Big Finish: Torchwood DEATH IN VENICE Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish: Torchwood DEATH IN VENICE Review

Tony grabs a gondola.
More than probably any companion since Sarah Jane Smith, the adventures of a grown-up Ace (Dorothy McShane) have fascinated fans for decades, for one or more of a handful of reasons.

Firstly of course, she was the incumbent companion when Doctor Who went off the air in the Eighties, and by the time of the TV movie, she was nowhere to be seen alongside Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor, so what had happened to her has always breathed with potential mystery.

Secondly, she’s actually had more destinies than most companions, as a consequence of that gap in the timeline. She’s been blown up, turned into a Time Lord, opted to stay on a planet after arguing with the Doctor… but when Russell T Davies wrote The Sarah Jane Adventures for TV, essentially adding tantalising lines of (at least spin-off) canon about several of the Doctor’s companions, he wrote of Ace that “there’s that woman, Dorothy Something, who runs A Charitable Earth.” And somehow, in a million fan-heads and more around the world, something very definitely went “click.”

Ace, grown up, protecting the Earth and helping people as the head of a multinational charity. Learning to build things up, rather than, as was her habit, to blow them up. We, the collective fandom, would have some more of that, thank you very much.

And we’ve had some. Sophie Aldred, who has played Ace both on screen and in a long run of Big Finish audios, even wrote a novel about the grown-up Dorothy and her charity – At Childhood’s End – with help from Steve Cole and Mike Tucker.

Now, grown-up Ace has crossed over into the audio Torchwood world, in particular, teaming up with non-screen Torchwood regular, the fabulously acerbic (Mr) St John Colchester. When they first met in The Red List, writer James Goss had them both confined to a quarantine hotel full of Stepford staff and deeply unsavoury goings-on in a collapsing revolutionary regime – trying to establish common ground in the need to get the hell out of there, despite bugs, propaganda TV and nothing being entirely what it pretended to be.

The Red List worked very well as a proof of concept – a test of whether these two characters, deliciously different from one another, but just about pragmatic enough to know when they needed a helping hand, could spark audio gold off one another.

Death In Venice is in absolutely no sense a direct sequel to that story – which is perhaps a pity, as it rather felt like it could have done with one. Instead, there’s arguably a much bigger, grimmer, world-encompassing alien story in Death In Venice, and it’s entirely shameless in its James Bondery, which adds to the scale and pace of the piece. Venice is of course a phenomenal location, even in audio, and there’s first class plane travel, jetski travel… admittedly, slightly more down-to-earth bus travel, cable car-style lift adventure, and a very great deal of running, as McShane and Colchester try to outmanoeuvre a mysterious force that’s trying to steal A Charitable Earth out from under Ace’s nose.

Bilgebags, the lot of them.

James Goss is back on writing duties, letting the story rip open and unleash some full-tilt red hot mayhem across a Bondian backdrop, while maintaining the spikiness of the relationship between Ace and Mr Colchester that really keeps us buying their adventures.

The nature of the threat is insidious and blends an element of Covid with a hearty dollop of Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, and the sense of creeping body-horror inherent in things like parasitoid wasps, which lay their eggs in the bodies of other creatures, so the young can feed when they hatch.

The methodology by which the threat works is ingenious, with a cheeky nod to the benefits of environmentalism along the way, and while it starts from a point of central mystery, Death In Venice grows to a grand climax of difficult choices, impressive speeches, and a last double-bluff that is just about as clever as it thinks it is.

Because you have Ace and Mr Colchester together, there is of course time for reflection on the Doctor and their devil-may-care habit of swanning off after the adventure’s over, leaving humans – and particularly, Torchwood – to pick up the pieces in their wake. But here, James Goss evens up the balance by having Mr Colchester share some of his memories of a honeymoon in Venice with Colin, so it never feels in danger of becoming a Doctor-Lite story, but is always focused on the two central characters.

That’s fairly obviously an epically good decision, because there’s enough in the combination of these two characters to let them run and run, bumping into one another around the world for as long as the adventures keep coming. There’s some warm relationship development here, too – Ace in particular shifting from an always on-guard posture around Mr Colchester to an almost pally sense of understanding that his heart, buried as it is beneath the spiky, gruff exterior that has seen Paul Clayton’s Colchester become a firm fan favourite among the listeners of ‘new’ Torchwood, is absolutely in the right place.

Death In Venice takes the pairing of Ace and Colchester onward from their first team-up, gives them a global-sized threat to battle, and throws them headlong into a Bond or Avengers-style adventure within the world of Ace’s charity and Torchwood’s responsibility. When those two realities clash, it’s joyous and tense. When they find a way to co-exist, it’s an air-punching triumph. Whichever emotion you buy Death In Venice to experience, you’re going to walk away satisfied and happy. So go buy it now – especially after having watched The Power of the Doctor – to get a sense of the world of difference Ace is making.

Torchwood: Death in Venice is exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until 30 November 2022, and on general sale after this date.

Tony Fyler lives in a concrete cave, somewhere on the edge of the sea, with his wife, who exists, and the Fictional People In His Head, who don't as yet. A journalist and editor by day, he has written Some Books, and is more or less always writing another. One day, he may even get around to showing them to people. In the meantime, he's Script Editor and occasional Executive Producer at Third Time Lucky Productions, and a proud watcher of things no-one remembers they remember until they remember.

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