Review by Michael Goleniewski
Big Finish’s Torchwood Monthly Range is no stranger to taking deep cuts from Whoniverse canon. Within the span of its range, it’s made Tom Price’s PC Andy one of the most developed characters in the series, saw Murray Melvin’s Bilis Manger return to cause more chaos in several creepy adventures, and even threw a weird trilogy of Queen Victorian stories together that turned out to be some of the best of its respective canon. But ‘Empire of Shadows’ is aiming to take the biggest stab of all at time of writing, bringing back a well-liked but not particularly noteworthy character from the biggest (and best) two-parter from ‘Doctor Who Series 2’, Captain Zachary Cross Flane, for a sci-fi conspiracy thriller involving the death of royalty and a potential opportunity for Torchwood to regain its influence on the Earth Empire….
To be fair, it ends up being bit more complicated than that. James Goss’s script takes that initial concept and runs with it as a new young emperor needs the organisation’s help in looking for the secret behind his mother’s assassination and an attempt on his own life. The narrative then ventures quickly into Indiana Jones territory with several aspects of ‘Silence in the Library’ and ‘Voyage of the Damned’ thrown in for good measure. The plot is very slowly paced and at times extremely by the numbers as the conspiracy begins to rear its ugly head and it takes half the story to even get to the premise that it wants to tell. But Goss’s writing is skilful at increasing the tension moment by moment as the group venture into the Great Cobalt Pyramid while keeping just enough out of reach to keep you wanting to know more about what’s really going on.
Production-wise, while the soundscape is as standard as they come to the point of not being especially worth mentioning, the cast is exceptionally good. Shaun Parkes is once again outstanding as Zachary himself, falling into a standard investigator template as required especially when paired with an android named Chloe (played by Amanda Shodeko) who is very well-characterised with a witty candour and yet compassionately warm personality. Their chemistry is really what saves the story when the plot struggles to hold itself afloat and the two of them prove to be incredibly likeable characters to centre a story on. Mateo Oxley is also very good as Emperor Merdiven, somewhat stoic but with an unsure edge to his leadership that keeps him captivating. It’s around him that most of the twists end up being focused on as the big reveals come out of the shadows and appropriately turn the entire narrative on its head at the cost of several lives and of course the necessary truth of the adventure.
Right now, Torchwood is at its strongest when it’s not focusing on primary characters from the main show and ‘Empire of Shadows‘ is absolutely no exception. It’s not one of the range’s strongest in terms of excitement or development. But in bringing an intriguing side character back to the forefront and giving him a very different sort of adventure to work with, it’s an interesting little diversion that succeeds where it counts and is a great way to kill an hour or two of your day. – 8 / 10
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