Radio Burning. Burning. Open the window. Close the fabric flaps. Download. Download. Head speakers on. Hear. Noise. Welsh. Imaginary domesticated animal. Loud music. Lots of heavy breathing before wordage. Bevattna. Bevattna. Tired, so tired. Boredom. Depression. Irritation. Indignation. No – no – no! Off! Off!

Spoilers ahead.

Torchwood’s back then. Eight episodes, ten days, four stories beginning with some specially recorded radio prequels/useful merchandising opportunities because last year’s Large Hadron Collider episode was so well received (well I didn’t think it was that bad). John Barrowman said recently in the Radio Times that he thought that the reduction in editions felt like a punishment (as well he might having had to sit through Something Borrowed). At a time when the license fee is being crunched, he should be pleased that the show’s still being made at all, let alone in this truncated state. Primevil’s not even being gifted a tv movie to close out its cliffhanger (at least Hannah won’t be out of work, S Club are touring again). The BBC simply can’t justify spending thirteen episodes on any sci-fi series in this climate unless it has the letters d, o, c, t, o, r, w, h and another o in the title. Obviously.

Anyway to the asylum, sorry, Asylum by Anita Sullivan, in which the Torchwood team met a refugee from a Woman’s Hour drama, internal monologue intact, and helped her get her life sorted out. That’s an over-simplication of course; she was an alien from the future who’d been dragged through the rift by a future version of the institute with an elastic understanding of temporal mechanics, in the pricess making a point about how Torchwood treats visiting aliens, that they’re not all bug eyed monsters hell bent on global destruction, some of them just want a place to kip with state benefits. In other words, like another ‘very special episode’ this time constructed around a Daily Fail baiting (this time non-existent) day of programmes about a hot topic with the usual constraints about having to make a point about something sacrificing proper drama in the process.

Generally underwhelmed, I kept expecting it to tip over into something more involving, a twist which set everything on its head. Nothing. For hardy fans of the franchise, an amnesiatic sixteen year old girl babbling in a strange language being arrested for shop lifting is clearly either going to be an alien or from another time. Or both. Fans of Skins would obviously have another opinion. Given that Asylum was supposed to launch a new short series of radio plays and signal the return of Torchwood to our screens, Sullivan’s play was hardly the slam-blam-creepy-glorious adventure we know this corner of the franchise is capable of (for better or worse) and something which sounded like it could have been put together for television on the average budget of an episode of The Bill.

Brave perhaps, then, to tell a small story in these circumstance, but with just three episodes to play about with, why not take advantage of our imagination and do something really spectacular, something startling, rather than 'show' us the interior of a safe house, some terraces and a lake? The future language was nicely developed, and well done to Erin Richards for wrapping her larynx around that, and the form could only have been done on radio, but it just -- wasn't -- enough. Usually in these reviews I like to write about individual scenes, what worked, what didn't, but just hours later I can't think of anything specific. Nothing especially bad, I suppose, just ...

I know this was being made for Radio Four in the afternoon which would hardly be the place for a Day One, but does have to be a rerun of the tepid Out of Time (to the point of referencing that exercise in romantic witlessism mid-stream)? I'm not really criticising the writer in this -- well alright perhaps a little -- but she was simply comissioned to write the story in this way -- and given the ideas she's produced on radio and in theatre before (detailed here) and she's talked recently (in the Radio Times too) of giving Cardiff loads of ideas to choose, I simply wonder what fell by the wayside. Sullivan clearly grasps what Torchwood was about. She captured the individual character voices beautifully, especially Gwen. She even picked up the television series's habit of moving the plot forward by having a Torchwood member leaving their keys in a motor vehicle.

There were still some entertaining elements. We love PC Andy and it was fun to finally hear him reacting to what Gwen’s been doing with her life since she left the police force, Tom Price almost channelling Jason Mewes in Dogma when he was trying to comprehend the existence of aliens (though with less swearing) and presumably setting something up for next week. After some initial deep inhale acting (“inhale … my name’s Gwen … inhale … I’m hear to help … inhale … would you like a coffee?”) Eve Myles stepped away from the microphone slightly to deliver her dependably down to earth performance. Neither Barrowman or Gareth were given very much to do though the scene in the Torchwood Love Machine with the toy gun/remote control/Cardiff traffic management bothering device was sweetly played and surprisingly clean (even if the bike love did make me want to chew through the arms of my chair).

Tomorrow: The hitherto unmentioned Torchwood India. Oh.

[Torchwood: Asylum can be download here for the next week. If you're living in the UK.]

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