A by-the-numbers action based run-around for Tosh plunges her into Torchwood’s most secret archive
Torchwood continues its monthly series at Big Finish with War Chest. Part of the reason Torchwood has been able to maintain a monthly release schedule when so many of Big Finish’s other ranges have moved to a box set strategy is the sheer variety on offer. These releases dance backwards and forwards in time, highlighting different characters from across the shadowy agency’s long history. This month it’s once more the turn of Toshiko Sato to step into the spotlight. Naoko Mori returns again to her role from the first two television series, as the Hub’s technology expert flies solo.
Tosh’s Big Finish appearances have often put this most emotionally sensitive member of Captain Jack’s team through some traumatic experiences. War Chest is no different, with Tosh kidnapped by the sinister Dow Cohort and threatened into helping them with a high tech burglary with high stakes. In some ways the story’s set-up is essential Torchwood by the numbers.
The target is another one of Torchwood’s archives of captured alien artefacts, the Antebellum, hidden below a warehouse in Croyden. The stash has an eccentrically homicidal defence mechanism. There are debates about whether the organization had the right to keep these things to itself, or if they were the right people to decide how to use them, and if the Dow Cohort are any better. (A theme underlined rather thickly by the Torchwood/Dow Cohort anagram.) There are secrets, reversals, and betrayals. There’s an innocent civilian Ed (Edward, sorry) caught up in Torchwood’s business who seems earmarked as a regretful sacrifice for the greater good. And, of course, an eleventh hour change of fortunes reveals Tosh as having more steel than her captors imagined.
Tosh’s antagonisers, Vernon and Nisha, are stock characters who never feel a genuine threat
At the same time, the Antebellum doesn’t feel part of the Torchwood we know. The gooey, organic computer at its heart recalls elements of The Victorian Age, it’s true. And the concept of a defence system with notions like ‘being at home to visitors’ reflects the institute’s Victorian origins. But things like rooms full of clocks storing Time itself, homicidal clockwork bookcases, and greenhouses of alien plants that follow you around (“it’s just looking for attention… and blood,” quips Tosh) feel more inspired by the Department of Mysteries in Harry Potter than Torchwood One.
Meanwhile, the Dow Cohort agents that have kidnapped Tosh, Vernon and Nisha, are somehow both generic cliches and uniquely annoying. Actor Tom Butcher brings a lively performance to Vernon, but the character never really amounts to more than grumpy hard man that you’d normally expect to be kicked out a window by Jason Stratham halfway through the movie. Though his yelling “Winner! Winner! Chicken dinner!” upon finding a big alien ray gun is a particularly special moment. Nisha, for her part, is such a stereotypical 00s Hollywood hacker girl you can almost hear the coloured streaks in her angular bob haircut.
War Chest’s greatest success is its ending, which plays out not exactly as you might expect
What War Chest does have going for it is a series of genuinely well delivered twists towards the end. Such reveals have been done before in Torchwood. But this iteration succeeds in surprising by being not quite the twist you expect. Ultimately, though, while first time writer Rossa McPhillips’ script successfully delivers the listener from Points A to D, while hitting the required B and C along the way, War Chest falls short of the explosive imagination and morally complex characterisation we’ve come to expect from the Torchwood range.
Torchwood: War Chest
It’s the largest depository of alien artefacts ever assembled, ready to wage war against the heavens. Of course, they called it the Antebellum. Of course, they forgot about it.
But the Dow Cohort have rediscovered it. And tonight, they’re breaking in. They have one hour and Toshiko Sato as a reluctant hostage. Can they steal Torchwood’s greatest secret?