Review by Michael Goleniewski
Torchwood as a spinoff and as an organisation is no stranger to bouts of experimentation. In the course of its existence both on and off-screen, the series has delivered some of the oddest sci-fi stories ever created answering questions such as ‘what would happen if people stopped dying?’ to ‘what would happen if there was sentient gas who existed on the energy of orgasms to survive?’ But ‘Tropical Beach Sounds and Other Relaxing Seascapes’ is perhaps the most experimental Torchwood story yet; answering the question: what would happen if you made a sci-fi adventure out of a self-help stress release tape without any of the main cast and only one voice moving you through?
The answer turns out to be one of the most unique invasion stories ever created and one that’s practically impossible to talk about and review directly without giving the entire experience away. In general terms however, the plot concealed and hiding within the genius premise turns out to be what would happen if ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ were executed in the fashion of ‘The Stanley Parable’. The driving force is a somewhat expected one honestly and not exactly novel when you really get down to it. But it’s still suitably engaging and the only thing about this audio that could be considered even remotely flawed.
With that being said, everything else about this story is masterfully crafted and flawless in execution. The soundscape and sound effects are wonderful for what they need to be and the direction by Scott Handcock combined with music from Blair Mowat is fantastic turning it into more of an experience rather than a full-cast drama. Tim Foley’s script is a dark masterpiece and one that could only be done in this kind of format, moving forward slowly but with strength and creative energy. It confidently and suspense-fully holds your attention from moment to moment in a way that’s direct and inescapable requiring you to be engaged from the get-go and not allowing you to zone in and out like you can with other stories in the format.
This confidence extends to the primary vocal performance of the audio in Monty Python’s Sir Michael Palin who is quite simply perfect. His performance is a mixture of charm, calm, humour, and yet surprising threat in a way that only he can and he guides the audio as if this story was tailor-made for him. That’s not to say that the Torchwood team aren’t involved per se. There are character interactions that are important to the story and each member of the team is written as well as they can be. But the audio is 100% Palin himself interacting with you the listener and the environment established within the adventure, nothing more or less and thankfully he carries the entire audio on his shoulders and is one of the primary reasons that things turn out as exceptionally as they do.
Make no buts about it; ‘Tropical Beach Sounds’ is far outside the norm, serving as the very definition for an unusual audio adventure. But at the same time, it’s practically flawless in everything from soundscape to performance and is one of those adventures that has to be heard to be believed. Everyone involved in producing this piece from Tim Foley and Scott Handcock to Sir Michael Palin deserves all the credit in the world for delivering something as inventive and novel as this into the wider range and its one that will draw you and not let you go until it’s 100% done with you. Absolutely brilliant from beginning to end and a massive highlight both for Big Finish and Torchwood in general. – 10 / 10