book log 7) Torchwood: Asylum

First of the trilogy of BBC Radio 4 plays released in 2009 as a bridge between Series 2 and Children of Earth. I missed this on initial broadcast, and didn’t get around to listening to it until my recent purchase of the CD set. This is pure quill Torchwood — something (or as in this case someone) falls through the rift, and Torchwood has to deal with it. There’s a detailed plot summary on Wikipedia. Good story with some interesting exploration of the Torchwood universe, and mostly well-acted. PC Andy gets a good role.

book log: 73) James Goss — Torchwood: Department X [audiobook]

73) James Goss — Torchwood: Department X [audiobook]

One of the audio-only tie-in novels, read by Kai Owen on 2 CDs, and set between series 2 and 3.

The last of Cardiff’s traditional department stores, GR Owen, has just gone into administration. A pair of very slick operators from the administrators have arrived to audit the company’s assets, and it’s clear that they’re interested in more than just the usual stock and staff assets. They’re not the only ones, because two of the staff present to be interviewed happen to be Ianto and Gwen, working undercover on a project of Jack’s. Nobody has seen the Department of Curiosities since 1905, and Jack wants to know why. Pity the store tries to kill him every time he sets foot in it…

A well-constructed story with a very Torchwood feel to it, and some logical extrapolations of the Torchwood universe. It’s very funny in places, not least because it openly references the similarities between GR Owen and Grace Brothers in Are you Being Served — I particularly enjoyed the scene where Jack has some fun teasing Ianto about working in menswear.

Very enjoyable, although I think not quite as good as Ghost Train, also written by James Goss and read by Kai Owen. I was mildly irritated in this one by Kai Owen’s habit of leaving a Significant Pause so that you know he’s finished speaking dialogue and moved to the dialogue tag. He didn’t do this in Ghost Train, because it was first person and thus didn’t really have dialogue tags. It’s a distracting irritation from an otherwise good reader.

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Torchwood Miracle Day – episode 1

First impressions: slick, glossy, well written, well acted, and suffering from much the same problem as the 1996 Who telemovie — they’ve taken a show whose primary appeal was a very British humour and sense of whimsy, and stripped it of everything that made it unique, offering us yet another formulaic US sci-fi thriller series. It’s better than the 1996 effort, but the thing that really struck me about it was “Where’s the sense of wonder?”

This is obviously a complete reboot of the Torchwood universe, and I’m not inclined to criticise it for the way it’s been detached from the Whoniverse. That was clearly always on the cards, given that its creator never wanted it to be part of the Whoniverse in the first place, and this is a new show trying to hook a new audience. But one of the things that hooked me on the first series was that sense of wonder to be found with the best sf and fantasy. Gwen’s first look at the Hub in “Everything Changes” is a thing of joy, and never was an episode more aptly titled. That joy, that wonder, was sadly lacking from Miracle Day’s opener.

And yes, it’s been utterly Americanised. The final scene reads to me as intended to make a US audience cheer for good guy Rex. What I see is a craven act of collaboration by the British government. Rusty is smart enough to play to both audiences at once, but I don’t much like the message intended for the US audience.

I’m not sure there’s enough here to sustain a single storyline over ten weekly episodes. Stripping Children of Earth across five consecutive nights worked, but here people have to want to watch it week after week. I finished the episode feeling inclined to watch the next episode, but I didn’t feel that sense of “Oh no, I’ve got to wait a whole week for the next one!” that I used to get watching the “next episode” teaser. Because this slick Hollywood show isn’t what I watched Torchwood for. The first two series always felt to me like fanboys and girls getting to put their fanfic on screen with a BBC3 budget. It was crackfic on acid, it had a pteranodon fighting a Cyberwoman. They weren’t afraid to throw stuff at the screen and see what worked. When it was bad it was horrid, but when it was good it was very good indeed. I never saw a single episode that didn’t have something worthwhile in it, even if there are episodes I’ll never bother watching a second time. The action sequences in Miracle Day are wonderful, but they’re not enough. There’s no risk-taking here. I’m never going to see a little old lady at a pedestrian crossing muttering, “Bloody Torchwood.”

