Big Finish: TORCHWOOD: ONE RULE Review

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My name is Tony, and I am a Welshman.

There are times in the televised Torchwood when, with the best will in the world, things are said that are funny on a whole different level if you happen to live in Wales.

I happen to live in Wales, so, quite frequently, lines that might not raise even a chuckle on the worldwide stage that Torchwood has built for itself make me guffaw, because local knowledge brings context, and context supercharges the funny.

I can’t be sure, but I strongly suspect that Torchwood – One Rule is pretty much built around this concept. I had trouble getting through this audio story, not because it doesn’t flow – it absolutely does – but because I was laughing so hard.

As I say, it may well be that this is just a ‘Welsh thing,’ but there’s probably enough comedy to be gleaned from this story even if you don’t have the extra contextual joy of knowing the areas in which it’s set.

Yvonne Hartman, bless her little Cyber-socks, is the ultimate techno-yuppie – all the finest toys, all the finest things are hers by right, and she does her job for queen and country, for Great Britain in the flag-waving, patriotic sense which means ‘We are better than you.’ Yvonne’s patriotism is proto-fascistic, her politics is the interplay of powers, her suits are sharp and so designer they might squeak, and she feels herself somewhat above all the grubbiness of actual battle (though it would be a mistake to assume she can’t get down and dirty when the need arises).

In keeping with the Torchwood audios which so far have plucked stories from several points in Torchwood’s history (including, technically, several years ahead of where we left it at the end of Miracle Day), this story takes us back to before the Battle of Canary Wharf, before Ianto joined the Cardiff team, before Gwen Cooper. Yvonne comes to Cardiff in search of a gizmo, and puts the whole of Torchwood 3 under a time lock while she gets it.

Then her hotel explodes, mid-massage.

Welcome to Cardiff, Yvonne.

She’s drawn into a spate of recent murders of Cardiff councillors, that follow the Mayor of Cardiff being killed by shop dummies during the events of Rose. In fact, chronology-junkies are going to love this story because it’s placed distinctly between Rose and Boom Town. In the meantime, if you’ve ever wanted to hear what a parallel universe might sound like in which Strax and Jenny settled down together, you could do worse than One Rule – Dan Starkey and Catrin Stewart here play a married couple…at least for a couple of minutes.

It transpires that someone is ordering a giant alien behemoth to behead their rivals for the mayorhood, and while, to use Yvonne’s phrase, “I’m from London, I don’t do local politics,” she soon realises it’s in her interest to investigate the murders, given their alien angle.

From there, the fun is essentially in “giving Yvonne hell on a night out in Cardiff” as writer Joseph Lidster somewhat gleefully puts it. This is where the extra contextual humour comes in, because if you happen to know how rough a night out in Cardiff can be, and you know the kind of character Yvonne Hartman is, the dissonance between the two worlds is inherently funny as hell. Even if you don’t fully appreciate that sense of dissonance though, there’s enough explicit stating of it here to get you through; in trying to protect the remaining three councillors who are at risk of alien dismemberment, Yvonne runs up against South Wales mentalities – “I’m out with my mates. Now if I’m out with my mates, nothing else matters” being one that’s prevalent. She’s forced to drink rough alcohol, gets trodden on, has drink thrown over her expensive suit, and is comprehensively pissed on by what we like to think of as “Welsh sunshine” – or relentless driving rain, to the uninitiated. She’s driven further and further away from her comfort zone, but while the comedy is very much foregrounded in this episode, it’s a mistake to think the plot or Yvonne’s character are secondary. She manoeuvres her way through the night, until there’s only one councillor left standing – clearly the one responsible for the murders of all the others. What she does then is quite shocking, but entirely within character. Throughout the story too, she’s surrounded by people who live behind one Welsh stereotype or another – “Bloody Marvellous” Barry Jackson, who thinks a Chinese All You Can Eat Buffet is the height of culinary sophistication, but who clearly has more going on in his brain than he likes people to know, beer-swilling Helen Evans, the “rough as a bear’s behind” candidate who shares a strategy in common with Yvonne in her power suits. It all ties together to deliver on both levels – the comedy of the dissonance of Yvonne Hartman on a night out in the Welsh capital, and the real, lethal power struggle of people who play the politics of simplicity for a living, but who know not only where the bodies are buried, but what they did to end up there, and where the shovels are kept in case they’re needed. Of the four Torchwood releases so far, One Rule is probably the most out-and-out comedic, though Fall To Earth shouldn’t be discounted for its comedy moments, but it also shows the naked ambition of Yvonne, and how she got to be the person we would eventually meet on screen.

Tracy-Ann Oberman reprises Yvonne as though she last played her yesterday, rather than ten years ago, Lidster’s comedy is sharp enough to behead a councillor, and the swirling vortex of powerplays underneath the comedy are enough to push the story on to a logical, brutal conclusion. Of the first four releases in the Torchwood audio series, One Rule is, almost by definition, the one that sounds least like regular Torchwood, but in terms of giving a solid stab of backstory to the first Torchwood leader we ever encountered, it’s glorious, and in terms of sheer fun listenability, it’s certainly up there, pummelling Fall To Earth’s head against a wall to make it give up its crown. Grab yourself One Rule today and laugh and gasp your socks off.

Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at

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