Queen Victoria is at her imperious best in the latest monthly Torchwood audio Save Our Souls. The story is a rip-roaring homage to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, but naturally with an extra supernatural spin.
After her recent sojourn to a sea fort in the Solent, Victoria has again set out on the ocean waves. This time, it’s to visit a small, isolated island to which she has summoned a disparate group of talented individuals. Researchers from Torchwood have unveiled a new communications device that allows them to converse with a mysterious disembodied voice. A voice that has a very particular and distinctive quality. Attending the queen is a royal-appointed medium, who attempts to reach out to this entity and discern its nature. But the voice rebuffs this approach. Dismissing the medium as a fraudster, the voice then announces that the imposter will be dead within six minutes.
Destined to die
It’s a compelling opening gambit, and one that’s quickly reinforced. Within minutes the remaining members of the group realise that all but one of their party is destined to die. Only Victoria seems unconcerned at the danger, convinced that if anyone is to survive it is certain to be her.
Scott Handcock’s smart script sketches out an ensemble of military and technical specialists, whose brilliance in their particular field has left them somewhat lacking in self-awareness or humility. Few embrace their imminent demise as inevitable, and in different ways opt for defiance and self-protection over fatalism.
Director Lisa Bowerman has a strong cast on-board, with Gwyneth Keyworth as the determined Torchwood operative Florence, and Wayne Forester as the brave but brittle Captain Henry particularly memorable.
As the clock ticks down and the body count rises, there’s drama and dark humour aplenty. Loyalties are tested, old certainties dispensed with and self-doubts multiply. The voice knows the darkest secrets of the island’s visitors, their shortcomings and personal failings. It’s a disturbing capability that shocks those now facing certain death on a windswept rock.
Above the panic
Rising above the panic, Queen Victoria engages in a battle of wits with the voice, as the two spar in search of a knockout blow. Rowena Cooper has always made for a formidable Queen Victoria, and Save Our Souls maintains this tradition. But here she reveals more a little more guile and certainly an even tougher manipulative streak than has been on display in Victorian-era Torchwood before now.
As the voice proves itself to be an alarmingly accurate oracle, Handcock finds time for some interesting reflections on the tensions between free will and predestination. The question of altruism versus self-interest in human decision-making looms large throughout, and even more so in the impressive and far-from-predictable finale.