Written By: Tim Foley
Directed By: Scott Handcock
Featuring: Eve Myles (Gwen Cooper), Guy Adams (Ged), Bradley Freeguard (Phil), Gavin Swift (Derek), Gerald Tyler (Marco)
Released by Big Finish Productions - March 2019
Order from Amazon UK
“We have lived for one thing and one thing alone – we are cattle, mere morsels for our masters…”
A startling confession before we begin: this reviewer’s recent first experience with “Image of the Fendahl” didn’t exactly go according to plan. The intriguing supernatural mythology’s conveyance through rushed exposition dumps, the potent gothic imagery early on giving way to noticeably budget-constrained CGI, the minimal role afforded to the TARDIS team (albeit to far lesser impact than say “Blink”) – so many elements of this supposed 1970s Doctor Who classic seemed within touching distance of greatness yet, for yours truly at least, somehow missed the mark. So with Big Finish’s Torchwood Main Range kicking off once more with a spiritual successor, Night of the Fendahl, came a considerable sense of trepidation, not least since writer Tim Foley had already made clear his intent to tackle female-exploiting horror flicks and thus #MeToo issues alongside the titular classic foes.
That said, as with many of the stronger Main Range entries to date, Foley instantly recognises the value of a focused, intimate narrative which astutely balances its homages to both Torchwood and its mother show with the former’s grislier tone and resultantly morally complex characters. Far from aping Who’s necessarily more family-friendly take on the Fendahleen community for “Image” fans hoping for more of the same, the long-running range contributor offers up a no-holds-barred take on Gwen’s (seemingly unwitting) descent into the underworld of Fetch Priory. Whether we’re privy to lecherous director Marco’s unashamed ogling of Gwen as she turns her hand at acting in a quasi-pornographic slasher, discovering the grim secrets which make crew members like Gavin Swift’s Derek tick, or envisioning certain haunting demises as they’re depicted graphically before our ears, few could accuse “Night” of shying from its franchises’ most disturbing recesses.
Such unsettling thematic explorations as these naturally serve the additional purpose of feeding into the piece’s irrefutable investigation into the entertainment industry’s gender politics, an issue which has, of course, come into the limelight in the last couple of years (after tragically lingering in the shadows for far longer than that). Indeed, it’s little wonder that Eve Myles – who departed Big Finish’s ongoing post-Miracle Day Big Finish to pursue other projects – returned to tackle meaty material of this ilk, with her character subjected to an all-manner of emotional horrors that render subsequent proceedings all the more empowering as a result. Myles should, if anything, consider adding “Night” to her next audition portfolio (not that she likely needs one at this point!), since the manner in which she’ll effortlessly flit from chillingly willing sexual victim to a possessed force of nature to a more familiar Gwen – albeit in a still harrowing context – produces a show-stopping performance which stands alongside any of her superb work in Broadchurch, Victoria or the like of late.
The only downside to Foley’s exploration of said weighty subject matter with Myles, though, is that he might’ve bitten off more than the Fendahleen can chew here. Where the much-lauded “Adrift” sacrificed Torchwood’s traditional monster-of-the-week entirely to directly confront the issue of missing children to heartbreaking effect, “Night” only has the opportunity to follow suit for #MeToo issues to a certain extent, its hands inevitably tied between this and gradually building up the fear factor of its titular supernatural entity’s return. Thankfully, the two narrative strands do eventually intertwine satisfyingly come the hour’s denouement, leaving those listeners considering a career in screen entertainment with a justifiably definitive – if slightly pressed-for-time – note on the fate which could befall them repeating past generations’ representational mistakes. Yet whether this nostalgia vs. societal discussion balancing act will hinder any of the next three Who villain-featuring Main Range entries, particularly when May’s outing features such a purposely laughable foil for Suzie Costello as Slitheen refugee Margaret Blaine, remain to be seen.
Even so, the level of effort invested into ensuring “Night” does justice to its talking point and classic Who hook remains unmistakable across the board, especially in those tertiary elements which we all so often overlook such as its supporting cast players and sound design. Approaching a play of this ilk must’ve seemed an intimidating prospect to say the least for Swift, Gerald Tyler, Gerald Tyler and even regular Torchwood scribe Guy Adams, all of whom portray unsavoury individuals brought face-to-face with their corrupt vices, but each player shows an admirably staunch commitment to ensuring that the tale’s deeply flawed human antagonists stay with us just as long as its visceral set-pieces. The latter elements wouldn’t be possible either, of course, without the behind-the-scenes team’s integrating subtle shrieks of wind enveloping Fetch Priory, blood-soaked death blows and a menagerie of other aural effects to immerse us in proceedings – a challenge which they meet with such remarkable success that future audio dramatists would do well to take note.
For all this reviewer’s reservations before hitting Play, then, and despite Foley overreaching himself in the cramped space of a single hour, here lies another thoroughly impressive audio Torchwood entry sizzling with gothic scares, topical themes at their most disturbing and psychologically nuanced characters who’ll frequently leave you utterly terrified. Whether you’re craving more time in the Fendahl’s sinister (now CGI constraints-free) presence, a Gwen-centric episode which takes her character in a bold new trajectory, or proof that we’re in for another thrilling year of standalone adventures, “Night of the Fendahl” excels itself in all of those respects; consider the resurrection gauntlet well and truly thrown down for the next eleven Main Range storylines.
NEXT TIME ON TORCHWOOD – Battling one of the Doctor’s bygone adversaries would usually seem enough of an ordeal in and of itself; doing so while sparring wits with none other than Jo Jones in an increasingly confined underground space, however, is another matter entirely. Who better to juggle both challenges in The Green Life than the always calm and compassionate Time Agent known to us as Captain Jack Harkness, then? Who indeed – not even the God Among Us knows for certain whether either of these cantankerous rebel spirits will escape Llanfairfach alive and / or with their respective sanities intact!
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