BOOK REVIEW Torchwood

Something in the Water (by Trevor Baxendale), Trace Memory (by David Llewellyn), The Twilight Streets (by Gary Russell)

SOMETHING IN THE WATER

Author: Trevor Baxendale

Publisher: BBC Books • 250 pages • £6.99

ISBN: 978-1-846-07437-0

Rating:

TRACE MEMORY

Author: David Llewellyn

Publisher: BBC Books • 250 pages • £6.99

ISBN: 978-1-846-07438-7

Rating:

THE TWILIGHT STREETS

Author: Gary Russell

Publisher: BBC Books • 254 pages • £6.99

ISBN: 978-1-846-07439-4

Rating:

Look out there, that chap’s head just exploded! And that person’s head has blown up as well! And someone else has been disembowelled by a water-monster, and that woman over there has just been shot. In the bonce!

Cardiff has been a hairy place to live ever since Torchwood set up shop, and these books revel in the carnage along the River Taff. Back in the ’80s, fans argued about whether you could have sex and violence in Doctor Who books. There was an almighty kerfuffle when a Patrick Troughton novelisation (Cyberman story, “The Invasion”) was spiced up with X-rated gore and the word “bastard”, and later spin-off Who novels practically had sensitive fans fainting in the streets. Now, of course, Whovians have Torchwood to let off steam, but sadly these three books are pretty limp.

None of them satisfy as stories or dramas; nor do they convey the energy and verve of the show at its best, or give any sustained insight into the Torchwood team. The series may have alienated some viewers with its characterisations, but at least it takes risks. There’s little of that here, possibly because the writers were constrained by not knowing where the TV version would head next.

Trevor Baxendale’s Something in the Water initially has the air of a Tom Baker-era Who monster story, as the team investigates a water-dwelling hag lurking in bogs and lakes. The beginning’s okay, with a great Owen one-liner (“It took off like a crocodile with a jet-pack!”) but the action-driven narrative gets dull and icky, with Alien-style body-bursting and gallons of phlegm. The last battle on the Cardiff waterfront feels like an overwrought comic-strip.

Trace Memory by David Llewellyn returns to the plot of an innocent protagonist displaced in time (used in both Who and Torchwood, most recently in the episode “To the Last Man”). This time, the victim is a frightened youth who yo-yos through the decades thanks to a not-very-convincing plot device (that old Star Trek favourite tachyon radiation). In this state, the lad meets the Torchwood staff at different points in their lives, ending up in the arms of Jack Harkness in the 1960s.

It’s a good idea, paying due respects to Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, and the alien menaces are promising. However, their Achilles heels are a cop-out, and the time-jumping doesn’t conceal the thinness of the story and some half-baked thriller pastiches (psycho Russian spies ahoy!). At least the time-travelling gay romance has a touching double denouement, and could have provided a sturdier arc for a more character-driven book.

The Twilight Streets, written by veteran Who author Gary Russell, brings back the urbane Bilis Manger, Torchwood’s time-travelling adversary from the final two episodes of the first season. The story concerns the fall-out following the destruction of Abaddon (that giant demon thingy) in “End of Days”.

All the team are confronted with visions of a sinister future in which Torchwood rules the Earth, but the scenario is too cursory to be very interesting, and there’s another cop-out about the characters’ motivations in going bad. Moreover, the book feels flabby, with extended character banter that just seems to be there to fill pages, and the climax is a tedious, “so what?” affair, staggering under exposition about “light light” and “dark light”. So for all the exploding heads, the most impressive feature of all three books is their snazzy cover artwork.

Andrew Osmond

More Info

Available platformsTV