Torchwood One: Before the Fall

Posted in Audio by - May 10, 2018
Torchwood One: Before the Fall

Released January 2017
SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

Following the successful reintroduction of Yvonne Hartman in ‘One Rule,’ it was all but inevitable that Tracy-Ann Oberman would return to reprise her standout role for Big Finish once more. In 2005 at the start of the three-story set Torchwood One: Before the Fall, Yvonne is at the height of her powers, the undisputed and charismatic leader of Torchwood One who regularly has tea with the Queen and easily defends Britain from alien threats. In the high-stakes world above the government and beyond the police, however, she soon finds herself hunted and on the run because of one mistake that ruins lives and just might plunge the world into an interstellar war.

‘New Girl’ by Joseph Lidster opens the set by focusing on Torchwood’s newest recruit, Rachel Allan, a woman who believes in aliens but who also believes that the government must have a reason for using cover stories. In a world of skyscrapers, monsters, and a feta salad to die for, Rachel is placed into the alien acquisitions and weapons testing department under the supervision of Tim Bentinck’s Thomas who has not adjusted his ingrained casual sexism to fit in with the modern work environment. As she comes to learn that Britain comes first as Yvonne steers Torchwood toward a new ideology that remains true to Queen Victoria’s original mandate, she quickly proves her invaluable worth to Thomas and Torchwood in general as she works to discover the truth behind the alien device employed at the Royal Hope Hospital and develops a sense of belonging for the first time in her life. The cheesy corporate stylings of Torchwood under Yvonne filled with buzz words, morale boosters, and teamwork may rankle some, but there’s no denying the effectiveness and productivity that they have garnered and stand in stark contrast to the more free-wheeling nature of Torchwood One’s counterpart in Cardiff.

When Rachel suddenly can’t remember the events of a particular Friday, however, events slowly begin taking on a more ominous tone. After creating tension while meeting her first alien and piecing together a memory of being told of imminent staffing changes involving Thomas, she realises that she has been retconned, and though Yvonne warns her that she needs to be stronger, Rachel aims to figure out if someone has it in for Thomas or for her. The retcon liquid becomes all the more important when it seems to be involved in the framing of Thomas for drinking that results in him being let go, and Rachel after taking his spot soon takes part in her first kill alongside Ianto when investigating a spaceship, realising despite her advances that he still likes Lisa. She suggests that everyone at Torchwood has been off since she was retconned, and she helps formulate a plan to hold a mandatory company party to show off the matter transport device that was tested successfully on an alien earlier with the more hidden intentions of watching everyone to monitor for any suspicious behaviour. Herein lies the inherent problem with ‘New Girl,’ however, as the death of the human test is pinned on Yvonne and Rachel quickly ascends to head Torchwood as the leader disappears from sight. Torchwood is a top secret organisation with eyes and ears all over the world in all walks of life, and yet this story asks its audience to accept the fact that one individual who secretly admits her intent all along was to take over the organisation can upend everything from within with some actions that were quite overt and well within range of even a basic security system. Though the rumours and subtle suggestions she put in place would not be traceable, the fact that not one of the allegedly elite people of Torchwood could piece together who stood to gain from the workplace chaos does little to inspire confidence in this group tasked with protecting the world even if it does create an intriguing dynamic for the remaining two stories of the set.

As Ianto agrees to house a disheveled Yvonne for one night in ‘Through the Ruins’ by Jenny T Colgan, he is also preparing for the latest Torchwood Away Day to help build camaraderie and a greater sense of team cohesion. Torchwood Away Days have the potential to turn lethal very quickly, however, and Yvonne is worried that something is very wrong with the organisation she so dearly loves with Rachel at its head. Going to the House of Lords and granting herself entry despite an invalidated ID to see one of Torchwood’s greatest assets who shies away from politics and real news to deal in the valuable currency of gossip, she learns of stirrings related to the water-based Planet XXX several lightyears away that was contacted- with not wholly successful results- a decade ago. Yvonne must use every resource available to her to stay ahead of Torchwood’s Kieran whom Rachel has dispatched to kill Yvonne after playing on his emotions and skewing the facts to Torchwood in general, and this pursuit duly amplifies the emotion and tension behind Yvonne’s rogue actions, initially as Yvonne unsuccessfully tries to get Kieran to understand that she had nothing to gain from the matter transport accident that wasn’t an accident but more profoundly when she realises that Kieran is eliminating everyone she comes in contact with and intends to go after Ianto’s housemate, Soren, next.

