Torchwood: The Red List (Big Finish Review)

Mr Colchester is my favourite Torchwood character. Fans of the four-series TV spin-off from Doctor Who might be confused by that name. But anyone who has listened to the ‘fifth and sixth’ series of Torchwood at Big Finish, will know what I’m talking about. First introduced in Aliens Among Us Vol 1 in the 2017 and remaining a staple of the new Torchwood team all the way through to God Among Us Vol 3 in 2019, Mr Colchester has become as essential to the ongoing Torchwood story as Gwen or even Captain Jack. Paul Clayton’s gruff, non-nonsense ability to speak his mind with his droll sardonic tone, makes him such a delight to listen to.

I’ve been eagerly awaiting more stories from this character after plans for a ‘seventh series’ seemed to have stalled. So I was delighted that he’s back as part of Big Finish‘s terrific monthly Torchwood range. Each entry is a great character-centric tale and The Red List certainly adds more to Mr Colchester and his past and fleeting connection to a certain alien time traveller is explored. Furthermore, this entry gives an added bonus in the form of an older and wiser Dorothy McShane, AKA Ace, played by the wonderful Sophie Aldred.

With a script by James Goss, my favourite Torchwood character and the first Doctor Who companion I remember watching, I had high hopes for The Red List. And it certainly didn’t disappoint.

Without getting into too much spoiler territory, The Red List dumps the listener in the middle of a story. Mr Colchester has been summoned to a foreign country by it’s dictator leader and is stuck in a hotel while under quarantine from an alien invasion. Those expecting more a straightforward action adventure where Colchester is there to thwart the aliens, are probably going to be disappointed. Like many of the great Torchwood monthly releases, this is a terrific piece of character drama, with the stakes of the alien threat just an added piece of the puzzle. The big events surrounding the fate of Earth are there for another story.

No, this story is all about Mr Colchester and his encounter with former companion Ace, who finds herself in a similar predicament as him. There are illusions to her charitable endeavours and her past interactions with UNIT, Daleks and more; but right now, she is stuck in the same two-star hotel as Colchester, and she’s trying to find a way out.

There is a real sense that something is not right from the start, and James Goss’s script offers little breadcrumbs about their predicament, with Manuel Pacific’s Xavier something of a thorn in their side as his inaction as the hotel concierge seems them stuck in a mundane time loop of terrible breakfasts, no Wifi, propaganda TV and no access to the hotel pool.

The joy of The Red List is hearing Clayton’s sardonic witticism (a perfect phrasing from the actor himself) as he suffers through his ‘prison’. His interactions with Aldred’s McShane are a delight; she’s older, wiser and more than a match for his gruff attitude. It’s a great pairing of two worlds and two mindsets. There’s something of a UNIT vs Torchwood battle of wills going on and some nice allusions to the impact of the Doctor from both characters. The story also adds some character background to Colchester too that I don’t think we ever got in Aliens Among Us and God Among Us, namely his military background.

The juxtaposition of mundaneness and paranoia against two big personalities from world of Torchwood and Doctor Who makes this another triumph from the monthly Big Finish range. I was hoping for a lot from The Red List and it didn’t disappoint.

 

Torchwood: The Red List is available to purchase from the Big Finish site here, before going on general release on the 31st January 2022.

 

The Extras

The monthly Torchwood releases from Big Finish never usually have an accompanying music suite, so the presence of a thirty-five second track here was a surprise. Of course, as soon as I listened to it, I got the humour. It’s a fun piece of elevator music on speed from Blair Mowat, that is sure to put a smile on your face, even though it’s not likely to be listened to on repeat!

In the behind the scenes discussions, Paul Clayton enjoys playing a different side to Colchester and the chance to interact without someone who has no preconceptions of him. Best of all is his breakdown of what a holiday with Mr Colchester would entail. No economy class or kids allowed! He also recounts the joy of working with an icon like Sophie Aldred’s Ace in the first studio recording since lockdown.

Manuel Pacific adds his own insights in playing the duplicitous Xavier, Sophie Aldred talks dry felting on set, while Clayton throws a number of big name drops as he talks doing crosswords with fellow cast members. Finally, director Scott Handcock challenges the cast to think of the worst hotels they’ve been at; Sophie Aldred offering some particularly gruesome memories, while Clayton offers some terrific advice for getting the best room available!

 

Synopsis

At first it was lights in the sky. Then the country started falling apart. Torchwood has come to help. So has A Charitable Earth. But there’s a problem.

Mr Colchester and Ms McShane find themselves trapped in a quarantine hotel in the middle of an alien invasion.

Can they save the world without leaving their rooms?

 

Cast

  • Paul Clayton (St John Colchester)
  • Sophie Aldred (Dorothy McShane)
  • Manuel Pacific (Xavier)

 

Production Credits

  • Senior Producer David Richardson
  • Additional themes by Ben Foster
  • Cover Art by Sean Longmore
  • Director Scott Handcock
  • Executive Producer Jason Haigh-Ellery & Nicholas Briggs
  • Music by Blair Mowat
  • Producer James Goss
  • Script Editor Scott Handcock
  • Sound Design by Steve Foxon
  • Written by James Goss
  • Theme Music by Murray Gold

 

Recommended Listening

Torchwood: Aliens Among Us Vol 1

Torchwood: God Among Us Vol 3

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