Big Finish: Torchwood - Rhys and Ianto's Excellent Barbecue Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish: Torchwood - Rhys and Ianto's Excellent Barbecue Review

Tony’s heating up the barbie.

Rhys Williams – lorry driver. Lad’s lad. Valleys Boy, Mammy’s Boy, grown up to be the man who gives Gwen Cooper’s bonkers Torchwood life its anchor. Its grounding. It’s “yes, you saved the world again, love, but where’s the chips?” reality check.

Ianto Jones. Welsh-born, but fled to “better” things in London. Torchwood operative in Canary Wharf. Brought down to Earth by its destruction. Coffee boy to Torchwood 3, struggling to feel like part of the team.

Together. Alone. At a backyard barbecue.

What could possibly go wrong?

Ohhh, a fair amount, in Tim Foley’s story of not only an odd couple forced to interact against the will of either party, but of men and the way they deal with – or don’t deal with – stress, grief, friendship, loss, hard decisions and barbecuing.

This is a story of a barbecue that doesn’t so much go wrong as never really get started. There are Torchwood threads, absolutely, but really it’s an intervention story. A revelation story. A tale of bottling up, bubbling, and various versions of masculinity at play.

Rhys and Ianto rarely had any proper one-on-one time in TV Torchwood, and with the best will in the world, it’s easy to understand what. While their technical backgrounds are similar, their ways through the world are very different. Rhys is a bloke, a lad – one who appreciates what he has, understands the strength of traditional male bonding rituals (like barbecue, and nights in pubs that end with somebody wearing a traffic cone), who works hard and is fiercely loyal to his friends, his family, and his community.

Ianto’s not a lad. He’s a Welsh metrosexual – it’s like a regular metrosexual, only with more eyebrow-raising and use do the word “Really?”

The thing is, they’re both very likeable people – you just wouldn’t necessarily put them in a room together and say “Go play.”

Tim Foley’s trapped them in a backyard together, and told them to go play.

Here’s the thing you need to know about Rhys And Ianto’s Excellent Barbecue. It’s much more subtle than that title makes it sound.

In fact, it’s more or less a sociological masterpiece in full lad-camouflage.

Rhys is having a barbecue. He’s having the lads round for a good old-fashioned beerfest with probably poorly cooked meat, raucous laughter, shared memories and…there was another thing…oh, yes - more beer.

Except, oddly enough…he isn’t. Nobody’s turned up. None of the lads are coming. They’ve all got other things to be doing. Even Badger, who was absolutely vital to the success of the night, cries off, citing an anxious child and a hamster emergency at home.

Then Ianto turns up.

Ianto, who, because with his wine rather than beer, his suit rather than casual gear, his highflutin’ London ways and the fact that he works for a top-secret agency dealing with alien problems…wasn’t invited.

And then, almost as though Ianto’s a bad penny of alien, space-time gittery, the bubble arrives.

The bubble? Think of a Coronavirus bubble, a group of people who live in and around each other and so theoretically shouldn’t be a threat to one another.

Then expunge that thought immediately – this is Torchwood, dammit, not a public information film. These are space-time bubbles, blown up out of nowhere to separate whoever’s inside them from the rest of the space-time continuum, just as though they’ve been taken out of time, separated by a dimensional veil and locked away from the rest of the universe. Like death – or at least, like a very effective pause button.

When they get a phone call from Badger, things have almost reached peak weird.

When Badger turns out not to be Badger – it’s Torchwood time.

You don’t need us to tell you this is a particularly appropriate story for the time of Covid – the tale of small, isolated groups of people, perhaps not the people we’d ideally like to be with, separated from everyone else and with just a handful of survival protocols to deal with the reality of the situation, seem more or less written to reach out and touch audiences right now.

That there’s more to it than that surface resonance is probably a given too, but we’re not about to spoil the deeper levels of connection for you.

More than the Covid connection though, this is a story for the Lads. The bros. My dudes. The guys. My mates. The compadres. The posse. The crew. All those weird collective names we use to somehow soften or de-intensify the relationships that let men love and care for their circle of male friends. It’s both an interesting tribute to those circles of friends, and an exploration of why they regularly fail.

