Torchwood: Lost Souls
As part of Radio 4’s day of programs devoted to the official switch-on of CERN’s new particle accelerator, Captain Jack and his somewhat depleted team have been called to Switzerland to investigate the sort of missing scientist mystery that would have sent the third Doctor’s pulse racing. Joseph Lidster’s script makes a reasonable fist of combining the setting with an exploration of Torchwood’s grief after Exit Wounds, but the story is let down by some rather clunky direction.
The strengthening of Doctor Who’s shared universe continues, with Martha Jones calling in Torchwood to investigate after UNIT has reached a dead end in their enquiry. Presumably this was intended to foreshadow Martha’s aborted joining of the team for series three, but her connections to both the mystery and the Jack’s gang are strong enough for her inclusion to stand on its own merits. At first the references to the deaths of Owen and Toshiko feel rather forced, but their importance to the plot soon becomes apparent, with Lidster’s story being very much an excuse to bring these themes out into the open. The writer chooses to justify his pay check from Radio 4 early, getting most of the LHC explanations out of the way at the start of the story, and only feeding elements back in for the climax. He also finds room to touch on many small elements of continuity, with one of Martha’s missing colleagues having previously appeared in Smith & Jones, while a favourite gizmo from the Torchwood novels making it into another medium. Given the lengthy shopping list above, it’s forgivable that the plot is rather basic. It’s essentially a murder mystery with two suspects, padded out by Jack and co’s backing of the wrong horse. The writer executes his a-story near flawlessly. With a slightly tighter running time than a normal episode of the show, he decides not to confuse the listener with questions of alibis and practicalities, making prediction of the plot dependant on realising what the story is really about. Once you know that the story is based on the need to let go of the dead, then everything falls into place…
Unfortunately, the team have mixed success in adapting to their temporary home. Despite a rather wooden start, John Barrowman acquits himself surprisingly well, particularly when performing opposite the guest stars. Eve Myles’ experience with audio productions is obvious, with Gwen coming across as entirely the same creation as seen on television. Despite her central role in the plot, Freema Agyeman is given little to do, and Ianto suffers his worst moments since the show’s first season. For the latter, it’s rather unfair to pin the blame on the actor, as the wisecracks Lister hands him are distinctly weak, while his emotional collapse during the climax doesn’t feel quite justified by events. Matters aren’t helped by director Katie McAll, who seems out of her depth when confronted by anything more complex than two people talking in a room. The teams’ pursuit of a Weevil across Cardiff Bay at the opening of the story feels distinctly unconvincing, and the complete absence of background noise from the LHC control room kills the credibility of much of the climax. The most major misstep in the play occurs during the start of the story, where Jack is repeatedly called upon to explain to his colleagues about the LHC’s operation and purpose. In terms of the story itself, this is somewhat nonsensical, and Gwen and Ianto could reasonably have been expected to have absorbed a basic knowledge of the experiment from the media, even if their day jobs were anything other than professional sci-fi adventurers. Taking a broader view, the background information seems an even more superfluous inclusion, as both Torchwood fans and listeners to a day of programming devoted to the LHC will already be familiar with the details provided. It probably made much more sense to include this material in March, when the play was recorded, but some judicious editing before broadcast could have strengthened the story considerably.
While Doctor Who’s high profile and constant need to attract new viewers renders it acceptable for the show to keep moving forward, its more character-orientated sibling needs stories such as Fragments and Lost Souls to thrive. It’s impossible to truly take offence at the play, which allows the characters much needed breathing space after the conclusion to series two. However, a more professional execution could have resulted in a fitting epilogue to the programme’s second run, not just a footnote.