With August seeing the launch of Torchwood: Aliens Among Us, a new series styled as the official continuation of the TV show, it would be easy to overlook ‘The Dying Room’, the 18th release in the regular monthly range. To do so however, would be to miss out on a highly enjoyable – and unusual – slice of Torchwood.
Having been established by Queen Victoria in 1879, it stands to reason that the organisation’s operatives would have been kept busy over the years. So far, Big Finish have delighted in offering us tales from hitherto unseen eras, such as the Charlie’s Angels inspired The Dollhouse and the pre-Cardiff Ianto in Torchwood: Before the Fall – this time, it’s the Second World War.
Set in occupied Paris, The Dying Room features an SS interrogator named Oberführer Hans Grau who is determined to find out more about Torchwood. He is on the trail of a suspected agent, but has failed to capture her and instead has chosen to question the last person to spend any time with her, a theology professor named Monsieur LeDuc. As he interrogates his subject in a hotel room however, we learn that something monstrous has been unleashed on the Parisian streets – a plague which turns men into monsters and has caused the whole city to be in lockdown.
The interrogation is pretty intense and unpleasant at times (Big Finish notes that it is definitely not suitable for younger listeners), so kudos to sound designer Howard Carter for letting us suffer every moment. Through it, however, LeDuc tells the story of visit to Paris in the company of his sick son Gabriel, and of his meeting with the enigmatic Madame Berber, a colourful resident of the hotel who survives by drinking with the enemy and dabbling in the black market.
While Lizzie Hopley’s script centres on the tête-à-tête between Grau and LeDuc, it also illustrates the wider implications of the conflict; in showing us Paris under occupation, we touch on the dashed hopes of the generation who came through the Great War and on the ethnic clearance of the Jewish people. There is also plenty of world building going on to as we learn about Project Hermod – which exists to exploit alien technology for the Nazis, much like Torchwood does for the British Empire.
The Dying Room boasts an impressive cast with a pair of powerful performances at its core; Mark Elstob (best known as Number Six in Big Finish’s reimagining of The Prisoner) as Grau takes on theatrical legend Simon Russell Beale as M. LeDuc and the pair are well matched. In the role of the Madame Berber, Emma Cunliffe shines as the Parisian lady still hanging on as the city disintegrates around her.
While seemingly unconnected to the rest of the Torchwood oeuvre, we hope this is but the first visit to the WWII era, as it seems particularly fertile territory for the show and frankly, we would like to hear more!