Warning: This review contains a lot of me gushing over Torchwood in general
Now while this may be sacrilege, ever since watching my first episode of Torchwood, I’ve always preferred it to a majority of Doctor Who itself(The only era of Who to top it so far is the Moffat Era with 11 and 12). So sure it may be campy and over the top sometimes. Sure, it can be overly sexual in scenes and the jokes can be a lot sometimes, I’m looking at you Captain Jack, but I think that’s part of its charm. Torchwood is able to both handle darker subject matter than its parent show can, as well as not take itself seriously and just have an absolute ball. Whether it be from Captain John Hart coming around to mess with Torchwood Three, Torchwood facing very human cannibals or team members dying almost all the time, Torchwood never rests on its laurels. So when Big Finish announced they were producing audios for Torchwood, I about lost my shit! Now 4 years later, Torchwood has grown into one of their most prolific and consistently excellent range they put out. Ranging from single one hour stories to fully fledged Series 5 and 6 with blessings from Russell T. Davies himself. And because of this, I’ve currently been working on a bit of a secret. I am officially launching Project: Torchwood. Twice a week, hopefully every Tuesday and Sunday, I’ll have a post relating to specific aspect of Torchwood, whether it be a review, behind the scenes, or a Torchwood File, which will be special documents dedicated to things like specific characters or units of Torchwood. In honour of the launch of Project: Torchwood, I’m writing a review on my most recent listen. Torchwood: Instant Karma.
Written by David Llewellyn, James Goss and Jonathan Morris, who was originally commissioned to write the cd but ended up not being able to finish it due to illness, the other two kindly stepped in to help finish it. Saying that though, you wouldn’t even notice that it was written by three different people. Instant Karma is as cohesive as can be, every scene important to the story, while additionally interesting at the same time, something not every story is able to do. Focusing on Toshiko Sato and her time at Torchwood, taking place just after the events of Greek Bearing Gifts in Season One. Taking the premise of telekinetic powers and flipping them on their head, we get a story about the toxicity of repressing our feelings, whether those feelings be anger and hate, or simply love. And after listening to it, I’m surprised it’s not a topic examined more. Sure we get stories on toxicity in things such as masculinity and the workplace, but I’ve never encountered such a nuanced take on it, while being able to look at it generally, instead of relating it to a specific situation.
And the best part about Instant Karma is that is has a cast of three extraordinary actors to back it up. Led by Naoko Mori as Tosh, and featuring Jonny Dixon and Sara McGaughey guest starring as Simon and Janet respectively. Each brings a depth to the character and bounce off each other extremely well. Janet and Tosh are similar to each other in their demeanour and backstory, yet are different enough to feel like entirely different characters. This is then used to great effect by having Tosh witness the strength displayed by Janet when standing up to Simon, adding an extra depth to Tosh’s growth as a character during the latter half of Season One. Simon is played brilliantly by Jonny Dixon who does the very hard job of being totally evil, but a villain you can see that little glimmer of hope in. Part of that comes down to the writing yes, but put in the wrong hands, it could have turned out horrifically.
Now this being an audio drama, there has to be some talk about the sound design and music. Starting with sound, we have the extraordinary Richard Fox and Lauren Yason at the helm. And while I continue to be impressed by all of their other work for Big Finish, I was stunned at how well done this was. Minimalistic yet always there, affecting the tone and atmosphere when needed, it really excels at creating a realistic world perfectly suited for Torchwood. Adding into that is the music done by Blair Mowat. Being the Big Finish Torchwood composer, he has the enormous task of being able to capture all the characters and moments all in a score. Haunting is probably the best way to describe his music in Instant Karma. The final scene is helped immensely by the quiet, almost hymn-like music.
Finally I want to point out a couple of final contributors to this piece. First, Lisa Bowerman is directing and you can sense the assuredness in her work with the actors. Everything knows what it wants to be and compliments the other. And finally but certainly not least is the stunning cover art by Lee Binding. Instead of taking a literal representation of the story, he decided to use Emoji’s to metaphorically hide the hidden evil within the people surrounding Tosh, which is simply put, brilliant!
An instant Torchwood classic, Instant Karma is a rare example of where everything fits together. A wonderful 9/10.
Instant Karma is available to purchase directly from Big Finish at https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/instant-karma-1709