An Essay on TORCHWOOD: ALIENS AMONG US (Series 5)

Neo’s written essay on TORCHWOOD: ALIENS AMONG US (series 5).
How does following up four TV series with an audio series work? How coherently was the chaos in Cardiff realised? Between alien refugees, police brutality, sex viruses, and a recurring motif of fake representation, just what did the series come together to say?
Plus a ranking of the twelve episodes!

Context: Small Beginnings

TORCHWOOD’s streak of getting promoted up a network every season came to an end when no season at all eventuated after the American co-production of TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY. Showrunner Russell T Davies, along with some key producers, went to America after finishing the highly-successful David Tennant run of DOCTOR WHO, to create some appealing coproductions stateside with the BBC. Future series of TORCHWOOD were contigent on RTD’s involvement, and despite the cliffhanger ending of MIRACLE DAY, no fifth season eventuated on television – personal reasons saw RTD return to the UK, and so while TORCHWOOD was by no means a failure, it did not return to television.

The brand languished. A few audiobooks were released in the first half of 2012, then a novel by John Barrowman and his sister Carole in September. For the next two years, absolutely no TORCHWOOD content was made or released. John Barrowman frequently tried to bring attention back to the brand, but nothing came of it. However, early 2015 saw the audio drama company Big Finish acquire the rights to produce original TORCHWOOD stories with the show’s cast.

Big Finish were conceived in the ‘wilderness years’ of DOCTOR WHO, those years between the show’s cancellation in 1989 and RTD’s revival of it in 2005. They created original audio drama stories set with actors from the show, usually set in between existing episodes, but also sometimes forging out new directions. Their stories with Eighth Doctor Paul McGann arguably were the closest thing to ‘new’ DOCTOR WHO for some years, stories winding out into future possibility instead of interlacing themselves with the past. RTD describes himself as defending and saving Big Finish from a BBC producer keen to cancel their license to produce DOCTOR WHO stories – as an independent company instead of part of the BBC, Big Finish have to negotiate license agreements to use characters and concepts from properties.

When Big Finish acquired the TORCHWOOD license in 2015, RTD said ‘Torchwood has been to the Moon, and America, and the Himalayas, but now I think it’s finally coming home, to the brilliance of Big Finish’. James Goss, a writer who’d worked on TORCHWOOD to an extent already (creating ancillary material on platforms like the official website, some of which inspired the episode TO THE LAST MAN) became the ‘showrunner’ figure for the range of TORCHWOOD audio dramas Big Finish would produce. He described the greatness of TORCHWOOD as being that ‘it is as unstoppable as Captain Jack and just as persuasive’. Scott Handcock, director of the series, said ‘Aliens Among Us is unlike any other Torchwood release to date. It’s a new team, full-cast, driving the story forward beyond Miracle Day...the format of tackling ‘Series 5’ has allowed us to build a larger recurring cast of characters, and for James Goss and I to plot out a more-involved, ongoing story arc‘.

The first dozen TORCHWOOD releases from Big Finish were one-hour audio dramas scattered around the timeline show. Many were set in-between episodes, sometimes just as convenient places to insert new adventures, and sometimes to graft on entirely new characterisations and contexts that in turn recontextualised events of the show in terms of the fictional setting and development of the characters. The tenth anniversary of the show’s first episode was celebrated with THE TORCHWOOD ARCHIVE, a scattered anthology story of Goss’ that probed the imperialist premise of the Torchwood organisation with scepticism, as well as clarifying the audio iteration of the series as more explicitly anticapitalist and interested in systemic interactions than the show.

That kind of iterative approach to the show, drawn in contrast to just mining fanservice and nostalgia value, reached an apotheosis when Big Finish announced they would be making what they explicitly billed as ‘Series 5 of TORCHWOOD’. While some of the previous audio dramas had been set after MIRACLE DAY, they’d been relatively standalone affairs, where this ‘series 5’ – dubbed ALIENS AMONG US – had been conceived of as a genuine longform continuation, right down to being structured as twelve episodes.

‘Russell’s been wonderfully involved in the continuation of TORCHWOOD’, clarified Goss. ‘We came up with some characters and ideas and he very kindly, very politely said ‘Marvellous, but no. Howabout…?‘. And that’s what lead to Jack and Gwen being joined by Mr Colchester (Paul Clayton), Ng (Alexandria Riley), Tyler (Jonny Green) and the enigmatic Orr (Sam Béart). Who are they? What part do they have to play in the future of Torchwood? And can they save Cardiff from an invasion that’s already been lost? This is an ambitious series for Big Finish – an entire season of TORCHWOOD!’

