And now, the end is near, and so we face the final curtain. We’ve been going on this epic adventure in the fifth series of Torchwood, Aliens Among Us since August of last year, and now the series’ third box set means it’s the end of this particular adventure for this new Torchwood team. Today, I’ll be reviewing the first episode in this box set, Poker Face by Tim Foley.
Torchwood are in trouble. Terrorist attacks are rocking the city. Control of the police has been ceded to Cardiff’s alien masters. And it looks like it’s all been arranged by Captain Jack Harkness. Worse, there’s a dead woman in the cells who says that Torchwood will be hers by dawn.
Yvonne Hartman is back from the dead. A woman who was converted into a Cyberman who did their duty for Queen and country and faced off against the Daleks. Now she’s back. All flesh and blood with no steel in sight apart from her steely gaze. That’s where we left off in The Empty Hand, and in Poker Face, Jack is wanting answers. Whilst Jack wants answers, Yvonne wants to review this version of Torchwood, as she doesn’t think it’s living up to expectations.
The rapport between Jack and Yvonne is absolutely electric, John Barrowman and Tracy-Ann Oberman has some of the best chemistry I’ve heard in a Big Finish Production, and that’s no easy feat.
Jack is clearly scared, and we’re given a nice little history lesson in regards to Torchwood, nothing we don’t know already, but it’s nice to hear about the Battle of Canary Wharf and Ianto, and Orr’s ignorance of Ianto is quite heartbreaking. He may have a shrine in actual Cardiff, but Torchwood’s Cardiff doesn’t seem so reminiscent about the fallen Ianto Jones.
It’s not long before Yvonne manages to send Jack and Mr Colchester on an errand, and it seems Yvonne has a more detailed plan than initially intended. Yvonne genuinely appears to be the most cool, calm and collected manipulator in the Whoniverse. She really has a great grip on everything that’s been going on, and how to use it against the Torchwood team.
Tim Foley’s script is so beautifully crafted, there are subtle, and not so subtle hints about the truths behind exactly what’s going on. It’s no surprise that there’s there more than meets the eye with the walking corpse that is Miss Hartman, but we’re never told explicitly what it is. It’s a brilliantly infuriating aspect of this story.
It’s nice to see (well, hear) that all of the threads from the series are starting to intertwine; and it’s nice that Orr is getting some real use in a story, especially when it related to the Red Door storyline. There’s no place for racism at Torchwood. Especially with what’s going on in Cardiff…
Personally, I love the fact that the majority of Poker Face is set in the Hub, making this entire tale feel extremely claustrophobic and personal; making everything set in the Torchwood home, especially during all the distrust and uncertainty about one another, is quite honestly a stroke of genius. It’s almost like we’re seeing a family at tipping point, and they’re all confined to their house, having to face their demons with one another, and to the Torchwood team, it’s almost unbearable.
The revelation of Yvonne Hartman is brilliant, and the explanation makes perfect sense. Nice that it harkens back to the early days of Torchwood. Of course, I’m not going to spoil it, whether you believe it or not.
Gwen gets a brilliant scene, too, where she dresses down Jack and what he’s been up to over the entire series, and the delivery is absolutely stellar. It really makes you think about Jack’s actions, and how he makes the rest of the team feel. Considering the stakes, it’s genius to make this story have such high stakes, yet focus in on the extremely personal.
I know I’ve talked about these personal scenes, and it’s because Poker Face seems to be built on them, but I have to commend Blair Mowat for his absolutely brilliant musical score. There’s a swelling of strings on one of the most tense moments in this episode that really heightens the emotions, the character’s internal feelings personified through music. It’s absolutely phenomenal and this is honestly one of the best Torchwood soundtracks ever. If Murray Gold is leaving Doctor Who, I’d be more than happy if Blair took over. Blair is honestly the composer that Doctor Who deserves.
The conclusion to Poker Face is absolutely brilliant, I won’t say too much, but it’s clear that Torchwood will never be the same again, and I can’t wait to see how the rest of this box set follows on from this.
Overall, Poker Face is the strongest way that this third box set could have started; Tim Foley’s script, the casts performances, Blair’s score and Steve Foxon’s sound design all deserve to get praise for this story. Yvonne was written in an absolutely brilliantly complex way, and even now I’m not sure what her plan truly is. To reintroduce this character was a dangerous move, but of course Big Finish have made it worthwhile. The hour listening to Poker Face flew by, and, it’s safe to say, this may now be my favourite episode of Torchwood ever. Normally, I’d recommend listening to a story if I really enjoyed it, but I can’t do that with Poker Face; a recommendation isn’t enough. I’m not asking you to listen to it, I’m telling you that you have to listen to it. It’s a masterpiece.
Should you want to purchase Aliens Among Us 3, it’s currently available from Big Finish here for £28 on CD or £25 for a digital download for a limited time.