It’s an eventful night at the opera for Ianto and Toshiko in the latest monthly Torchwood audio release from Big Finish. Penned by Gareth David-Lloyd (Ianto), Dinner and a Show is an entertaining comedy caper, that mixes some sci-fi absurdities and moments of genuine “mild peril” with a diverting and well-crafted character-led drama.
The dynamic between Toshiko and Ianto was barely explored in the TV incarnation of Torchwood; so there’s clear potential to dig deeper into the substance of their relationship. Compared to some of their more bombastic colleagues, Ianto and Toshiko are easily the most introspective and introverted occupants of the Hub. They are also amongst the most empathic and thoughtful individuals in the group, repeatedly showing concern for their co-workers’ well-being.
It’s entirely fitting that their encounter begins when Ianto steps in as a substitute after a typically thoughtless Owen decides to bail on a Valentine’s Day theatre date with Toshiko. She’s left alone for an evening of Faust at Cardiff’s Millennium Centre when Owen bins his ticket. Worried about how she would respond to being stood up on what’s officially the most romantic day of the year, Ianto does the right thing. Toshiko accepts Ianto’s act of kindness, knowing that it comes from a good place. Though much remains unspoken, he convinces her not to see his offer as a “pity date”; while she convinces him not to see himself as a second-tier substitute.
The pair agree to share the evening simply as friends. That is until they recognise that most of the audience is made up from alien visitors. Are these simply extra-terrestrial opera lovers who have made their collective way to Cardiff to enjoy a performance? Perhaps. Or might it be that these visitors have an ulterior and more sinister motive? As events escalate at speed, it becomes clear that, even by the gory standards of opera, this could be the night of a bloodbath.
Finding the right comedic tone for a Torchwood audio tale can be a challenging task. It’s one that some writers have found elusive. It can be tempting to overplay the humour and, in the process, dilute the super-serious sensibilities that make the Torchwood universe what it is. Fortunately, in Dinner and a Show David-Lloyd again showcases his talents as a witty wordsmith. He’s able to walk that line without a wobble. That’s brought home in a great scene involving the venue’s security team, with dialogue that would not look out of place in a Douglas Adams story.
The realisation of how these characters might interact in a crisis, when forced to rely only on their own resourcefulness, is also completely on point. Both are forced out of their comfort zones by the demands of their predicament: whether that’s battling alien beasts or unscripted public speaking. It’s understandable that they might choose to rely on some unusual stimulants to keep their reactions sharp.
Both David-Lloyd and Naoko Mori voice their roles with disarming ease. Throughout the story their interactions exhibit both warmth and believability (despite the deliberately daft setting). There are new things for their characters to grapple with too. Toshiko gets a rare opportunity to act as the just-in-time heroine, while Ianto gets to be the gung-ho hero as well as the ever-astute puzzle solver. It’s all highly enjoyable stuff, which makes it easier to forgive the slightly rushed ending.
There’s great mileage to be found in a story that unfolds in a single location: a place in which our heroes are trapped and unable to summon help. While that’s a familiar enough motif, Dinner and a Show finds some novel and entertaining ways to tease that template. Even better, the sobering prospect of actually having to endure some operatic singing is thankfully minimised.