Further clarifications in Big Finish’s ‘Vortex’ magazine, as well as in behind the scenes segments on the discs the stories were released on, would reveal that RTD’s contributions were effectively refining some character concepts, coming up with some characters entirely, thinking up some large events in the season’s story, general massaging of the broad storyline, and writing one scene in the finale episode outright. The series was released in the form of three boxsets, each containing four hour-long episodes. The boxsets sell for around £35 on disc, and £30 on download, each.

Big Finish continued (and still continue) to release those more standalone one-hour types of stories scattered around the fictional timeline, as well as an increasing number of themed boxsets and specials covering different types of TORCHWOOD stories. They also eventually followed up ALIENS AMONG US with GOD AMONG US, which they dubbed ‘series 6’ of TORCHWOOD, in turn. Thirty-five hours and twenty-nine minutes of televised TORCHWOOD were produced. As of these ‘fifth and sixth series’ being released, twenty-six hours and forty-one minutes of follow-up audio ‘series’ content have been produced. The idea of any further televised TORCHWOOD seems completely dead in the water.

(spoilers for ALIENS AMONG US below)

Cardiff Coherency

The series follows a story arc along the twelve episodes that’s not as serialised as MIRACLE DAY (let alone CHILDREN OF EARTH), but is certainly more interconnected than the first two series of the show. There are multiple arc elements running throughout the season. Aliens called the Sorvix have invaded Cardiff in what Goss describes as a riff on the way mysterious, generally-unseen property developers buy up properties in cities like London, presumably in the ways that lead to odd ghost neighbourhoods (if buildings are bought, and developments are made, for financial reasons rather than actual habitation) or more general gentrification and population-shifting.

The issue with the Sorvix is they simply do not map out onto any sort of meaning, any sort of metaphor, any sort of particularly coherent theme. Individual political treatments in episodes often work (the satire of the dehumanising inanity of the gig economy in ZERO HOUR, the bloodlust of capitalist hunger in A KILL TO A VIEW, the poisoned architecture of oppression in SUPERIORITY COMPLEX), but the Sorvix refuse to cohere. They are gentrifiers, they are suicide bombers, they are capitalists, they are asylum seekers, they are slavers, they are vore enthusiasts…if there was a grander point made about cultural plurality then that would be something, but there isn’t.

In fact, the finale terminates the series so abruptly that it begs the question of whether it wasn’t in fact a penultimate episode shoved into the place of a finale (especially when the actual penultimate episode is by far the episode lightest on content, and fourteen minutes shorter than other episodes). Nothing is resolved thematically, very little is resolved plot-wise, and there were next to no character arcs running throughout the series to resolve in the first place. When a series is billed around exploring ‘aliens among us’, ‘a city already taken over’, and positions itself as a kind of political exploration (something the last two series of the show did as well), it sets up certain expectations. Those expectations don’t necessarily have to be met to tell a good story, but the utter incoherency that they’re met with rankles, as does the lack of any kind of story substitution to justify not following them up.

Jack the Hack

Another arc element running through the series is that of Captain Jack slowly losing his grip on Torchwood Cardiff. The newer members often jar with his leadership style, he forms some murky association with the racist terrorist group called the Red Doors, and an alternate Yvonne Hartman (as seen in the second series finale of the revived DOCTOR WHO) pops up and undermines him. This also falls prey to the odd structuring of the series. Jack is at something of a remove in the series; he sits one episode out entirely, and is frequently only in other episodes for small sections. Like the first series of the show, his character is kept at a distance, his characterisation more vague. This makes some sense, given how essentially all the major characters of the show are positioned the same way Gwen was at the start of that series. They’re entirely new to us, and new to Jack as well. Gwen is not exactly present, Mr. Colchester flat-out disapproves of Jack, Tyler meets him in the first episode (through a Grindr hookup, no less), Orr meets him in the third, and so on.

