*** Contains spoilers***
Welcome, truth seekers.
First of all, this Torchwood story doesn't seem to have a name, so Dark Talk is just the title that I have made up for it. It seems like the most likely phrase for others to refer to it by too. Author Phil Ford must himself call it something, surely…
Secondly, it's an eleven-part BBC online computer game which was released episodically in sync with most of season two.
You're a new recruit to Torchwood. Each chapter, there's a video of Ianto giving you your mission for the week - to investigate someone or something, and come back with the word or phrase that they need to progress the case.
To accomplish this task, you have remote access to a Torchwood workstation (above), offering you scans of documents, hacking software, and your colleagues' emails, although they are usually just making oblique references to this (now that) week's episode. At the time, you could register to receive emails from Torchwood flagging when your next mission was ready, but now of course that option is no longer relevant.
While the evidence to be investigated changes each week, the series' constant is Cardiff's pirate paranormal radio phone-in show Dark Talk:
The station has a real website which gives you access to about a billion studio webcams during the show each week. There's even one of the floor! Line one usually features a member of the public affected by that week's TV episode, but line three is your best bet for tips on the case you're following.
But it doesn't stop there. There are a ton of other external websites that you have to surf, glean further clues from, and even hack into, along with a bunch of other less relevant but real ones, like wikipedia. Conrad Fischer even has an account on Flickr!
At one point you have to login into someone's email account. There aren't really any clues as to their password - you just have to laterally ask yourself what sort of word they would probably have picked. Some other tasks are harder.
I'm well impressed that, over four years on, this game is still so fully functional!
Along the way, you also receive video advice from Tosh. Yes, Tosh. I know, you must really be lost if you're asking for help from her.
So, my two cents on each mission then:
The scientist Conrad Fisher has disappeared, so you have to figure out who the last person to see him was. For this you need to check the right CCTV camera at the right time. Fortunately, on the dating website that he's a member of, the only other person with a video clip turns out to be the lady he's meeting - Natalie Blake.
Natalie Blake is now dead, so you have to work out her phone number and hack her voicemail to find out who the last person she spoke to was. I put a London number into the phone hacker tool, and the map still displayed Cardiff. The last person to see Natalie was her twin sister. Hmm.
Really tough one this. Figure out a password to hack into a website. Fortunately, once again the internet has the answer. Someone who's played it before.
Tosh appears visibly distracted, presumably due to her love affair with Tommy that week.
Does Ianto really only have that one suit? Natalie Blake has come back from the dead (that or it was her twin sister Naomi) and murdered Conrad Fischer, on his own vlog no less! She then steals his laptop, making the answer to mission 4 the same as mission 1.
So, Natalie has killed her own twin sister. Now it's time to hack into her email account to deduce where she's currently hiding out. I say, there's a lot of murder going on here. Have I accidentally got the website for ITV? In other news, Dark Talk presenter Abigail Crowe has actually put a few clothes on.
Whaaat? Now Natalie is dead as well??? Well, that's certainly inconvenient. Maybe it's my fault. Maybe I should have just left well alone.
In an unusually long mission, you now have to trawl through her internet browsing history to locate her business website, then decode the alien password, and finally watch the video of her to get the whistleblower's codeword. The evidence also includes a signed letter from Jim Robinson! Wow, what a nice neighbour. Everybody needs those. Next door is only a footstep... oh you know the rest.
Things are really hotting up. The sense of anticipation over the whistleblower's imminent live call into the Dark Talk radio show is huge. What they don't know is that I'm ready and waiting for them. I'm not missing this.
Afterwards, there's one of those minigames that bears little relation to actually solving a real life problem, but hey. You have to listen to and analyse half a dozen snatches of background atmos from the whistlebower's call. In the real world this would position him in six different places at once, but this isn't the real world - it's an online game with a funky swooshy 3D map:
It can take a while to get to this point, unless you click that killjoy 'Low-tech version' option at the bottom:
That's blood? In black and white, I assumed it was spray-paint.
So, yes, now the whistleblower's been murdered too. I'm starting to glance out of my window nervously.
Another minigame requires one to examine a skeleton to find several patients' records hidden in the latest corpse's body. Or again dial-up has the answer. Ultimately though, this proves irrelevant to guessing the password for Fischer's computer, and translating it into English. According to his Flickr account, he recently went to a very thinly-attended reunion.
Oh, and by now in the TV series, Owen has been killed. By Jim Robinson. Eurgh, tough neighbourhood.
So now we know. The world is being invaded via alien DNA, which is being implanted into people's bodies, and lying dormant until receiving the right trigger switch to activate it. But what could such a switch possibly be? Surfing back through earlier evidence, I discovered via a video on the New Eden website that it was 'ultrasonic sound'. Although entering this in the box is indeed the answer that this mission is looking for, according to an earlier player on the internet I could have got away with just typing the word 'ultrasonic'.
Since this is a Torchwood game, I figured it was a given that at some point the plot would suddenly grind to a halt for sex and everyone to say how cool they think Jack is, but surprisingly nothing like this has happened yet. (apart from people saying how cool they think Jack is, obviously) This then is the only episode which delves into crudity, as Dark Talk gets a call from a man who regularly gets 'taken from the back' by allegedly gay aliens. These radio segments are usually quite fun sketches, but here Torchwood seems to be running out of ideas and falling back on smut again. Teenagers! :)
The mission this time is a 'Simple Simon' lights game to reveal where the ultrasonic signal is to be transmitted from. I'm so glad that I was slow enough to be completely surprised by the answer…
What's that? This is the final episode? B-but, I thought that season two of Torchwood had thirteen episodes, surely? Well, as I recall, those last two didn't really leave much room for a second case to be running concurrently, so this is where the game ends.
Having so far had video clips of Ianto and Tosh, plus audio of PC Andy, the reward for making it through to the end is to watch the big confrontation at Dark Talk's studios between DJ Abigail, Ianto, and… Gwen!
I mean let's be honest here, the main reason why anybody plays these things is to watch a bit more Torchwood after the programme has finished, and this showdown, complete with brief fight, really feels like watching an authentic canon clip.
Actually, it's better than that, because there's no music! Oh, there's a signal jammer device that you have to activate midway through when Ianto yells out over the air for you to do so, but I tried running it again afterwards and doing nothing, and it made no difference.
Still, a great payoff for all the effort made so far. We jam the signal, save the world, and get to watch a Torchwood minisode. Hoorah!
Overall, I must admit that I've really enjoyed playing this game. A mid-week repeat in an earlier timeslot meant that this season Torchwood was getting aimed at a younger audience, and for that the game - like the season - is better because it rarely gets sidetracked from the mystery at hand.
While I'm full of praise for its script and programming, the acting is awful, and the direction of the video clips pretty weak too. Despite the high number of different characters videoing themselves, they all use the same style of cutting between medium and longs shots every sentence or so, regardless of whether it is even possible. The number of cameras in that 'radio' studio is insane - there's even one shooting Abigail from her feet!
And please forgive my pointing it out, but it's a bit of a shame that Abigail was recorded on a boom mike rather than that radio one we can see right in front of her mouth throughout.
Once again though, I have to admit that I have enjoyed Torchwood.
And, also once again, I find myself hoping that that was the last one though. I'm really only following it out of loyalty to another series... :)
(At time of writing, still available to play at www.torchwood.org.uk)
NB. While writing this post, and indeed playing the game, I have been indebted to Jeremy Patrick for his concise write-ups on each mission over at www.jhaeman.blogspot.com. Cheers Jeremy! (ῧ)