The Lincolnshire Poacher

Posted in Audio by - November 26, 2022
The Lincolnshire Poacher

Released November 2022


Like Doctor Who, Torchwood is often at its best when it can find a story linked to real-world events or phenomena, and writers Lauren Mooney and Stewart Pringle delve into the mysterious world of number stations in ‘The Lincolnshire Poacher.’

Number stations, of course, are shortwave radio stations that broadcast a series of formatted numbers, typically on a set schedule and featuring an artificially synthesized voice although many variations of broadcasting have been noted. Though prevailing wisdom is that these stations were used to communicate with foreign spies and operatives who then decoded the sequence, these mysterious broadcasts have become the centre of any number of conspiracy theories including alien involvement, and this murkiness creates the perfect entry point for Torchwood as Ianto becomes entwined in the history of one of the most famous stations, the Lincolnshire Poacher.

Named for the interval sign using bars from the titular folk song and reportedly operated by the British Secret Service out of Bletchley Park and then Cyprus between the 1970s and 2008, the Lincolnshire Poacher is anything but a standard communications device here, and Mooney and Pringle ratchet up the experimental nature of their storytelling to highlight the fragility of reality itself. Of course, Doctor Who has previously explored the mathematical foundation of reality and the power of numbers through block transfer computation, and it’s precisely this process that the station has since employed to keep reality from falling apart since something alien fell to the Earth and an explosion ensued. It’s a surprising but powerful connection between Torchwood and its parent franchise, and it effortlessly blends together the real-world intrigue behind these stations and the typical wonders and dangers that the furtive organization typically explores.

Somewhat surprisingly given the cover’s prominent featuring of Ianto, ‘The Lincolnshire Poacher’ is fairly light on characterization, choosing instead to amplify the mystery of the numbers themselves that have such a hold over radio operator Greg who loves countryside walks and recording the sounds of nature. Via a monologue of sorts that comes to take on a much greater meaning, Greg becomes a fascinating character that David Shaw-Parker plays exactly as the script requires, a seemingly unassuming man fanatically dedicated to making it home on time to hear the transmitted numbers but who harbours somewhat darker sentiments toward Torchwood given the path it set him on so long ago. He’s now ready to let someone else take a shift, however, and Ianto unfortunately learns for himself the power of the numbers and an equation so big and complex that it had to be broken up into pieces and spread across the globe via these stations after he answers one fateful phone call. Gareth David-Lloyd perfectly plays this descent into a sort of madness as phone calls and a constant drawing of his attention to numbers continues and as Ianto’s mind and body try to adjust once he finally gives the numbers his attention, and the resulting tone of the story that sees Ianto in such a fragile and seemingly overwhelmed position is in expert contrast to the franchise’s typically more overtly villainous turns and physical dangers.

Lisa Bowerman’s steady directing is a guiding influence for the novel means of storytelling employed here, and the fairly simplistic but pitch perfect sound design only further magnifies the disturbing and unnerving atmosphere in which nothing quite seems to be what it should be. The static, crackling, and distortions of sound are expertly utilized and realized, and while fans of Ianto might be somewhat let down if expecting more of a character piece, fans of Torchwood should be very pleased given the surprising and atmospheric story steeped in a real-world mystery that very gradually reveals itself.

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