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“I’m sorry, I can’t read this. This is all bullsh**.

Does anyone really think it’s the President or the Prime Minster who’s running the show? Of course not! It’s the oil companies and the multinationals.

The politicians of this world are just marionettes. And we’re sending young men over to foreign countries where they fight and die to preserve business interests.

It’s insane, and I can’t carry on being a spokesperson for all of this. F*** this. I’m done.”

A fellow named George Wilson (shades of both PM Harold and Orwell’s Winston!) gives up his broadcast news career in the interest of telling the truth and changing what has become a very flawed paradigm.

But given that he’s claiming the global strings of power are being puppeteered by alien lizards, can we take his position at face value?

Make no bones about it, the wife and I were huge Torchwood fans back in the series’ heyday.  The winning manner of Captain Jack Harkness, the nerdy tech girl Tosh(iko Sato), stalwart Ianto (Jones), the very human and oft overemotional Owen (Harper) and even briefly guesting Who companion Martha Jones really got to us.  The series provided a sadly all too unusual mix of strong characterization, good acting and well crafted scripts…and therein lies the rub.

Because at the end of series two, Tosh and Owen were dead, and not long after, so was Ianto.  We watched the headlines from a distance and with vague interest as the series moved into Children of Earth and the US run with Miracle Day, but the loss of all of the important characters bar Jack himself* was just too much of a turnoff, too inexorably disturbing.  We’d actually invested ourselves into these fictional lives, and to see them snuffed out and pushed aside left a decidedly sour taste in the mouth.

* yeah, yeah, we know ostensible “audience identification” character Gwen stuck around.  Sorry, Gwen fans, but we just never identified with or particularly cared for the character like we had with the rest of the cast.  Hell, we were actually more invested, albeit in terms of a sort of bemused pity, for her longsuffering, comic relief live-in boyfriend (and eventual husband) Rhys!

So here we are, a decade on from the teleseries debut, with a new line of audios, and Captain Jack himself leading the charge.  Be warned: there is no Torchwood team here, but rather a Harkness solo investigation, which is how I understand the series is to run, at least for the time being.

“George is our very own little boy who cried wolf.  And when the wolf arrives and gobbles up all the sheep, the vast majority won’t believe a word of it.”

While on a certain level, this would appear to be another apt piss take on the headlines that impact our daily lives, there are some offputting caveats – little “gotchas” that force the listener to pull back and reassess both the author’s stance, and their own.  And mind, this happens a few times in the course of the tale.

The truly disturbing bits* come in a reference to Burroughs and Naked Lunch (hardly a name you want on your side in the rationality parade) and the strong echoes of Network and Howard Beale.

But is Wilson really as “cracked” as author David Llewellyn seems to be saying?  Who doesn’t recognize the real world parallels here, or the very public “dark money” and corporate multinational SuperPACs that pull the strings of our ostensibly “elected” politicians?  Talk about blatant – the fossil fuel magnate Koch Brothers are merely the most open and obvious tip of the iceberg.  Hell, the entire Republican party ticket just headed out to kowtow to those clowns for the Presidential nod.  Is big corporate money the “new royalty”?  Hail Caesar, may I request a boon?

* above and beyond a rather cynical plot twist we won’t give away here – you’ll know it when you hear it.

Now, obviously, this is sci-fi, so we’re taking a very real life politicosocial concern and buttering it over with a layer of cheese (so the 1%ers and power player business interests morph into alien lizards…though come to think of it, that’s only a superficial change at that!)

But the facts remain the facts, and are easily checked with a quick perusal of recent news headlines.  Hard to call a George Wilson some conspiracy theorist crackpot when what he’s saying (albeit slightly metaphorically – put your tin foil hats away, UFO chasers) is a matter of public record!

Those mild reservations aside (and as the quote above shows, Llewellyn is a far more savvy scripter than the more casual reader may herein glean), when all is said and done (and after a few twists of plot from one way to the next), The Conspiracy is the same sort of politicosocial allegory we’ve come to expect from classic (i.e. pre-dumbed down, Star Wars-lite) science fiction, and of both Classic Who (an obvious Torchwood antecedent on several levels) and Big Finish in general.

Barrowman is always a pleasure to see (or in this case, hear), retaining that same odd eubellience and positivity amidst some very dark circumstances.  Similarly, supporting cast members John Sessions (Wilson) and Sarah Ovens (Kate) deliver some unusually strong performances, marked with nuance.  And hey, just to put the cherry on top of this little confection, the entire affair manages to come off like some ersatz detective noir.

A very good start to a new line, to be sure.