Big Finish: THE TORCHWOOD ARCHIVE Review

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Tony’s lost in the library.


The Torchwood Archive is, above all else, ambitious. In just over two hours, it takes in a grand span of Torchwood versions and personnel, from Victoria to the ‘end’ of the Torchwood archive, on a lonely rock in space. It brings together recollections from all your Torchwood favourites, as well as a bunch of lesser-known but well-referenced Torchwood operatives, as well as finally filling in the gaps in our knowledge of the cold war between Torchwood and the Committee.

Yes, here we get to understand where the Committee came from, what their plans have been, who eventually wins, how the Russians were involved, whether Torchwood and the committee are actually the same thing, what the hell the deal is with the Red Key, whose side Norton Folgate’s really on and all the other questions you might have had outstanding about the first two series of Torchwood on audio.

That said, this is Torchwood that takes what we know and paints it against a very much broader timespan than we’re used to, stretching from the Institute’s creation and the arrival and cataloguing of the first artefact in the archive, right through to a far future when someone comes to return the Red Key, also known, for its propensity to keep popping up, as the Bad Penny, to Torchwood and then to shut the archive down. We hear Jack and Ianto, Gwen and Rhys, Tosh (still doing her ‘getting squiffy and talking to strangers about her work’ thing from Greeks Bearing Gifts), Andy and Norton, as well as Yvonne Hartman, Suzie Costello, and Alex Hopkins (you’ll remember him as soon as you hear him). It’s a real Torchwood birthday party, and we access their various lives through both some hologrammatic representations and some ‘archive footage’ to tell the story of the Bad Penny and the Committee.

The driving force of the story is a man names Jeremiah, who, on a diversion from his honeymoon, takes on the mission of returning the Bad Penny to the Torchwood archive. Having had a traumatic experience with it on the way to the archive, he demands to know the whole story – much as, to be fair, listeners are doing by this point, having been teased with detail after detail and twist after twist about the MacGuffin of Bad Luck and how it might conceivably relate to Torchwood and the Committee.

How successful the story is depends really on your ability to maintain an interest in the Bad Penny and follow it through its adventures with Torchwood and the Committee – unlike the episodes along the way that have led us here, there’s little else to take the storytelling burden this time round, so everything in some way ties back into these central questions. That said, there’s plenty of good solid logic in the vignettes that we get to see along the way in James Goss’ script – we hear Torchwood Cardiff’s Suzie Costello find a way to palm the wretched little locket of misfortune off on Torchwood London, which, as Yvonne Hartman briefly tells us, was pretty much the beginning of the end as far as Torchwood 1 was concerned (raising the tantalising possibility that the Doctor’s involvement with the Dalek-Cybermen stand-off was actually all a product of whatever curse or probabilistic algorithm powers the hateful artefact). We hear Ianto Jones, in the wake of the Cyber-attack, desperately searching for his girlfriend Lisa, and being given the Bad Penny. We even hear Victoria command Jack Harkness to throw the thing in to the Cardiff Rift. Tosh has perhaps the most sensible idea about it – if it’s a beacon for misfortune, then if you can reverse engineer it, you can create a beacon of good luck. One of her ideas for such a thing is a delicious Easter Egg in the script, that fans won’t fail to spot.

And so it goes on – the script is deliberately non-linear, and acts more like a lucky dip of snippets and treats, each of which adds to our understanding of the Bad Penny at the various points in its history that have helped forge the relationship between Torchwood and the Committee. The bottom line of which is, as we say, we get to learn where the Committee came from, how it was related to Torchwood, and how that relationship progressed beyond the point at which we last left it.

As a way of wrapping up the first two years of Torchwood audio stories, James Goss gives us this grab-bag of answers, treats and special moments which is more than the sum of its parts, coalescing into a coherent picture that glues all the previous Committee-based stories together (yes, even the one about the android sex-dolls. In fact, especially the one about the android sex-dolls). As a tenth anniversary special, it succeeds if anything even further, giving us answers to questions that go right back to the TV version of the show – Ianto at Torchwood 1, searching for his Cyberwoman; what the leader of Torchwood 3 actually saw that made him execute his entire team except Jack; how Victoria went about the business of setting up the Institute and who the first people were to serve it. In terms of actually resolving the Torchwood-Committee enmity, this one is equivocal – going so far into the future shows the conflict continues strongly far beyond the lifetime of the Torchwood with which we’re familiar, and the way this story ends allows for a future front to be fought between the two practically defunct enemies. But for now, The Torchwood Archive draws a notional line under the Committee storyline, and allows the next Torchwood releases to focus on other things should they choose to – or indeed to continue to fill in some blanks and battles against the Committee should that be a way they want to go, though it would be more difficult to care about past battles with the Committee, having come so far into the future with them as The Torchwood Archive lets us.

Is The Torchwood Archive an enjoyable way of spending two hours? Oh hell yes, without any question at all. Is it worth your money? Unreservedly so. Will you know a lot more at the end of it than you do right now, and will that make you happy? You betcha. The loose-seeming structure is pulled together neatly by the end so you feel like you’ve been part of something instructive, involving and celebratory all at once, something magnificently larger and grander than you’ve realised as you’ve been listening. And the story leaves you smiling, both at the wealth of treats you’ve just enjoyed, and the equivocal ending.

Pop along to The Torchwood Archive today and get ready to learn something new.

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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