‘Oh great – stalked by a bashful Christopher Lee.’Are you…ffffffffreeakin’ kidding me?
Made You Look ends the second series of Torchwood audios from Big Finish, and it ends it in such a way as to make you jump up and down, stamp your feet, and bloomin’ well demand Series 3 begins immediately. The cliff-hanger on which this audio adventure ends is just insane. So much so, it’ll have you sitting through the trailer for forthcoming attractions and the interviews just to see if, like a Marvel movie, there’s an extra snippet, an extra chunk of something to help put you at your ease right at the very, very end.
Clearly, Big Finish doesn’t want you at your ease. It wants you in that hyped-up, what-the-hell, give-me-the-next-one frenzy, right the way through until, we presume, the start of Series 3.
That’s the level of fundamental human evil we’re dealing with here – like tearing the last page out of a murder mystery or recording all but the last five minutes of your favourite show, Made You Look is structured to absolutely make you listen to the next episode, whenever it arrives.
In itself, the set-up of Made You Look is nothing especially new – Guy Adams taps into quite a rich recent history of Doctor Who monsters, from the Listen bedclothes-creature to Prisoner Zero, to deliver an entity you see out of the corner of your eye, but if you see it three times, you die, and then it eats…something of you, some energy, something housed in your eyes (just for extra creepiness, obviously). You see it three times, you die, so naturally, it employs a fairly disturbing but frequently played game – the game of Made You Look. It hovers behind you, trying to make you turn, trying to make you look at it, talking to you, taunting you, teasing you into turning, to looking, to losing the game and your life.
The reason such a thing should set up operations in a seaside town out of season is as yet mysterious, except that a seaside town out of season already has that air of a hibernating thing, a whole system geared towards making money, sleeping, drowsing, just the residents left breathing in its streets, to the rhythms of the waves.
Except not here. Here, The Voice as it’s referred to in the story (or Darkness as it’s listed on the Big Finish website) has killed everybody. In three days. Everybody except blind Mrs Rhodes the landlady of a moth-eaten B&B. And now, except for Gwen Cooper, newly arrived to sort it the hell out. There was a video that went out into the world, a video crying out for help from sleepy Talmouth. A video that Torchwood intercepted, and stopped the world from seeing, so as to avoid mass panic. Now Gwen finds herself alone with Mrs Rhodes and The Voice at her shoulder, in a story perhaps more custom-built for audio than any other in Torchwood so far.
As they struggle to get out of Talmouth, one of them blind, the other more or less keeping her eyes shut in case of accidental glimpsing, Gwen and Mrs Rhodes experience some scares that have more than a hint of Sapphire and Steel or Doctor Who’s matrix about them – beaches that go on forever, mirages of people doing improbable things, flocks of Hitchcockian seagulls and audio illusions designed to ‘make you look.’
The story ends on a note of tension, but it comes out of nowhere, from a place where it feels like the threat is over, but it can’t be. The whole idea of turning your back on frightful things to render them powerless is invoked here, but not with any sense of finality, leading to an ending that means if it were a book you’d fling it across the room in frustration that the next one wasn’t out yet.
Guy Adams has had a good run in the Torchwood audios – he’s the man behind the funny and rabbit-punching More Than This, and he also brought Suzie Costello back and made her live in Moving Target. We’re going to put forward what will be an unpopular opinion now and say that Made You Look is the least successful of his three stories, simply because the premise is something we’ve grown familiar with in recent years, this lurking voice, playing on the urge to do something utterly human, and because when you have a Big Bad like The Voice that can manipulate your mind, the idea of matrix-like shifts in reality are almost par for the course, so you might find yourself thinking ‘oh, this is the weird bit’ from time to time, rather than necessarily allowing the weird bit to really get under your skin as it wants to. Adams’ other tales have all had something elevated and surprising to set them apart, and in a sense this does too, just less notably so than his other stories.
That said, it shouldn’t be taken as meaning there are not chills by the bucket-and-spadeload here, because there are – as well as the childhood game and the irresistible urge to turn, to look, to confront an enemy that seems to be stalking you, Made You Look also taps in to the neuroses of stories like Day of the Triffids, where the only way to stay comparatively safe is to play Blind Man’s Bluff, even when the enemy can mess with your mind.
And, as we say, there’s that ending. You’re going to want to stay alert for that ending.
It’s a tight cast, this one, Eve Myles doing a lot of the heavy lifting early on, narrating her journey round a practically empty Talmouth, Ross Ford popping in to play the hapless James, but the rest of the work falling to Marilyn Le Conte as Mrs Rhodes and Matthew Gravelle, turning in a marvellously rich, juicy performance as The Voice. You could practically pour a boatload of his voice over your Sunday lunch, it’s that meaty, but it has a lithe, skipping quality you wouldn’t, for instance, ask someone like Gabriel Woolf (another actor who in recent years has played the ‘Don’t Turn Round’ game in Doctor Who) to do. Gravelle elevates the threat of The Voice to a whole other level, taking what’s on the page and waltzing with it – and with Myles and Le Conte – through practically the whole course of the play. That’s another standout feature here; there’s little in the way of investigation – The Voice more or less announces itself, its intentions and its nature early on. You’re going to play its game, whether you want to or not. The trick is to escape with your lives, if you can.
By the end of this episode, we have no real idea if anybody can.
Made You Look is less of an investigative mystery than it is a pulse-pounder, a raiser of heart-rates and a surrealist nightmare. The Voice is insidious, the threat simple but scary, a schoolyard game made deadly, leading to a cliff-hanger that’s a leap in the dark for one of Torchwood’s finest. As a way of ending a series of audios, it starts fast, gets creepy and leaves you wanting more, more more.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk