This is going to sound like a very strange comment but I’ve never been a massive fan of audiobooks. I love to read and the idea of having someone read me a book has never sat well with me, particularly as I love to imagine what’s happening, something I don’t get listening to books.
The only exception was Louise Jameson reading Horror of Fang Rock, one of my favourite Doctor Who stories, I loved that one. When Tropical Beach Sounds, (which we’ll call it from now on!), was announced, I was intrigued, but never guessed it would be such a great story, even if the idea of a single narrator reading me a story, rather than a cast, didn’t necessarily appeal to me.
Having finished the audio drama, I wondered why I was so conflicted in the first place. Big Finish has really upped their game with Torchwood in the past couple of years and I don’t think I’ve heard a single one I didn’t like in some capacity. Tropical Beach Sounds was another fantastic outing from author Tim Foley, with its narration from Sir Michael Palin.
In recent years, the internet, YouTube, in particular, has been taken by storm with ASMR, the idea of certain sounds playing loudly to produce a tingle in the back of your neck and head. Apparently it’s relaxing, but the sound of someone crinkling a crisp-packet up loudly makes me want to punch someone! However, its a strange craze that’s surprisingly not been featured in the Doctor Who universe as of yet.
Taking the form of a self-help tape, Foley makes sure to paint a tranquil image for the listener, something that the soothing and calming voice of Palin helps to emphasise and it doesn’t take long for you to be drawn in. But in true Torchwood fashion, things soon take a turn for the worse, and Palin’s voice darkens perfectly to accommodate the change of pace.
What started out as a soothing relaxation tape quickly becomes something else, with you having to infiltrate the Torchwood Hub and interact with the team, as you learn different skills, including trickery, seduction, and the ability to open doors using your head. Not really skills that people need to learn to any great capacity and did I mention that in this tape you get to be Captain Jack? That’s probably for the best when this audio tape gets you to open doors by smacking your head against it and other gruesome tasks.
To my surprise, the calming addition of Sir Michael Palin’s voice adds an overall creepiness of the whole thing. He starts out nicely, giving us the sort of tone one gets from a relaxation tape, (something else I’ve never found particularly relaxing), but when the script demands it, he manages to become dark, creepy, sinister and wholly evil. Even more surprising is that they got him to swear, I never thought I’d hear Michael Palin swear, but when the alien he plays gets mad, he gets mad, threatening you with an eternity of anguish. He’s a fantastic addition to the world and the Big Finish company. Hopefully, we get more from him at some point!
If there was one thing I didn’t like too much when I listened to it, it was the fact that the alien and its invasion wasn’t really explained. But thinking about it now, I suppose that adds to the strangeness of the whole thing and I don’t think that we are supposed to understand the alien and its plans just that it is a deadly threat. But Foley does a great job at painting how violent and evil these monsters are, even if we never know what they are. And I suppose that plays into the idea of these types of relaxation types, the sort of message that comes across that we may never know who our enemies are, just that they exist and we have to deal with them. Obviously this is Torchwood though so that idea is taken to its most shocking extremes!
Despite its very long title and its one narrator, Tropical Beach Sounds and Other Relaxing Seascapes #4 is one of the most experimental Big Finish releases to date and stands apart from much of their other excellent output as one of the strangest, yet brilliant audio’s I’ve heard in a very long time.