Big Finish: TORCHWOOD - RESTRICTED ITEMS ARCHIVE, ENTIRES 039-041 Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

Home Top Ad

Post Top Ad


Tony’s down in the basement.
There’s an old TV standard that awards actors a special level of kudos if they can make it through a whole episode of their show as the only speaking part.

Tony Hancock did it in 1961 with the Bedsitter episode of his hugely popular comedy show.

Peter Capaldi did it in Doctor Who in 2015, with the rightly-applauded Heaven Sent.

Step forward, Gareth David-Lloyd, who has the only speaking part in Torchwood: Restricted Items Archive, Entries 039-041.

If you’re going to pull off something like that, you need a fairly strong reason for the actor to be speaking mostly to themselves. Here, writer Maddie Wilson solves that problem in a simple, logical way – Ianto Jones, the only classically “organised” member of Torchwood 3 given his history with Torchwood 1, is down in the basement, where the Restricted Items Archive is held. He’s cataloguing some of the latest Weird Stuff that Tochwood has encountered, and that it can’t immediately find a trustworthy use for.

He’s doing that cataloguing by using a trusty Dictaphone to record the details and properties of the items he’s locking away. Result? A full audio episode of Torchwood with just Ianto talking “to himself.”

It's adroitly done, and it actually plays into the underlying themes of the episode – Ianto being a man who likes his quiet time, his alone time away from the group (as was foreshadowed recently in The Grey Mare, by Stewart Pringle and Lauren Mooney).

But also, it resonates with the arc of Ianto on TV Torchwood – desperate to get into Torchwood 3 for reasons of his own (also secret from the rest of the group), and often regarded by some of the others (We’re looking at you, Owen Harper) as not having properly ‘earned’ his place in the team and having experience only as an ‘office boy’ compared to Owen the doctor, Gwen the copper, Tosh the tech genius, and Captain Cheekbones himself.

That sense of exclusion from the cool kids’ table is something we believe it would be easy for Ianto to feel, and he expresses it here, down in the basement with only his own voice for company, sure in the knowledge that no-one else will ever listen to the tapes he’s making.

But if that sounds like a heavy downer, don’t in any sense despair. There is comic joy studded throughout this episode, as Maddie Wilson freely invents Weird Stuff for Torchwood to be locking away.

Everything from a vampiric vacuum cleaner to an over-keen alien torch, a book that steals the voice of people who read it, only to replicate what they said, fresh on its pages, a creepy musical box, a magic mirror that will potentially give you nightmares when one aspect of what it reflects is revealed in an almost throwaway line, and a painting whose eyes really do seem to bore into your own. But more than that, there’s ridiculous, joyous silliness in the world’s most useless time machine (deliciously, it’s in the shape of a pocket watch), a jarful of “spider’s web/Superglue,” a transmatting coffee coaster, and a shapeshifter that at some point disguises itself as half a sandwich. Think about that for a second. Incredibly effective, moderately suffocating alien memory foam. A devastatingly effective laser sword that bonds with its user, and eventually won’t obey the user’s more pacifistic impulses. And the author’s favourite – a set of stacking Russian dolls, with infinite capacity. Russian Dolls with no base level – you have to admit, that’s a fairly creepy, fun premise in its own right. All you’d need to turn the Russian dolls into an episode of their own is a switchover point, at which the more dolls you open, the dimmer the world outside becomes, as you go further and further into the stack yourself, getting less and less able to move as you turn inevitably to wood. Very Celestial Toymaker, and no mistake.

This is the stuff of Restricted Items Archive, Entries 039-041, and it’s more than enough to keep you entertained and giggling like a loon as it unfolds. While a lot of the items are purely there for the fun, as with the Russian dolls, give them half a minute’s thought and you concede it’s probably best to lock them away in a basement. That mirror… *Shudders.*

But – you knew this in advance – there’s more to the episode than just Ianto and a mad list of archive entries. As the episode moves along, things in the basement get weirder and weirder. The pipes are hot, but the temperature plummets. Lightbulbs sputter and die, even when they’re new. So do torches, even when the batteries are fresh in that day.

And then there’s the scritching. The pervasive sound in the walls which – in a somewhat optimistic mood, Ianto refers to as “the mice.” The intensity of their presence is ramped up gradually, so it feels like they’re increasingly running up and down your spine, and you’re by no means as convinced as Ianto is that they are just mice, especially after he relates an incident about a rift incursion by squirrel-like aliens. Whatever traps he puts down, and even after baiting them with a quality cheese board, none of the mice are tempted to trip a trigger. Even using the spiderweb Superglue gets him nowhere with these ever-unseen ‘mice,’ and over time, the episode becomes skin-crawlingly powerful, and you get the urge to shake Ianto and push him back upstairs into the light and the warmth.

There’s a distinct final act to all this, which is useful because otherwise, while it builds its drama of what’s really in the walls well, it could easily feel like just a list of Weird Stuff, with a bit of Ianto-moping thrown in. Without spoiling it for you, it’s an ending that a) makes sense, given the clues that have been seeded throughout, b) uses lots of the items that have been described, giving them a secondary point in the episode, and c) explains the plot behind the plot – which you probably won’t hear coming until it’s revealed.

All in all, Torchwood: Restricted Items Archive, Entries 039-041 is elegantly constructed, with plenty of fun along the way and some realistic character points drawn and pushed home. More from Maddie Wilson on the basis of her first audio Torchwood story? Yes please.

Gareth David-Lloyd knows exactly how to pitch Ianto in a story like this, and it’s a much more subtle thing than casual TV Torchwood viewers might expect. As Maddie Wilson points out in the Behind The Scenes interviews here, there are layers and layers to Ianto’s characterisation – and more of them than you might be used to are on display here.

Restricted Items Archive, Entries 039-041 is not a Torchwood story with a particularly grand horror at the heart of it – those are frequently reserved for Owen and Andy stories. But Gareth David-Lloyd brings just the right notes of humour and pathos to a story that punches significantly above the weight of its apparent premise. It’s fun, it’s increasingly creepy as it goes along, and it ultimately, it resolves itself into a Torchwood story with punch and purpose, proving Ianto has evolved beyond the coffee boy status he had when we first dropped in on the organisation on TV. It’s a beautiful thing done beautifully well by all concerned, and a relatively rapid listen that will leave you smiling.

Torchwood: Restricted Items Archive Entries 031-049 is exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until 30 September 2022, and on general sale after this date.

Tony Fyler lives in a concrete cave, somewhere on the edge of the sea, with his wife, who exists, and the Fictional People In His Head, who don't as yet. A journalist and editor by day, he has written Some Books, and is more or less always writing another. One day, he may even get around to showing them to people. In the meantime, he's Script Editor and occasional Executive Producer at Third Time Lucky Productions, and a proud watcher of things no-one remembers they remember until they remember.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Post Top Ad