Double explores yet another new era of Torchwood, as Roberta Craven battles to save the decade that taste forgot
In many ways Double represents Big Finish’s most ambitious idea for Torchwood yet. Oh, they’ve told the continuing adventures of the Torchwood Three team post-Miracle Day, introducing a set of new team mates. They’ve fleshed out Canary Wharf and Yvonne Hartman’s little empire at Torchwood One before their fall. They’ve spun Queen Victoria herself off into her own strand of gothic nightmares. And they’ve opened up the world of 1950s Soho with the team of that era. Along the way they’ve introduced brilliant new additions to the Torchwood payroll like Tommy, Mr. Colchester, Norton Folgate and Lisbeth Hayhoe.
But in each of those cases there’s some pre-existing character to act as a familiar anchor for listeners. The ongoing adventures featured all the survivors of the television show among the new faces. Torchwood One has Yvonne and Ianto. Torchwood Soho features a time travelling Sgt. Andy. And as for Queen Victoria, well, the name rings a bell.
But Double is the first time Blogtor Who can recall an entire new Torchwood era leaping into the air without that safety net of an established character connecting it to what’s gone before. (And Blogtor may be deliberately not recalling The Dollhouse there, but that may be for the best.) But does Double, and its new 1970s Torchwood soar or fall?
Roberta may be completely unknown to listeners, but casting the consistently awesome Louise Jameson is a master stroke
Big Finish have chosen to manage the risks by strapping Louise Jameson into this particular trapeze to push off into the air. Her Roberta Craven may be a brand new face. But Doctor Who fans everywhere know and love Jameson thanks to her portrayal of the Fourth Doctor’s companion Leela. She’s also one of the most reliably brilliant actors of her generation, burning up screens with both intensity and nuance in everything from Tenko to Bergerac and, currently, Emmerdale. And with Roberta such a challenging, enigmatic, and fierce character, someone of Jameson’s skill is exactly what’s required.
Roberta is neurodivergent, probably an alcoholic, and definitely bitter about the derailing of her MI5 career leaving her stuck as leader of “bloody Torchwood.” So intelligent she rails against the stupidity of her job and of the various government agencies in her way. She even despairs at the stupidity of the aliens she’s fighting. And she has a point. The Nestene Consciousness is back, and they’re not being subtle. Setting up their ‘Nessoil’ company, the Autons are ready to exploit the new oil fields of the North Sea, and very publicly murdering by the dozen members of any government, company, or media outlet that gets too close.
Double Part One is built entirely around Jameson’s riveting performance
The unusual release pattern of Double, with this first part of the Auton thriller being followed by the conclusion on the 26th of the month, means you reach the end with more questions than answers. It also means that most of Part One is given over to introducing Roberta as a character. As such it succeeds or fails by the strength of Jameson’s performance. She’s blisteringly good throughout. The heat of her rage and frustration at the neurotypical world around her is never once less than absolutely convincing. And the colours she gives her performance, from slowly burning embers below the surface, dangerous flickers of flame, to righteous infernos, is a testament to just how good she is.
The unusual release structure of Double does give Part One the disadvantage of being all set up with no pay off
A few points about Double Part One do niggle. But they all seem likely to be addressed if not by the end of Part Two then in subsequent adventures. For instance, there’s little sense here of a fully functional Torchwood at work in the 1970s. Instead it seems to be entirely Roberta herself pounding the streets looking for answers. She’s accompanied by nobody but her constant, long suffering, shadow Patty (Emma Lowndes). There’s a faint sense however that Anthony Howell’s ruthlessly professional (or should that be professionally ruthless) MI5 assassin Cornwell may find himself crossing the rubicon to Torchwood by Double’s end. And more members of the team can always be introduced if we revisit the 70s in the future.
Similarly, a slight imbalance in the script’s characterisation of Roberta will doubtless by evened out in future episodes. Here writer Guy Adams, himself neurodivergent, provides Roberta with perhaps half a dozen powerful metaphors and speeches about what it feels like to be her, her brain firing at maximum at all times, equally likely to attune itself to the end of the world and the slight crookedness of a shelf. The trouble is that we she uses them all across various scenes in one episode. The result is her spending a great deal more time announcing what a tortured genius she is that she does displaying any genius in her investigation into the Nestene. But Blogtor imagines Part Two will climax with Roberta doing something very clever indeed.
The ultimate test for Double Part One is whether it leaves you wanting to get Part Two, and it absolutely succeeds
Few would have thought when Big Finish first announced the Torchwood range sixteen years ago that it would swiftly prove to the engine for some of the company’s most potent and consistently compelling dramas. Fewer still would have foreseen it successfully generating so many of its own spin-offs and strands, each as gripping as the next. But with Double and the 1970s world of Roberta Craven, it looks it may have just done it again.
Torchwood: Double Part One
1970s London is a place of suspicion and murder. The assassination of an entire embassy comes to the attention of Torchwood.
There’s a global energy crisis. There’s an alien invasion. Petrochemical companies are subject to hostile take overs by the mysterious Nessoil. Extremely hostile take overs.
Roberta Craven was once a spy. Now she’s broken. But she can still see the patterns in the world. And they’re closing in around her.
Torchwood: Double Part One, written by Guy Adams, is now available to own for just £10.99 (collector’s edition single-disc CD + download) or £8.99 (download only).