Torchwood One: Machines

Posted in Audio by - August 01, 2018
Torchwood One: Machines

Released July 2018
SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

Torchwood One: Before the Fall proved unequivocally that the London-based operations of Torchwood as headed by Yvonne Hartman and staffed in part by one Ianto Jones prior to the fall of Canary Wharf was a locale and era brimming with potential storylines. With Tracy-Ann Oberman and Gareth David-Lloyd sharing an immense chemistry as Yvonne used every resource available to her to stay alive in that set, three new stories under the heading of Machines seek to further explore the threats and relationships these two have faced as humanity is once more threatened by something long since forgotten.

Matt Fitton begins this second set with ‘The Law Machines,’ perfectly tapping into the public consciousness of 2006 when the concept and ramifications of CCTV and public monitoring were at the front of everyone’s minds as the mayor here launches her bold initiative to keep London safe from crime, fear, and terrorists. Wasting no time in showing these mechanical beings going horribly wrong despite Torchwood’s assurances that everything would go smoothly, the story quickly puts Yvonne and Ianto on both the defensive and offensive as they try to find out what has occurred. Yvonne proves throughout just how incredibly cunning and intelligent she is, displaying her trademark pride and charm to dutifully protect humanity whom she feels cannot protect itself. She’s not averse to stepping into morally grey territory when needed, however, and it’s this contrasting morality with Ianto’s own that forms such a powerful dynamic between these two charismatic leads who soon call in the returning Torchwood One operative Thomas played by Tim Bentinck to further explain the threat at hand.

Surprisingly but most welcomingly, the threat that initially seems to be a simple hacker looking to make a profit instead marks the incredible return of WOTAN from 1966’s ‘The War Machines.’ Its programming controlled but not destroyed following the initial events emanating from the Post Office Tower, this sentient artificial intelligence that suffered from megalomania but that proved so adept at hypnotism of humans and creating further machines to carry out its bidding now finds itself in the much more technologically advanced twenty-first century in which the world is literally connected at everyone’s fingertips. Indeed, a great deal of humour is achieved by WOTAN insisting on repeating his plans from four decades earlier within this new timeframe, not realising that much of what he requires is readily available, but the sinister hissing of this presence acting upon people and machines alike delivers an unerring sense of unease and danger throughout as nobody is completely safe. With Torchwood realising the practical applications of the sound concepts behind WOTAN and thus at least in part responsible for the disturbances on the street, it’s also refreshing to see that it’s Yvonne’s penchant for security and secrecy that precludes WOTAN from instantly achieving total control and her willingness to go beyond her remit with included technology that spurs her search all the more. The resolution that is likely not a final victory is a bit too easy given the tremendous threat and chaos exposed, but ‘The Law Machines’ is an intense and modern introductory story that pays homage to the past while showing the best of its charismatic leads.

Ianto Jones actor Gareth David-Lloyd himself pens ‘Blind Summit’ after making his Big Finish writing debut earlier in the year with ‘The Last Beacon,’ here showing Ianto when he has first moved to London with no friends, money, or future. With a thankless job making coffee and an ill father with whom he has a very complicated relationship, this is certainly not the Ianto who has been shown at the sides of both Yvonne Hartman and Jack Harkness, and yet so many of the underlying characteristics are present in different proportions that the journey that Yvonne puts him through via repeated use of retcon is a fascinating one to behold, one that also allows Oberman to explore a more vulnerable side of Yvonne who knows that Ianto will not remember her at the end of it.

Truly, the run of Ianto’s many first meetings with Yvonne that continue until the very end of ‘Blind Summit’ is a momentous revelation that reveals just how far Yvonne will go to get what she wants and earn trust as well as just how tortured Ianto’s relationship with Torchwood truly is, a fact brought to the forefront when his entrance exam leads him to becoming an unwitting drug trial volunteer and remembering everything he has been through. Smartly, the threat posed here is on a much more intimate scale than Torchwood normally shows despite the immense fallout of the work and trials being done at Blind Summit, but David-Lloyd imbues an incredible amount of emotion in to his performance as he tries to show off his own knowledge and abilities while putting on a brave face and going off script in a location that challenges him to his very core. This is a tale built upon manipulation and deceit, but the added layers of Ianto it delivers as he takes his formative steps to becoming the trusted and beloved man shown in the later episodes of his time on Torchwood are every bit as intriguing as the storyline and consequences of Blind Summit’s actions.

Tim Foley concludes Machines with ‘9 to 5,’ offering a satirical look at the workplace environment and the culture of temps before delving into a surprising exploration of the sense of self and existence that ties together the lingering loose ends of the preceding stories remarkably well. Initially beginning with the incredibly chipper and optimistic tones of Stacey the temp who can’t wait to work and meet her friends on this Monday morning in a style that would fit well into Yvonne’s workplace style as shown in Before the Fall, Ianto quickly shatters that self-assured cheerfulness by stating that she will die today. Yet as Stacey finds herself inadvertently involved in a security breach at a time when corporate leaks are all too common, she soon finds herself an unwitting accomplice to a comprehensive investigation into the workings of her temp company and its sinister ties to Blind Summit.

Niky Wardley gives an incredible performance as a woman who finds that her entire existence is a sham, that she is quite literally a manufactured temporary person who only exists between nine and five with today the last day of her scheduled employment and existence. Though the time constraints of this one story mean that she must come to accept this fact quite quickly, the admissions that she cannot remember the weather outside or how she traveled to work are suitable hints prior to the big revelation of the address she runs to that she knows to be her own instead belonging to someone else are nicely included to support the claim. With artificial memories added to enhance happiness and efficiency, the furtive plan is to roll out these artificial workers in all aspects of society, using official secrets as blackmail to ensure all goes according to plan. Jane Asher’s Elaine is clearly positioned as the villain of the piece and contrasts nicely with Yvonne, but Yvonne’s own moral greyness ensures that nothing is quite as straightforward as one label could suggest, especially once the connection to Yvonne’s past is revealed and WOTAN once more puts its plan in motion with Elaine as its vessel. Once again, the seeming defeat of WOTAN does seem a bit too easy without much physical effort given the threat it poses, but ‘9 to 5’ is a thrilling exploration of the transience of life on a unique scale, providing a very modern look at very classic themes.

Torchwood One is obviously meant to be a starring vehicle for Tracy-Ann Oberman and Gareth David-Lloyd, and both once more excel with engaging performances that run the gamut of emotions. With old and new threats alike that dovetail nicely in this world where nothing is quite as simple as it seems, Machines delivers an emotional exploration of the many facets of life, the only unfortunate aspects being that more of Torchwood One’s staff is not introduced and developed in the process to give the organisation a true sense of scope and that the more individual nature of these stories that are nonetheless interlinked means that certain ideas in each do not have the required time to fully develop.

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