Torchwood – Release # 7
Written by: AK Benedict
Directed by: Scott Handcock
Performed by: John Barrowman and Rowena Cooper
Duration: 60 mins approx
Chronology Placement: London, 1899 (set after “The Parting of the Ways“)
Synopsis: London, England, the 1890s. Queen Victoria, ruler of Great Britain and Ireland and Empress of India, has arrived for her annual inspection of the Torchwood Institute. This year, everyone is quite determined, nothing will go wrong. Several minutes later a terrible creature is unleashed on the streets of London. No one knows where it comes from, what it is, or even why it’s on Earth. It’s ruthless, has no morals, and is quite unstoppable. Captain Jack Harkness is on the loose, and Queen Victoria is along for the ride of her life.
While previous Torchwood audios have focused on the Season Two timeline or post-Miracle Day adventures, “The Victorian Age” explores the early years of the organisation during the 19th Century, glimpsed at in the televised episodes “Fragments” and “Tooth and Claw”. The Jack Harkness we see in this adventure is not the grizzled veteran of Torchwood that we are introduced to in “Everything Changes”, but is still the haphazard adventurer that joined the Ninth Doctor and Rose on a series of misadventures. Trapped in the past after escaping Satellite Five in the far-future, we get to see some of Jack’s exile on Earth working alongside Torchwood – not entirely dissimilar to the Third Doctor’s own secondment with UNIT.
Boiled down to its core concept, the plot for “The Victorian Age” is very similar in structure to the preceding audio release, “More Than This”, with the narrative consisting of a Torchwood member taking a civilian on a tour of duty in order to convince them to keep the organisation running. Despite these similarities, the two stories have a very different tone to them – aided by the difference in time period and the automatic gravitas that comes with the inclusion of Queen Victoria. Having founded Torchwood in “Tooth and Claw”, the infamous royal has strong ties to the organisation and it makes complete sense for her to personally oversee the running of Torchwood London.
Rowena Cooper does a brilliant job at taking over from Pauline Collins in the role, depicting a Queen Victoria in her final years. The Queen’s struggle with her own mortality is the driving force behind the narrative, and is contrasted nicely against Jack’s own struggles with his immortality. Writer AK Benedict explores the Queen’s reluctance to let go of her throne and power beautifully, creating some genuine pathos and drama when she is given an opportunity to challenge the laws of nature – the performance and writing are both top-notch and is arguably just as heartbreaking as David Tennant’s own “I don’t want to go” moment in “The End of Time”. I have to admit that it got me thinking about my own mortality, and questioning whether I would be able to refuse an opportunity to extend my own life. Pretty philosophical stuff!
The script crackles along at a quick pace, and while it feels very reminiscent of past audio adventures, AK Benedict’s banter (oh, I hate that word) between Jack and the Queen keeps things feeling fresh. It’s fun to watch the relationship between the two grow throughout the adventure, as Jack realises just how capable the ageing monarch is, and Victoria learns to accept the limits of her abilities. It’s the ultimate ‘buddy cop’ movie – just with an immortal time-bandit from the far-future and the Queen of Great Britain, Ireland and Empress of India. The change in time period is also refreshing after six episodes set in contemporary times, and I really enjoyed the era-appropriate switch in theme music from Blair Mowat.
“The Victorian Age” revitalises a format frequently used by the Torchwood franchise, filling in some gaps in the series mythology by exploring a pre-Season One version of Jack Harkness and the Torchwood organisation. AK Benedict delivers a surprisingly emotional tale about accepting one’s own mortality, and it honestly struck a chord with me. John Barrowman brings with him his usual infectious fun that adds so much momentum to the script, and the interplay between him and Rowena Cooper’s older Queen Victoria is very enjoyable to listen to. Benedict’s script proves there is plenty of potential in pre-Season One adventures and it would be great to hear Jack’s adventures in Torchwood during each subsequent decade.
Gripping from the outset, “The Victorian Age” is an immensely enjoyable romp through the backstreets of Victorian London with a surprisingly heartwarming centre, proving yet again that Big Finish is the perfect home for Torchwood adventures.