Keeping Jack at a remove isn’t a bad idea necessarily. The strongest story of the series, A KILL TO A VIEW, barely has him in it. He flits around the edges, while the bulk of the story is devoted to the new characters of Mr. Colchester and his husband Colin. Compounding Barrowman’s absence (presumably availability-related; he’s a busy man, and the intermittent usage of him across the season suggests recording workarounds) with Eve Myles’ absence is troublesome in how small a link it really leaves to televised TORCHWOOD. Still, the new character setups are strong. RTD’s impression is really felt, especially with Mr. Colchester the middle-aged gay man at odds with the traditionally younger, sexier conception of Torchwood. Orr, the ‘sexual psychomorph’ non-binary character also is a great concept, an alien that morphs into the form someone in the vicinity desires most, yet who is unsure of who they really are.

And yet none of these characters really receive much development, let alone arcs. Jack’s Red Doors association is so rarely hinted at until it comes to a head in the final third series. Mr. Colchester never really changes much at all. Orr, the most creative new character conception, gets a bizarrely small amount of ‘screentime’ to explore their character and their lived experience. The lack of Jack in the season makes him getting kicked out of Torchwood barely register, because he was hardly in the season much already. Inversely, Tyler not getting accepted into Torchwood doesn’t really register, as he’s in most episodes anyway, regularly dealing with Torchwood. There’s so little actual sense of story dynamic or characterisation here. CHILDREN OF EARTH was an enormous shakeup of what TORCHWOOD was a show, but it worked and sold itself based on how high-quality and cohesive it was. MIRACLE DAY suffered because it tried to reinvent the show again, yet was sloppy and bursting with filler that neglected the interesting parts of its setup. ALIENS AMONG US falls prey to that same trap. The novelty of the new characters and concepts could have carried the season perfectly well, but they’re so often lost in the meat and potatoes of stories.

F is for Fake

The final arc element of the series is Gwen Cooper being replaced by an imposter entity credited as Ng, a mysterious entity played by Alexandria Riley doing an impression of Eve Myles. Ng infiltrates all facets of Gwen’s life, leading to perversions like parenting Anwen poorly, drifting apart from Rhys, having sex with Jack (albeit under the influence of an alien virus), while Eve Myles’ Gwen occasionally complains in a kind of interior voiceover.

The series ends with Ng being exposed, with Gwen and Rhys summarily leaving Torchwood for good on account of the fact that, as she sets out in the monologue written by RTD for the finale, ‘I’m not Torchwood. This bloody place, it fills you and consumes you and owns you. But that’s what I realised – I’m better than that. It’s time for Gwen Cooper to go and live a better life. She might even stop referring to herself in the third person, but it’s time for me and Rhys and Anwen to start again, Jack. To find that better life. I love you Jack Harkness, I do, I love you and I love this, this place, and I love them all to this day. I love Tosh, Owen, Ianto, Esther. But I think I’m more important than anything in this world. So, over and out, boss. I’m signing off’.

Eve Myles was too busy to contribute to the audio season in any real capacity, so RTD devised the workaround of having an imposter take her place, then ushering her out of Torchwood in the finale. Six months before recording the premiere proper (and so presumably before the finalisation of many scripts), that finale monologue was recorded in a brief bit of free time of Myles’. Some small snippets for other episodes were also recorded, like Gwen flatly saying ‘bye mum’ to the corpse Ng made of her mother. The idea of an imposter Gwen is not a bad idea at all. It’s viscerally disturbing, it feeds into Gwen’s anxieties about losing herself to the job, and it’s a canny use of the audio medium. As with shapeshifter Orr, it’s good to lean into the differences of the audio seasons to the televised seasons, rather than trying to just become an approximated redo that inevitably falls short. And yet…structuring an entire twelve-hour season around the absence of the lead character, when the other lead character is also a reduced presence, and when the new characters aren’t characterised particularly deeply, it’s all rather draining.

Tyler was explicitly conceived as a pseudo-Gwen, a failed Gwen, with Goss putting it as ‘Tyler Steele is the anti-Gwen, which is why it’s so good to pair him up with her’. Tyler ostensibly was an inversion of Gwen and her success in Torchwood, with the premiere episode’s title of CHANGES EVERYTHING riffing off the EVERYTHING CHANGES episode that began the show and saw Gwen join Torchwood. Ng, however, is more a replacement Gwen, conceived of as a workaround for Eve Myles’ availability. While there’s novelty in that premise, the execution had both Gwen and Ng at a distance, neither being particularly characterised alongside the series. The mystery was preserved to the other characters, but it was made explicit in the second episode of the series to listeners, and that dramatic irony wasn’t enough to justify that kind of prolonged storytelling for so many hours.

