This piece originally appeared as part of my weekly newsletter, The Full Lid . If you like it, and want a weekly down of pop culture enthusiasm, occasional ketchup recipes and me enjoying things, then check out the archive and sign up here.
Toshiko Sato (Naoko Mori) and Sebastian Vaughan (Hugh Skinner) are recruited into Torchwood at the same time. Toshiko, Tosh to her friends, is diligent, perceptive, hard-working, intuitive and socially awkward. Sebastian is a two gun Tory-boy, jumping sideways and on fire into battle not because he wants to but because it looks awesome and he is ALWAYS down for the bants.
Sebastian is dead. Tosh is sitting vigil over his body with his mother Madeline (Lucy Robinson). None of them are going to have a quiet night.
Lou Morgan is one of those authors whose work is always worth reading. It turns out, it’s also always worth listening to as this, her first audio drama, is a high watermark for the series. It uses the favored form Big Finish like (One character, small cast, small location count) and proceeds to not only kick a hole in the speaker, pull the plug and jet but tell a story that has uncommon resonance too.
This is Torchwood at it’s best, a series where science fiction is used to shine a spotlight onto the worst excesses of UK psychology and culture. In this case it’s the cheerily sociopathic aristocratic classes, embodied in Hugh Skinner’s gloriously monstrous Sebastian. You can almost smell the rugger pitch on him, see the old school tie and the twinkling bulldog eyes of someone who has been trained not only to expect everything but get it too. It would have been so easy for him to go full Giles Wemmbley-Hogg (Two ms, two gs), but neither Morgan or Skinner do that. Time and again Sebastian shows flashes of humanity only for them to be subsumed by his monstrous entitlement, possible racism and arrogance. Even his eventual fate turns on this particular dime, choosing his final moments in the story to do something if not irredeemable then certainly far less gracious than you’d expect from a man of his breeding.
But this is a story that belongs to the women. Lucy Robinson’s Madeline is arch but again never parodic. She’s incredibly proud of her family, furious at Tosh for having the temerity to be alive and quietly in pieces over the death of her son. The final scenes are all her and they give the story a raw, realistic edge that the show aimed for a lot in its early years but very rarely achieved.
That brings us to Tosh. Arguably the least well-served character in the original series, she’s blossomed through these audio releases and this is her strongest turn yet. Naoko Mori brings a quiet core of steel to the role, doggedly pursuing the truth as well as working around and with Sebastian’s institutionalized racism and sexism. Tosh is no one’s victim either and as the story continues, the flashbacks that explain Sebastian’s death really dive into that. She was, by far,one of the best officers Torchwood had, from the get go and this is one of her finest hours. Typically for Tosh, it goes unremarked but that doesn’t make it any less true.
Morgan and director Lisa Bowerman have created a subtle, nuanced audio driven story here that puts so many things under the microscope. The fundamental, profoundly damaging fetish the UK has for posh idiots who sound like they know what they’re doing, the endemic racism and sexism in so many workplaces, the emotional constipation of upper class families and the simple, quiet horror of dealing with a great job and bad workmates. Wrapped up in all this is an all-time great story for a fan favorite, a profoundly clever piece of drama and some truly glorious, acerbic dialogue. An absolute highlight of a fiercely strong range and a great jumping on point for the show as a whole.