Most men have groups of other men who know their stories so well they don’t mind when we tell them for the thousandth time. Friends who were probably there for the making of our legends, and who, by being in them, own a part of our lives, our collective memory. Even, to some extent, our soul.

This is a story about those groups. And it’s a story about what happens when part of such a circle isn’t there any more. When it should be. When we know something’s happened, but have no way of processing its mystery. When the network of companionship doesn’t work, doesn’t allow for truth beyond our legendary bluster, and we can’t find the words to move on.

Heavy stuff?

It might sound like it, and there’s absolutely a dwarf star-heavy core at the heart of Rhys And Ianto’s Excellent Barbecue. There’s an important question in that heart, and the playing out of answers. But there’s also Rhys, for instance, “going to twat an invisible wall with a croquet mallet.” There’s the odd couple comedy of Rhys and Ianto, embodying two ways of being a man, trying to find common ground through the guy-ritual of roasted meat. There’s quite enough creepy Torchwood to go around, with the space-time bubbles popping up all over Cardiff and then (and if you wanted a ticking clock to your Torchwood story, this is as good as they come) shrinking, trapping those inside them until they wink out of existence. There’s a mystery in the Badger Who Isn’t Badger, and a powerful, heartbreaking quest to do the right thing by that character, even when Rhys and Ianto are in no position to even help themselves.

There are breakthroughs, and character dynamics never fully explored before as Rhys and Ianto work together to solve problems, both in space-time and in the possibly toxic established patterns of group masculinity. There are reasons no-one turns up at Rhys’ barbecue apart from the uninvited Torchwood coffee boy, and they need to be addressed if Rhys’s personality is to reset itself from his recent grumpy form into the lad that everybody likes, or loves, or wants to be with. He needs some hard schooling, and he needs a space to speak about why the barbecue is so important to him.

What Rhys And Ianto’s Excellent Barbecue ultimately does is talk about an important social point, without at any time bashing you over the head with it. It gives you great odd couple chemistry, and a solidly what-the-hell Torchwood story of bubbles and isolation. And in working together not only to sort out their own predicament but that of the Badger Who Isn’t Badger, it gives Rhys and Ianto time to each appreciate the other’s strengths, rather than maintaining their surface understanding of each other’s stereotypes.

You’ll absolutely laugh yourself to hooting and tears as Kai Owen as Rhys and Gareth David-Lloyd as Ianto pitch their performances at jusssst the right level of social awkwardness to let the comedy bristle. That’s no real surprise – we’ve seen and heard each of them separately deliver glorious comedy in their Torchwood careers. Bringing them together could have gone so badly wrong, it’s a mark of courage that the pitch was ever made. But together, they pull off what is mostly a two-hander (with occasional unnerving interruptions from Youssef Kerkour as both Badger and “Badger”) that just sings its comedic potential up to a whole new level.

But while the keynote is comedy, you’ll also feel the feels. Oh man, the feels. Tim Foley’s written a script that makes you laugh until you manly-don’t-cry, and then takes you beyond that point. Kai Owen in particular nails that journey to the front of your consciousness, and makes you want to hear more Rhys-centred stories in the future.

Isolation is a big problem in our real world right now. It’s a problem made worse and more serious between men who can’t share the truth of what they feel. Traditional lads, who are used to their connections being occasion-based. Legend-based. Story-based, rather than truth or confession-based.

Check in with your lads when you get a chance. Be real with them. Break through the legend to the people underneath. Otherwise, we might have to send Rhys and Ianto round to burn meat in your back garden.

2020 has been a pretty phenomenal year for audio Torchwood at Big Finish.

Well, quite, which year isn’t a pretty phenomenal year for Torchwood at Big Finish? But just towards the end there, the company may well have sneaked in a story which takes the crown of the year. If you do little else in December lockdown, or while waiting for the world to change in January, give yourself a treat. Invite yourself to Rhys and Ianto’s Excellent Barbecue, and prepare for a spot of much-needed catharsis.

Torchwood: Rhys and Ianto's Excellent Barbecue is exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until January 31st 2021, and on general sale after this date.

Tony 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

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