Fortitude

Posted in Audio by - January 20, 2020
Fortitude

Released January 2020

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

Having founded the Torchwood Institute in ‘Tooth and Claw’ to protect against the Doctor and otherworldly threats the common man could never imagine, Queen Victoria is arguably the single most influential figure in the organization’s long and storied history. As the audio iteration of Torchwood once more travels to its earliest days in James Goss’s ‘Fortitude,’ Queen Victoria finds herself stranded with Maharaja Duleep Singh on a storm-ravaged fort in the middle of the ocean with ghosts inside and something far more alien outside.

Even within the established records of history, Queen Victoria is an incredibly complex figure who used marriage, treaties, and the East India Company to see through her plan for the ever-expansive conquest of her mighty Empire. Quite fittingly, it’s within this fort built to protect against an invasion from the French that never came that both the strengths and indisputably darker flaws of this monarch are laid bare for all to see. Particularly in regard to Singh who was exiled to Britain at a young age and raised to be a proper Christian English gentleman in Victoria’s court while living his life trapped in a gilded palace with little to no knowledge of his Sikh heritage and the empire he was once destined to rule, this is a ruthlessly ambitious and yet somehow open-minded woman who takes every opportunity to reaffirm her own status as the world’s most prominent and important figure. Naturally, Singh has had plenty of reason to create and harbour a deep disdain for the Queen over the years while forced to sacrifice politically and adopt to her world, and these contrasting viewpoints as delivered by Rowena Cooper and Paul Bazely help to craft a tense but surprisingly nuanced relationship that pays immense dividends as the commonality of basic humanity first peeks and then bursts through when the true purpose of this fort and Colonel Crackenthorpe’s long and dutiful  watch are revealed.

Victoria manages to retain a sense of egalitarianism even as she takes away so much from those around her to further bolster her Empire, and it’s fitting that this same unique blend of morality should come to drive Torchwood as her realm’s most secret means of protection. She’s not one to readily take questions, and her decree is final just as Torchwood’s actions would so often become, though in this case that does mean that some of the many questions about the alien presence that likewise holds so much animosity against Victoria remain unanswered. Still, in a tale brimming with emotions and a certain honesty that is refreshing to see in historical leads, the immense atmosphere of the dark and weather-beaten fort becomes another character in its own right, heightening sensations and facilitating this openness as apprehensions and misgivings come to the forefront. The sound design and music help this environment thrive while becoming both visual and visceral, and each moment is used to its fullest to maximize the intensifying mystery at the heart of this storm that warrants such introspection.

‘Fortitude’ is not a traditional Torchwood story by any means, but looking into the life of its formative figure with an adventure that is steeped in such genuine history provides a fascinating insight into just how much could yet be offered in this time period to truly solidify the foundation of the organization Torchwood would become. This is an incredible character-driven beginning to 2020, and everyone involved in every capacity for this story deserves immense credit for bringing Goss’s vision to life so brilliantly.

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