An uncharitable reading of the season could take the character Ng as a metaphor of the whole affair; a fake approximation that thinks it’s far more clever and convincing than it is. Fakes abound in the series, to a legitimately confusing degree. Fake Yvonne, fake Gwen, the Red Doors were fake (at least initially), the Sorvix present themselves as fake humans, PC Andy’s racism was faked, Orr offers to become a fake Ianto to Jack, Deliverables is a fake delivery service, fake child abuse allegations in the finale, it all really adds up. The ‘fake finale’, the episode that closed the season while resolving so little of it, retroactively unravels the whole concept of a season and story arc. It becomes a sequence of events that more or less arbitrarily cuts off after twelve hours, never escaping the sense that it’s just setting up more boxsets. As with the muddled meanings of the Sorvix, the fakeness motif doesn’t map onto any particular meaning easily, beyond suggesting a simulacrum of drama was a well the season retreated to all too often.

Can’t Read My, Can’t Read My

The Sorvix are a hodgepodge of gestures at various ‘relevant’ and ‘topical’ issues, that ultimately don’t really cohere into any unified sort of meaning. This is the mode of operations for much of the season. While there are some moments that ring true, like an innocent man being repeatedly pressed about why he won’t condemn the terrorist attacks he clearly condemns, there are more frequently empty gestures at ‘2017 issues’ that imbibe the season with some fake sense of profundity. For example, the episode THE EMPTY HAND focuses on dear old PC Andy from the television series being exposed for shouting racist diatribes at refugees and presumably murdering one. Protests and such rise up against him. Producer Scott Handcock, in the behind the scenes segment on the disc, said ‘I think the idea of making Tom Price, the nicest man alive, the villain was just wonderfully shocking, and the fact he actually did it as well…I think, you know, a lot of our writers would find a get-out, but Tim [Foley] just went ‘no, no, we can have our cake and eat it’.

Of course…there was a get-out…Andy was under the influence of malicious technology and wasn’t a ‘real racist’ or anything like that, let alone a willful murderer. So, a story positioned as a topical, relevant, timely look at police brutality and the like, it spends its time concerned over whether the innocent policeman will get his racist rants removed from social media, whether his name will be cleared, rather than with the sort of people affected by that racism, with the throngs of people that protest him, and so on. A police officer being essentially hypnotised into killing a refugee, deserving exoneration for it, and ultimately his salvation coming from those affected being thrown under the bus, it’s just not the type of narrative it’s purporting to be. The story TAGGED, centring on a woman who killed the man who raped her, that is ultimately killed by Ng in an ending that feels uncomfortably like some sort of karmic rebalancing, also feels faux-topical in that sense.

The story POKER FACE, ostensibly focusing on Jack and Yvonne’s battle for the heart and soul of the Cardiff Torchwood team, focuses on the minutiae of duplicities and trickery, rather than any sort of actual political or narrative debate or collision between the two leaders, that would lead to some sort of actual critical assessment and comparison of the two figures. These stories often seem to actively duck politics. They go for a more amorphous sense of ‘relevancy’, or reference to issues in popular discourse, without actually engaging with them. They don’t provide a storytelling stamp upon them so much as gesture at them in some sort of substituted appeal to profundity. While some individual stories do succeed in having coherent political concepts that meld well with specific TORCHWOOD tones, the fact the longform season arcs fail to cohere frames the season unpleasantly overall.

There’s undoubtedly good in the series. The new characters are well-conceived enough that it gives rise to frustration over how little their psyches are really probed; lesser characters would inspire only boredom, not the desire for something more. The score fits neatly into the aesthetic of previous series while also iteratively stepping forward, with the slick, guitar-heavy theme of Tyler’s a particular highlight. A KILL TO A VIEW is a fantastic episode, and there are good ideas scattered throughout others. But the needlessly elongated runtimes that spend too much time on plotty busywork, the faux-profound treatment of politics, and the incoherent theming, it all contributes to a series that feels confused and undershot, resembling its predecessor MIRACLE DAY to a disappointing degree.

