This morning, when the Large Hadron Collider was turned on at CERN in Geneva, the world didn’t end, despite the presence of Radio 4’s correspondent for the Big Bang Day Andrew Marr, who as Doctor Who’s Aliens of London demonstrated is always on hand for some of mankind’s greatest apocalypses. The non-appearance of a cosmos crunching singularity made some people very cross, particularly viewers texting in to the BBC News channel who seemed to be suggesting that there was little point in spending all that money if it didn’t have a greater televisual spectacle than men and women in coats becoming really excited over a white dot on a plasma screen. What were they expecting? A shot of a giant laser beam flying through a tunnel like the Death Star in Star Wars? A crack in the Earth’s core perhaps? Or even as today’s Torchwood radio special suggested, the emergence of inter-dimensional aliens on a mission to make humanity glow like they’ve collectively overdosed on Ready Brek?
It’s not unknown for the recent franchise to be authoring to a shopping list (no matter what Russell T Davies says) but this was a particular difficult commission because it also had to fit within a day’s worth of programmes marking this ‘historic event’ ™. It could not have been easy for writer Joseph Lidster to work a story around this kind of real life scientific event, especially with the real switch on having already been broadcast, and also take mash it up with post-watershed gore and swearfest and make it acceptable for a Radio 4 audience in the middle of the afternoon (though after listening to Professor Brian Cox’s earlier doco about famous fans of particle physics which dropped the shit-word, the channel’s inspirationally far swearier already than most people might suspect).
In the event Lost Souls did at times sound like the Torchwood Quiz Book of Particle Physics.
In the event Lost Souls did at times sound like the Torchwood Quiz Book of Particle Physics. At one point, Captain Jack plonked Gwen and Ianto in front of a plane window and explained what CERN was and what the LHC did, and though that information was to become important later in the episode, if this had been the eighties the scene would have been illustrated by Rowan Barnes-Murphy. To keep things on narratively on track and tell a proper story rather than ask us a question about how Quarks are made (or something), the writer’s solution was take his cue from the setting of the story, Geneva, and turn in a love letter to the UNIT stories of the Pertwee era, with Captain Jack filling in for the Doctor.
Instead of a suspicious Brigadier, we found Martha Jones calling in Torchwood to investigate strange disappearance at a scientific project, the LHC becoming a nu-Who Inferno project, with CERN essentially a base under siege. Instead of being tempted to take full advantage of radio and flying in dragons or turning the sky purple, Lidster instead had the aliens sucking neutrons from their prey in tunnels with the companions under greatest threat, almost being transformed themselves. The head of the project turned out to be a patsy and with one of her subordinates working against him having already been possessed already by said aliens. And to cap it all there was a squee inducing finale as, for the first time in the franchise’s history, reversing the polarity of the neutron flow wasn't simply a cover for some useless deus ex machina, but the actual resolution for the story.
Lord knows what the usual audience for the Afternoon Play thought of this intrusion into their quiet universe.
Lord knows what the usual audience for the Afternoon Play thought of this intrusion into their quiet universe. Tomorrow’s slot offers a drama in which ‘poetry dialogue, monologue and song combine to provide and insight into the spirit of a 1930s industrial town and its people’. Lost Soul’s only concession was a rather contrived opening scene in which the supposedly secret organisation introduced themselves to some random club employee in an effort to orientate casual listeners and a quote from Tennyson at the end. Otherwise it was business as usual with faux-dance music, exposition and shouting and a spectacular amount of continuity in what was essentially a direct sequel to the shocking conclusion of the previous series, with the team are still grieving over the deaths of Owen and Tosh, their funerals having just passed.
It is to Lidster’s credit that unlike The Stolen Earth this felt like a genuine next episode
It is to Lidster’s credit that unlike The Stolen Earth this felt like a genuine next episode, especially as the hole in the team was utilised as a way for the aliens to suck on Ianto/ turn him into a gibbering idiot. The execution was just a bit clumsy with Martha becoming the kind of person we all hate at funerals as she went first to Jack then Gwen asking them if they were all right and how they feel – leading to one of Torchwood’s worst ever scenes in which, whilst waiting for a computer whatsit to do a thing, the Captain underscored once again that for decades everyone’s been dying around his feet but that he has to keep strong, with all the dramatic power of a US daytime tv soap. The episode was replete with such duff moments ('I wish I had a sonic screwdriver! This rock will have to do...'), though it wouldn’t be Torchwood without them, and most of the time I was laugh with rather than at it.
The acting was good across the board, especially of the guests Tittybangbang's Lucy Montgomery as the blustering head of the project (more Pertwee!). John and Freema were a bit ill at ease without a camera, and Eve seemed to be emphasising her accent more than usual but Gareth was best, working the ‘Welsh Ambassador’ joke for all its worth but turning direction perfectly for his usual descent into madness. I’m getting old so I think the music was too loud, but the soundscape was effective and at times even a cut above what you’d expect from Big Finish. Director Kate McAll kept the drama moving and had clearly researched how a usual tv episode is paced. Overall, the radio producers tried their hardest not remake Slipback and create a worthwhile addition to what they’re apparently calling the Torchwood sub-universe these days, and if it had been filmed it would certainly be seen as one of the better episodes.
For what that’s worth.