Torchwood – “Forgotten Lives”

It has been four years since the Miracle, and Gwen and Rhys’s lives have gone back to normal, very normal. They’re raising their daughter (they’ve got pictures they’d be only too happy to show you), they’re living in a nice house, and they’re almost on top of the laundry.

Captain Jack Harkness has been missing from the world and their lives for a long time. But late one night the phone rings, and they’re summoned to an isolated part of North Wales. The Bryn Offa Nursing Home contains a dark secret, an alien threat, and someone who really shouldn’t be there.

Gwen and Rhys are about to discover that Torchwood stays with you for the rest of your life.

Eve Myles is Gwen Cooper and Kai Owen is Rhys Williams in Torchwood: Forgotten Lives.

X X X X X

Cast
Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles)
Rhys Williams (Kai Owen)
Griffith (Philip Bond)
Elunedd (Valmai Jones)
Gary (Seán Carlsen)
Ceri/Nurse (Emma Reeves)

Written By: Emma Reeves
Directed By: Scott Handcock
Produced by James Goss
Script edited by Steve Tribe

Trailer – http://www.bigfinish.com/releases/popout/forgotten-lives-1296

X X X X X

Torchwood: Forgotten Lives is a solid little audio. It’s not because of the plot, or because of the secondary casting which includes a “recast” of a Torchwood mainstay, but because of the chemistry between the two leads, a bickering married couple, in a story which shows that Torchwood and its impact upon their lives will always be present.

It’s been four years since the Miracle. Former Torchwood operative Gwyn Cooper and her husband Rhys Williams are enjoying a normal life in Cardiff with their daughter Anwen. No aliens, no cannibalistic Welshmen, no cyberwomen – just peace, quiet, and the occasional argument over whose turn it is to do the dishes. Gwyn’s time with Torchwood is a distant memory…which makes the phone call from the Bryn Offa Nursing Home in North Wales very peculiar. It seems that there’s a patient there who insists they know Gwyn from her time with Torchwood and that there’s something very wrong with the staff – something of an alien nature…

After the exposition heavy The Conspiracy and the two-hander Fall To Earth, Big Finish takes the Torchwood range into familiar territory with a traditional, full-cast audio. Big Finish went with a first-time audio writer for Forgotten Lives, tapping Emma Reeves for the scripting duties. Reeves is known in Britain as an accomplished playwright and a writer/producer for a variety of children’s programs. The plot for Forgotten Lives is one that would have been right at home during Torchwood’s two televised seasons – a nursing home (in Wales, of course) where the residents are subjects in an alien experiment. The story ties into the larger “Committee” story arc in two ways. First, the alien race known as the Evolved are one of the few in the universe who have managed to resist being controlled by the Committee and have been brought to Earth to help fight them. Second, the Three Families who were behind the events of Miracle Day were actually controlled by the Committee. The Three Families/Committee tie is a bit of a throwaway line that exists only to tie the Big Finish audios into the main continuity, but the alien experimentation is very Torchwood – using alien technology to defend the planet, only to have it backfire spectacularly when it’s revealed just WHO brought the Evolved to Earth…

(does anyone else get the feeling that the Torchwood organization isn’t exactly the most elite group of agents defending the planet Earth?)

The Evolved remind me of the Eldar from Warhammer 40k. Utilizing the exchange of consciousness to transfer a being’s memories and personalities from one body to another, the Evolved have developed what they consider a perfect society – no war, no disease, no poverty. They seek to expand their influence to other planets and other species that they deem worthy enough to carry their consciousness, whether or not the species actually WANT their gift. A nursing home in Wales is the perfect place to see if human beings can hold the essence of the evolved. The patients inside are barely remembered by their families and any alarm that they bring up can easily be dismissed as the ramblings of dementia. If Reeves is making a statement about nursing homes and how the elderly are often shoved there and forgotten, that statement definitely hits home.

