On television, Billis Manger was always one of Torchwood’s deadliest and strangest foes. Only appearing twice on screen, Murray Melvin has returned to the role in this excellent horror story.
Hywel Roberts finds himself lost in the rain, but the Travellers Halt offers him sanctuary.
Booking a room, he finds himself under the eye of the strange owner, Mr Billis Manger. But things aren’t as they appear. Who is the mysterious woman in the room next door? Why does Mr Manger seem to appear out of thin air? And why is it always raining?
The Travellers Halt isn’t your normal hotel. And soon, Hywel Roberts will wish he had kept driving…
Deadbeat Escape brings another strong series of solo Torchwood outings to an end until next year. We’ve had some great exploration of our favourite characters in The Many Lives of Captain Jack and Instant Karma, an excellent reunion for the original team in Believe and an excellent horror tale in We Always Get Out Alive.
Deadbeat Escape will certainly fall into the horror category. Torchwood did sci-fi but never really touched on pure horror, it was always the horror of whatever story they were in, unlike Cyberwoman which was a horror to watch!
We Always Get Out Alive and Deadbeat Escape are some of the best horror stories I’ve heard from Big Finish and one wonders if the writers, James Goss and Guy Adams were in competition to see who could write the scariest!
While Adam’s, We Always Get Out Alive was a gloriously disturbing and claustrophobic listen, Deadbeat Escape does outdo it on the pure horror front. From its opening minutes, James Goss lets you know you’re in for something different. And what really allows it to stand apart is that it doesn’t focus on any prime member of the Torchwood cast but on its deadliest villain, Billis Manger.
Thinking about it, the whole story isn’t focused on him, we get to see him through someone else’s eyes and how his plans will affect Hywel’s life.
Billis is a villain who works at his absolute best when he is an enigma, wrapped in a mystery, surrounded by darkness. His appearance in Captain Jack Harkness, End of Days and the audio adventure, To Kill A View, kept that mysterious illusion going.
The same can be said here, which is good because he continues to be a dangerous threat. Murray Melvin is just excellent in the role and even though he is the bad guy, it is physically impossible not to fall in love with his old-man act, right up until the very end when he finally gets some real bite.
Having a new character in the form of Hywel Roberts is a stroke of genius from James Goss. It allows the audience to already have a one-up on him as we know how evil Billis is but it is impossible to get to believe he is anything other than a warped old man. With us listeners knowing how evil Billis is, it allows us to stay on the edge of our seats as we learn whether Hywel will make it out alive.
Hywel was most certainly a character I wanted to see survive. Not only is there some great writing there from Goss but Gareth Pierce’s performance makes him a really relatable character. You really root for him, right up until the very end.
Just as the audience is learning everything there is to know, so is Hywel, and we get to enjoy the horror unfolding around him at the same time. Of course, we horror fans know how bad things are going to get for him when he decides to go into a house on a dark and stormy night!
But even that old horror trope is flipped on its head. Goss uses this trope, well known by the audience, to his advantage and uses it to explore the characters and their motivations.
Cara Chase also puts in an excellent performance as the mysterious guest, Grace. A character that would be a crime to spoil anything about but is it possible she is the one and only person that Billis cares about?
Deadbeat Escape is a brilliant ending to another successful series of Torchwood outings for 2018. It is very dark and effective and has a very strong emotional core at its centre. With some excellent performances from Murray Melvin and Gareth Pierce, even without any of the regulars, this is a pure Torchwood gold!
“Welcome to the Traveller’s Halt. You’re in luck – we have one room left. My name is Bilis Manger. Let me show you to your room.”
Torchwood contains adult material and may not be suitable for younger listeners
Written By: James Goss
Directed By: Scott Handcock
Murray Melvin (Billis Manger), Gareth Pierce (Hywel Roberts), Cara Chase (Grace). Other parts played by members of the cast.
Producer: James Goss
Script Editor: David Llewellyn
Executive Producers: Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs