Torchwood – “More Than This”

Gwen Cooper has triumphed against impossible odds before, but now she’s finally met her match: Roger Pugh, Planning Officer for Cardiff City Council.

Mr Pugh doesn’t believe the world needs Torchwood. Gwen sets out to prove him wrong. For Mr Pugh, it’s a day that’ll change his life. If he can survive it.

Eve Myles is Gwen Cooper in Torchwood: More Than This

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Cast
Eve Myles (Gwen Cooper)
Richard Nichols (Roger Pugh)
Guy Adams(Coachman)
Tom Price (Sergeant Andy)

Written by: Guy Adams
Directed by: Scott Handcock
Produced by: James Goss
Script edited by: Steve Tribe

Trailer – http://www.bigfinish.com/releases/popout/more-than-this-1299

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Torchwood: More Than This isn’t the slam bang audio one would expect as a “season finale” type story. Instead of a big showdown with the Committee, More Than This instead delivers a story with plenty of action but also a fair amount of introspection and reflection. One day in Cardiff not only showcases all the alien weirdness that the city has to offer, but also gives the characters a chance to reflect on how a newcomer to Torchwood would react to finding out that there’s a much larger universe than they ever knew possible, touching upon youth, dreams, life and death in the process while asking whether or not Torchwood truly protects humanity or draws unwanted attention.

Roger Pugh is proud of his position as Planning Officer for the Cardiff City Council. He’s always had plenty of ideas for improving the city he grew up in – changing a trash-filled estuary into a waterfront hiking trail for one. Or perhaps building a multi-story car park near the entertainment district. But these things take time, planning, and the proper permits. So when a Ms. Gwen Cooper shows up in his office asking for him to expedite her request for a new building in the heart of Cardiff, Pugh understandably tells her that the process will take at least four months and that with a name like “Torchwood” she’ll have to fill out paperwork regarding the storage of combustible materials in a commercial area. Gwen’s response is to drag Pugh on a whirlwind tour of Cardiff. Decapitated aliens, a horse-and-buggy from the past, and a distinct lack of gravity might be par for the course with Gwen, but for Roger it is an eye opening look not only at the lives around him, but his own life…

Guy Adams, known for the novel The World House is a newcomer to Big Finish but not to Torchwood, having written the story The House That Jack Built. Adams’ first Big Finish script is very well-balanced between humor, action, and pathos. The humor and action mix together throughout the story as Gwen tries to deal with several Rift-related issues while Roger simply tries to comprehend what the heck is going on, beginning with a severed alien head being thrown onto the roof of Gwen’s car and a buggy from Cardiff’s past racing down the road, poor Roger being forced to steer while Gwen leans out the window and force it back to its own time. Several short appearances by Torchwood fan favorite Constable Andy Davidson only help but to add to the absurdity, as a lifelong Cardiff bureaucrat is stunned by a policeman’s calm reaction to aliens and ghosts. Adams’ script moves along very quickly with director Scott Handcock ensuring the action and comedy don’t overwhelm the story itself.

The action and humor are still prevalent in the back half of More Than This but they take a back seat towards philosophical introspection. Roger Pugh always had dreams, not just for Cardiff but for the world beyond the horizon, a world he hasn’t yet seen and believes he never will. Using the framing device of Roger standing at his dead wife’s graveside helps the story to transition from scene to scene while also allowing Roger’s feelings to come out without sounding forced. Richard Nichols (Fear Her, but don’t hold that against him as it was only a bit role) takes the very difficult task of portraying a man who has had his entire world paradigm shifted in less than twelve hours and makes it incredibly believable. Much like how Uncanny Valley wasn’t a story about Jack Harkness but about paralyzed billionaire Neil Redmond, More Than This isn’t about Gwen Cooper, but how a normal everyday man reacts to the concept of a much, much larger world than he ever knew. Removed from the threat of bodily harm and metaphysical assault, there’s no eagerness to Roger’s acceptance of what he’s seeing. It’s not so much a sense of wonder as much a sense of hesitancy that he feels at the idea of aliens and space travel. Gwen argues life is precious, but what is Roger in the grand scheme of things but a paper pusher? If all life is precious, then why does Torchwood sacrifice dozens to save millions? If Torchwood is saving the world, then why did Roger’s wife die ten years ago when a driver distracted by a bright light in the sky slammed into her (during the events of the very first Torchwood episode Day One)? All the aliens who keep showing up in Cardiff, is Torchwood defending humanity or drawing the aliens to Earth by virtue of their existence and use of alien technology? The best part of Nichols’ performance is that at no point does it sound like Roger is lecturing Gwen. He gets angry at times, but he’s reacting to the shattering of his world view by asking questions instead of denying what he’s seen.

