is tactfully paid off later on as Jack quietly reciprocates the feelings shown him. Gareth David-Lloyd is superb with these more emotional scenes, highlighting a strong element that the coming televised serials will assuredly use to great effect. Likewise, with Torchwood Three reeling from its recent losses, the pairing of Gwen and Rhys on Torchwood business is a wonderful continuation of these spouses’ stories and how intertwined with Gwen’s work life Rhys has become in short order. Eve Myles and Kai Owen play off of each other brilliantly and sparkle with a familiarity that fits their characters’ relationship, adding yet another uniquely personal dynamic to this story.

Torchwood has never needed an imposing alien figure to fight against to be successful, and, in fact, the franchise has found greater success when it slows down to really focus on its characters rather than on spectacle. ‘The Dead Line’ features many great visuals and audio cues, to be sure, but an unseen and unthinking virus from the Rift that attacks through electronic pulses and gathers strength by connecting its victims’ minds is a fittingly chilling menace that is as haunting as it is relevant to today’s society. Instead, its quick spread and devastating effects allow each character plenty of opportunity to react to the growing threat before them all, allowing for tremendous characterization and showcasing the tremendous potential that Torchwood still has following the loss of Tosh and Owen. While the story itself is perhaps a bit too short for everything that it attempts to achieve, and while Dona Croll’s performance is just a bit more forced than the leads who have worked together for so long previously, the end result is an enthralling story that more than capably achieves what it needed to by reintroducing this furtive organization and its remaining members to casual Radio 4 listeners and dedicated fans alike while providing a perfect transition from the first two televised series to the third.

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