It’s another new era for Torchwood, as 1970s head Roberta Craven deals with an oily Auton threat
Since landing on audio in 2015, Big Finish has been industriously filling out the Torchwood timeline past and future. However, the closest we’ve come to the 1970s is ‘The Dollhouse’, a one-off Charlie’s Angels inspired tale based in LA… until now. Welcome to Double Part 1.
‘Double’ couldn’t be further way from LA, taking place in the corporate and political world of 1970s London. Writer Guy Adams’ story surrounds an insidious plot by the Nestene Consciousness, the controlling intelligence behind the Autons. First seen in Jon Pertwee’s debut ‘Spearhead from Space’, the consciousness has an affinity with plastic which it animates deadly consequences.
With a timely storyline, we find the UK in an energy crisis. As this is the 1970s, that means oil. Of course, synthetic plastic derives from oil, which puts a whole new spin on the concept of energy security!
However, we soon learn that the Nestenes have been around for a while. Through their company Nessoil, they’ve seemingly infiltrated layers of the government. This is brought home as they ‘dispose of’ the disgruntled chief executive of a rival operation when it’s clear he knows too much.
As the former MI5 spy, turned Torchwood boss Roberta Craven, Louise Jameson is by turns brilliant, boorish and brimming with frustration. Roberta is hyperkinetic, a neurodivergence she describes as giving her “all the thoughts, all the time”. She’s easily overwhelmed and drinks copiously to gain focus. She also has a surfeit of attitude, often directed at her sidekick (and lover?) Patty (Emma Lowndes), who prompts the answers we need to know. It is a relief because, as Roberta says, she doesn’t have the brain chemistry for repeating herself.
Seeing patterns where others do not, Roberta has been onto the “plastic bastards” for a while. To that end, she has hilariously taken to pricking people with hatpins.
The other principal character in the mix is Neal Hart, played by Omari Douglas (It’s a Sin, I Hate Suzie Too.) Hart is a smart investigative journalist who notices the Government’s strange actions in this area. Catching on to the conspiracy, he soon finds himself in hot water and threatened by a former MI5 colleague of Roberta’s. That same thug later warns off Roberta, but she at least is afforded some “professional consideration”, rather than being partially strangled with a plastic bag. The thug in question is played thoughtfully by Anthony Howell — a far cry from his work on the audio recreations of The Avengers.
We also loved Don Gilét as the villainous Herman Baker. The Nestene’s human agent, he’s described as oleaginous — is a term which describes his oily character well.
As for the Nestene Consciousness itself, its motives remain unclear — as Neal Hart suggests, if they wanted to create an army, why not take over a plastics factory? They clearly have a different agenda here, one that’s unlikely to stay in the shadows given their brutal boardroom tactics.
Signature Auton cues
Sean Longmore provides an eye-catching cover, which eschews the cast in favour of the Autons. Composer Blair Mowat also provides another variant of the Torchwood theme, channeling some era-appropriate chimes à la Tubular Bells. On sound design duties, Toby Hrycek-Robinson roots us in the 70s, as well as deploying the signature Auton cues. As to the strong cast, we commend the Extras, where director Barnaby Edwards speaks enthusiastically about casting the drama.
With its murderous corporate shenanigans and longer runtime – Part 2 is released towards the end of January – ‘Double’ brings something quite different to the world of Torchwood. With no familiar characters, this is a iteration of the institution unlike any we have encountered before. We’re looking forward to hearing how it concludes (and who survives!)
As this is a two-parter, we’re holding off on a rating, but you can consider this a hard recommendation. Not only for the story, but for the incredible performance from Louise Jameson.