Big Finish: Torchwood THE LINCOLNSHIRE POACHER Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish: Torchwood THE LINCOLNSHIRE POACHER Review

Tony has an earworm.





You know how if you show arachnophobes a picture of a tarantula, they run screaming from the room?


That’s ssssort of the impact Torchwood: The Lincolnshire Poacher has on me. Except it’s so damnably well done that even though it scares the living daylights out of me (and they MUST be daylights – listen to this one under cover of darkness and I won’t be held responsible for the consequences!)… I want to creep out from behind the sofa to listen to it again. And then inevitably run away.


In case you’re missing the point here, Torchwood: The Lincolnshire Poacher is a ridiculously high-quality shudderfest, and writers Stewart Pringle and Lauren Mooney are just eeeeeevil. But… y’know… in a good way.


Alright, let’s stop shuddering a minute and get down to business. The Lincolnshire Poacher is essentially Ianto Jones (Gareth David-Lloyd) on a journey into and through a kind of hell of the mind. It starts when he picks up the phone to Greg (David Shaw-Parker), who has an affinity with nature, and with recording devices.


And the numbers.


So, SO many numbers. 


Number Stations

From there – in fact from before there, because the horror of this story begins to dawn even during the pre-credit sequence – The Lincolnshire Poacher becomes a story of a past, a trap, a plan gone wrong, and the as-it-turns-out real business of number stations.


Never heard of number stations? Come in, sit down, you’ll never sleep again. They were short wave radio stations dedicated to broadcasting short number sequences, and it’s BELIEVED they were to help agents in foreign countries. Dating back to World War I, it’s thought they were able to pass data as strings of numbers, and one of the stations about which we know most about is station E03, less formally known as – anyone guess? – The Lincolnshire Poacher


The Lincolnshire Poacher, for those who are interested, is also a classic folk song, the tune of which was said to be a cover for the numeric data used by Lincolnshire Poacher station. Ohhh there are layers to this thing, believe us, though listeners of a classically comical bent might know the tune better as The Bogle Clencher’s Song by Kenneth Williams’ joyously filthy faux-folk singer, Rambling Syd Rumpo.


Circles of Hell

If all this seems like unnecessary layering of information, it’s more like a metaphor of the Torchwood story itself, where Greg seems to “be” a Lincolnshire poacher, but one who has a fervent interest in capturing the sounds of nature, and in reporting in to Torchwood. Once he gets Ianto interested in the events in his region, which he calls “the Moil” (as in turmoil), the twisted, convoluted truth begins not only to become clear, but to draw Ianto in to a game of reality defined and changed by endlessly recited sequences of numbers (an idea which will be familiar to fans of early Eighties Doctor Who from the likes of Logopolis and Castrovalva). 


As espionage, numbers, nature, and the nature of reality merge and shift, and Ianto becomes ever more ensnared, the true horror of the situation is forcibly imposed on us. There are truths, and semi-truths, mistakes and tragedies, culminating in a plan to escape and hand over a horrifying burden to an unwilling replacement – in this case, none other than Ianto Jones. 


Quality Horror

And as if a parasitical prison made of numbers isn’t enough to shiver the flesh off your bones, Stewart Pringle and Lauren Mooney have a final twist in store for you, which we’d no more consider spoiling than we’d consider singing the song at you. It’s a twist that will resonate with other Torchwood stories of recent years, particularly perhaps My Guest Tonight, the Tim Foley story from Torchwood One: Nightmares, but it’s distinct enough to send its own frisson of fear down your spine.


Bottom line, this is top quality “Scare ’em rigid” Torchwood, that depends on the audio evocation of atmosphere as much as it does the complexity and layering of its plot elements to deliver its impact – and then delivers it in sackfuls.


As mostly a two-hander between Gareth David-Lloyd and David Shaw-Parker, there’s superb character and relationship work here, as a seeming friendliness dissolves into something at first more caustic, and then more pitiful, than you ever especially hear coming (despite a spoiler that the relationship goes sour, delivered in the pre-credits sequence). Both actors are on top form as they travel the arc of their characters and the twisted connection between them, and the complexity of the sound design work on this release to get the shudders right earns Toby Hycek-Robinson an extra hat-tip for this story, because to get it wrong would be to collapse the immersion of the listener, and that never happens for even a moment.


A complex story that reaches back to Classic Who and classic espionage, while evoking its scares through atmosphere and character interplay, with two barnstorming lead performances that stand up to one another all the way from the first seconds to the last. That’s what you get in The Lincolnshire Poacher, as well as one of the most effective, horrifying shudderfests in recent Torchwood history. This story sits proudly alongside the likes of Suckers, by Alexander Stewart, The Hope, by James Goss, and Corpse Day, also by James Goss, as one of those Torchwood stories you’ll remember long after you finish your first listen. 


You’ll want to go back to it – but you’ll have to dare yourself.

Torchwood: The Lincolnshire Poacher is exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until 31 January 2023, 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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