[Note: Don't read the following if you haven't heard the episode which is available to download from AudioGo. For that matter, don't read the BBC's own programme synopsis which is equally spoilery and gives away almost the entire plot right up to five minutes before the end in that maddening way that Hollywood trailers always do. Right, let the unwarranted sarcasm commence.]
Radio More radio Torchwood. With another three episodes in the old format, Radio 4’s coming even closer to providing us with a whole extra season of Hub-based hijinks set in the gap between seasons two and three. With Earth-1218 events in recent days confirming once again that human beings really are as morally ambiguous if not as downright evil as some of them are portrayed in Children of Earth, it’s strangely comforting to return to the time when Ianto still provided the coffee, Rhys bravely goofed into danger behind an inquisitive Gwen and Captain Jack made otherwise innocent observations like “I love secret doors, they make me all Famous Five” sound absolutely filthy.
This first new adventure, Rupert Laight’s The Devil and Miss Carew deals with the incongruity of grafting an otherwise post-watershed series onto a channel that’s the polar opposite of its original televisual home (THREE!) by melding two Radio 4 institutions and tasking the Shipping Forecast with murdering a resident who lives in the kind of careless care home You & Yours would be interviewing AgeUK about, on a daily basis, until it closed. It is probably a perverse decision to frighten the shit out of the channel’s main (stereotypical) demographic in this way, but the teaser was the undoubted highlight of the episode, poor old Uncle Bryn’s life sucked out of him by the one thing which had given him any comfort since his time in the merchant navy.
Beyond that, this is fairly pedestrian stuff despite Martin Jarvis’s performance as Fitzroy, a brilliantly Ainley-like mix of the scary and the screamingly camp. The pacing, too slow for my taste, suggested the Hub had been transported to Ambridge and as I had the aggressor Fitzroy’s aims outlined to me twice it was impossible not to think (twice) of Who’s own The Idiot’s Lantern in which an alien also employed some antique technology in their scheme (or in that case state of the art given it was 1953). The Devil and Miss Carew was in the old Torchwood mode of intercutting between lines of enquiry discovering exactly the same information and repeating it. I’m sorry, I think I’ve said that already. Um.
To be fair, from a fictional perspective it’s entirely possible to applaud Fitzroy’s plan to destroy advanced technology, especially if your cinema trip has been plagued by mobile phones. But unfortunately as his global zeta pinch would also have ruined the cinema industry too it’s a good job he was stopped even if it took what amounted to simple (albeit tragic) clumsiness on the part of his hench pensioner Miss Carew in order to achieve it. As with all of Doctor Who, this had the stench of death running through it although it wasn’t explained what happened to the few other re-energised souls the “Old Lady” was referring to: Esme, Mrs Heller and the nice Indian man who’s name she couldn’t remember. At least I don’t remember if it did. I must be getting old.
Laight does have a good ear of Chibnallian dialogue, with Gwen’s exclamation that Miss Carew was “gonna do something to change the world and I can’t have that on my conscience” as though she’d just noticed Rhys had toilet paper stuck to the bottom of his shoe at their wedding. It’s also good to hear her husband also talks to himself when using a computer; I too can’t help describing everything I do with my browser especially if it's signposting that I’m about to save someone’s life. All of this was acted with the usual standards by the regulars with Gareth David-Lloyd stepping particularly well back into a character that he’d probably thought lost. Did you know that there are volunteers who keep the shrine in Cardiff fresh? Bless them.