The Dying Room

Posted in Audio by - May 19, 2018
The Dying Room

Released August 2017
SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

Making the most of the fact that Queen Victoria established Torchwood in 1879, Big Finish has taken the opportunity on several occasions already to delve into the organisation’s storied past set before the fateful and televised events of Torchwood Three in the early twenty-first century. With the immensely talented Simon Russell Beale making his Torchwood and Big Finish debuts in Lizzie Hopley’s ‘The Dying Room,’ the setting now turns to German-occupied Paris of the 1940s in which SS interrogator Grau has one night to cure the plague ravaging the streets and to unmask the mysterious Madame Berber and her true allegiances.

Herr Grau knows all about Project Hermod, but he’s determined to discover the truth behind the British Torchwood, but after failing to capture his suspected agent has elected instead to question the last person to spend time with her, theology professor Monsieur LeDuc. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the interrogation takes a rather dark turn as the Grau’s sinister personality quickly breaks through his pleasant façade, and Mark Elstob brings this grim and cruel determination to life expertly. Through the pain and brutal surprises, LeDuc established himself as a brilliant character, and Beale’s decision to play him as a rather understated individual makes the initially vulnerability and eventual strong resolve all the more effective. He’s an innocent man traveling with his son, Gabriel, who finds himself caught up in a relentless pursuit, and the sound design and direction accentuate every intense and uncomfortable moment of this harsh interrogation perfectly to create a gripping experience beneath this extended back-and-forth sequence.

As a Torchwood story, ‘The Dying Room’ of course features a science fiction element, but Hopley wisely keeps this element more in the background to allow the historical aspects and setting to take precedence. Paris itself becomes a character, and the flashbacks revealing the plague and circumstances leading to LeDuc’s interrogation aptly describe a scared city on lockdown because of a mysterious plague turning German soldiers into monsters and seemingly exposing on the outside the inner horrors of these men at this time. There is no light-heartedness or comedy mined from this World War II setting, and the Nazis are depicted as utterly ruthless beings determined to mould the world into the Fuhrer’s image. Within this particular setting, Hopley also finds the time to discuss the shattered hope of this generation and the harrowing fate of the Jewish people, skillfully and emotionally ensuring that this story remains connected to history at large even while focusing on the very personal interrogation.

The cover is somewhat misleading given Beale’s role in the story and lack of association with Torchwood, but it’s hard to argue with the desire to advertise such a famed individual’s involvement, especially given the profound work he puts in here. It seems like something of a missed opportunity to not explore Gabriel a bit more given how interesting he seems in the brief time allotted, but the production as a whole typifies everything that a spy story in this era should to remarkable effect. With Emma Cunnliffe a convincing femme fatale as the enigmatic Madame Berber rounding out the small cast, the entire production of ‘The Dying Room’ excels on every level, and although it may not be quite as innovative as some of Torchwood’s other recent releases, it absolutely creates the welcome impression that there could be many more stories within this time period to tell.

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