The Victorian Age

Posted in Audio by - May 06, 2018
The Victorian Age

Released March 2016
SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

Aside from brief flashbacks and allusions, the exploits of Torchwood between its founding in 1879 in ‘Tooth and Claw’ and its more modern exploits during and after Yvonne Hartman’s tenure at the London branch have remained largely unexplored. With the near-immortal Captain Jack Harkness an agent of Torchwood even back in Victorian times, Big Finish and John Barrowman return with ‘The Victorian Age’ by AK Benedict to delve into the mysterious history of this organisation that exists outside of the government, turning to 1890s London where Jack is on loan just in time for Queen Victoria’s annual inspection with everyone determined that nothing will go wrong.

In grand Torchwood fashion, chaos ensues in a matter of minutes as an alien escapes into the streets of London and the head of Torchwood London is aged by some fifty years. What follows is an adventurous romp that wisely does not take itself too seriously as Queen Victoria and Jack team up to find the mysterious alien and save the general populace, the former enthusiastically commandeering the alien technology and the more time-appropriate elements she requires along the way and the latter trying his best to keep his sovereign safe as the danger continues to mount. It would be quite easy for Rowena Cooper to portray the Queen as a simple caricature rather than as a fully-developed character, but even though the material lends itself to an over-the-top and dynamic performance, Cooper manages to imbue a great about of pathos as needed to give the requisite depth to this lively woman whose thirst for adventure is matched only by her compassion for her people. Nothing fazes or intimidates her, and she is able to connect and communicate with her subjects instantly no matter the situation, and the years she has given for her Empire become all the more meaningful when the alien that steals years from the young forces her to confront both youth and mortality in the most intriguing of fashions.

Interestingly, the Jack Harkness on display here is a more subdued version of the man he will become in the future, one who is just as charismatic and personable as ever but also one who is far more deferential to others and more deliberate with his actions. He very much fills the companion role in this story to the Queen’s lead, but Barrowman is wonderful within the confines of this new dynamic where he is distinctly not in charge and helps to fill in an intriguing part of Jack’s long history and what shaped his familiar leadership of Torchwood Three. ‘The Victorian Age’ unfolds at a blistering pace with plenty of humour, and one one-hour adventure ends up being the perfect length for this intriguing duo to prevent the novelty of this setup and the unflappable nature of its leads from wearing out its welcome. Strangely, though, as Queen Victoria rushes into public houses and the Underground flaunting weaponry and brashly courting danger as she rallies her people around her, she never once stops to consider that she is filling the role of the Tenth Doctor in ‘Tooth and Claw’ that saw her banish him from the Empire and wonder aloud just how much longer he might survive his dangerous lifestyle steeped in terror and blasphemy. This could have been a perfect moment for true self-reflection and added depth to what firmly remains a more lighthearted second premiere that goes more for spectacle than substance, but its hints at far more nefarious plots simmering in the background tie in nicely to the world of conspiracies that Torchwood will continue to work within in the future.

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