A buying point for Big Finish’s latest Torchwood monthly release is this may well be the closest we get to a ninth episode of Series 3.
Episode nine? What do you mean, ‘episode nine’? In the week leading up to the iconic five-episode Children of Earth, three BBC Radio 4-exclusive episodes of Torchwood were broadcast one day after the other to bridge the gap between 2008’s post-Series 2 radio drama Lost Souls and the absolutely action-packed emotional suckerpunch that the series’ television return was about to deliver.
For several characters, these episodes either foreshadowed what was inbound or even linked directly to action in the early episodes, and James Goss’s Coffee feels like a coda to not just what was broadcast across both mediums in July 2009 but also the full history of the show. Series 3 had ended in a way that suggested that Torchwood would not return.
A bit like Ianto-establishing Big Finish audio Broken, this audio drama follows the format of jumping through the character’s Torchwood history via what he does away from the Hub. Which, as is well known, is very little. He lives for the job. Here we have a family-run coffee (and bap) shop in Cardiff Bay that, after some gentle assistance from everyone’s favourite coffee boy, ends up making the best coffee in the area.
He becomes a shop regular upon his return to Wales from the fall of Torchwood One in 2007, and we get to witness his attempt to get into Torchwood Three from his minimalist caravan park dwellings, then into Torchwood Three, and eventually establish himself as a crucial part of it until his untimely death in 2009. All through the lens of his coffee trips. Very much a companion piece to Broken.
There are lots of references to and direct involvement in episodes from the first two series, including Ianto’s very first appearance and how he acquires one very specific prop, and there’s even a heavy dosage of how Cardiff was affected by the events of Doctor Who’s television stories that ran concurrently. The continuity is fun to spot here.
It’s genuinely how Torchwood would probably be discussed by baristas if it were real life rather than a TV show, and builds on one of the franchise’s greatest strengths of being firmly grounded in its Welsh setting and its inhabitants.
David (Shaun Chambers) and Kathy (Sarah Griffin) run the coffee shop and are two characters easy to become interested in, especially United States-born Kathy. She doesn’t just have a pretty American voice, and a Ianto-rivalling skill for coffee serving, but also strikes up a very nice rapport with Ianto that begins basically as soon as he appears in the shop.
The relationship between the trio isn’t an easy one though, especially when the coffee shop takes its fair share of damage from Cardiff’s various moments of alien chaos, and that’s important because a story told through a compilation of scenes needs a narrative of its own with a dramatic hook before it heads into the ‘present-day’ Children of Earth scenes.
Just like when watching that series live, and even on repeat, there is a bottom-of-the-belly uneasiness as events ramp up over those five days and the snippets we get of it in Coffee keep the impact close to home. Very close to home, as this is of course a Ianto-centred tale.
This is another great Torchwood release from Big Finish that feels like a missing TV episode. And yes, you will cry when The Ballad of Ianto Jones is played.
Torchwood: Coffee is available now from Big Finish.