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The Green Life (Credit: Big Finish)
Written By: David Llewellyn
Directed By: Scott Handcock

Featuring: John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness); Katy Manning (Josephine Jones); Stewart Bevan (Voice of the Hive)

Released by Big Finish Productions - April 2019
Order from Amazon UK

“This isn’t the 1970s, Ms. Grant. You won’t find me in any one terminal, circuit board or roll of magnetic tape – I am everywhere.”

If there’s one established truth on which we Doctor Who universe aficionados can surely concur, it’s the undying appeal of the franchise’s various crossover outings. Whether these involve multiple Doctors, companions uniting in their own escapades or an overflowing melting pot of the pair as seen in “The Five Doctors” and “Journey's End”, these ever-anticipated ensemble pieces serve dual purposes, stoking our collective nostalgia while offering a worthwhile entry-point for those viewers who’ve yet to explore the past of the five-decade-spanning shared continuity.

Big Finish’s recently-announced plans to square off the Torchwood Three team (alongside their allies and occasional frenemies) against classic Who monsters in a new series of Main Range instalments thus seemed like a recipe for commercial and creative success from the outset. Sure enough, with April’s Gwen Cooper-starring Night of the Fendahl came a thrilling chamber piece which cunningly melded the titular supernatural antagonist’s mythology with #MeToo explorations; fast forward one month later and the results spawned by pairing the indomitable Captain Jack Harkness not only with “The Green Death”’s iconic maggots, but one Jo Jones, are no less delectable…for want of a better term given the subject matter.

Much as Fendahl rekindled its 1977 TV predecessor’s gothic chills and macabre tone for the modern listener, so too does The Green Life stay true to the unmistakable environmentalist undertones found in 1973’s “Death”, not to mention Jo’s own work to save the world as referenced in her Sarah Jane Adventures appearance. Of course, that Ms. Jones (née Grant) remains so dedicated to preserving life in all forms hardly makes her ideal company for Jack as they investigate a resurgent maggot infestation in the pollution-free village of Llanfairfach. Such crossovers wouldn’t prove half as fun without the odd heated confrontation, though, and true to form, writer David Llewellyn exploits this ideological tension of brawn vs. benevolence for all its worth. From exchanges as gloriously bonkers as the pair navigating sewers while Jo hunts for her missing car keys to unexpectedly explosive moments like the ex-Time Agent questioning why the Doctor truly parted ways with Jo in ’73, there’s dramatic and comedic mileage alike gleaned in abundance here.

It equally goes without saying that – beyond fitting neatly into the Torchwood Main Range’s four-part greatest hits tour – Life shares Night of the Fendahl’s painful topicality in 2019 by delving into the realms of environmental exploitation. Yet rather than simply banging the drum of global warming protest alongside those who took to the streets of London recently, Llewellyn takes an unexpectedly nuanced viewpoint of the situation. His depiction of a corporation manipulating society’s healthy foods drive recognises the dangers of us overlooking business malpractice for conservational ends on the one hand, only to simultaneously highlight the challenge that comes with tearing down these systems if it comes at the cost of whole communities’ workplaces and livelihoods. Who would represent the real villain in that situation? No lone audio drama can profess to provide a definitive answer, as with Fendahl’s necessarily open-ended take on Hollywood gender politics, but to leave Life with such (ironically) meaty food for thought certainly odes Llewellyn huge credit.

In case all of these weighty themes sound a tad overbearing for a one-hour Torchwood adventure, worry not; few thespians could provide greater catharsis in such circumstances than John Barrowman with his gung-ho bravado or Katy Manning with her bubbly wit and infectious wonder, a sentiment which holds doubly true with their overdue coupling., Both stars hit it off from the moment that we hit Play, with Manning’s passionate energy imbuing Jo with the same moral righteousness as ever and offering a perfect counter foil to Barrowman’s lovably infuriating take on Jack at his most self-important. Indeed, if Manning’s ever around the Big Finish studios at the same time as another Torchwood recording, then one can hardly imagine James Goss and company resisting the opportunity to pair her with another member of the team in light of Life’s electrifying results.

So will the naysayers find any excuses to pick nits this time around? The only notable blemish in Life’s structural integrity (at least to our minds) lies in its somewhat rushed introduction of Stewart Bevan’s mysterious behind-the-scenes string-puller. Rest assured that we shan’t reveal their identity here so as to preserve the enigmatic nature of his cast-list billing, but even once you’re fully up to speed, Bevan has scarcely received sufficient time to flesh out his character in any great depth, such that the outcome of our heroes’ inevitable stand-off with them fails to land with the dramatic weight that it arguably would’ve in a serial closer to the 150-minute runtime of “Death”. It’s a recurring issue which we’ve raised before in our Torchwood Main Range reviews and might well warrant the range producers’ consideration at some stage going forward, or alternatively necessitate writers like Llewellyn hastening their future scripts’ first acts somewhat to avoid a last-minute race to the finish line.

With that being said, this reviewer’s greatest concern with Life had long been whether pairing the grimmest and, well, campest aspects of the Doctor Who universe was a step too far, even for a string of releases so accomplished as these one-hour standalone Torchwood missions. What an immense relief it is, then, to confirm that any such reservations on other listeners’ parts are entirely unwarranted, since the above-mentioned minor character issues barely leave a scratch on this riotous crossover’s sturdy armour. There’s nostalgia aplenty for long-term Who fans, a formidable introduction to Jo Jones in all her glory for newcomers unfamiliar with her non-Torchwood antics and tonnes to chew on from a societal perspective as well – in short, the Doctor Who crossover’s undying appeal remains alive and kicking!

NEXT TIME ON TORCHWOOD – Just when you thought that the Torchwood team had expended every ounce of their creative juices brainstorming inspired Doctor Who-mashing plot premises, Lisa McMullin proposes yet another match made in heaven (or possibly Hell) for Sync: Suzie Costello and short-lived Cardiff mayor Margaret Blaine. Sparks will fly, towns will boom, and we’d wager that not even the God Among Us can save Wales’ capital city from the devastating carnage that awaits…

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