Episode Rankings

A KILL TO A VIEW

A fantastic premise that feels utterly TORCHWOOD and utterly 2017, with tenants of a building hosting murderous dinner parties to try and climb the social and capital ladders. The focus on the ‘side character’ of Mr. Colchester’s husband, Colin, and the way the more ‘story of the week’ Sorvix affair just flits around the edges makes the story almost feel like a monthly TORCHWOOD audio. And that’s a good thing! It’s well-paced, varying the stakes and setting and level of tension in a way the stories before it didn’t. It’s timely and specific in a way that feels more true than the more general Cardiff hate crime ‘arc’. And the returning character of Bilis is used in a way that doesn’t feel indulgent or like patronising fanservice, but instead a very natural element of the story. Plus, the actor’s performance is so utterly delightful and enchanting. An excellent TORCHWOOD take on luxury apartments and capitalist spirit in general, with the sort of more standalone, episodic focus that makes other stories in the season look worse for not trying it.

CHANGES EVERYTHING

It works, it just works. New, and even more divorced from ‘old’ TORCHWOOD than MIRACLE DAY was, yet feeling somehow so true to that hard-to-pinpoint ‘spirit’ of the show. It genuinely feels like what TORCHWOOD could be, would be, should be in 2017. The new characters work, the reintroduction of old characters work, the new tone and concept and focus and dynamic, it all glides off that amazing alchemy that people made new TORCHWOOD, and they made it work. Moments like an innocent Muslim man being repeatedly asked to condemn a bombing he plain as day had nothing to do with and obviously ‘condemns’ also feel real and painful, where a lot of similar moments later in the series come off as patronising or empty gestures.

SUPERIORITY COMPLEX

The sixty-minute length of these stories really starts to grate here, as another otherwise interesting story is bogged down by a meandering, plodding first half that shuffles its feet with repeating worldbuilding and ‘arc’ details that were made abundantly clear in the premiere. When it gets going however, it absolutely works, integrating Orr well into the new team, and dealing out a fabulous, madcap concept of a murderous, sentient hotel smiting its inhabitants.

ORR

The titular new character is fascinating and feels very TORCHWOOD while also feeling very new. Their character concept isn’t explored to a great deal here, but the moments that do so are tantalising. A lot of the episode feels very procedural in slowly introducing the character in a way tied into the series arc, and that slows down proceedings. The ongoing Ng arc continues to feel clumsy, with Eve Myles uttering a stilted “bye” to her mother’s corpse.

ZERO HOUR

The gig economy satire, and the idea of manipulating the rift through a gig economy app’s scheduling, are both great. But they don’t really progress anywhere. The episode’s romance, and its main concepts, just kind of trail off after being described a few times. They’re then resolved in a traffic jam sequence that might’ve been fun and surprising on television, but feels like a misfire and underplayed on audio. When Eve Myles pops up at the end to lamely say that Ng is ‘rubbish’, it accentuates how weirdly stilted a story that sounds interesting on paper ended up being.

ALIENS & SEX & CHIPS & GRAVY

It absolutely nails that alien sex comedy vibe of the show, and feels like a natural, workable, enjoyable way to iterate the earlier procedural form of the show into something new. For the first ten minutes. Then it’s interminable, repetitive conversations in an endless car drive, followed by an ending that underplays an event as dramatic as Gwen’s mother’s death to a jarring degree.

TAGGED

Lidster gets the mechanics of telling these types of stories better than a lot of other writers this season did; it’s paced and varied well-enough, and not too many lines are ‘I know you question my methods, but we got results and we stopped a bloodbath!’-level clunkers. The internal monologues of Serena and her killing her rapist, Yvonne’s utter domination of the Torchwood team, Ng’s struggles after being identified, these all could be developed more, and don’t cohere together particularly well. The handing of Serena as a rape victim leaves a lot to be desired, with Ng’s murder of her treading uncomfortably close to a karmic justice type of narrative. Like Owen’s throwaway date rape in DAY ONE (the first one), TORCHWOOD falters hard when it tries to use elements as serious as rape as minor signifiers, and as much as ‘screentime’ as Serena and her psyche get in the audio, it’s not enough to really justify, make good, or tell any particularly interesting kind of story with that element. The Yvonne story works better, but goes the most obvious way it could (overworking Orr, the team grumbling about her overworking Orr, her justifying overworking Orr by saying it got results), which is a shame, as Lidster typically is better at finding creative spins on stories. Speaking of Orr, they shine in this story – as they tend to do when given any actual focus on their lived experience.