It’s the first episode, so there’s a need to bring the audience in and up to speed, and it may pick up in later episodes. But if this is all there’s going to be — well, sorry, Rusty, but the show I want to watch is Torchwood in all its silly, funny glory, however dear to your heart your original Excalibur concept may be.

Book log: 44) Gary Russell — Torchwood: The Twilight Streets

44) Gary Russell — Torchwood: The Twilight Streets

Sixth of the Torchwood tie-in novels, set late in second season and with a lot of canon references. And my most favourite of all the canon references is the return of Idris Hopper, the Mayor’s secretary from the Doctor Who episode Boom Town. :-)

There is a small block of streets in Cardiff, built by a Victorian businessman as model housing for his workforce. And never occupied for more than a few weeks at a time. Things happen to the people who try to live in Tretarri. Jack doesn’t know why, because Jack can’t get in. He gets a three day migraine every time he tries. But now the Council is renovating the block, with full-on gentrification and street parties to show off the results. Not just on the rate-payers’ money, either — private sponsorship is paying for the celebrations. But the block becomes more than a minor mystery for Jack’s off-duty hours when it becomes apparent that Bilis Manger is behind the plans for change. And Bilis is still using visions of the future to prod the team into action.

It seems simple enough. Another round of stop Bilis Manger and save the world. But the old man’s relationship with Good and Evil is rather more complex than that…

Really enjoyed this one. It’s got an interesting plot, some excellent character development, and entertaining interactions between the various characters. All the regular characters get some page space, and there’s some good stuff on the Jack/Ianto, Gwen/Rhys and Tosh-Owen relationships. Also a delightful little scene in which Ianto tells Torchwood’s Little Miss Sensitive (yes, he calls Gwen that) some home truths about what it’s really like to be bisexual. :-> There’s a lot of stuff referring back to canon, but most of it is tied into the story in such a way that it enhances the story for those who’ve seen the episodes without excluding those who haven’t. It also includes a good in-universe explanation for why the Tardis crew didn’t encounter Torchwood during the events of Boom Town (the external reason, of course, being that Torchwood the series was still a twinkle in RTD’s eye at the time). The reason for the AU future’s potential existence got a bit woolly in places, but the story in that timeline is really well done, if possibly over-angsty for some fans. Which is why I liked it, of course. :-)

Oh, and a word of praise for cover artist Lee Binding, who has done a lovely job in depicting some key elements of the story.

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book review: James Goss — Torchwood: Ghost Train [audiobook]

35) James Goss — Torchwood: Ghost Train [audiobook]

2 CD Torchwood story written for audio, and set between second and third series. It’s read by actor Kai Owen, for the very good reason that it’s a first person narrative from one Rhys Williams, haulage manager. What we get is not just “actor reads book”, but “actor in character tells us a story about what happened when he got mixed up in an alien invasion last week”.

Rhys has a problem in the form of missing fridges, which to begin with looks like perfectly ordinary pilfering. But as Rhys looks into it, the mystery starts acquiring enough weirdness round the edges to make him think it could be Torchwood territory. Pity Torchwood’s having a really bad day, and he can’t even get advice about how to investigate his own little problem, never mind actual assistance. Rhys turns private investigator, and finds himself couriering packages that were delivered to Cardiff railway station – after midnight, on a long disused platform. It turns out that there’s a Torchwood interest after all, but Torchwood proper is missing or dead, and only Rhys is in a position to put things back the way they should be.

The story’s very entertaining, with a perfectly balanced blend of humour and horror, and a lot of running gags that turn out to be plot elements as well. Those plot elements are part of a carefully constructed story where various small details which have been layered in become important as the story gradually unfolds. And it’s wonderfully read by Kai Owen. But along with all this, we get some lovely pieces of characterisation. The story revolves around Rhys, but we also see Rhys’s view of Gwen and her job, and Ianto and Jack. A great story with plenty of re-listen potential. This entertaining audiobook easily justifies its cover price.

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Book review: David Llewellyn — Trace Memory (Torchwood)

Fifth Torchwood tie-in novel, and the middle one of the trio released for the second season. This one has a couple of references which place it late in second season, but no spoilers, and you don’t need to know anything but the basics about the universe to enjoy it.

