Saturday, 30 April 2016

Torchwood: Fall to Earth written by James Goss and directed by Scott Handcock

What's it about: The SkyPuncher is the first private spaceflight. But Ephraim Salt's visionary project has gone horribly wrong - the ship is falling out of the sky and there seems no way to stop it. Ianto Jones thought the flight would be sabotaged. The only problem is... he's on board.

The Fall Guy: 'This is what Torchwood does, isn't it Jack? Ruins everyone. Everyone it touches...' Was there something up with Gareth David-Lloyd's accent in this? At points he didn't sound much like Ianto. Has it been so long since he has played the character that he has forgotten how he is supposed to sound? No, that's a little disingenuous - it might do you well to remember Ianto is in a fraught situation and if he sounds a little more hysterical than usual...well that's just how things are when you are hurtling towards the Earth and leaking blood at a rate of knots. Whilst he's panic stricken about the situation he has found himself in, Ianto is still awed by the incredible sight of the Earth from space. Who wouldn't be? His reaction to driving a spaceship is equally awesome, practically screaming with delight. Mind, he is a delirious at this stage after being bitten by a man who he thought was dead. By the end of the story Ianto has every kind of insurance going, just to keep Zeynep on the line. Better check that credit card statement when you get home. Let's hope he's ticked the box for life insurance too, given what we know of his future. His family could be raking it in right now. He's not a martyr but Ianto recognises that his life doesn't matter when the SkyPuncher is going to take the lives of many people when it crashes down on Turkey. Did Ianto want to show off to his colleagues that he could handle the spy stuff by sneaking himself aboard the SkyPuncher? He wanted to impress Jack and the others by nearly getting himself killed? Unfortunately that is exactly the sort of behaviour that is recognised and celebrated in Torchwood. If you make it home, you're a hero. If you don't, they'll replace you with someone else. Zeynep spells it out in no uncertain terms, no company is worth dying for.

Standout Performance: It seems discourteous to other releases (and performers) to say that this kind of story relies on strong performances more but it is true, this two hander is being held up entirely by Gareth David-Lloyd and Lisa Zahra and they both impress. Especially the latter who is a newcomer to Big Finish as far as I can tell and manages to shows great moments of charm and humour as Zeynep whilst remaining professional and within the limits of her job as a phone operator.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'Please speak after the beep. Beep.'
'I'll try to make my panic less sex pesty.'
'I can't think of anything worse than being on a plane that's about to crash.'

Great Ideas: Poor Ianto Jones, he never had much luck in life, did he? Only he could be bleeding to death on a spaceship that's falling out of the sky and receive a telephone call about claiming compensation about an accident at work. It's very contemporary to have story featuring a private space flight given Richard Branson's claims that he is going to make space travel a commercial business. Let's hope he gives this story a listen. Ianto has the ability to turn any computer in the world into one of the most powerful indexes on the planet with access to all kids of socially sensitive information. You've got to love an Indian phone operator that sticks to the script even when their potential customer is in dire straits. This was the first private space flight with lots of celebrity passengers, it was a high profile event. Ianto was dispatched to make sure that nothing went wrong. Famous last words. Now everybody is dead and something is very wrong with the ship. When you have little phone battery left on a space craft that is screaming from the heavens the next best thing is to search the bodies of the dead to see if they have anything that can help you. Not a pleasant task. Salt coming back from the dead (well he was never really dead but Ianto thought that he was) is a terrific shock moment in what was turning into rather a sweet character piece (albeit in a heart racing situation). It's a slap in the face reminder that this mission has been a dismal failure. The approach to the climax had to feature the SkyPuncher reaching the Earth and dealing with the fate of Ianto but who would have thought that his relationship with Zeynep would become as intimate as the ship tearing towards the very building she is calling him from. A trap by the Committee to bring down Salt's SkyPuncher? Zeynep dialling out to Ianto was never a mistake, it was a deliberately routed call. That I never expected. By keeping Ianto alive she has brought the SkyPuncher to Turkey, to the heart of Salt's Empire. In one violent swoop the Committee are going to bring down Salt.

Standout Scene: What an incredible journey we go on with Ianto and Zeynep. At the end of the story one of them has to sacrifice themselves and one of them can survive. It's an astonishing scene between two people that barely know each other but realise the decisions that they make are going to have huge consequences. Zahra's performance in the last scene took my breath away.

Result: 'You're flying a bomb at me!' A wonderfully simple idea, so well realised. The relationship between Ianto and Zeynep is beautifully observed by writer James Goss who has no other distractions but to focus on the pair of them trying to deal with a desperate situation. Given Big Finish is told purely through the medium of audio I am surprised that there haven't been more two hander experiments of this nature as scaling back the cast of characters can often yield terrific results. Look at DS9's Duet and Waltz. The Outer Limits' The Quality of Mercy. Or even Big Finish's glorious Solitaire. What plays out is a tense situation that gets more butt clenching as the story races home to it's conclusion but it peppered with some sublime moments of comedy (Ianto's 'hooray' when his dog is insured really cracked a smile and I couldn't help but laugh my head off when during a particularly fraught moment Ianto is put on hold while a chirpy message of 'your call is important to us...' is piped into his ears) and character throughout that keeps the piece from getting too fatalistic. By making this such an intimate drama, you are entirely focused on what is happening and it should serve as a reminder to certain writers that think that unwieldy plots and characters are the way to go. Scott Handcock doesn't have an easy job to do, bringing such a small story to life in a way that it rivets the listener for an hour. But this is the producer of the Dorian Gray series where economy and drama go hand in hand. He's the perfect director for this story and it keeps the attention throughout. Maybe I've got a taste for technology porn when it is placed in a space setting - I thoroughly enjoyed the Doctor Who release Scavenger too which in parts had a similarly desperate tone and a wealth of information about space vehicles. The core word of what makes this story work is restraint and that is not a word that I ever thought I would associate with Torchwood. I'm glad James Goss has managed to prove me wrong. I've been told that perhaps I am a little too free with my 10/10's but my personal scale is to ask the questions 'how could this be better?' and when I am stuck for an answer the score flows naturally from that (although the mention of Lisa from Cyberwoman almost made me change my mind): 10/10


Anonymous said...

This is a stand out audio play - brilliantly produced, written and acted...

However, one correction to your review- Zeynep is Turkish, not Indian, her call centre is in Turkey.

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