HERALD OF THE DAWN

It’s undeniably sloppy, with how it careens all over the place from dogging to false accusations of paedophilia (why are false accusation, a big part of THE EMPTY HAND too, such a running theme?) to the UK government’s interest in the gentrifying skill of the Sorvix, to ‘resolving’ the Ng/Gwen story and not much else. But there are actual things happening – lots of them! And a scene properly with Eve Myles, Kai Owen, John Barrowman and so on, well it sings to actually hear them all interact again, even though Gwen’s actual ending comes across as a massively undersold cannibalisation of CHILDREN OF EARTH’S ending where Gwen, in her own way, abandons Torchwood to go live her own life with her family instead (the difference here being there really is an existent team to abandon, albeit not one Gwen has consciously bonded with, onscreen at least). Moments like Yvonne and Ro-Jedda surviving an explosion that ended up doing little of note for its all signification rankle, as does the bizarre Andy/Yvonne developing romance, and how blatantly all the ‘god’ material is a tease for another three boxsets. That’s the most dreadful part of it all. This isn’t a finale, not really. It’s a bunch of cliffhangers to set up another ‘series’.

POKER FACE

Yvonne Hartman ousting Jack Harkness from his position as Torchwood leader is an interesting premise, and the scenes actually with Yvonne tend to be quite engaging, especially her leaderly seductions of the other team members. Highlighting Jack’s increasingly haphazard and regressed characterisation and leadership style is also interesting. Too much of the story is spent on interminable minutiae about bombs and organisational allegiances and whatnot, however.

THE EMPTY HAND

You could describe this story as pre-tension, in how it doggedly avoids actually probing the concepts or causes of police violence and antagonistic group dynamics, instead relying on generic narrative signifiers to join the dots in that kind of story. And you could describe this story as pretension, as it’s resolution of having one police officer hypnotised into killing a refugee, and online police officer doing it willingly, gestures at the concept of police violence and refugee killings without actually saying anything at all about them, in how it dollops out these dealings in expository rushes about aliens and false flags and media narratives and on and on. Similarly to how MIRACLE DAY tried for the grandeur of a story about mortality, healthcare, and the human rights to life and death, but then spent most of its time on generic CIA runarounds, this is a story that makes for a very topical and ‘important’ publisher’s summary, but not so much an actual hour of storytelling. ‘The Empty Hand’ indeed. Having the Torchwood team throw the disenfranchised under the bus to get out of another ‘it’s the very of Torchwood as we know it!’ story that obviously won’t actually result in that kind of narrative collapse just feels ugly, not even edgy. There’s more tension in whether innocent policeman Andy will get his racist diatribes scrubbed off of YouTube than there is in how the groups actually affected by the mounting violence are faring. A sympathetic police officer ‘forced to be racist, to be violent, to be bad’ because of alien technology really is not the lofty, powerful narrative the story seems to think it is, nor is police brutality and terrorism being faked to scare a population into submission.

LOVE RAT

For the first time in the fifth series, things don’t feel so much mistakenly underplayed and misfocused so much as strained. Barrowman delights in getting to play a more rambunctious, hornier Jack when infected by a promiscuity virus. The moment of Jack and ‘Gwen’ having sex should feel monumental given the preceding series (the tone of it feels more or less fine in playing it disturbing, but it’s not disturbing enough, or seductive enough, and is almost brushed over, oddly), but the story focuses so much on Tyler’s dealings, Ro-Jedda’s machinations, and general Torchwood busywork that it feels not just misaligned, but almost misallocated, like to get from one point in the season arc to another a TORCHWOOD-sounding idea was conjured up and deemed good enough, no matter how it was to be played. For all its misfiring, THE EMPTY HAND felt like an actual story, where this feels hollow and massively undersignified for what it puts its characters through. The ending, where Ng uses sex to mollify Rhys, threatens to cohere the story into a grander point about sex and manipulation, but the degree to which previous scenes in the story underplayed such topics jettisons that.

ESCAPE ROOM

When the behind the scenes segment on the disc is infinitely funnier, more engaging, interesting, and even well-paced than the actual story comprising the first forty-six minutes, there’s a problem. A character-focused penultimate episode sounds more than fine, but this is just a completely empty runaround that does nothing, says nothing, means nothing. It barely even gestures at potentially interesting ideas and dynamics, the way series 5 stories tend to do. It just ambles along with minutiae about escape rooms. There’s barely anything here even to criticise.

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