Michael Bellini’s a Cardiff dockhand, part of a workgang waiting to unload a ship late one night in 1953. A ship whose cargo includes a crate marked “Torchwood”. A strange explosion leaves him in hospital, the only one of his mates to survive. But that’s not the worst of his worries. There are the men who say they’re from the union, but who are clearly government agents. They’re not nearly as frightening as the men in black suits and bowler hats, who aren’t men at all.

In the present day, a quiet Sunday in the Hub is interrupted by the intruder alarm. A young man has suddenly appeared in a locked room, and he’s riddled with a strange form of radiation. It doesn’t take long for the team to establish that he’s a local boy, but out of time. Not so strange for Torchwood, but there’s a twist — they’ve all encountered Michael before. Owen was a junior doctor, learning the necessary art of forgetting about his patients at the end of the day. Tosh was a little girl in Japan. Gwen was on her first day with a new partner, and somehow feeling as if it was her first day in the police force. Ianto was in his second week at Canary Wharf, making friends with another recent starter called Lisa.

And Jack? Well, Jack’s been with Torchwood a long, long time. His own encounter with Michael was out of hours, but he still knows something about Michael’s first encounter with Torchwood, and the alien artefact that sent Michael leaping through time. And a few more things besides.

This is a beautifully constructed novel, which uses Michael’s leaps back and forth through time to tell a solidly plotted story around Michael and the artefact, while giving some lovely backstory and characterisation for each of the main cast. Something I particularly liked is that we see the characters when they were younger, and in those scenes they feel like younger versions of themselves, before various things happened to them. There’s also some good characterisation in the present-day scenes. The nature of the book means that all of the main cast get a good share of the word count.

This is my favourite of the novels so far. That’s partly because it plays to things I like, but it’s also because it’s well written. And while the canonicity of the Whoniverse tie-in material is ambiguous, I think this one adds a little more depth to the Torchwood world, not just another monster-of-the-week story.

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book review: Sam_Storyteller — Condition of Release

Another long piece of Whoniverse fanfic from Sam_Storyteller/Sam Starbuck/Copperbadge. This one’s about 40k words long, i.e. short novel length, and uses those words to great effect. Sam has taken the “Doomsday” and “Cyberwoman” material, and linked it with some of the things we’re shown about the classic Cybermen in the Hartnell and Troughton eras. The result is a story that takes Torchwood season 1, drops in one small fact a second or two after the credits roll in Cyberwoman, and makes you see parts of that season in a whole new light. It’s beautifully written, with characterisations that build on and deepen what we get in canon. But this is more than good characterisation. There’s a solid story here, one that would make a good tie-in novel.

The small fact is that Ianto wasn’t physically converted, but *was* subject to direct mind control by Lisa’s Cyber personality. With her death, the conscious control is gone, but that doesn’t mean Ianto’s free. Jack’s interrogated more than one person who’s survived an encounter with the Cybermen, he’s heard enough about their methods to recognise what he’s seeing, and he’s not giving up Ianto without a fight.

It’s not quite compatible with canon for me, because it doesn’t quite mesh with the scene towards the end of Cyberwoman where Ianto is pleading with Lisa to remember who she is. But it makes a great deal of sense in the context of what we’ve been shown canonically about Cybermen over the years, both the original Mondas Cybermen of classic Who and the parallel universe Cybermen of new Who. This is an excellent piece of work, tying together elements of classic Who, new Who and Torchwood in a satisfying way.

Posted in five parts, plus author’s notes on the canon material used, part 1 here. Sam’s own description:
Rating: PG-13; R in the final chapter
Summary: Jack has studied the Cybermen for forty years, and he’s damned if he’ll let one take any of his people away from him without a fight.

Book review: Sam Storyteller — Your Face Is Turned (Torchwood fanfic)

This is a slightly unusual entry in the book log — it’s fanfic. But it’s novel-length, and it’s very good, and as far as I’m concerned it belongs in the book log.

A while back Sam Storyteller posted a Whoniverse short story about Jack Harkness, I Were The Heavens, Rating: PG for language, Summary: A sixteen-year-old boy from Boeshane is going to win the war. The Time Agency has a vested interest in children like him — and so does the Admiral of the Fleet.

