Thursday, 30 January 2014

Reviews Torchwood: Skypoint

Torchwood: SkyPoint

by Phil Ford
BBC Books, 2008.
ISBN: 978-1-846-07575-9
Reviewed by Echo Fain

Like replacing Cooper with Williams, the disappearances at SkyPoint don't sound kosher. 

Slotting nicely into the space behind the second series' episode, 'Something Borrowed', this story delves into the shady world of dirty money, untouchable criminals, urban growth, and aliens.  SkyPoint is fast paced, moving smoothly from scene to scene in a way that hints at the screen-writing skills of its author.  It never loses its pace and shows us poignant hints of deeper stories in the background of each member of the Torchwood Cardiff team.

The premise of this novel is deliciously complex.  In a Cardiff being re-developed, the man with money to invest becomes a king, no matter how dangerous or amoral he might be.  At SkyPoint, that man is named Lucca and he sees everything, including the inexplicable way his tenants are disappearing. He's not a saint but a criminal and it suits him just fine to allow this sort of sacrifice for the privacy it affords him.

People are vanishing from within the building itself, but it has been so carefully silenced that the trouble only comes to the attention of Torchwood because newlyweds Gwen Cooper and Rhys Williams are in the right place at the right time.

The plot sweeps the reader along through fantastic, descriptive imagery of Cardiff's bay and the skyscrapers which are filling the city, a sign of its growing prosperity.

Characterization is always one of Phil Ford's strong points; here he has given each team member an active point of view unique to the voices with which we associate their characters.  The use of background history meshes well with small intimate glimpses into the workings of their hearts. 

There are two stories within this novel; people are disappearing without a trace in an exclusive housing development, but Doctor Owen Harper is also secretly stalking a pair of murderously hungry aliens at a coffee shop named Constantine's because it gives him something to do with his sleepless nights.  He feels far more for the people in his life than he could ever allow them to see, but his ruined heart is found here in his reactions to the sure knowledge that Tosh is in danger and the thought that she is attracted to another man.  Owen, from the start, is bitter with the knowledge that he's effectively missed the boat, waiting until it was too late.

Toshiko acknowledges what so many must recognize; she loves Owen and that affection has only grown deeper since his death.  It is her approach to their undercover mission which showed the strength in her nature.  She pines for the undead scientist but she's not overblown with sentiment, maintains her dignity.

Attempting to shoehorn a normal life into an extraordinary reality, Rhys Williams is ready to move onward with his marriage and all the extras that should come with it; he wants the nice flat and children.  Gwen, however, knows that being part of Torchwood takes precedence and there will never be a guarantee of tomorrow's existence.

While Ianto disappears from the narrative at the climax, having been a resourceful hero in a lethal situation, the lack of his viewpoint seems natural.  Ianto Jones does his best work behind the scenes and often without notice.  His dialogue is drolly witty and true to his character, his actions the intelligent moves of an underestimated and understated man. 

The depths of Captain Jack Harkness may never be fully plumbed, but at SkyPoint, we see the seemingly immortal team leader facing fresh fear; the alien our team is hunting is killing people in a way that gives even Jack a reason for concern. 

It is the most innocent things we see at SkyPoint, and at Constantine's, which turn out to be the greatest threat and that is a good analogy for life itself.  We are left with a horror of what lays beyond death, for what is waiting for us there in the darkness.

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 and the audio play The Dead Line are fan favorites.

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