Broken (Credit: Big Finish / Lee Binding)
Written by Joseph Lidster
Directed by Scott Handcock
Starring: John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness), Gareth David-Lloyd (Ianto Jones), Melanie Walters (Mandy Aibiston), Eiry Thomas (Glenda), Ross Ford (The Saviour)
Released by Big Finish Productions - July 2016

They say that all good things must come to an end, and nowhere will that oft-used idiom seem more apt in a month’s time than in the case of Big Finish’s monthly Torchwood range. In the space of just twelve months, producer James Goss and his merry band of audio playwrights have expanded the mythology of the eponymous TV series further than fans could possibly have imagined when this continuation was first envisioned. Together, they’ve introduced enigmatic foes like the Committee, unforgettable supporting characters like telesales operator Zeynep and the reclusive billionaire Neil Redmond, but most of all a plethora of exhilarating new storylines for classic Torchwood Three recruits like Captain Jack, Gwen and Ianto, all while convincing the actors who played them first time around to return for at least one instalment of their year-spanning pair of seasons.

All of those seismic achievements are of course reason enough to bemoan the range’s impending temporary conclusion with August’s Season Two finale, Made You Look, but if one hoped to find a primary means by which to justify imploring Big Finish to commission a third season as soon as possible, then they’ve certainly gotten it with this month’s long-awaited release. Dubbed Torchwood: Broken for reasons that become well apparent as its core plot progresses, the odds of this fifth and penultimate chapter in Season Two matching some of the range’s finest moments – TheConspiracy, UncannyValley as well as the more recent Zone10 foremost among them – seemed slim at best prior to its launch, making its triumphant success in this regard that much more of a remarkable feat on the parts of just about everyone involved.

As with any of the studio’s most critically acclaimed titles, Broken’s status as a captivating, award-worthy work of audio drama comes about thanks to a number of contributory factors, but no more so than thanks to the returns of both John Barrowman and Gareth David-Lloyd – for the first time since October 2015’s Fall to Earth in the latter’s case, no less – to the roles of their somehow ever-increasingly beloved pair of doomed romantics, Jack and Ianto. Not since Friends united Joey and Rachel has a fandom arguably rallied behind a couple as ardently as this immortal swashbuckler and his endearingly faithful butler; nor since James Cameron’s Titanic have viewers shed wetter tears at a relationship’s denouement as we all did in the penultimate chapter of 2007’s Children of Earth. As opposed to giving complacent performances due to assuming that fans would pick Broken up anyway, both esteemed thespians instantly remind listeners why they proved such a dual hit on-screen, with Barrowman perfectly balancing his consistently engaging swagger with a more reserved, empathetic portrayal as and when the script requires it, while David-Lloyd tugs at the heartstrings at every opportunity by rendering his lines with such pathos, such dramatic gravitas that even this reviewer found keeping his eyelids wholly dry a challenge at times.

Of course, without the right narrative material to work with, both players might have been forced to go through the motions, so thank goodness for Joseph Lidster, whose masterful script helps elevate his leads’ turns to unprecedented levels with a level of unmistakable ease that most playwrights would envy immensely. To divulge too much of the precise narrative that the man behind televised episodes like A Day in the Death has concocted here would be to spoil the fun, but suffice to say that in setting Broken just days after the events of the divisive but undoubtedly emotional Season One episode Cyberwoman, wherein Ianto’s original crush, Lisa, became a pseudo-Cyberman before finding herself gunned down by the rest of her boyfriend’s team, Lidster ensures that he’s got plenty of meaty dramatic material to dive headfirst into, exploring in depth the nature of psychological trauma involved with grieving a loved one’s demise, the inevitable self-reflection such a loss can provoke for the widow with regards to their own life choices, as well as how one’s perception of those who seemed to be their ‘allies’ prior to such heartbreaking events can change forevermore as a result. In the wrong hands, the integration of such topical issues – especially in an age where terrorist attacks are tragically taking so many real-world individuals’ loved ones on a daily basis – could have felt contrived or borderline disrespectful, particularly if they’d largely played second fiddle to a by-the-numbers sci-fi tale, yet this month’s scribe evidently knew better than to take that approach, instead only peppering in genre elements when absolutely necessary so as to allow this deeply satisfying investigation into Ianto’s psyche – not to mention the birth of his romantic attachment to the future Face of Boe – to take centre stage throughout.

Whilst Torchwood’s primary genre doesn’t substantially manifest itself here, though, those who followed the original TV programme more for its fantastical action and otherworldly antagonists plucked from the previously untapped regions of the Doctor Who universe will surely find enough to sink their teeth into thanks to the fleeting but memorable contribution of Ross Ford as the disconcertingly benevolent extra-terrestrial known as ‘the Saviour’ and, more importantly, Melanie Walters as Ianto’s resident barmaid, Mandy Aibiston. Again, how these two connect to the show’s wider universe is best left unsaid until more of you have had a chance to give this one a listen, although it’s not a spoiler in the slightest to say that with more airtime than Barrowman as well as just as much stage presence, Walters well and truly makes her mark on the audience over the course of the hour. Not only does she endow her character with just as much of a sympathetic, compassionate voice as is befitting of the woman who finds herself nursing – albeit via alcohol – Ianto out of his grief, but she equally making the infrequent heated exchanges between Mandy and Jack seem just as believable owing to the protective stance her construct takes over her latest regular.

The credits don’t stop there, either – in fact, between Scott Handcock’s exemplary direction of what must have been a rather daunting non-linear play to tackle, the inspired usage of Murray Gold’s “Captain Jack’s Theme” and “The Ballad of Ianto Jones” to aurally rouse the listener and break their heart respectively, and the narrative’s success where its predecessors failed in providing a compelling enough standalone yarn to compensate for the lack of mentions of the Committee, it’s difficult to know precisely where to draw the line with all of the warranted gushing in this instance. For fear of spending as long as Jack’s lifetime singing Broken’s praises, then, let’s end on this – here we have the most satisfying entry in the Torchwood range to date, a true masterpiece that combines nuanced performances with Oscar-worthy scripting to remind the world over what made Torchwood such a riotous success on TV and why it couldn’t have been in safer hands than those of Big Finish. All good things must come to an end, but on the basis of Season Two’s spectacular second-from-last entry, its masterminds would be utter fools to let August’s Made You Look or November’s team-up boxset Outbreak signal the dying days of their latest range; if anything, the story’s only just begun.