Reviewed By: thisoldcan
Review Date: 5/17/17 5:56 pm
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The Dollhouse, the second story of 2017's run of Torchwood stories looks at the adventures of Torchwood's Los Angeles branch, made up of the trio of Marlow Sweet (Laila Pyne), Charley Du Bujeau (Kelly-Anne Lyons), and Gabi Martinez (Ajjaz Awad). These three ladies, directed by the shadowy Mr. Beamish (Guy Adams) work to protect the West Coast from alien threats in the name of the British Empire. But they're about to come face-to-face with the seedy underbelly of Hollywood, as they put themselves in harm's way to try and stop a horrific series of events. The Dollhouse is an odd production for Big Finish. Starring three female actors, including a Black actress and a Muslim, and written by a trans writer, this release is certainly, on a production level, a complete departure from Big Finish's normal production. And as a story, it's unique in that it features almost no ties to the original source material, save for a passing reference. But overall, the story itself was a solid, if a bit bland, adventure for a fun new team. Buoyed by an excellent chemistry between the three lead actors, though with some extremely dodgy accents throughout, and with a solid script from newcomer Juno Dawson, this was a surprisingly enjoyable story to listen to.
The cast was strong, if a little too cliched for my liking. The first member of the cast is Laila Pyne as Marlow Sweet, a brilliantly bright woman who turns into a conspiracy theorist, only to be noticed by Torchwood. Pyne does a good job with what she's been given here, which is mostly a script filled with 1970's New York cliches. She's fun, and delivers her lines with relish, making for a very fun performance, even if she was asked to affect an extremely dodgy, stereotypical "blacccent". Likewise, Kelly-Anne Lyons was tasked with bringing Southern former pickpocket Charley Du Bujeau to life, taking on a rather exaggerated Southern accent, but still managing to deliver a fun bit of acting nonetheless. I particularly liked her strong bits of acting towards the end of the play, captured by Stuart Milligan's Don Donohue, during her interactions with both him and Valerie Fox (Eve Webster). Rounding out the main cast is Ajjaz Awad, playing Gabi Martinez. Her character, an immigrant from Mexico who comes joins Torchwood after encounter aliens, was an enjoyable character as well, even if the accent itself was beyond stereotypical and came across as incredibly fake. While the individual actors didn't work out all that well in my opinion, what made them work as a unit was their excellent chemistry. I'm not quite sure how this release was recorded, but the interplay between the three leads makes it seem like all three have been friends for years, and were recording in the same booth. Their excellent chemistry really elevated some dodgy performances, and made for an excellent trio of lead performances.
The writing by newcomer Juno Dawson was an enjoyable story, but some poor writing for the characters. The story was a pretty standard "pilot" episode story. A trio of likable characters are tasked with a dangerous mission, where they're forced to be put in harm's way, one member dies, only for another, inspired by the trio, to take her place, as they abandon their original handler. But Dawson does well making it feel interesting and exciting. This is certainly one of the most standalone Torchwood releases to date, featuring almost no mention of any other Torchwood story, save for a brief mention of Jack Harkness, and the story is elevated somewhat by it. It makes the story feel unconstrained and yet familiar at the same time. It's new, it's exciting, and it makes for a really interesting story.
But while the plot was interesting, I felt that the character work by Dawson was rather lacking. Each character is written with a distinct lack of depth; Marlow Sweet is a sassy, strong black woman, Charley Du Bujeau is a motherly, Southern accented actress, and Gabi Martinez constantly talks about her abuela and her chicas. I appreciate what Dawson was doing, and how she handled it pretty well, but the writing borders on offensive at times, with all three main characters sometimes barely moving beyond sterotypes. It's lazy in many ways, and really bogs down an otherwise interesting story. That's not to say that the writing was extremely bad though, because at times, there were excellent moments of character work by Dawson. The writing of Charley Du Bujeau in particular was handled extremely well throughout the story. I think in many ways, I'm letting the writing pass, because this is only a one-hour long story; it's nigh impossible to fit in large amounts of character work for three separate leads into one-hour audio story, and what Dawson is able to do with the story is impressive nonetheless. If this were to become a fully-fledged series of Torchwood stories, I would be a little harder on the story if some of the issues I have with the characters persisted, but for now, I think it was a strong, if slightly misguided start.
Lastly, I'd like to make special mention of Blair Mowat's work on the music for this story. I complained last month that the music for Visiting Hours was starting to get stale, as it had been used in every story, and I was hoping for some slight changes here and there, to fit the mood of the story. In The Dollhouse, Big Finish changed up the music a bit, invigorating the script and making it feel glitzy and retro throughout. Big Finish did a great job making the story feel slightly jazzy at times, while keeping the same familiar themes of their Torchwood range at times. It was one of my biggest criticisms of some recent Torcwhood stories, so it was nice to see Big Finish change things up a bit.
Overall, The Dollhouse was a solid, though flawed story. The main cast was solid as a unit, but individually slightly underwhelming. Kelly-Anne Lyons gave a strong performance in this story towards the end, but otherwise, the cast struggled to make an impression. But the excellent chemistry between leads Pyne, Lyons, and Awad really elevated the cast. Newcomer Dawson's script was a strong, if also underwhelming affair, that sometimes bordered on the offensive and lazy, with it's handling of the main characters. It had an enjoyable plot, giving new twists to an old tale, and set up a really interesting potential series for the Torchwood brand at Big Finish. Overall, while it certainly had flaws, it was an enjoyable piece to listen to, and I can appreciate it for what it did behind-the-scenes.