Now he’s posted a novel-length story about what happened next. And it’s set both just after that short story — and just before Children of Earth. But this is no simple fix-it fic. This is a carefully crafted consideration of time paradoxes, and the potential for damaging your own past/future. It’s difficult to discuss it in much detail without heading into spoiler territory, but suffice it to say that Jack Harkness’s convoluted timeline gives a distant future Jack a pressing reason to pull Ianto Jones into the 51st century — and it’s nothing to do with saving Ianto from an untimely death in the 21st century. Jack not only barely remembers Ianto, but to preserve the timeline will have to put Ianto back where he got him from once the job is done…

You’ll need to have at least some familiarity with the Torchwood universe to follow this story, but it’s a fine example of how good fanfic can be in the right hands.

Your Face Is Turned — part 1 of 9
Sam’s description:
Rating: R (more sex than you can shake a dick — a stick! I mean a stick! More sex than you can shake a stick at.)
Summary: Lo Boeshane has a promising career ahead of him as he enters his first year of Fleet Officer Training, but the war is still with him and life at Quantico Station can be difficult. Meanwhile, Ianto Jones is just trying to figure out why the Doctor kidnapped him to the fifty-first century and why Jack abandoned him at a school for the Fleet’s military elite. He suspects it may have something to do with Lo, but his attempts to help the troubled young veteran may damage his own timestream beyond repair.

Book review: Dan Abnett — Torchwood: Border Princes

It’s first season (pre-Countrycide, and probably pre-Cyberwoman), and Team Torchwood are doing their usual thing — but they have an extra member. James has recently joined the team, he fits in very well, and he’s conducting a romance with Gwen — not just a stress relief affair, but an actual romance that leads Gwen to think about how to finish gently with Rhys. He is, in short, a classic Mary-Sue figure for the first half of the book.

Since this is in series 1 continuity and thus we’re going to have a reset button pressed by the end of the book, it’s obvious from page one that there’s more to it than that. But the book’s more than just the unfolding story of who James really is and what he’s doing in Torchwood. This book does a nice job of showing the day to day work of Torchwood, and how it can often be a lot of little things, some tying together and others not. There is a definite main storyline, but there are other small stories entangled with that, and it’s not always clear to the reader which is which until it becomes clear to the characters. It does make the book feel a little choppy in places, but not in a bad way.

It’s competently written, there are some interesting ideas in it that develop aspects of the Torchwood universe, and I am particularly taken with the secondary character of Mr Dine. He’s an excellent study of a non-human character who is trying to blend in, and who understands humans just well enough to recognise how very limited his understanding is. He reminded me a lot of the character of Death in Pratchett’s Discworld.


I’d have liked this book a lot more if I’d read it when it first came out, rather than after seeing all of series 1 to 3. It treats Rhys as a nuisance that Gwen stays with purely out of habit, rather than a man she loves but is tempted to stray from. This is just about compatible with series 1, but even in series 1 it’s pretty clear that Gwen’s affair with Owen is about the stresses of the job and the stress that puts on her relationship with Rhys, rather than because she actively wants rid of Rhys. The book portrays James as being the incentive Gwen needs to get on with ditching Rhys. While the eventual explanation for the presence of James might cover this, I don’t get the impression that this was the author’s intention. And for me this jars very badly with the Rhys/Gwen relationship as portrayed later in the series.

I suspect this is a reflection of the planned direction of the series at the time the writing brief was put together for the first trilogy of books (Rhys was originally supposed to be killed off in series 1), so I wouldn’t consider it to be bad writing, just something that I personally didn’t like.

The book focuses very strongly on James, Gwen, and Jack, with Owen and Toshiko getting less attention and Ianto being hardly present — again, reflecting the show over the first few episodes.

I felt that the other two books in the first trilogy were accessible to readers who weren’t already familiar with Torchwood, but I think this one would be much more difficult for someone new to the universe — and perhaps pointless, given that much of the story is about the reader’s understanding that James should not be there. If you’ve never seen Torchwood and want to pick up a book to see what the fuss is about, this isn’t the one to start with.

In spite of my criticisms, I’m glad I read it. It’s just not the one I’d pick up first for a re-read.

The book is also avilable in an (abridged?) audiobook read by Eve Myles, which I haven’t heard.

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