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Reviewed: Big Finish’s Torchwood – Rhys and Ianto’s Excellent Barbecue

Torchwood tackles toxic masculinity. And it’s not even a play about Captain Jack Harkness and his massive – ahem.

Rhys and Ianto’s Excellent Barbecue is another brilliant script from Tim Foley, which is very much about paying respects to departed friends (and the author’s own pet guinea pig) and is an excellent commentary on modern-day Britain that even creeps into some pandemic-related issues.

It all begins with a lads’ barbecue being hosted by Rhys, that only Ianto Jones turns up to. And, at least by Rhys’s standards, Ianto is no lad. Especially when he’s in his suit and tie. This sets up our masculinity conflict, with any garden apparatus remotely feminine in its use or appearance being firmly rejected by Rhys and embraced by Ianto.

This goes on and on, with still no sign of any other guests, as every single possible source of tension that could appear between the two is lathered on to ensure that when our threat of the week does arrive it’s going to be handled by two characters who aren’t exactly going to be jumping to work with each other. Especially when the barbecue was supposed to be a strictly non-Torchwood event.

The relationship between the two is expertly played by Kai Owen and Gareth David-Lloyd, but it’s hard to tell whether this takes place before or after the audiobook Ghost Train, where Rhys lives with Ianto for over a week.

Just like a rather familiar aspect of 2020, and, uhm, 2021, Rhys and Ianto end up having their lonely barbecue placed into a time bubble of which there is seemingly no escape, and in which they can only contact elderly people going through the same pains via telephone. They’re totally and socially isolated from pretty much the rest of the world.

A proddable forcefield has encased them, and naturally, tensions raise further when Rhys presumes Ianto either has knowledge of or is behind the predicament they have found themselves in. While there is mostly disagreement between the pair, and a lot of scathing comments about masculinity, underneath it all you can tell these are two characters who do care about each other and probably more so than themselves. It’s also rather telling that how they treat the barbecuing equipment of ‘the lads’ is of more concern to Rhys than how they treat each other. Seemingly men just have a different way of communicating when they’re too afraid to admit they love each other.

As the time bubble is a physical membrane, the topic of masculinity you could say goes even further when Rhys’s tactic is to use tools to attack it, before gettings handsy with it (yes, he feels time), while Ianto sits back and analyses the situation – until he has to save Rhys.

Rather cleverly, there is an in-story reason for all of this exploration of the role of the modern man and its dangers, and it builds to an emotional climax which we’ve probably all seen, heard, or read about the rest of Torchwood Three go through but not really got to explore with Rhys. That is, what his (sometimes long-distance) relationship is with grief.

In the most somber of years, it does strike a note and definitely makes this the kind of episode you would want to share with a friend going through a hard time, especially if you were, say, a man who would be reluctant to use traditional forms of communication to send that ‘I’m here for you’ message.

The setting of a barbecue does mean we get plenty of sausage jokes, and other innuendos, and it’s actually very refreshing to have this kind of dialogue delivered in Torchwood by someone other than Captain Jack. This is another episode that would seamlessly have fitted in pre-Children of Earth on television.

Torchwood: Rhys and Ianto’s Excellent Barbecue is available now from Big Finish.

Ida Wood

Reviewed: Big Finish’s Torchwood – Rhys and Ianto’s Excellent Barbecue

by Ida Wood time to read: 3 min
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