The Three Monkeys starts with a scene primarily about chips. Very Russell T Davies. For anyone who’s a fan of chips from a proper chip shop, then this scene can be a feast for all the senses. Just close your eyes and enjoy the smell and the warmth – and way too much vinegar – of Owen Harper’s bag of chips.
Sorry, got distracted there. Big Finish’s Torchwood range tends to have a habit of brilliant cold opens.
So what’s this latest release, focusing on Owen and PC Andy Davidson, about?
Andy is on the world’s most boring police stakeout, watching a house in case its scaffolding is stolen. Owen joins him, with the aforementioned chips, and clearly doing so because he’s on Torchwood business and not because he just wants to be a friend.
Rather than poking around at what Owen’s really up to, the story reveals rather heartbreakingly that it’s Andy who has a separate mission on this stakeout that pre-dates but absolutely nails the injustice left behind by Post Office computer fraud over the last decade. It’s the consequences of people being punished for technology’s mistakes – mistakes written into technology by people who have gone unpunished.
Despite being an unempathetic, cold and dead person, Owen somehow makes the usually optimistic Andy feel slightly better about the unfairness of life, and enrolls him in a hunt for alien technology.
What ensues is slightly mad, but ever so Torchwood, with Indiana Jones-style sequences, car chases from spy thrillers, and high-concept science fiction played for comedy.
Highlights of Andy’s inevitable plight to prove himself to Torchwood Three include locking Owen in his police car, escaping knife bats, and successfully acquiring the titular monkey. A-ha, now you’re intrigued. This can’t be the same monkey on the cover art, surely? What high-concept science fiction can you spin from that? Well, remember folks, those monkeys are b****y creepy. They give everyone the jitters. Just knowing it’s watching me from the top of this review is disturbing me.
And as Torchwood (particularly at Big Finish) so often brilliantly does, it makes this monkey the focal point of a huge plot while also giving us character drama in bucket loads. Andy and Owen go deep into what life is worth living for, even when you’re dead, and it certainly strikes a chord in this most melancholy of years. Look out for a certain character’s theme being played towards the end and try not to have your heart pulled out of your chest and back to 2008.
As is often the case in Davies-era Who and Torchwood, the UK authorities get their fair share of being villainous here too as well as poking at the (stupidly) rich, but in the end this episode does draw itself back to our main characters and their flaws. We remember why we love them, but also why, well… nobody at Torchwood really has any friends. Thank goodness we return to a tasty portion of chips between… acquaintances, for the closing moments.
It’s another must buy from the Torchwood range, and proves that Burn Gorman and Tom Price are two of the strongest actors on Big Finish’s payroll at the moment. How long until they commission a CD for the band Tom Price and the Duvet Forts and its lockdown recording shenanigans?
Torchwood: The Three Monkeys is available now from Big Finish.