This latest adventure in Big Finish’s Torchwood series marks the return of the conflicted and deeply flawed Suzie Costello; the member of Jack Harkness’ team whose spectacular fall from grace provided one of the most unexpected early blows to the reputation of the Earth’s 21st century defenders.
Moving Target reconnects with Costello’s story before the events of the first TV series, when she remained a trusted member of the alien-battling team. The central conceit of this new tale is a familiar sci-fi staple. Hunters from distant galaxies have paid a handsome price for the opportunity to track and kill a solitary selected inhabitant of the planet their spaceship is now in orbit around.
The fresh twists here are twofold: firstly, the hunt’s inter-galactic organisers have the technology which allows them to freeze all life on Earth, except that of the unfortunate target; secondly, Costello finds herself the only other human unaffected by the lockdown, so the hapless quarry (a young woman named Alex, with no discernible talents at self-defence) soon finds that she has an indispensable ally in her struggle to stay alive.
This sets in motion a remorseless and frequently explosive race around the country, as the pair do battle with each alien would-be killer in turn and try to stay one step ahead of their pursuers. As they despatch each new assailant, their confidence grows - as does the interest (and sometimes the exasperation) of The Referee; a disembodied voice from the travel company’s spacecraft who introduces each new combatant joining the fray.
Tonally Torchwood, in its TV incarnation, veered between the super serious and the surreally comic. Moving Target is a story very much at the darkly humorous end of that spectrum, and for most of its running time takes mischievous pleasure in the absurdity of its setting.
Alongside the high-concept action scenes, the character interplay between Costello and the guileless Alex provides the story’s dramatic core. Naomi McDonald delivers a great turn as the terrified but excitable young office worker, who struggles to make sense of her impossible plight. Nicholas Burns does an impressive job as the mercantile hunt boss; initially content to go through the procedural motions, only becoming animated as his victim shows an impressive ability to defend ‘itself’. Yet this remains Suzie Costello’s story, and Indira Varma re-inhabits her role with immediate confidence; rediscovering the likeable and sympathetic traits within Costello’s damaged psyche.
Guy Adams’ fast-moving script has great momentum, and a convincing sense of the protagonists’ leaving Cardiff far behind as they hit the open road in search of respite. A montage section of the pair’s escapades works surprisingly well. Scott Handcock’s taut direction ensures a strong sense of pace is maintained throughout, and some first-rate sound design underpins some immersive action sequences.
There are effective contrasts between the combat scenes and the intimate reflective moments where the characters catch their breath and share aspects of their (often unsatisfying) lives. Theirs is a relationship forged in conditions of extremis, but this unlikely alliance (between the impatient, driven agent and the slightly ditzy young woman whose life up until now had been defined by her dull job and her upcoming marriage) makes for some sparking exchanges.
The final minutes deliver a genuinely unexpected about turn, which casts fresh light on the moral corrosion of character which will later overwhelm Suzie Costello. It's a gear shift that puts the light-hearted timbre of much of the proceeding story into the sharpest possible relief. This is proper grown-up Torchwood, and all the better for that.
TORCHWOOD: MOVING TARGET / WRITER: GUY ADAMS / PRODUCER: JAMES GOSS / STARRING: INDIRA VARMA, NAOMI MCDONALD, NICHOLAS BURNS / PUBLISHER: BIG FINISH / RELEASE: OUT NOW (VIA BIG FINISH), AUGUST 31ST (GENERAL RELEASE)