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Reviewed: Torchwood – The Victorian Age

With upcoming stories from Naoko Mori, Tom Price, and Indira Varma (all new to Big Finish), Torchwood Series 2 is shaping up to be something very different but very exciting. And the first release, The Victorian Age written by AK Benedict, gives us a great taste of the unusual tales to come.
This is Torchwood in 1899. Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) has been called from their Cardiff branch over to London just in time for Queen Victoria’s inspection of the institute. It’s been 20 years since the events of Tooth and Claw, so Torchwood’s in its infancy, and now faces her Majesty shutting them down. Especially when she finds that Archie, head of Torchwood London, has been aged half a century by an alien creature they thought was dead but is now hot-footing it around the capital.
And so it’s up to Jack and the Queen (Rowena Cooper) to track it down. Sounds ridiculous? It is. That doesn’t stop it being thoroughly enjoyable and clever.
The first thing that strikes you is the Torchwood theme arrangement, created especially for this release by Blair Mowat. It’s wonderful. You’ll want to replay it a few times, I should think. The second striking thing is the Queen herself. For a moment, I thought Big Finish has drafted in Pauline Collins. Rowena Cooper’s Victoria is just pitch-perfect, and actually steals the show from John Barrowman – a considerable feat, I’m sure you’ll agree.
This is basically a two-hander, even though we do hear from a few dishevelled Cockneys elsewhere, including Louise Jameson, best-known as Leela in Doctor Who, but here appearing in a brief but touching scene with the Queen.
And that’s the thing: even if the story is a fairly standard catching-up-with-the-monster affair, the wealth of lovely moments makes it very engaging throughout. At times, it’s very funny; then it spins on its head, takes a serious turn. Captain Jack leaving the Queen in a pub is fantastic, especially the way she embraces it all, as is the idea that Jack is quietly introducing visionary technology to the 1800s (and that the Queen is certainly not impressed – or, indeed, amused – by it).
Maybe those two decades have changed the Queen. She’s a lot more likeable in The Victorian Age than she was in Tooth and Claw. She’s friendlier, more humourous, and altogether more human. She even gets an Avengers-esque rally cry in “Rule Britannia!”
She is a changed woman. It’s just a couple of years before her death, and even though she’s obviously unaware of its proximity, the tale is very much informed by this fact. The Victorian Age is about age, entropy, and the inevitable, and it gives Queen Victoria plenty of poignant lines. There’s a wonderful contrast in this 79-year-old Monarch, near the end of her days, and the immortal Captain Jack, his future stretching long ahead of them both.
“Death is not an enemy,” Jack tells her. “Not in the end.” You have to wonder how much of the UK’s history he knows. It’s also a welcome sentiment that makes you re-evaluate the TV show. Torchwood‘s grim notion of nothing after death never sat well with me (especially considering Doctor Who‘s relative positivity about the nature of life and death), so I’m pleased to hear more context on the matter.
The alien they’re chasing is really just an excuse to bring Jack and Queen Victoria together, but it’s also a smart premise for a monster, tying into the play’s theme.
My main niggle is that the Queen has no entourage. That’s quite an oversight. Maybe they were all told to wait outside Torchwood because Victoria didn’t want her guards to have to deal with alien menaces? It’s a bit of a leap, and I wish a few lines of dialogue could’ve cleared it up.
Nonetheless, if that’s my only concern, it says a lot about how successful this opening release of Torchwood Series 2 is. It’s topped off with a brief interview with Rowena Cooper, who, as it turns out, has never seen Torchwood before but just loved this script. Considering The Victorian Age leaves a few dangling questions, director Scott Handcock asks Cooper if she’d like to return, to have further adventures with Jack and co.
“I want lots and lots more!” she concludes. And so do we, Big Finish. Pretty please?
Torchwood: The Victorian Age is out now, priced £9.99 on CD or £7.99 on download.

Philip Bates

Editor and co-founder of the Doctor Who Companion. When he’s not watching television, reading books ‘n’ Marvel comics, listening to The Killers, and obsessing over script ideas, Philip Bates pretends to be a freelance writer. He enjoys collecting everything. Writer of The Black Archive: The Pandorica Opens/ The Big Bang, The Silver Archive: The Stone Tape, and 100 Objects of Doctor Who.

Reviewed: Torchwood – The Victorian Age

by Philip Bates time to read: 3 min
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