As the Torchwood outing sees its members build weapons and take part in war games that become increasingly dangerous but that Rachel refuses to let conclude in order to determine who will be best suited for fieldwork when the time comes, a deadly turn that Rachel orders general retconning for to cover up begins to reveal to Ianto exactly the type of person that Rachel is. He insists that he remember exactly what happened if Rachel wants his help going forward, but this is the first real hint of the efficient façade Rachel has created beginning to falter. The truth behind Rachel’s intentions comes even more to the forefront after Yvonne and Soren survive Kieran’s murderous attempt and Torchwood’s psychic warnings and then come upon a Planet XXX delegate upon fleeing the scene who suggests that he is here to speak with Torchwood about the messages of war Earth has been sending over recent months. Yvonne, of course, knows nothing about this, but redacted documents reveal that Rachel’s father was a casualty in a previous alien battle, and his death has spurred this long-gestating and intricate plan for revenge that has quickly progressed to the dangerous present state, not quite wholly developing the character but at least beginning to fill in some of the needed backstory to make her actions more understandable.

‘Uprising’ by Matt Fitton closes out the set several weeks later as Rachel has just about gotten Torchwood functioning the way she believes it always should have been as everyone has pulled together and tries to put the past behind them. Interestingly, the longer that Rachel is in charge, the less inspired her team members become, realising that even if they didn’t like Yvonne they at least knew where they stood with her. Rachel has turned Torchwood into more of a military organisation where weaponry and assault are more important than anything, and her incessant pushing of her employees is rankling more than engendering support and morale. With retcon as a security measure, Rachel finally does open up to Ianto about her father being collateral damage in an alien attack which is fueling her single-minded focus that will utilise all of Torchwood’s resources to take the fight back to Planet XXX, and this moment of openness is perhaps Sophie Winkleman’s strongest in the role.

Unfortunately, because Yvonne has to emerge as the head of Torchwood One given where she ends up on television, the atonement for Yvonne’s earlier mistake comes at the expense of making Rachel look surprisingly foolish and inept. Given the circumstances in which she was first undercut and then in survival mode, this is the first episode to really show the more cunning and forward-thinking nature of the Yvonne, and she proves remarkably adept at parlaying lingering loyalty and ensuring events unfold just as she wants in order to broker an interstellar peace deal that for all intents and purposes appears like an imminent interstellar war. With an alien fleet approaching and Rachel answering her first challenge with a purely offensive strategy that foregoes any sort of communication or diplomacy, Rachel proves to be remarkably out of her depth and again begs the question of just how she managed to so effectively infiltrate the organisation and work her way up to the top. To her credit, Yvonne does recognise and respect Rachel’s initiative and proves to be remarkably forgiving both to Kieran and to Rachel once she again assumes control, and the retconning she applies here comes off more as a mercy than as a punishment and completes a very heroic and honourable path of redemption for Yvonne through this set.

The cover and title of Torchwood One: Before the Fall hint at a blockbuster epic with the organisation at its fullest strength with Yvonne and Ianto leading the charge. While this description could technically still be applied to the story at hand, Yvonne as a rogue element trying to regain her position after being framed and Ianto slowly coming to learn the true character of his new boss is certainly not what was expected and does rely on a few gaps in logic that don’t fully work without making different characters look unskilled and hopeless at various times despite some intriguing narrative pathways for characterisation. Even Ianto who is unquestionably one of the most intelligent and detail-oriented characters in the Torchwood universe comes off as rather more ineffectual than usual, and the setup as a whole seems like one more suited for a well-established franchise where there is already a set status quo to upend rather than during an introductory set for Torchwood One set before Yvonne’s fateful meeting with the Doctor. Despite some noticeably questionable areas, Torchwood One: Before the Fall proves time and time again that it is unafraid of taking risks with its storytelling format and absolutely able to deliver genuinely exciting ideas; likewise, the direction of Barnaby Edwards and the performances led ably by Tracy-Ann Oberman and Gareth David-Lloyd are uniformly superb, proving without doubt that the potential is unquestionably there for another intriguing series should Big Finish so choose.

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