The centerpiece of Forgotten Lives is the relationship between Gwen Cooper and Rhys Williams, and it’s nice to say that this story isn’t “Gwen Cooper featuring Rhys Williams.” Even four years after the events of Miracle Day, Gwen leaps into action as soon as her curiosity is piqued (a character trait going all the way back to the show’s very first episode) and Rhys is there to not only keep her grounded, but also to keep her safe. Rhys isn’t just some tag-along character in this story, but a husband who understands why his wife dives right back into Torchwood’s mess and even though he doesn’t agree with it (and lets it be known), he has her back and will do anything, ANYTHING, to make sure no harm comes to her. While Rhys covers the family aspect, Gwen is all about the duty side of things. As soon as she figures out just who has brought her to North Wales, there’s no doubt she’s going to be on the job until everything is settled. But she goes in with her eyes wide open, actually acting as a competent agent and acknowledging just how messed up the entire situation is, with one of the best scenes in the story being when Gwen calls out the pensioner Griffith on just how he’s cocked everything up before turn around and threatening the Evolved . But the mental strain from her time with Torchwood and her dedication to its members is on display with one of the other top scenes, where Gwen threatens the head of the nursing home, all but ready to pull the trigger unless she gives him what she wants. In the behind-the-scenes extras, Eve Myles and Kai Owen both talk about how much they enjoyed getting back into character for this story and it shows in their performances. The chemistry that made Gwen and Rhys an enjoyable pair as Torchwood progressed is on display, now with the added layers of marriage and parenthood to their banter and discussion but also with the weight of Torchwood hanging on their shoulders.

The standout of the secondary cast is Gary, the manager of the nursing home. He played by Sean Carlsen who has been a big part of the Gallifrey line as well as Dark Eyes 3, and also played a major role as the Sub-Editor in the Eighth Doctor story The Natural History of Fear. All the signs point to Gary being a part of the alien conspiracy surrounding Bryn Offa, but Carlsen plays Gary as having absolutely no clue what’s going on. Indeed, he’s nothing more than a underpaid, overworked member of the National Health Service doing the best he can with the limited resources he’s given, which extends to bemoaning the fate of a flat-screen television as “he worked hard to get a grant for that!” He’s truly a government flunkie who actually GIVES a damn about the people under his care and the rarest of things in the Torchwood world – a truly decent human being. Which makes his final fate that much more of a downer.

Philip Bond played Ganatus in a little First Doctor story known as The Daleks. Fifty-one years later, he’s playing the pensioner Griffith, whose phone call kicks off the events of Forgotten Lives. On one hand, there’s obviously more to Griffith that meets the eye as he plays the confused elderly man up to the point where the pretenses are dropped and his true identity is revealed. The switch is instantaneous and Bond plays both sides very well. On the other hand, when Griffith reveals the truth behind his ruse, it falls into the same territory that Jack Harkness inhabited in The Conspiracy – in order to advance the plot, Griffith has to taken a firm grasp on the idiot ball (much like the Carolina Panthers did on the passes of Carson Palmer). For who Griffith is revealed to be and even for WHY he’s doing what he did, his actions are incredibly stupid even for Torchwood, and it erases any possible sympathy the listener might have had for him.

The presence of the idiot ball is no reason to give this audio a pass. We’re halfway through the first series of Big Finish’s run with Torchwood and so far the audios have been enjoyable, with Fall to Earth an instant classic. Forgotten Lives is a darker story that relies on how we treat our senior citizens which makes it a bit unnerving, even with the presence of Gwen and Rhys to balance things out. In many ways, Forgotten Lives is what the blueprint for televised episode of Torchwood should have been and a worthy addition to its overall universe – a darker take on the Doctor Who that doesn’t rely on sex and violence, but how we as human beings treat each other and how aliens might taken advantage of it.

Pros
+ A bit of a darker story
+ Eve Myles and Kai Owen slipping right back into their roles
+ Sean Carlsen’s performance as the manager of the nursing home

Cons
– Griffith’s stupidity

Cobi’s SynopsisForgotten Lives is what Torchwood should have been, a disturbing story about alien experimentation on the elderly balanced out by the strong chemistry and performances from Eve Myles and Kai Owen.

Next up – It’s been three weeks since the Mayor of Cardiff was killed by a shop dummy and the fight is on to see who will replace him…

Tracy-Ann Oberman is Yvonne Hartman in…Torchwood: One Rule

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About cobiwann

A guy who's into a niche fandom of a niche fandom - the Big Finish audio plays of "Doctor Who." Also into the show itself, both old and new, plus pop culture and a smattering of human insight.
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