Reviewed By: thisoldcan
Review Date: 1/22/17 2:41 am
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Torchwood One: Before the Fall is a story about a hostile takeover and a conflict that threatens to end both the career and the life of Yvonne Hartman (Tracy-Ann Oberman), the head of Torchwood One. Across three hours, Yvonne must make choices and decisions if she's going to survive as head of Torchwood. But this is a fight that Yvonne must win. One that she will win, whatever the cost. Torchwood One: Before the Fall is the latest full-cast Torchwood story from Big Finish and the first to primarily star one of their "one-off characters". It is far more of an interesting story than last year's Torchwood: Outbreak, and the character work for Oberman's character is absolutely fantastic, but otherwise it feels like this was a rather superfluous story, with some perfectly fine though boring scripts, and a generally shallow guest cast.
To start off, I'll look at the cast, and the first person is obviously Tracy-Ann Oberman as Yvonne Hartman. Oberman is an absolute delight as Yvonne Hartman; she's cruel, ruthless, sadistic, sickly sweet, and just oozes danger with every word. Her previous story, One Rule, was a delightful story to listen to here, and the strong character work that the writers gave to her made her the absolute highlight of this story. She steals every single scene she's a part of, and commands attention. I particularly liked her scenes in the final part acting alongside Sophie Winkelman as Rachel Allan; they were cruel and brutal, and Oberman did an absolutely fantastic job here. Also of note is Gareth David-Lloyd as Ianto Jones, portraying a very different Ianto than we're used to. I liked this version of Ianto, and I think David-Lloyd did a great job making him different from the Ianto viewers are used to. He's far more like he was in the Torchwood pilot episode, with a kind of posh reserve, but I liked the little hints of something a bit more going on inside his head. There was just a bit of a darker tone to his performance that was very subtly implied, which I quite enjoyed.
For the guest cast, a lot of the actors really don't do much, and sort of blend in with all the others. It could be because it's a large guest cast, but I found myself struggling to differentiate certain characters or notice really anyone who stood out. I did like Sophie Winkleman's performance as Rachel Allan, the central guest character of this story, and the central antagonist, but overall, I disliked her characterization. The story never really gives a satisfying reason for her motivations to take control of Torchwood, other than vaguely mentioning Yvonne and her relation to her father, and her burning desire to do good and save the human race, but it just never really satisfied me. I know this story was really about Yvonne Hartman, but it would've been nice if the story could've given it's central antagonist more of a backstory.
The plot itself, as I've said a few times above, felt rather underwhelming, at least for the first two hours. Joseph Lidster's opening story, New Girl was a quite fun little story about a new Torchwood employee and her first few weeks with Torchwood. I quite liked the focus on Rachel in this story, and the tertiary focus on Yvonne, as it almost built up Yvonne as this more mysterious figure. I quite liked the twist towards the end with Yvonne being accused of deliberately killing Pippa. However, I found that while it was perfectly enjoyable, and had occasional flashes of something more, I found it a bit boring, to be honest.
The second story, Through the Ruins, was far more of a mess, in my opinion. I disliked how the rest of the story itself meandered and just felt like pure filler. Jenny T Colgan normally delivers strong scripts, so I was quite disappointed by her inconsequential plot here. With more of a focus on Ianto and Rachel in this story, I think the story suffered as a result, as neither David-Lloyd nor Winkleman could quite match Oberman's performance here. The story was supposed to be about developing what was happening at Torchwood during Yvonne's absence, but instead the story felt inconsequential and incomplete.
The final story of the set, Matt Fitton's Uprising was the highlight of the set, in my opinion. While I disliked the poor development of Rachel's motivations and goals, I did quite like the large scale of this story. Considering Fitton's track record as of late with finales, it was nice to have Fitton deliver a solid script. The highlight of this set was, as it always is, Oberman's performance as Yvonne Hartman. Her final scenes, one confronting Rachel and one with Ianto and Rachel, are the highlights of this story, and give this story an extremely dark ending. I also quite liked, overall, Yvonne's convoluted plans for retaking Torchwood from Rachel.
My only other issue, and it's a very minor one, is that while Blair Mowat and Steve Wright's work on the Big Finish Torchwood soundtrack is stellar, I wish they'd given this release a little bit of love. As it stands, Big Finish basically just inserted their standard Torchwood music, including themes, stings, and background music, into this story. I wish they'd given it a little bit of a different flair to differentiate it from previous Torchwood stories, either by giving it a bit of a mid-00's flair or just changing it up and doing something familiar, but different.
Overall, I did enjoy Torchwood One: Before the Fall, if nothing else but for the absolutely stellar performance by Tracy-Ann Oberman as Yvonne Hartman. The guest cast never really stood out, and the scripts, apart from the final story, felt rather lackluster, and the central antagonist was a disappointment. But the final part brought a delightful, excellent character piece to the table, and the performance of Oberman throughout was quite delightful. Overall, it was an enjoyable release for the character work alone, and a delightfully dark story in the end, even if the journey to get to the end was a bit boring.