What a cold open.
If you read the plot summary or look at the CD cover before listening to Red Base, you will have some idea of what the opening scene may be. But that doesn’t matter, because its build-up and delivery is executed perfectly in such a small amount of time. I was grinning from ear-to-ear by the time the Torchwood theme came in.
And grinning even more from Sergeant Andy’s self-confessed Torchwood member status.
From the off, this episode has the listener questioning the characters and scenery, and you will pass through quite a few of your own theories – and then revisit some of the older ones again to some surprise – as the story beats change the direction of our intrigue. The basis of this episode is that Andy, brilliantly played by Tom Price, has come to investigate a number of deaths at an isolated base in Wales that is playing host to a nine-month simulation of how humans would find life on Mars.
The deaths continue to happen after Andy’s arrival, and our prime suspect is quickly revealed as the base’s literally mobile computer interface Dave. Jeremy Ang Jones’s voicework on this artificial intelligence really sells it as a character, and it is explored in just as much depth as the other members of the cast whose run of dialogue isn’t ended by premature death. In fact, as those characters’ motivations are unwrapped, it’s reminiscent of previous Torchwood monthly release Save our Souls.
Dave is totally in control of this story, which is a hark back to sci-fi classics such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, but also taps into a very modern fear as billionaires attempt their own programmes to put humanity on Mar’s surface – rather than a grassy quarry near a Welsh A-road.
A Welsh base comes on a Welsh budget, or a BBC Three Torchwood budget were this the 2000s, which adds to the despair of life on Starr Base. Death would probably be written in the contract if you were actually a Mars pioneer (sorry Adelaide).
Andy gets dragged into the action deeper and deeper by both his own curiosity and the seemingly unrivalled Dave, who is really fun to visualise due to his mobile abilities.
The cause of the deaths on the base is put down to ‘human error’, but it’s hard to be sure of what that means when the characters don’t trust each other and a ‘B team’ cast brings their A game. Even Andy becomes a suspect for the crimes he’s come to investigate, but he does get his Poirot moments, which Price cherishes.
A gorgeous musical cue ends this episode, which is another must-buy not only of the Torchwood monthly range but of Big Finish’s output across the board. Once again, the behind-the-scenes interviews are a great listen too.
Sergeant Andy has now appeared in Doctor Who – in Big Finish’s Stranded 1 boxset – and Price mentions how he can now rival John Barrowman’s return later this– wait, no, surely not? Another hint that Captain Jack will return in Revolution of the Daleks?
Torchwood: Red Base is out now from Big Finish.