Things are all sea once again in the latest monthly Torchwood audio release Fortitude. Members of the Torchwood family last took to the waves back in July’s offering Sargasso. In that Doctor Who-monster themed story, Rhys battled the Nestene Consciousness aboard a drifting container ship. In sharp contrast Fortitude shifts the timeline from the present day back to the late 1800s, in another aquatic adventure this time featuring none other than Queen Victoria.
As events open, the Queen and the Maharaja Duleep Singh have to abandon ship as their vessel is smashed by a relentless storm just off the English coast. The pair finds refuge on one of the Solent sea forts, a line of sturdy stone emplacements built in the 1860s to defend the heart of the British Empire from the threat of seaborne invasion.
Sprites and spectres
Their host is the fort’s sole resident Colonel Crackenthorpe. He’s taken on the duties as custodian of the site for the many years that have passed since his wife’s descent into madness. Yet Queen Victoria’s has a hidden agenda connected to the true history of the fort. And she is not the only member of the royal household keeping secrets. As the sprites and spectres haunting the seaborne citadel announce their presence, uncomfortable truths bubble to the surface and fateful decisions must be made.
The plot of Fortitude does sound like something that could have been the outcome of a Victorian parlour game: “An impatient Monarch and an embittered Maharaja meet on the high seas; she said, he said, and the consequence was…”. As things play out here, the sci-fi tropes of the story sit very much in the background. The complex and layered dynamics between the three characters take centre stage, along with the tensions between duty and independence that define this trio of relationships. That and the spooky undercurrent flowing through events.
Without spoiling the resulting revelations, as hidden truths reach the surface, a deep sense of injustice is brought to light, while those in positions of power insist on continued obedience. Mixing historical facts with Torchwood fictions, James Goss’ script delivers some pithy dialogue and unexpected twists and turns in what’s a very conducive dramatic setting.
The story shifts its focus from the huge expanse of the open sea to the claustrophobic interiors of the fort. Lee Adams’ rich and evocative sound design ranges from the pounding roar of a sea storm to the ethereal whispers of ghostly spectres. For that reason, this is an audio adventure particularly suited to headphone listening.
Fortitude benefits from three first-class performances. Rowena Cooper is as excellent as ever as the imperious, ruthless but never wholly repellant Victoria. Paul Bazely finds the right mix of controlled rage and sullen compliance as the put-upon Maharaja. There’s a world-weary sense of resignation juggling with a dogged resilience in David Sterne’s portrayal of the aged fort keeper Crackenthorpe.
The special features of this release bring another dimension. Instead of the familiar in-studio reflections from the cast, Goss and director Lisa Bowerman discuss the historical realities of the British Empire, the character of Queen Victoria, and her humiliating treatment of the real-life Maharaja. Goss also provides a short video diary of his trip to one of the renovated forts now operating as an exclusive hotel.
Fortitude is available now from the Big Finish website.