Big Finish: TORCHWOOD Zone 10 Review

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Tony packs his Ugg boots.


Of all the Torchwood Three regulars, perhaps the one with the least explored personality and background is Toshiko Sato, she of the incredibly lateral mind and nimble fingers, most frequently seen keeping an eye on things from the Hub rather than strutting about the place with big guns and alien hardware.

Nevertheless, it would be a colossal mistake to underestimate Tosh, and she has a healthy handful of starring roles throughout the first two series of on-screen Torchwood, almost all of which show a different side to her nature.

Zone 10 takes Tosh out of Torchwood and Cardiff, and sends her to Russia on a field mission into the mysterious ‘Zone 10.’

(Pause for dramatic music).

Quite. What the hell is Zone 10, right?

Obviously, we’re not about to spoiler that for you, but David Llewellyn’s story does at least keep you guessing about what’s actually going on almost to the very end, delivering additional forward story-arc nuggets like shiny, glistening candies along the way. It also ties into some previous stories in the audio Torchwood range, including Uncanny Valley, while revealing juicy new details about The Committee, the alien Uber-Bad that’s been a frequent source of trouble for various Torchwooders since the beginning of Series 1. Without technically answering many of our questions about these alien ass-kickers and infiltrators, Zone 10 certainly gives us a new way of looking at them, and a new set of things to wonder about. There’s even a flashback vibe – which given that Tosh is still alive is actually a flashforward vibe – to Series 3, Children of Earth, which is quite enough to send a chill down the listener’s spine if the Siberian location doesn’t do it for you. Llewellyn’s script is also fairly intricately put together, with some neat ideas – in particular a weapon that The Committee has deployed, its effect and the way it’s described, is enough to boggle the brain in a pleasing way.

Naoko Mori, slipping back into Tosh’s shoes, is reliable as clockwork, and between Llewellyn’s read of the character and Mori’s performance, Zone 10 delivers a Tosh that’s perversely familiar because she does unexpected things and makes unexpected connections. It gives her a chance to really show what she’s made of, beyond Hub-based button-pushing, and it reminds us that she had to do a whole hell of a lot more than that to even get into Torchwood. Tosh on her own, without all the gun-wielding strutters and the other distractions of the Hub, is ingenious, intuitive, and never, ever stupid. She judges the truth based on inflection and calls people on it instantly when there just isn’t the time to be ‘Nice Tosh.’ She steals a Snowcat in the middle of Siberia, and she even, in this episode, gets the chance to pick up a gun herself. As you might expect, being Tosh – lateral, intuitive Tosh – she’s unnervingly good with it. It almost becomes just another device to her in the moment of its use. Devices do her bidding if she doesn’t think about them too hard. Interestingly, Pragmatic Tosh stays in control for much longer than you might expect, and Nice Tosh never particularly shouts her down. ‘I should feel guilty,’ she admits at one point, ‘but I don’t.’

The story, which kicks off with an uncrackable signal, broadcast for over forty years from the Russian wastelands until Tosh, working solo and without telling her Torchwood teammates, finally cracks it, has a heavy load of impossibility to carry, but Llewellyn’s a good writing technician, and he makes sure to dot the i’s and cross the t’s of the story logic before the end, bringing in secret Russian space programmes, unsavoury deals, a fair amount of double-crossing and a race – in this case literally – against time before the mystery of the cracked signal makes a final kind of sense. When it does, it delivers the satisfying ‘schlunk’ of the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle being slotted into place, even if the picture on the puzzle is of a whole lot of question-marks to ponder until the next time The Committee show their faces in the Torchwood audios.

Nevertheless, there’s one particular element of this story that might make it hard to listen to in a single sitting, even at just over an hour of running time.

We hate pinning the weight of listener disengagement on a single person, but there’s an accent choice from one particular actor in this audio that becomes distracting fairly quickly, the Russian-speaking-English dialogue seeming overblown and almost comical at times. ‘Vwhurt?’ is hard to listen to as ‘What?’ for instance, and as the hour goes by, the pronunciation seems to grow increasingly perverse – ‘Moscov,’ ‘Snovcat and many more - meaning it runs the risk of becoming the majority of what you’re listening to. You won’t miss any important story-details, because director Scott Handcock makes sure that despite the layers of the script, you only find out what’s going on in smallish bites, but the accent choice does take away from the listener’s ability to entirely lose themselves in the adventure, and leave them wishing for a more lightly-accented portrayal.

There’s an issue of backstory-infodumping early on too, the dialogue between Tosh and Maxim Ivanov feeling as though it’s there mostly for the listener’s benefit to get us into the scenario, but once Zone 10 itself gets thrown into the mix and the unlikely pairing set off in search of mystery, the whole thing becomes more fluid, like a blind date melting into friendliness over a shared love of Tetris.

Overall, Zone 10 is story-driven and delivers on that level, enriching our understanding of the mysteries of The Committee. It also delivers a welcome return for Toshiko, blending Nice Tosh and Pragmatic Tosh well, giving us moments of Geeky Tosh, dedicated to her work, and Sad Tosh, trying not to think about when she last saw her family, but also adding in Action Tosh the code-cracking, Snowcat-stealing, sharp-shooting badass into the mix, giving perhaps more rounding to the character than she ever got on TV. Naoko Mori seems, in the extras, to be up for adding additional stories to the Torchwood archive, and on the evidence of this initial outing, such stories would be a more than welcome addition – especially if Twitter speculation proves true and Eve Myles really has decided to put the character of Gwen Cooper behind her.

Just perhaps, next time, go a little lighter on the accents in supporting character roles, so that all the shades of Mori’s performance can be appreciated fully.

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 FylerWrites.co.uk

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