Torchwood: Believe - Review

June 30, 2018 | Big Finish Productions

Torchwood: Believe is a big deal for Torchwood fans – it’s the first time since 2008 that the entire original main cast have come back together for a full adventure. The danger with that weight on its shoulders is that it has to give them all something meaningful to do, and it needs something big, and powerful, and full of relevant cultural oomph, to make it worth getting the full Torchwood team back together. Believe delivers in spades.

The story focusses on “The Church of the Outsiders”, which takes elements of a couple of real-world religions (Mormonism, Scientology, we’re looking at you), blends them with the likes of the “Heaven’s Gate” cult, hurls a bit of practical Star Trekking into the mix to create its own space-based religion, sucking up all the people who think everything’s horrible down here on Earth and that ascension to the stars and mating with aliens is the only way to go.

Owen Harper, the mouthy, snarky medical officer at Torchwood, really hates that kind of space-hippy gibberish, especially – since Believe takes place after his death-but-not-death during the 2008 TV series – he knows that life is all there is, and that – at least for him – there’s nothing after life but darkness and non-being. As such, he pushes the Torchwood team really hard to investigate the Outsiders, because surely, with a messiah who used to draw comics for a living, and every tax dodge under the sun being pulled for them by a sleazemeister accountant (played unrecognisably by Doctor Who‘s Arthur Darville), they must be up to something dodgy.

His campaign to get the organisation Torchwood-shocked gains some traction when occasional hardcore members post videos of themselves self-immolating to shed their earthly bodies, and others self-modify to look like typical ‘Grey’ aliens. Most of all though, he pushes his case on the basis that the Church wants to get its hands on alien technology – possibly alien weapons…

The three episodes of Guy Adams’ story sing a song of modern philosophies, freedoms and realities: where’s the line on religious freedom? Is simply having a patently-invented mythology and exploiting the weak and the broken enough to warrant taking a church down? Is it still justified if people actually get what they’re seeking from it – community, a belief in something bigger and higher and grander than themselves?

But Believe is not by any means just three hours of science-fiction navel-gazing. There’s plenty of old-fashioned Torchwood action too – Gwen saves someone from being kidnapped, and gets well and truly zapped for her trouble; Ianto, being Ianto, gets charged with infiltrating the church, makes friends with a really rather nice person, and ends up on the wrong side of an alien autopsy; and Tosh… it would be too much of a spoiler to tell you what happens to Tosh, other than her friendship with Owen is put under even more strain by what he makes her do.

Perhaps inevitably, it’s John Barrowman’s Captain Jack Harkness who has the most effective reaction to Owen’s push against the Church. They have a point, he insists: Mankind’s future really is in the stars, and getting down and boogieing with all the groovy aliens. The extent to which he goes it alone in this story isn’t exactly surprising, but it’s done with more vigour and energy than it was in the TV show, which makes it feel like one of Jack’s more minor rebellions; we never feel he’s about to leave everyone in the lurch this time round, just that he has a broader perspective on aliens and the universe than any of the other Torchwood members, and so has a better solution to hand.

The solution that Adams gives him is little short of genius – and importantly, it’s little short of exactly the Jack kind of genius that makes him such a beloved character, despite his darker moments. Again, we’re not going to spoiler you with what he does, but it feels so entirely persuasive, it’ll make you think for a while after you’ve finished listening.

There are solid consequences here, too – less for Torchwood, and more for the people affected by their actions, and particularly by Owen’s push against the church. People are dead, people are institutionalized, people have had their way of life destroyed, by the time we get to the end, which if anything shows the moral of the piece: if you have the power to destroy lives, think very, very carefully before you decide it’s a thing worth doing.

Torchwood: Believe would have been a big deal for Torchwood fans whether or not it delivered a cracking story, with rich characters all given their head and their space, and an arc with a moral wrapped up in it to make you think. But it does all of that and more, making it the Torchwood version of Avengers: Infinity War – a highly accessible reunion gig with things to say, that’s better even than the hype, and about so much more than being with your favourite characters again.

Torchwood: Believe is available to buy now exclusively from Big Finish until June 30th 2018, after which date it will also be available from Amazon.co.uk and other leading audiobook retailers.

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