Audio review: Torchwood One – Machines

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Back for a second box set based at Torchwood One after the success of Before The Fall, we return for another trio of London based stories with Yvonne Hartman and Ianto Jones, before their world was so rudely interrupted by warring Daleks and Cybermen.

With a looser theme than the previous set, these stories begin with the return of an old threat to the streets of London…

The Law Machines

From the tail end of the Hartnell era, Doctor Who’s The War Machines has always been a bit of a favourite – there’s something about the contemporary setting (of early-60s London) and an over ambitious supercomputer in the Post Office Tower which really appeals to us.

Bringing the concept bang up to date, or circa 2006 at least, Matt Fitton’s opener restages WOTAN’s London power grab with a few changes. This time, the robotic menace has been supplied by Torchwood, making use of the plans for the originals, and rolled out on the streets at the behest of city’s ambitious Mayor, Fiona McAndrew (Adjoa Andoh).

When these new “Law Machines”, which now have a voice that owes a little to Robocop‘s ED-209), come online, Yvonne and Ianto are forced to battle their way across London with an obstreperous Mayor in tow back to Torchwood One in the hopes of shutting them down.

With an all-action plot, full of guns and explosions, the story revels in the fun of the original but doesn’t flinch in showing how technology has moved on – in fact, WOTAN’s plans for global domination are hilariously out of date! Luckily, it has found a willing ally in the blackmailing hacker Julian Delaware (Daniel Anthony – perhaps best known to cult fans as The Sarah Jane Adventures’ Clyde).

Blind Summit

Gareth David-Lloyd takes over the writing duties to provide Ianto with a Torchwood origin story, the actor-turned-writer having already penned the excellent The Last Beacon for the monthly range.

Ianto has a tough backstory, some of which was referenced in Children Of Earth, and Blind Summit picks this up and expands it; Ianto is in a difficult situation looking after his alcoholic father, compounded by a threatening landlord, and that is all before Torchwood crashes into his life.

The story shines a light on Yvonne too, the self-proclaimed people person, and how she pushes people to achieve her goals – in this case dealing with a mole inside her organisation by manoeuvring Ianto from a waiter to an undercover agent.

With great character work and lots of humour, as well as a plentiful use of the memory wiping “ret con” drug, we hear the beginnings of the Ianto we know and love, including his introduction to perfect coffee making as well as being forced into a suit. The owner of said suit is Matthew, Yvonne’s right hand man, played entertainingly by guest star Patterson Joseph (Timeless, Rellik).

We also need to mention a stand out sequence from sound designer Iain Meadows in this episode, with multiple overlapping layers and repeated phrases as Ianto is under the influence.

9 To 5

The final story of the set focusses on Stacey Newman (Niki Wardley), whose life unravels after she meets Ianto and Yvonne. Stacey is a temp, working for “Temporary Solutions”, but a little Torchwood digging finds her embroiled in a conspiracy reaching far into the depths of government information.

Tim Foley, who also wrote both The Empty Hand and Poker Face for the recent Aliens Among Us series, provides some spot on satire on the life of the temporary employee and how they are used by big business.

In addition to Niky Wardley, who brilliantly takes Stacey on a journey of heart-breaking discovery and has some palpable chemistry with Ianto, the other principal guest here is Jane Asher who is imperious as Elaine, Stacey’s hard-as-nails boss.

In conclusion

Torchwood One continues to be a hoot, because for all Yvonne’s slick presentation and people skills, she still relies on the human foibles of her staff such as the eccentric Tommy (a bravura performance from Tim Bentinck, once again), the no-nonsense Northerner who steadfastly refuses to be politically correct.

The production is also good at fleshing out a wider world too, such as the passing references to the ill-fated Dr Singh from Doctor Who’s Army Of Ghosts and to characters from the previous box set, helping to sell the scale of the organisation. We also enjoyed the return of Helen Goldwyn as Canary Wharf’s entertaining receptionist.

Tracey-Ann Oberman continues to be tremendously entertaining as Yvonne Hartman, who treads the line between hero and villain; if her aims are usually laudable, her methods and the questionable moral compromises she entertains make her utter ruthless. For all the drama though, our favourite scene of hers was a quieter one: up against it, with the Law Machines taking over the city, she delivers a blistering validation of her position as the head of Torchwood, spelt out to the Mayor on a DLR train of all places.

With assured direction from Barnaby Edwards and some terrific casting, we look forward to where this lost slice of Torchwood history could go next.