George Hewitt reviews the first Torchwood release of 2023: Double (Part One)!
Guy Adams makes a triumphant return to the world of Torchwood with his first script since 2019’s Night of the Fendahl with a two-part epic espionage thriller, with the first episode out now and the second to follow later this month.
The first part of Double introduces us to a very different Torchwood. While we’ve seen the organisation in the 1950s, as well as in the early 2000s, 1970s London is new territory (although Juno Dawson‘s The Dollhouse took us to LA in the ’70s back in 2017). Sandwiched between Norton Folgate’s leadership and Yvonne Hartman’s comes Roberta Craven, played by Louise Jameson. Roberta is an ex-MI5 agent who, although fiercely intelligent, resorts to alcoholism as a way to combat her hyperkinetic disorder and Asperger’s syndrome. Adams deals with these aspects of her character phenomenally well, ensuring Roberta never falls victim to becoming a stereotype.
Equally phenomenal is Louise Jameson‘s performance. It feels as though Roberta must be an established character by now, as Jameson’s choices are so pointed and assured, and every line is injected with a level of nuance that prevents Roberta from feeling like a performance. Jameson gets the opportunity to showcase a wide dramatic range here, and rises to the challenge every time. I really, really hope that Big Finish decides to give us more of Roberta Craven’s Torchwood than just these two episodes.
The guest cast also does an excellent job, led by It’s a Sin‘s Omari Douglas as reporter Neal Hart. Investigating the same mysterious goings-on between oil companies Ossam and Nessoil as Roberta, the pair cross paths. Douglas does a great job at differentiating Neal from the other characters in this play. Although characters like Don Gilét‘s Herman Baker and Anthony Howell‘s Cornwell are very much immersed in the same world as Roberta, Neal is coming to this from the perspective of a journalist. Although experienced in high-profile research, Neal has never come face-to-face with the likes of Torchwood or MI5 before, and Douglas ensures that his character’s reactions to all these new elements feel genuine.
The episode is tied together by Barnaby Edwards‘s direction – as he mentions in the behind-the-scenes, the script is complex, and so fortunately Edwards succeeds in making sure that listeners can follow along. While the plot does have several threads, there’s never a point where the listener becomes confused (although the story does ask several questions that presumably will be answered in Part 2). The involvement of the Nestenes is obviously clear from the start of the story if you’ve looked at Sean Longmore‘s brilliant cover art (which depicts an Auton roaming the burning streets of London), but Adams weaves them into the plot very cleverly, giving us insight into how they operate and revealing new motivations and tactics that we haven’t seen before.
Throughout Double Part 1 we’re treated to Toby Hyrcek-Robinson‘s sound design and Blair Mowat‘s music, both of which capture the era perfectly. Hrycek-Robinson has created a naturalistic soundscape that allows the listener to visualise events without difficulty, and he’s also included some throwbacks to the original Auton stories of 1970s Doctor Who. Mowat’s music likewise blends ’70s synths with more modern electronic music, giving us a new mix of the Torchwood theme and incidental music that feels like a perfect homage to the spy genre.
Overall, then, this is a fantastic start to Torchwood in 2023. This is one of the best Monthly Range stories in a while, and the cliff-hanger is bound to have audiences desperate for the second part to be released.
Torchwood: Double (Part One) is available on CD or as a download from http://www.bigfinish.com