Captain Jack is back again to kick start Series 2 of Big Finish’s Torchwood saga; this time he’s having a run in with Queen Victoria in this story written by AK Benedict; will The Victorian Age become part of Torchwood history, or is it best for it to stay in the past?
London, England, the 1890s. Queen Victoria, ruler of Great Britain and Ireland and Empress of India, has arrived for her annual inspection of the Torchwood Institute. This year, everyone is quite determined, nothing will go wrong.
Several minutes later a terrible creature is unleashed on the streets of London. No one knows where it comes from, what it is, or even why it’s on Earth. It’s ruthless, has no morals, and is quite unstoppable. Captain Jack Harkness is on the loose, and Queen Victoria is along for the ride of her life.
It’s fairly common knowledge that I adore Big Finish and I would absolutely kill for the opportunity to write a story for them (if you’re reading this guys, feel free to hit me up) but I honestly can think of nothing more daunting than kick starting the second series of an immensely popular and well received Big Finish property, a la Torchwood. That’s exactly what AK Benedict has been given the task to do though; this is her first Big Finish story, and she’s had to follow on from some absolutely cracking stories; rather her than me!
The first thing I absolutely adored was the opening; “The 19th Century is when everything changes… and we are ready” said by Rowena Cooper who plays Queen Victoria in this release; like Russell T Davies’ cameo at the end of last series, these little changes or easter eggs really pay off if you’re a hardcore Torchwood fan (I don’t think we have a name like Whovian… Torchwoodian?).
It’s inspection day at the Natural History Museum, where the Torchwood Institute is running its operations, and of course, things won’t be going exactly to plan. One of the advantages of Jack’s immortality is that we have a near infinite amount of possibilities as to where and when in Jack’s timeline we join him in adventures; there’s nothing stopping Big Finish showing us what Torchwood might be like in the 30th century with Jack still at the helm; it’s one good reason to be immortal I suppose.
Queen Victoria is portrayed with extremely dry humour and wit; even though we never see her, we know that she has to be older than she was in Tooth and Claw when Her Majesty decided to set up the Torchwood Institute. I’m also glad that AK Benedict has decided to make Victoria very hands on and involved with Torchwood; it would have been easy to portray the famous monarch as someone who only glances over these matters and tries to keep her distance; even Captain Jack isn’t sure if her thirst for such perilous adventure is wise, but it seems that the Queen really does enjoy the thrill of the chase. I’d love there to be a Torchwood story where Queen Elisabeth II has a similar engagement and her corgi’s get to defeat a Weevil.
One part of the story that rather surprised me is the relationship and the dynamic between Captain Jack Harkness and Queen Victoria is definitely the flirtatious nature. It’s not in the direction you were probably expecting either; Jack, a character who is famous for his easy-going flirtatiousness with anyone and almost anything is rivalled by Her Majesty’s soft spot for the 51st Century Time Agent. Considering that Queen Victoria banished the Tenth Doctor and Rose for being too alien and bringing destruction, it’s rather odd to me that she’d seemingly have a soft spot for someone who also brings so much devastation in his wake.
There’s a great moment in which Victoria scorns Jack for using centimetres when describing… something (spoilers!) and commands him to use the imperial measurements in accordance with the rest of Her Majesty’s great empire.
If there’s one thing that I hope Big Finish decides to revisit that is touched upon in this story, it’s the Victorian Torchwood London crew with Josephine and Archie, as I’d like to get to know their characters as much as we know Gwen, Ianto and the rest of the ‘modern’ Torchwood Cardiff gang.
Considering this story started out fairly light-hearted and seeming like the type of Torchwood story that could be considered a fun romp; AK Benedict manages to add some very sombre and downbeat moments in which Jack forewarns the Queen that living a long life isn’t necessarily such a good thing, especially when it is filled with loss and heartbreak. Personally, I absolutely love these moments and glimpses from Jack as to what his life has been like. It really goes to show that immortality really is a curse.
Nothing is more Torchwood than having Queen Victoria firing a plasma gun at an alien in Hyde Park whilst riding on horseback, and I’m really glad that AK Benedict realises that certain sentences like that one that seem so nonsensical are prime moments in a show like Torchwood. There’s never too long a sensible moment before AK injects a sense of fun or daftness into proceedings, reminding the listener just how outrageous Torchwood is meant to be.
One of my favourite scenes from this story is when Captain Jack leaves Queen Victoria in a pub; the first public house Her Majesty has ever been in, and the way she behaves and interacts with the common folk is incredibly humorous and generous; it’s really interesting that AK Benedict had portrayed the former Queen as such a kind-hearted soul, where she’s normally portrayed as a somewhat cold and harsh figure in other forms of media.
Most people would consider it difficult to have a good character arc explored in just under an hour; especially when it comes to a character as famous and as historically important as Queen Victoria herself, but somehow this release manages just that. During the closing ten minutes of the story; we get to hear Queen Victoria act as she did in Tooth and Claw, and it doesn’t seem out of character at all; in fact, I think it enhances her believability and her motivations; in her heart, Victoria is doing what she has to do for the good of her British Empire.
An aspect of the story that I’ve hardly mentioned in this review is the unnamed monster threat; mainly because it’s not my place to ruin its unique qualities and its interesting nature, however personally I feel like the story wouldn’t have been lacking if it did not include the creature at all.
In his past two Big Finish outings, I would say that John Barrowman’s portrayal of Captain Jack Harkness have been the stand out performances in each of those stories; however in The Victorian Age I feel like the winner of the limelight has to go to Rowena Cooper’s performance as Queen Victoria. Not only did she start as an older woman filled with dry humour and reassurance as to who she is; but as the story progressed, we got small and subtle glimpses into a woman who is nervous, scared and filled with a sense of duty as Queen of Great Britain and Ireland, and Empress of India which may be why she’s hiding her more vulnerable side.
At its core, The Victorian Age is essentially a murder mystery done Torchwood style; in my opinion though, that’s barely scratching the surface as to what AK Benedict’s story is at all. This release is one of the best character pieces that Big Finish has ever produced, and it’s a great showcase of everyone involved’s talents. If this release didn’t make Big Finish beg AK Benedict to write more stories for them, then something is definitely wrong; I think that AK Benedict has the potential to be one of the most talented and well renowned writers in Big Finish’s arsenal.
The rating system on the GallifreyArchive is achieved on a scale of 1-10.
For The Victorian Age, I will give a rating of:
Should you want to purchase The Victorian Age, it’s currently available both physically for £9.99 and as a download for just £7.99, which you can purchase by clicking here!