There’s a moment at the end of the story where it seems like Roger has come around and decided that Torchwood is a good thing and he’s at peace with the idea of aliens and far off-worlds, only to confront something so big and so powerful that the very concept and idea of humanity can’t ever occur to them. And Roger breaks. There’s no moment of heroism, no moment of courage and bravery, just the Lovecraftian-esque knowledge that there’s always something bigger out there and to try to even comprehend it will drive one mad. It’s up to Gwen to save him, which she does. But there’s no moment of joy or celebration for Roger – just a weary acceptance of a larger world out there. And a quiet promise to try to push Gwen’s request to rebuild Torchwood Three through as quick as he can.

I don’t mean to give short shrift to Eve Myles here. Ten years after joining Torchwood, Gwen Cooper is in many ways a “modern day” Jack Harkness, only with a husband and a child instead of the need to bang anything that moves (and several things that don’t). She’s in charge, she cuts through red tape, she takes risks, she tells it like it is while also being sympathetic, and now she’s taking point in trying to reopen the Hub and Torchwood Three…ten years of character evolution have led to this point where Gwen is a model example of a competent Torchwood operative poised to bring the organization into the future. Which makes the rumor that Eve Myles has no further plans to play Gwen Cooper a bit of a heartbreaker as her turns in Forgotten Lives and More Than This were some damn fine acting.

One thing that really stands out (and something I don’t believe I’ve mentioned in an audio review for quite a while!) is the sound work in this story. Blair Mowat’s music and Neil Gardner’s sound effect work is simply superb. Cardiff is brought to life, not only the day-to-day activities in the background, but the hoof beats against asphalt as the buggy races down the street, the sounds of Roger and Gwen bumping into the ceiling and walls as they deal with the lack of gravity, and the sheer presence of the galactic entity all come through crystal clear and spark the listener’s imagination. Big Finish’s sound work has always been on point, and in More Than This it’s been taken to a whole new level.

More Than This, while not the big action packed confrontation with the Committee one would have expected, is a great story and well worth a listen. It’s funny, it’s got action, it’s got moments of tension, and there’s a lot of honesty and emotion packed into it. I’ve highly enjoyed Big Finish’s run with the Torchwood license so far…actually, I’ve enjoyed it more than anything from the televised series save Children of Earth and Countrycide. With another season planned (the first story actually drops in mid-March), Torchwood is a feather in Big Finish’s cap, and I highly recommend to anyone looking for some good stories to buy the entire season and give it a whirl.

Pros
+ Great acting from Eve Myles and Richard Nichols
+ A script that balance action, humor, and emotion
+ Shows that you don’t need the meta arc to have a great story

Cons
– None. Not a one.

Cobi’s SynopsisMore Than This closes the book on Torchwood’s first series with Big Finish with a fine story that mixes tension, humor, and pathos to show how a normal run-of-the-mill bureaucrat copes when confronted with the horrors and wonders that Torchwood deals with on a daily basis.

Next up – Queen Victoria, ruler of Great Britain and Ireland and Empress of India, has arrived for her annual inspection of the Torchwood Institute. This year, everyone is quite determined, nothing will go wrong…

John Barrowman is Jack Harkness in…Torchwood: The Victorian Age

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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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