Today, Radio 4 is giving over much of its programming to Big Bang Day, to celebrate the switching on of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva - one of the biggest and most complicated experiments into the nature of the universe ever conducted. What does this have to do with TV Today, you may ask…
As part of the day’s programmes, Radio 4 has brought the popular BBC Television sci-fi drama Torchwood to its Afternoon Play slot, in an adventure called Lost Souls, starring John Barrowman as Captain Jack Harkness, with Eve Myles and Gareth David- Lloyd as Gwen Cooper and Ianto Jones.
Lost Souls is scripted by TV writer Joseph Lidster, whose credits include Torchwood and upcoming episodes of The Sarah Jane Adventures. Joseph took time out of his schedule to talk to TV Today about the challenges of bringing Torchwood to radio…
Hi Joseph! In a nutshell, what happens in Torchwood: Lost Souls?
Lost Souls centres around the CERN facility in Geneva at the time the Large Hadron Collider is scheduled to be switched on, an event that’s been planned for years. It’s a huge scientific milestone, and obviously in the Torchwood universe, it’s going to go wrong! (Former Doctor Who companion) Martha Jones is at CERN with UNIT, and she calls Captain Jack in Cardiff to inform him that people are going missing, and that they also have a very interesting patient in sickbay. Torchwood travel to Geneva and go undercover at CERN, posing as the Welsh Ambassador and his team, and start their investigation. Of course they find that the spooky goings on in the tunnel of the LHC could be a threat to the entire world… Or, put another way, it’s the Torchwood Holiday Special!
How were you approached to write Lost Souls?
Brian Minchin, a writer and script editor on Torchwood, called me to tell me that he was going to be script editing a Torchwood radio play for Radio 4 for the Big Bang Day, to be produced by Kate McAll, who’s a hugely experienced radio producer. (Torchwood and Doctor Who writer and executive producer) Russell T Davies and Julie Gardner had suggested me to Brian and Kate as a writer, and from there I was called in for a meeting.
Was there a specific brief that had to be followed to fit Lost Souls into the Big Bang Day’s programme?
CERN have been involved from day one, they’re apparently big Torchwood fans. I had a couple of concerns at first - I’m not the world’s most scientific person, which I very quickly pointed out. But CERN provided a lot of material up front, and read drafts of the script to make sure it was all scientifically accurate. My second concern was that this had to be a Torchwood adventure and that if the team were going to CERN, something had to go wrong. I asked if CERN would be okay with this, and they were absolutely fine.
Lost Souls is the first outing for Torchwood since the climactic end of season two, that saw two regular characters being killed off. Did that have to be addressed in your script?
When we started on it, I didn’t know that Owen and Tosh were going to die in the series, so the original treatment for Lost Souls involved those characters. Then Julie Gardner (Torchwood’s executive producer and Controller of Drama Commissioning for BBC Television) informed me that sadly Owen and Tosh would be going. As this was envisioned as part of the show’s ongoing narrative and would follow the broadcast of the final episode, Lost Souls would have to carry on the story. I was sad at first as I loved the characters and didn’t want them to go. My second reaction was: Great! Two characters gone, that means more room for supporting characters! It would have been very tricky in a 45-minute radio drama to have five main characters, with supporting characters on top. Once I knew we were losing those characters, I thought it would be quite nice to deal with the rest of the team’s grief, although we couldn’t wallow in it as the piece has to function as a standalone play and that a Radio 4 audience could listen without knowing Torchwood at all.
Torchwood on TV has a very specific house style, as does Radio 4 drama. You were also bringing CERN into the story. How difficult was it to reconcile those three distinct elements?
I’d like to say it was easy, but it was actually quite difficult, but it’s always good to have a challenge! You can look at it very simplistically: Torchwood isn’t very middle class. It’s rough and ready, fun, exciting, dark and scary. Whereas, Radio 4 tends to be much more middle class. Nobody in Torchwood speaks with Received Pronunciation, everybody’s Welsh or American and from a wide variety of different social groups and classes. It was a real challenge to combine those two worlds. What was very important was for the Radio 4 audience to be able to enjoy it. Half the audience may not even have heard of Torchwood. People think Torchwood is full of sex and swearing, but it isn’t really, so that wasn’t a problem. Lost Souls is slower than a television episode of Torchwood, and I had to spell things out a bit more as you’re working in the audio medium. It was an interesting process.
Since it began, Torchwood’s profile has risen quite a bit, with the next series due to be aired next year on BBC1. Is it possible that Lost Souls could bring a new audience to the TV series who may never have watched it before?
I hope so! You’ve got great characters - the dynamic between Jack, Ianto and Gwen was really interesting to play around with the characters and how they are with each other now they’ve lost Owen and Tosh. They’re even closer now, almost like siblings. There’s a lot of banter, and I hope that some of the audience for Lost Souls might want to see what the three of them get up to next.
Before moving into writing for television, you had previous experience writing audio drama for Big Finish Production’s Doctor Who range. Was that experience useful when it came to writing Lost Souls, or was it a different discipline altogether?
It was a combination of the two. The difference between my work for Big Finish and Lost Souls is that with a radio play, you have to assume the audience are going to listen to it once, and you have to assume that they might be ironing, or doing something else while listening. With a Big Finish CD, a fan will spend money on this product, and listen to it a number of times. With Lost Souls, the dialogue had to spell things out very clearly.
There are few, if any dramas that have made the transition from TV to radio, especially while still being in regular production…
I think that it’s very exciting. Lost Souls has definitely been made as a one off as part of the Big Bang Day. But in Jack, Gwen and Ianto you have three characters that work very well on radio as they have very distinct characters and very distinct voices. More than that, to put this project together, you had Radio 4 and BBC Wales working together, creating something that isn’t a Torchwood TV episode, but also isn’t quite a standalone radio drama. I certainly think it’s something you could do more off, with Torchwood and maybe with other dramas. I don’t think Torchwood’s budget would allow them to fly out to Geneva a lot, but on radio you can just about do what you like - that’s the beauty of audio drama…
Torchwood: Lost Souls is broadcast on BBC Radio 4at 2.15pm today and will also be available as a podcast.