Hermod: outside the Fuhrer, beyond the Gestapo. Tracking down alien life in Europe and arming the Reich against the future. The 1940s is when everything changes and Project Hermod is ready.
In Nazi-occupied France, unassuming theology professor Monsieur LeDuc is pulled before brutal SS interrogator Herr Grau. A chance encounter with the enigmatic Madame Berber has cast suspicion on LeDuc. With his son’s life on a knife edge, can he convince Grau that he knows nothing of the French resistance? Or Torchwood? And will he figure out what’s turning the Nazis into monsters (well, bigger monsters)?
Lauded Shakespearean actor Simon Russell Beale makes his Big Finish debut in this story as LeDuc. A script that doesn’t rely much on established characters and settings really helps Beale’s performance. LeDuc has clear motivations as we learn very quickly that he has to protect his son. An uncomplicated character allows Beale to get right to the heart of the role and he gives a very honest performance. Pitted against Mark Elstob as Grau and you have all the right ingredients for an electric hour of audio.
Also making something of a debut is Lizzie Hopley in her first full-cast Whoniverse story. Hopley is a prolific actor and writer with a varied Big Finish history. You may remember her as Davros’ sister Yarvell in the ‘I, Davros’ mini-series. She’s previously written scripts for Dark Shadows and contributed in print to the Short Trips anthology books.
Opening with a strong two-hander, ‘The Dying Room’ soon moves into a story of secrets in a Parisian hotel. Grau’s interrogation of LeDuc is interspersed with flashback scenes as he pleads his innocence. Almost all the scenes are dialogue-heavy and there’s very little action in the story as a whole. But with every character having an air of mystery about them, it keeps up a compelling pace nonetheless. Hopley beautifully juxtaposes the glitzy facade of the hotel with the desolation and naked fear of occupied Paris. Madame Berber gets some superb barbed lines about the French need to keep up appearances in spite of everything. Though not the main focus, Berber is certainly one of the most interesting characters that audio Torchwood has ever produced. Meanwhile, Grau is your classic charming-yet-ruthless villain in the vein of Hans Landa and Elstob has a ball playing him.
The reference to Project Hermod – Torchwood’s erstwhile German counterpart turned Nazi alien hunters – is an great bit of worldbuilding from Hopley. Something that I hope Big Finish will expand on in the future. We met the KVI – Torchwood’s Russian equivalent – way back in the Toshiko-centric story ‘Zone 10’. Project Hermod’s fate after the war isn’t specified but a bombastic tri-nation crossover story would be right up Big Finish’s street.
However, I did feel that the monsters got severely sidelined in a way that harmed the story. Grau is primarily motivated by finding out what’s turning Nazi soldiers into beasts but they don’t appear often enough to really feel like part of the story. The subplot between LeDuc and Berber barely relates to it. That said, it does lead to a great speech from Emma Cunniffe which just about ties the story together. It’s a minor point, but the hotel inexplicably being a haven from monster-ridden Parisian streets felt out of place.
The third audio series has done more to expand the mythos of Torchwood than any other. We had Juno Dawson’s ‘The Dollhouse’, which showed us Torchwood in the Sixties. And we get to see what Torchwood was up to during the Second World War with ‘The Dying Room’. But it’s also pushed the franchise further into the dark than ever before. Who can forget the harrowing double-act of Owen and Andy in ‘Corpse Day’? Or the unsettlingly dark side of Ianto presented in ‘The Office of Never Was’? It’s clear that Big Finish have plenty of ideas to explore Torchwood’s history and a team of fresh new writers to expand on them. But what of the future?
Aliens Among Us
With this story, the monthly Torchwood releases starts a short hiatus for a new twelve-part series: Aliens Among Us. Billed as a spiritual fifth series, these adventures take Torchwood into the future. John Barrowman and Eve Myles reprise their roles having been absent for the most recent run of audios. Kai Owen and Tom Price are also back as Rhys and Andy respectively. They’re joined by newcomers Jonny Green as Tyler Steele and Paul Clayton as Mr Colchester. The first four stories are due later this month and we’ll be bringing you our thoughts when they’re released.
‘The Dying Room’ is a stylistic, character-driven story of espionage and facades. Hopley has done a terrific job adapting a wartime spy story to the Torchwood format. Though I felt the alien threat could have been used more, there’s no denying that this is a witty, intelligent closing note for this series of Torchwood.
“In this room everyone learns the truth. And neither of us will be quite the same when we leave.”
Paris, 1940s. The German-occupied city is in a state of turmoil – a plague ravages the streets, turning people into deformed monsters.
The city’s finest hotel is under siege. SS interrogator Grau has come here to find out the truth. Grau has one night to cure the plague and to unmask the mysterious Madame Berber and who she’s really working for. Herr Grau knows all about Project Hermod. And now he’s going to find out all about Torchwood.
Torchwood contains adult material and may not be suitable for younger listeners
Written By: Lizzie Hopley
Directed By: Scott Handcock
Simon Russell Beale (M LeDuc), Mark Elstob (Herr Grau), Emma Cunniffe (Madame Berber), Aly Cruickshank (Gabriel), David Sibley (The Manager)
Producer James Goss
Script Editor David Llewellyn
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs