Harvey Edwards takes a look at Torchwood‘s 15th anniversary release, which sees Ianto Jones encounter the warmongering Sontarans!
James Goss‘s penultimate Torchwood Monthly Range story of the year is an interesting one. To celebrate the series’s 15th anniversary, Goss made the decision to write a comedy about a Sontaran living in a caravan park. Though the premise may seem strange (as is customary with a Goss story – a phrase that will come up again in this review), the way that it’s dealt with offers some thought-provoking social commentary, as well as a decent story.
We start by meeting Major Kreg, a member of the Ninth Sontaran Battle Brigade, and even that phrase is a subtle nod to the irregularities of Sontaran naming conventions. Kreg was sent to Earth to carry out an assessment of the planet, but was captured by Torchwood, and Ianto has taken the decision to teach Kreg how to live life as a human, rather than giving him “the glory of execution”.
Kreg is played excellently by Dan Starkey, Big Finish‘s resident Sontaran, and he provides a voice very similar to his other Sontaran roles, but skilfully differentiates his tone enough to make Kreg a distinct character. It goes without saying that Gareth David-Lloyd as Ianto Jones is, as always, a delight. As is customary with a Goss story, not a single line feels out of place, and he shows how much he understands the character – David-Lloyd even mentions in the interviews how he worked out from subtleties in the script where this story fits into Ianto’s timeline.
Early on, Kreg (disguised using a perception filter) meets Betty Appleby (played by Kaye Brown), a resident of Mumbles Bay Caravan Park. Brown and Starkey have a great chemistry, giving their scenes together a perfect mix of comedy and believability. Kreg’s fascination with Mrs. Appleby’s pet leads him to get one of his own – a cat, whom he names ‘Field Marshall Cat’. Though seemingly a joke at first, Goss uses Field Marshall Cat to develop Kreg throughout the script, Kreg’s relationship to his pet changing and developing as he learns more about humans and begins to appreciate why they keep pets at all.
Again, as is customary from a Goss script, the initial jokey and playful aspects of the story are what ultimately lead to the most interesting revelations and developments of the characters. There’s also (as is customary for a Goss story) some social commentary woven into the story, this time about foreign workers coming to the UK and being treated unfairly and underpaid for manual labour jobs. This is integrated into the script very well, and the characters used to illustrate the point are well fleshed-out and believable.
Blair Mowat‘s music takes a brilliantly militaristic, snare-drum-filled turn this month, providing an excellent soundscape for the misadventures of our Sontaran friend, and Toby Hyrcek-Robinson‘s sound design paints great visual images that compliment the dialogue perfectly. The guest cast are all very good in their roles, and Lee Binding‘s final Torchwood cover art is beautiful to look at – his work will definitely be missed, and it’s nice to see he’s gone out on such a high.
Overall then, as is customary for a Goss story, this is another excellent entry into Big Finish’s most consistent range. That being said, even though the story was very good, Goss is starting to become somewhat formulaic, no matter how crazy his premises are. However, this is to be expected when it’s his seventh Torchwood script this year. It’s testament to his ability that the stories are all so high in quality, but it will be refreshing to hear from new writers in December.
Taking everything into account, this release was solid, if a little predictable. 15 years on, it’s great to see how Big Finish has embraced Torchwood and made it its own. Long may the Monthly Range continue.
Torchwood: The Great Sontaran War is available on CD or as a download at http://www.bigfinish.com