We only got a glimpse of Torchwood One in Army of Ghosts and Doomsday; a brilliant and morally questionable institution led by Yvonne Hartman in Canary Wharf. Now, almost 11 years after our visit, Big Finish is allowing us to go back and see what Torchwood One was like before the Daleks and Cyberman waged war on one another, in Torchwood One: Before The Fall. Today, I’ll be reviewing the first episode, New Girl.
“They’ve been coming to us for years. And we’ve been kept in the dark. My name’s Rachel Allan. And I’m Torchwood”
It’s Rachel Allan’s first day at Torchwood. Torchwood only takes the brightest and the best – and Rachel’s wondering if Yvonne Hartman’s made a terrible mistake in picking her.
Plunged into a world of alien invasions and office politics, Rachel’s desperate to fit in. For one thing, she really wants this job. And, for another, she knows what happens at Torchwood if you fail.
Do you remember the Russell T Davis era of Doctor Who? Especially back in the days of Rose Tyler? Remember that introduction of Rose in Rose where we see just how normal her life is? Remember how, after watching that opening scene, your life changed a little bit? Joseph Lidster uses a very similar device to open New Girl, inviting us into the world of Rachel Allan. It brought back memories of being unsure, both of Doctor Who and of the life of this woman called Rose; and I already love the parallels. We also get callbacks to some of the events of Series 1 and 2 of the show, getting us back into the world of Torchwood. Two minutes in, and I’m already loving this.
I have to applaud Joseph Lidster’s writing for making Rachel seem so extraordinary and brilliant pretty much from the get go, making you realise just why she’s Torchwood material. We learn that she surfs the Dark Net and that she has done her research both on Torchwood and Yvonne before starting her job; of course, with it being her first day, she’s all flustered and a teensy bit unprofessional, but that makes her all the more relatable and loveable.
The idea that one of the members of Torchwood might be an alien purely because they claim to like James Blunt is absolutely hilarious, and reminds me of what Torchwood and Doctor Who both are; daft. Sure, you get the serious moments, and the scenes of emotional anguish and torment; but at the end of the day, it all falls apart if it can’t be somewhat ridiculous.
There are lots of references to events that happen within the RTD era of the show; including the Royal Hope Hospital in an incident before the Judoon, the Sphere that’s being kept in the bowels of Torchwood One and even some allusions to the Sycorax.
One of my favourite characters in New Girl had to be Tommy, the scientist whom Rachel is assigned to as his PA. Tommy is what you can probably only describe as ‘Old fashioned Yorkshireman’, which roughly translates to sexist man who isn’t afraid to speak his mind, no matter what the consequences may be. As a Yorkshireman myself (hopefully though, not one of the old fashioned type), I can confirm that a noticeable percentage of people over a certain age range do indeed act like Tommy. It’s nice to see some northern representation; even if Tommy is a bit of an arse.
We get to learn a lot more about Rachel as she gets more and more used to working for Torchwood; and, of course, something goes awry. It’d be rather dull without it. Once Rachel gets sent to Yvonne’s office, it’s like being in high school all over again, and being sent to the Headteacher’s office (even though that never personally happened to me).
Rachel quickly gets promoted and finds herself in situations that she didn’t expect to be in anytime soon; and Joseph Lidster even manages to show the more compassionate and human side of Torchwood as well. It’s fantastic. Some of her actions are flawed, sure, but it’s fantastic nonetheless.
There is an absolutely cataclysmic twist in the final two minutes (yes, two minutes to go and I’m getting slapped with a new truth) which I won’t talk about here, as I don’t want to spoil it for you. But Joseph Lidster, I applaud you.
Overall, New Girl is more or less a character piece, focussing on Rachel Addams, played exceptionally by Sophie Winkleman; it wouldn’t surprise me at all if we hear her character in the future, after this box set, as her character appears to have so many stories to tell. New Girl was brilliantly intelligent, funny, dark, heartwarming, and, most of all, engaging. That twist at the end was something I did not see coming at all. I adore being shocked. My only hope is that the next two stories will live up to this standard.
Should you want to purchase Torchwood One: Before The Fall, it’s currently available from Big Finish here for £15 for a limited time on digital download, or £20 for the CD box set.