Transference is an unusual audio drama produced by Big Finish Productions. They already produce epic, ambitious Doctor Who and Torchwood dramas that are bigger than a television budget could ever allow. What sets Transference apart is that it’s a naturalistic crime thriller with no Science fiction or fantastical elements at all.
Alex Kingston plays a psychotherapist barely holding it together. She’s grieving her sister’s recent death. Her aloof, passive-aggressive mother isn’t much help – and then there’s a slippery, unstable patient who never tells her the truth about his life. He never tells the same story about his life twice. He’s either a compulsive liar, a fantasist or a manipulative psychopath. When he claims he killed someone and starts stalking her, she wonders if he might actually be dangerous. When she and a policeman friend try to investigate him, she unwittingly uncovers a conspiracy that puts her and everyone she knows in danger.
“Transference”: Peak Audio Thriller Time
What feels unusual for Big Finish is how big this series feels. There are eight hour-long episodes, which makes it one of the longest stories they ever produced. An epic space war between Gallifrey and Daleks costs the same to produce in audio as a chase between London and a seaside town. This is the kind of thriller that ITV used to make all the time before it became obsessed with cops chasing serial killers and child abductors. It’s the kind of thing you might find on BBC Radio 4.
The story is a classic woman-in-peril thriller that are make up a lot of bestselling crime novels. Themes about the loss of support, safety and family are common in this subsection of the crime genre. The characters are ordinary middle-class people who are unprepared and unqualified to deal with the viciousness of hardened killers.
There’s a 90-minute behind-the-scenes special where the actors and writers talk about how the series was put together. Four writers, Jane Slavin, Roland Moore, Andrew Moore, and John Dorney worked together like a writer’s room on a US show to plot the 8 episodes together.
The writing has flaws, though. The non-thriller parts featuring the characters going about their lives as Londoners are slightly more interesting than the rest. The thriller plotting gets a bit colour-by-numbers in places because of the nature of paranoid thriller tropes. There are plot holes where at least one character gets killed because they have to insist on going after the bad guys alone, and a lot of what happens could have been avoided if they had gone to the police early on.
“Transference”: The Purity of Audio
The series is a showcase for Kingston, who runs through a gamut of emotions through 8 hours. The rest of the cast are all so good that you take them for granted, which might be a backhanded compliment. Warren Brown, who has been in shows like Luther and Strikeback, sells the mysterious patient. Wendy Craig is wonderfully imperious as the mother keeping secrets. Ingrid Oliver, who played Osgood on Doctor Who and the Big Finish UNIT spinoff, gets to play a character who’s a type from crime fiction rather than a type from Science Fiction for a change. The beauty of audio drama is the way it showcases acting in its purest form, without the gloss of visuals and stylish camerawork.
Transference is now available to download from Big Finish Productions.