Jack’s back! John Barrowman returns to the first series of BF Torchwood in this month’s Uncanny Valley, and expectations are high. We’ve circled Wales and Turkey and taken in the space of a few years, but with Jack back things must be coming to a – ahem – head, right?
Well, yes and no – in more than one sense. For in this penultimate episode, Jack is investigating an individual, uber-wealthy CEO Neil Redmond (Steven Cree) who has recently been returning to public life after a terrifying accident. But is his level of recovery surprising considering his injuries? While he speaks in St Petersburg, who is Jack watching in his secluded castle near Cardiff? And will we finally start to get answers about The Committee?
For those unfamiliar, the phrase “uncanny valley” refers to the experience that when something intended to look human gets increasingly similar with only minor differences those suddenly make it appear very unusual and disquieting – like how good CGI with not quite perfect movement really stands out as unnatural and a bit creepy. Or the innately sinister nature of humanoid robots…
Under a Torchwood lens,Uncanny Valley turns that into a springboard for questions of identity and personal recovery. At times it reminded me of the fantastic recent android thrillers The Machine and Ex Machina, and David Llewellyn’s excellently measured approach is both intelligent and mature. And being Torchwood, it isn’t afraid to reach for the areas other series shy from!
Another familiar phrase is likely to get associated with Uncanny Valley, which is the tour de force of Steven Cree’s magnificent dual performance. With a subtly-effected metallic tint to help separate the two for audio, he enhances both similarities and differences in well-developed roles that make for gripping listening. It doesn’t necessarily relegate Jack Harkness to second fiddle – could he ever be that! – and John Barrowman balances the story well with occasional narration being unobtrusive.
As for the series arc, we do finally start to get some threads tying together and there is indication that an endgame is coming. But considering that next month’s More Than This is the final episode of this season, I’d still kind of expect it to feel closer and more direct by now. A lot is riding on that release, as not completing the storyline would cast a pall over the whole season that would be a little unfair considering the quality of the individual episodes. And of that quality, Uncanny Valley just may be the highest yet.
But, oh, Jack, you just had to turn that title into a euphemism didn’t you?
Torchwood: Uncanny Valley is available now from BigFinish.com