Big Finish: Torchwood WAR CHEST Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish: Torchwood WAR CHEST Review

Tony’s in the Antebellum. How the hell does he get out?
War Chest, by Rossa McPhillips, is not just another Torchwood story. It’s a Torchwood story that seems to encapsulate the whole nature of Torchwood, past, present, and future as we know it. It’s also a kind of Ocean’s 11-cum-Mission Impossible puzzle, with more than a touch of Saw about it too.

Which is why, more than anything, it feels initially quite weird that it’s a Toshiko story.

What, because Tosh can’t badass it up when she needs to?

Absolutely, she can. It’s just never usually quite like this when she does it.

Rossa McPhillips has Tosh captured by an organisation that, while it’s not quite the anti-Torchwood, is a kind of cross between Torchwood One (“If it’s alien, it’s ours”) and a capitalist asset stripper. The Dow Cohort (a neat name, emphasising the potential financial impact of alien tech on the world), captures her for her knowledge of Torchwood systems, so as to break into something that has all the makings of the Torchwood Archive (as referenced in Doctor Who and future-Torchwood stories).

For now, it’s going by the altogether more joyously pretentious name of the Antebellum, and it has delights to share with the unwary. Radically lethal security systems, shifting walls, you name it, the Antebellum has it. Which is why, if you’re an unscrupulous bunch of light-fingered tech-junkie nurks like the Dow Cohort, you need someone like Tosh, with Torchwood credentials, to get you in – and presumably, out again.

Leader of this merry band of Antebellum poachers is Vernon (Tom Butcher), an above-average thug with a gun fetish, bless him. He regards most other people as expendable, but here’s the thing. He makes the mistake that lots of people make about Tosh. He thinks she’s weak. In fact, throughout the play, he belabours the point of just how weak she is, how much of a liability she must be to Torchwood.

C- - Needs to do more of his homework.

Along for the ride, there’s Nisha (Bahvini Sheth), who vacillates between being Alright, Actually and a bit Harley Quinn in her self-revolution. Whichever mood she’s in at any given moment, though, Bahvini Sheth makes her value for your audio money, and things are never dull when she’s pushed to the front of the adventure.

And then there’s Edward (or Ed if you absolutely must), played by Homer Todiwala, who’s becoming quite the value-for-money member of the Big Finish Repertory Company. Ed’s dying, and vital, and trapped inside the Antebellum with no way out when we enter the action. Lucky for him, Tosh has a clever little bit of kit that can at least mitigate his symptoms in the short term – hopefully long enough to get him out and seen by some proper medi-boffins.

Those are our players, let’s play our game.

As we say, the game is essentially the Torchwood equivalent of a Saw movie, dressed up like an Ocean’s Eleven heist. A handful of disparate characters thrown together in an environment where more or less everything is prepared, if not actually eager, to kill them. There are moments along the way when the question of what you’d do if it came down to your life or someone else’s is pushed to the front of your consciousness. The Antebellum takes no prisoners. What would you do, and who would you sacrifice, to get access to the thing you want most in the world?...

To say “Not everyone is who they seem to be” is so passe as to be meaningless – it’s Torchwood, of course not everyone is who they seem to be. If they were who they seemed to be, it probably wouldn’t – and probably shouldn’t – be Torchwood.

And while there’s some classically old-fashioned “Tosh being the cleverest person in the room” action here (Side-note: this is 2022, is it time yet to discuss the stereotype of Torchwood’s Asian character being the socially awkward techie brainbox?), the story also stretches what we as listeners think we know about her. You could legitimately make a case that what Rossa McPhillips does with her here is actually beyond the emotional remit of the character as she appeared on screen. You might not get very far, though, because TV Tosh was frequently only sketched in by the writing and acted by Naoko Mori within the confines of specific action and plotlines. Nothing on TV ever particularly put Tosh in the sort of situation she’s in during the run-time of War Chest. If it’s never exactly “kill or be killed,” this story is very much “act at your own, probably terminal, peril, or let others die.”

Naoko Mori here is in masterclass form – chatty and talkative, with the emotional beats landing as you’d expect them to from someone in Tosh’s situation, but all the while holding in and holding back, so the Tosh we know isn’t displayed fully to those around her. She’s both more fluid and more in control than usual – which ultimately makes sense by the end of the play, for all that it sometimes comes across as more callous than “usual Tosh” while events are playing out.

Tom Butcher’s Vernon is delightful, in that he’s an idiot, bless him, but he’s an object lesson, should we not read the news and therefore still need one, that idiots in positions of authority can still be a mightily dangerous proposition. Scrunch him down a couple of vocal feet and he could practically be a Sontaran.

And the other members of the party, Nisha and Ed, provide much of the light and shade of the piece, Tosh establishing reasonable relationships with both of them across the course of the story. In particular, there’s a cute moment of what-might-have-been, when Nisha reveals that Torchwood once came calling to see if she’d like to join them. Some “cheesy guy in a big coat” offered her the chance to join the team – and she turned him down.

To their credit, between them, Rossa McPhillips and Bhavini Sheth manage to make enough of Nisha that we credit the idea of her joining Torchwood as a realistic possibility, a Torchwood line-up that never happened, but that could have.

As for Ed, his arc changes significantly across the course of the drama, and it’s to Homer Todiwala’s credit that he mostly manages to keep that shift feeling natural and gradual, a rational response to irrational circumstances, buildings, and imminent threats to his life.

Does War Chest ultimately satisfy? Yes, in that there’s a very definitive ending to the story, and Tosh comes through it in control of herself. That’s a minor miracle given what we initially hear of how she gets involved in the adventure. There’s just perhaps the slightest inkling that it satisfies a little less than other strong Tosh stories, like Drive and Zone 10, both by David Llewellyn, that have a more naturalistic extension from the TV version of the character you’re used to.

War Chest is a new direction for Tosh, and a new way to make the most of her strengths. It might well feel a little uncomfortable to established Torchwood fans at first, but go with it, and Tosh the Badass will impress you by the end.

Torchwood: War Chest is exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until 31 July 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.

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