Torchwood: The Dead Line
by Phil Ford
Produced by BBC Audiobooks Ltd.
BBC Audio Published: 6 August 2009
Reviewed by Echo Fain
Apropos of the alien threat involved, this audio drama begins with a ringing phone.
Let's face it, Phil Ford is one of the best at what he does. He tells a story that moves quick and without effort, mixing humor and drama with human sentiment in his own way. The Dead Line could be considered formulaic with a script that uses two basic points of view to unpack its plot through two-voice scenes, but the formula is seamlessly used here to tell a story that would have been very exciting on the TV screen.
A Cardiff hospital experiences a sudden spate of patients in identical conditions that look like a coma which all began with a phone call; naturally, Torchwood gets involved. The calls are coming from a defunct line, as they discover. It's a dead line, as Jack points out upon attempting to make a call of his own to the four-digit phone number. But, when the phone rings back, our intrepid team leader answers, his determination outstripping his common sense. He falls victim to the strange ticking sound on the other end of the line. Distraught, Ianto calls one of Jack's old flames, the neuroscientist Professor Stella Courtney, for help.
Stella becomes the listener's portal into the mystery. At St. Helen's Hospital, the scientist hears the story of how we've come to be standing over Jack Harkness' unconscious body. Only, as it turns out, this isn't a coma but a trance-like state which seems to link every victim; their brain activity is reacting in unison, as evidenced by the hospital monitors.
The remaining two active members of the team must identify the source of what seems to be a computer virus that can reach out and destroy the world through its most common form of communication, the telephone. Of course, once the source is realized, a cure must be found.
With Professor Courtney working on the medical side of the puzzle and Ianto essentially immobilized at Jack's bedside until very nearly the end, it is up to Gwen and Rhys to find out what happened at Maddock House thirty-three years ago and what it has to do with the old telephones found beside every victim.
It's an interesting premise, the idea of a Rift-borne virus that attacks through an electronic pulse which, by affecting the biochemistry of the brain, connects all of its victims to gain strength. There is no larger villain or rampaging alien to be discovered in this story, per se; instead, the infection seems to possess a mindless desire to exist and spread, much like any virus.
Penned by a veteran TV writer, The Dead Line is a foreshadow of days ahead for the Cardiff Hub team. This radio play, coming in at just forty-three minutes, is episode-length but seems like it should have been much longer. Airing on BBC Radio 4 only three days before Children of Earth premiered, this story heralds the impending changes found in Torchwood's third series.
The Dead Line features the regular series cast of John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness), Eve Myles (Gwen Cooper), Gareth David-Lloyd (Ianto Jones), and Kai Owen (Rhys Williams), who are joined by Professor Stella Courtney, voiced by the marvelous Doña Croll.
Phil Ford is a prolific writer who has penned episodes for such shows as Taggart, Coronation Street, Bad Girls, The Bill, New Captain Scarlet, The Sarah Jane Adventures (head writer beginning with series two), Doctor Who, and Wizards vs Aliens (he was a co-creator, as well), among others. For Doctor Who, he wrote the 2009 special The Waters of Mars and the animated special Dreamland, while for Torchwood, his second series episode Something Borrowed is considered by some to be a Cronenberg body horror romp (Rawson-Jones, 2008). He also penned the Torchwood book, 'Skypoint', for those fans who would like another taste of Ford's unique style of dialogue.
Rawson-Jones, Ben. "Torchwood' S02E09: 'Something Borrowed'." Digital Spy. 12 Mar. 2008. Web. 26 Apr. 2013.