Torchwood Soho – Ashenden

Posted in Audio by - October 28, 2021
Torchwood Soho – Ashenden

Released October 2021

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

Returning to the world of 1950s Torchwood, Torchwood Soho: Ashenden explores a darkness infiltrating London, spreading from its bombsites to the highest ranks of government. This is the hour of the hollow men, and a frantic search is on for the man who brought this forth.

Much like in this range’s debut set Parasite, James Goss pens all six parts of this saga. Beginning in ‘Pimlico,’ the intrigue instantly escalates as Andy finds himself chased through a ruined London with only the once-dead Lizbeth Hayhoe as his companion. Andy is no stranger to answering voices and summons from the past, and so he takes this development fairly well in stride, and Tom Price and Dervla Kirwan instantly form an immense chemistry that relays each character’s relationship with Torchwood and Norton Folgate, in particular. Norton, of course, is no stranger to blurring the lines between good and evil to suit his own desires as needed, and there are suggestions here that Norton may in some way be to blame for what has occurred, a suggestion that becomes just another piece of a much stranger puzzle as a Torchwood safe house and emergency oversight group revealed by Gideon Lyme prove to be anything but expected. This locale is filled with immense visuals and again reinforces just how vital Andy can be as he points out the smaller details that could so easily be missed in such a stressful situation, and the dangerous notion of potential hypnotic control being present and spreading certainly heightens the peril pervading the sense of the unknown surrounding Torchwood and its operatives who are in distinctly abnormal positions.

‘O Little Town of Ashenden’ shifts the action to the titular city outside of London that has drawn such excitement. With Ashenden once a listening station, it’s clear that something isn’t quite right about this town that in so many ways is the very definition of idyllic. With no crime, no apparent animosity, and plenty of resources for everyone, it’s little surprise that there is a lengthy waitlist to move into Ashenden’s confines. Yet with new families moving in at a breakneck pace and Gideon working to welcome them in, Lizbeth discovers that the sewage system is intended for a population roughly half the town’s current size, and it’s not long before she comes to realize that the signal noted at the safe house earlier is only the precursor of something altogether more invasive. As she tries to understand the fate that would come to befall her long ago while also navigating the enigma that is the persistent Norton Folgate, ‘O Little Town of Ashenden’ provides the necessary background on a smaller scale to complement the more all-encompassing backdrop of ‘Pimlico,’ and the scene has been excellently set as the true scope of the danger begins to reveal itself.

‘The National Health’ takes a more personal approach to revealing the more explicit details of the incursion at hand. As Andy flits between bouts of induced unconsciousness intended to help with the treatment pf a supposed ailment he cannot recall, he slowly begins to realize how ominous his ever-changing surroundings and the lack of information divulged truly are. Unfortunately, even his time associated with Torchwood has hardly prepared him for the sheer horrors that this hospital fronts, and the chilling visual of just where he finds himself as Norton attempts to help him escape is the perfect example of just how ruthless these invasive aliens can be to sustain each facet of their invasion. Tom Price is utterly perfect as he struggles to piece together the fragments of information around him in each of the distinct settings, and his relatability, naivety, and fortitude continue to be immense driving forces for any narrative in which he features. Yet as alarming as the high body count is as the invasion takes on a more centralized incursion point, the notion of how easily the alien threat can spread into the general population through the most unassuming of means is altogether more frightening and creates an understated sense of urgency as the lure and importance of Ashenden continue to develop on multiple fronts.

After teases of both Norton and Lizbeth in some fashion being responsible for what Ashenden has become, ‘Rivers of Blood’ definitively offers more background and context for this most subtle yet dangerous threat. Laura Riseborough makes an instant impact as Miss Satterthwaite who has suddenly found the stars communicating with her after dreaming of just such an occurrence for so long, and Dervla Kirwan again asserts Lizbeth’s unrelenting confidence as she explains that these communications have only served to highlight humanity’s own intelligence and understanding. Yet as the communications become ever more complex and it seems as though humanity is being given an opportunity to better itself through a series of controlled measurements and settings, ‘Rivers of Blood’ offers a shocking indictment on just how much a government is willing to overlook when a fairly cost-effective means of maximizing resources- no matter the individual cost- presents itself. The shiny veneer of Ashenden if naturally an instant draw to anyone looking upon it, a fact that Norton and Gideon realize in person, but the willingness of those in the know who remain willing to go along with the scheme despite the increasing disparity in numbers and what that entails is equally shocking. The fact that two of Torchwood’s members are in different ways at least indirectly responsible for a significant part of Ashenden’s foundation is a unique angle for the remaining stories to hopefully continue to explore, and the hidden repercussions for humanity as a whole have rarely been so momentous despite being so shrouded.

‘Now Is the Time for All Good Men’ reveals just how far this invasion has already pervaded general society with people in all walks of life- including the heights of government- within the grasp of the ever-spreading Ashenden and its Hollow Men. There is no refuge or safety net to fall back upon, and the story does well not only to force Lizbeth and Norton to confront their own faults but also to exploit the more unpredictable nature of Norton who never quite reveals his true motivations. Indeed, Norton very much remains an enigma to all involved, and Samuel Barnett mesmerizes in every scene as he effortlessly flits between Ashenden-complicit and a more heroic figure. Yet even as Norton attempts to play both sides by revealing just enough to Andy while doing his part to further Ashenden’s spread no matter the personal turmoil he must experience in doing so, the further development of the character as Lizbeth ponders just why he brought back her back and just where his motivations and guilt sit make for an altogether more intriguing and personal exploration of a character that remains beguilingly enigmatic at the best of times. ‘Now Is the Time for All Good Men’ doesn’t necessarily amplify the immediate danger, but the more subtle and slow approach it takes to constantly remind everyone of the danger being faced as Ashenden continues to focus on maximizing resources and energy is exceptionally well done and further defines every aspect of this changed and seemingly doomed world.

‘The Hour of the Hollow Men’ brings events to a close as the invasion reaches its maximum. This is a set that has thrust Andy into the heroic spotlight and worked around Lizbeth’s previous death spectacularly, and while the previous story really delved into the enigmatic mindset of Norton, this is the story that finally shows the character’s more vulnerable side and true intentions. This is a character who always seems to be firmly in control of a situation even if he refuses to explain his actions, but it here appears as though he has lost all hope with humanity- including Gideon- doomed to be taken over. And while the ultimate resolution does prove to be a bit easy following his extreme manipulation of both Lizbeth and Andy and the paradoxes each represent, it does ultimately serve to prove just how caring and even selfless Norton is within a certain context. He implicitly knows that not everyone will be saved and returned to normal, and that Gideon himself may likewise be lost to him, but that latter aspect particularly allows Barnett to truly delve into the more exposed and open side of Norton that is so often hidden away from view. It’s a fittingly nuanced ending to a threat that always remained nuanced despite its grand scope, and although the set as a whole couldn’t find enough for Joe Shire as Gideon to do, this relationship ends up being an incredibly strong foundation around which to anchor all of Norton’s actions. Ashenden, then, probably won’t make quite as much of an impact as Parasite did when everything about Torchwood Soho was so unique, but it’s a fine and subtle followup that offers plenty of character-driven moments and strong visuals that will be sure to satisfy new and seasoned fans alike.

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