Later on You And Yours we talk to the residents of South Wales, who’ve been unable to use their telephone service for quite some days with vital services being effected. BT say that they’re doing all they can, but people who’ve contacted us via the internet are furious about the lack of communication they’ve been receiving. “Not even a phone call” says Roxy from Newport …
How many old flames does Captain Jack have? In two out of three of these plays we’ve met some long lost loves, both of them singed by him and Torchwood though it’s good to know, judging by Dona (Matron Casp) Croll's nostalgic performance that they’re not all loonies despite having to deal with a Dorian Gray whose magic picture is his own reflection in a mirror. So whilst the amnesiac Eighth Doctor was working his way through the twentieth century trying desperately not to offend anybody (depending upon how broad your approach is to canonicity) Captain Jack was shagging anything with a pulse, the cad. Assuming as upcoming revelations suggest he didn’t always love them and leave them, his alimony bill must be ignominious.
Just as these three radio plays look like they’re about to pass on without some kind of Declassified style treatment, the producer, Kate McCall, has posted this useful post at the Radio 4 blog about the production. The main issue seems to have been the availability of the regular cast who were all passionate to take part but found themselves otherwise potentially engaged in other more lucrative projects starring Trevor Eve, with Barrowman recording his section in about two days between between the end of his tv show and the opening of his national tour. Talk about making someone feel guilty...
Today’s edition of Torchwood, Phil Ford’s The Dead Line was apparently the most hit – John’s participation curtailed leading to “a major creative decision” to Jack’s storyline, one of which was presumably led to him being out of action for much of the duration. This eleventh hour rewrite must have had two effects – the building up of Rhys’s part so that he’s effectively a full blown Torchwood member for the duration (when he was clearly otherwise the prime candidate for the temporary vegitative state) and some filler material in the shape of Ianto’s chat with his boyfriend in a coma and as is so often the case in these situations those are the best things about an episode that more than the other two gave the impression of being proper Torchwood, except on the radio.
Like the other two plays, the main story wasn’t particularly strong or original, but here Ford, whose writing has wobbled left and right in the past few years (as viewers of The Sarah Jane Adventures will have endured) milked it for all its horrific potential so whilst the idea of having an appliance that pervades modern life becoming a deadly killer (or in this case non-killer) is something we’ve seen a fair few times before and probably would have worked just as well in SJA with some tweaking, his d escription of the effects, the stillness, the eyes, the minimal brain activity added reality particularly since that description is equally applicable to the specimen/cretin who sat behind me on the bus the other day listening to Akon through his mobile phone speaker.
This subliminal advert for Skype showed how extraordinary situations can allow couples, in this case Gwen & Rhys & Ianto & Jack, to say what they want to say and sometimes get an answer. In other words that it’s good to talk. Which also makes it a subliminal ad for BT too, I suppose, assuming they're not under the grip of some molevolant force which isn't always certain in the real world if you've ever had to face down the automated system. Frankly given all the TV Cream / I Love the 70s palava I'm surprised Ford didn't also decide to sneak in a reference to sinister dead-eyed phone call eavesdropper Busby for extra creepiness. A giant man sized version of him once frightened the shit out of me at the Liverpool Show.
Some of Ford’s previous writing has been a bit mechanical (Invasion of the Bane a particular low), but on the basis of The Dead Line I can understand why Davies was happy to collaborate with him on the specials. Given the chance to write for adults (both in the narrative and the audience), his characterisation was top notch, especially the scenes between man and spouse as we heard how the trousers are passed about in that relationship, Gwen now and then sounding like Rhys’s mother desperate to protect him, her needing a loving word and a cuddle and a slap-up breakfast, even if one of one of them does see it returning in the opposite direction later in the day.
Whereas the authors of the previous two plays were description happy, Ford knows that sometimes in audio, offering an impressionistic idea of the world can be even more effective than completely orientating the audience. Notice that in the scene were Gwen and Rhys visit the source of the problem and break through to the room in which the ringing telephone is hiding, all we hear is the sound of whatever they find and their reaction to it; we’re left hanging until some way into the next scene to find out what they’ve discovered and the state it was in, and because our attention is drawn to it, our imagination happily gets lost in the gory details.
If I was an unforgiving mood, I’d rattle something terrible about the climax, a Fanthorpian deus ex machina utilising the sonic screwdriver with a male enhancement procedure that is the Hub and its convenient ability to interface via a PDA with the hospital’s medical facilities but since we can’t be sure if that to was a result of the Bannerman related last minute rewrite, let’s just assume that the original idea was better and with a hope that the upcoming miniseries isn't solved with quite so much ease whatever catastrophe we're about to witness.
Luckily, a quick Twitter survey (and the thoughts in my own head) indicate this play’s probably going to be remembered for Ianto’s speech. In the pre-publicity interviews for the shows, Gareth David-Lloyd talked about how in one of the plays he’d enjoyed working his way through a three page speech that was unlike anything else he’d had to tackle on the series before and what a privelige it was (or words to that effect). That’s understating things a smidge isn’t it?
Though it covered much the same sentiment and ground as School Reunion and dozens of episodes of Highlander and every vampire love story ever written, this was intimate, emotive and cut the heart of the budding relationship between Jack and Ianto, Gareth at his sentimental finest. Compare the moment when he choked back a tear to the severe weather warning waiting to happen in Countrycide and we see a maturingg actor who understands what his character is about. Plus, though it's probably redundant to note this, how wonderful that a gay relationship can be dealt with such subtely in an afternoon slot on Radio Four. How far we've all come.