Murray Melvin’s Bilis Manger was one of Torchwood‘s most memorable villains; a soft spoken old man with a sadistic dark side, last seen at the end of the Doctor Who spin-off’s first season. Fortunately, Big Finish have been able to entice Melvin back the role in several Torchwood adventures, each as memorable as the last.
We haven’t had a Bilis Manger story since 2019’s Dead Man’s Switch, but now he’s back in an historical Torchwood adventure, lurking in the shadows of the Torchwood archives in a small welsh mining town in World War II. It’s another fabulous script from writer and main Torchwood producer James Goss, with Bilis at his sinister best – and occasionally playing out of character too. The delight of Curios is that it doesn’t always go how you might expect it to.
It’s an effective slow-build character piece, focused around Rosie Baker’s Jill Anderson, a woman doing her bit for the war effort and finding herself shunted out to the valleys to maintain the Torchwood archive. Anderson is a great foil for Melvin’s Bilis; Rosie has something of a conflicted past, but that has made her more astute and cautious. While Curios goes to great lengths to make us believe she is being lured into Bilis’s trap as his latest victim, their relationship is something more. She asks the right questions, makes the right deductions and isn’t afraid to stand up for herself. You almost get a sense that Bilis admires her.
This is also reflected in her scenes with the ‘guards’ Wilf (Matthew Gravelle) and Brent (Laurie Kynaston). There is a hint of danger at all times, permeating this story as Rosie navigates one hostile threat after another and director Scott Handock expertly captures the sense of bleak wilderness and claustrophobia at the heart of Curios.
But of course, this is a Bilis Manger story and Curios doesn’t disappoint, though fans of Bilis’s ‘dark side’ may find his temperament in this story a little sedate at times. He’s ruthless, but not at the level we’ve experienced before and Goss cleverly adds some vulnerability to his predicament, making BIlis and Rosie something of kindred spirits at times. There are almost moments of horror that are brought to life vividly, making for some tense moments as the story heads towards its climax.
Curious is another example of what the Big Finish monthly Torchwood range does best; building on its immense world building to deliver compelling character-driven narratives. Murray Melvin is as magnificent as ever as Bilis Manger, as his brief stint as a Torchwood villain continues to be given greater focus. The story also offers a wider look at the world of Torchwood, proving that it’s more than just a bunch of adventures from the beginning of the Twenty First Century. It’s also more fun when the villain wins too and Bilis Manager is a villain that really likes to win. Let’s hope this is just the latest of more Bilis Manger adventures to come!
The eight minutes of behind the scenes interviews are accompanied by Blair Mowat’s delightfully sinister music as director James Goss interviews Rosie Baker and Murray Melvin on their preparation for the role. Melvin is just as entertaining a character in real life, talking the Stanislavski method, Bilis’s confusing character development and even archiving his script in the British library!
Torchwood: Curios is available to purchase at the Big Finish site here and goes on general release on the 30th November 2021.
During World War Two, the Torchwood Archive has been stowed away in a Welsh coal mine along with countless other art treasures. Bilis Manger is among them. And there’s something hunting him in the dark.
Jill has been sent to catalogue the collection. She’s on her own, she’s in disgrace and there’s something hunting her on the slopes of the mountain.
Murray Melvin (Bilis Manger)
Rosie Baker (Jill Anderson)
Matthew Gravelle (Wilf Church)
Laurie Kynaston (Brent Hall)
Sound Design by Naomi Clarke, Peter Doggart
Senior Producer David Richardson
Additional themes by Ben Foster
Cover Art by Tom Webster
Director Scott Handcock
Executive Producer Jason Haigh-Ellery, Nicholas Briggs
Music by Blair Mowat
Producer James Goss
Script Editor Scott Handcock
Written by James Goss
Theme Music by Murray Gold