Torchwood: Smashed came about when Eve Myles suggested a story where Gwen spends the whole time drunk. James Goss took that idea and wrote a great script which deals with corporate greed in a storyline that feels very adult and relevant. And what feels like it is going to be a funny story with a drunk Gwen, quickly gets darker and bleaker and it doesn’t end well for everyone involved.
It wasn’t until I was writing this review that it struck me what this story reminded of. In many ways, it feels like Jon Pertwee’s adventure, Inferno. Here there is a group who are digging into the ground, in this case, fracking and something has come up from inside the Earth. And people are turning into monsters when they come into contact with a liquid substance, in this case, whenever they drink anything.
Smashed keeps it ambiguous as to what the creature in the Earth is. And for the most part, that works really well, allowing Goss to give us some social commentary on the greed of big corporations and they’ll do anything for their profits. Fracking has also been something that has been in the news over the last few years, destroying areas of the countryside or small towns and villages in search of oil. I have to admit I only know what Fracking is because I’ve seen Dallas, I was never great at science! But rightly Goss steers the story away from what Fracking is and instead focuses on the effect it has on the people around.
While people don’t actually turn into monsters, that we know off, when a big oil company moves into town, it hasn’t been unheard of for people to fall ill as it upsets everything around them. In need of a job since leaving Torchwood, Gwen Cooper finds herself working as a consultant for a big company. They send her to a small Welsh town Glynteg, where Drillpak has given jobs to a number of residents and brought money to something of a dilapidated area. But Gwen quickly finds her principles threatened as she has to navigate minefields of angry and drunk residents, corporate yes-men, corruption and activists who are against the presence of the oil company.
What Goss is really good at too is giving us both sides of the story, not telling us one-way-or-another if we should be against big oil companies. He doesn’t gloss over the fact that these businesses do bring jobs to forgotten towns and villages, he also doesn’t gloss over the fact that they destroy the surrounding area and can hurt people and their livelihoods and putting Gwen right in the middle of it was a great move as out of all of Torchwood, she seems to be the only member who can see two sides to every story.
Eve Myles does a great job here, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone anymore. While she’ll always be Gwen Cooper no matter what I see her in, she’s a very in-demand actress right no so I’m also surprised she has the time for Big Finish. And she doesn’t go OTT in the drunk acting. That’s something that’s riddled with clichés but Myles keeps it believable. She becomes loud, argumentative, happy and funny sometimes all in one scene or sentence. Sometimes scenes are played for laughs but the menacing presence of monsters and talk about the company help ground the drunk aspect of the story. And it’s not just there as an excuse for Gwen to be drunk because the water table of the surrounding area has been heavily contaminated, the only thing to drink is booze. As I said above, things in this story aren’t all fun and games!
Big Finish newcomer, Omar Austin makes a great debut performance as Gwen’s ‘companion’ for this story, Martyn. The only activist left, Gwen teams up with him as a matter of survival and as a way of getting to know what is going on. There are some heavy scenes with Martyn like when Gwen forces him to drink even though it goes against everything he believes in. But Myles, Austin and Goss handle it in an intelligent way. It isn’t done as a way of getting the character drinking, Gwen is keeping him alive and given how many people she has lost since she’s joined Torchwood, it’s understandable that she wants Martyn to be someone who lives.
Helen Griffin rounds the cast out as the baddie for the story, Rhian. Griffen also memorably played Mrs Moore in the Tennant Cyberman story, Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel. Griffen also passed away last year after the recording of this story. Smashed is dedicated to her but she does a brilliant job here. Not necessarily as evil as you’d think, she is just the mouth-piece for the oil company. She does a good job here though making an excellent foil for Gwen and giving an inhuman monster and human face.
Overall though, Smashed is a darkly intelligent story with a lot more going on under the surface than it might first promise. Myles and the rest of the cast do a tremendous job and the script from James Goss is very enjoyable and clever, not really telling us what we should believe and who we should like and who we shouldn’t, allowing us to make up our own minds about those questions across the course of the story. Then there’s a big twist at the end that you wouldn’t predict happening in a million years! The resulting story feels very contemporary and gives a new twist on an old concept. This is great Torchwood through and through.