What’s the difference between Torchwood and a good quality cup of fresh-brewed coffee? One is an irresistible, live-saving force that keeps the economy, society and sanity of Cardiff powering through trials and tribulations of all kinds. And the other one is Torchwood. It’s a relationship between the bean and the team explored in Coffee – the latest monthly Torchwood audio release from Big Finish.
Last heard from in Rhys and Ianto’s Excellent Barbecue back in November, Ianto Jones again takes centre stage. This time, James Goss’ story is built around a promising premise that stitches its way into memorable moments from across the Torchwood timeline.
Wandering along the waterfront at Cardiff Bay, an early-career Ianto is in search of a caffeine hit. When he happens across Baps, the only café in the area, he’s a little underwhelmed by the java they serve him. So he returns later to demonstrate to owner David (Shaun Chambers) and Girl Friday Kathy (Sarah Griffin) the critical refinements of the true Barista’s craft.
It’s the beginning of a long association between Ianto and the Baps’ pair. Time and again he returns, first when the café is enjoying a resurgence with a new, discerning coffee clientele; and later when the place has hit far tougher times as the city is battered by the very calamities that Torchwood is attempting to repulse.
The result is a drama that highlights episodes in Ianto’s own Torchwood journey, from his earliest tentative days in Cardiff’s most unlikely Tourist Information Centre, through some of the most perilous moments in his time in the Hub, to his abrupt and tragic demise.
Those intersections allow Goss to drop in references to different coffee-infused moments in Ianto’s professional and personal life, which he does without it feeling forced or artificial.
But just as effectively, David’s and Kathy’s different responses to the often-inexplicable crises facing the city allows Goss to present the reactions of ordinary residents of Cardiff to compound disasters that they feel powerless to prevent: a perspective sometimes missing from the calculations of Captain Jack and the Hub team.
Despite the sweeping timeline, Coffee has a simple, linear plot (compared to many other stories in the Torchwood range). The strength of this tale comes from the interactions between Ianto and the café duo, and the fact that the listener knows so much more about the events that leave David and Kathy bewildered and distraught.
The script gives Gareth David-Lloyd the opportunity to explore how Ianto is torn between his loyalty to Torchwood and his natural empathy towards decent individuals who are impacted so powerfully by alien incursions through the Rift.
The anguish that Ianto feels as the need for secrecy compels him to lie to his new friends comes through clearly in David-Lloyd’s on-point performance. As do his efforts to make amends when Ianto screws things up with those who’ve come to trust him.
Releases in the monthly Torchwood range inevitably have a small cast and a modest sense of scale. But Coffee is an especially quiet and intimate sort of story, and there’s a poignancy and a warmth to this tale. The understated connections with the existing Torchwood canon are there for those whose knowledge of the series is encyclopedic, yet it’s not a level of familiarity that’s essential to enjoying this audio. But you might want to pick up a perfectly crafted double espresso before you start; if only to share in the Baps’ buzz.