Torchwood: Fall to EarthBookmark and Share

Monday, 14 December 2015 - Reviewed by Thomas Buxton
Torchwood Fall to Earth
Torchwood: Fall to Earth
Written by James Goss
Directed by Scott Handcock
​​Starring: Gareth David-Lloyd (Ianto Jones); Lisa Zahra (Zeynep)
Released by Big Finish Productions - October 2015​
 

“Don’t forget me.”

“Never could.”

“In a thousand years’ time, you won’t remember me.”

“Yes, I will. I promise, I will.”

Half a dozen years may have passed since Ianto Jones bade his love an emotional farewell with these heart-breaking words in Torchwood: Children of Earth’s devastating third instalment, but this much is certain – while we’ll have to wait for Jack’s first post-Miracle Day adventure courtesy of Big Finish before knowing whether he kept his promise to his most faithful companion, judging by the still-standing memorial erected in the character’s honour down on Cardiff Bay shortly after his demise, fans haven’t shown any signs whatsoever of forgetting him as of yet.

Indeed, such is Ianto’s immense appeal that from the moment Big Finish confirmed that Gareth David-Lloyd would reprise the role in the second of their Torchwood audio dramas, Fall to Earth, the release in question almost instantaneously seemed to become the most anticipated instalment of Season One – or Season Five, depending on how one views this freshman run in terms of its canonicity and chronology – outclassing even the John Barrowman-led The Conspiracy or the Eve Myles and Kai Owen-starring Forgotten Lives to the extent that his return in future seasons now seems all but guaranteed despite Mr. Jones’ present posthumous status. Yes, for those wondering, despite David-Lloyd taking on the leading role this time around, his character hasn’t somehow been resurrected via a hallucination as was the case in BBC Radio 4’s 2011 drama The Lost Files: House of the Dead, but instead features in a seemingly standalone storyline which appears to take place sometime around the events of Season Two – although once again, don’t expect much in the way of direct references to the rest of the team beyond a couple of passing namechecks. All the same, though, even if we won’t be seeing Ianto’s eternal slumber interrupted in the near future, judging by the strength of David-Lloyd’s performance, more flashback outings certainly wouldn’t be unwelcome.

Not only does he recapture the innocence, the somewhat dry wit and above all the infrequent recklessness that made his character such a joy to watch develop in the first three seasons of the show’s televised run, but in the small space of just an hour of air-time, he simultaneously manages to endow his construct with new facets such as a profound fear of dying alone, a renewed emphasis on proving himself to a team who (rightly or wrongly) too often view him as a “coffee boy” at best and a surprising willingness to sacrifice his life for the cause in the hope that this will at least ensure his teammates’ hard-earned respect if nothing else. What with all of the hype surrounding this release in particular, few could have blamed either David-Lloyd or indeed writer James Goss for resting on their laurels in an attempt to simply depict Ianto in as quintessential a manner as possible, which makes their efforts to achieve precisely the opposite that much worthier of credit aplenty.

Speaking of Goss, this reviewer has started to lose count of the number of accomplished contributions the man behind the recent novelisation of City of Death has made to the so-called Whoniverse in recent years – incidentally, the short story he’s written for the just-released hardback novel, Doctor Who: Legends of Ashildr, comes highly recommended too – and by no means does his third Torchwood audio storyline fall short of the mark either. It’s certainly not a game-changer in the same vein as The Conspiracy was with its integration of social media, conspiracy theory-driven bloggers and other topical elements which affect today’s secret agency into its array of storytelling methods, yet there’s still something refreshing about the way in which Goss crafts the entirety of his simple yet engaging narrative around two characters, one of whom (Ianto, for those wondering) must spend what appear to be the final moments of his life attempting to convince the other, a telesales assistant going by the name of Zeynep, that without her assistance, the plane he’s currently in the midst of piloting will surely crash and burn, doubtless taking countless lives in the process. Such a unique dynamic as this naturally lends itself far more to the format of an audio drama than it would have to any of Torchwood’s televised outings, and true to form, Goss takes full advantage of the rare nature of his opportunity, throwing various spanners in the mix so as to keep both the listeners and the characters on their toes – an aspect of the tale of which director Scott Handcock takes full advantage by cutting from Ianto to Zeynep to some of the external forces threatening the former with a tension-inducing rapidity –  but equally giving his lead performers just as much chance to shine as Peter Capaldi received from Steven Moffat in “Heaven Sent” just a few short weeks ago.

Of course, had the casting team at Big Finish found anyone other than the ideal actress to portray Zeynep in an initially clueless but gradually endearing manner, then much of the astounding work done by Goss in the scriptwriting department would arguably have been for nought. Enter Lisa Zahra, who handles her character’s aforementioned transition with such ease that anyone listening with no knowledge whatsoever of Torchwood’s past on TV might genuinely begin to wonder whether she has featured on the series before in some capacity. Few instances come to mind where one of the show’s weekly supporting cast members has slotted into their role with such effortless aplomb as is the case with Zahra, nor where they’ve instantly demonstrated the potential to be able to capture the audience’s attention for virtually the entirety of an episode’s running time as is required of this fast-learning newcomer here. If there’s one criticism to be made of Zeynep as a character, it’s that we’ve seen the tale of a hapless bystander who by unlikely coincidence ends up helping our protagonist and in doing so having something of an epiphany about their own life to date, but again, Goss does his utmost to turn the listener’s preconceptions about storylines of this ilk on their heads in revealing further details on the nature of Zeynep’s involvement with the company behind the experimental Skypuncher space-cruiser Ianto’s flying come the third act, even it’s still not quite enough of a rug-pull moment to justify the ever-so-slightly clichéd approach.

Whilst Fall to Earth has its minor shortcomings, however, the same can be said of virtually any audio drama on the market at the moment, and whereas some of Big Finish’s more recent releases like Doctor Who: The Warehouse have all but completely succumbed to their faults, thanks to its stunning lead performances, compellingly-structured (if at times predictable) script and fast-paced direction, the studio’s sophomore Torchwood release without question boasts more than enough in the way of commendable merits to at the very least warrant a single listen from anyone who dares call him or herself a fan of the original TV series, and will doubtless serve just as significant a purpose in sustaining Ianto Jones’ surely eternal cultural legacy as his Cardiff Bay memorial. Perhaps in a thousand years’ time, Jack won’t remember his former lover, but provided that Big Finish continue to capitalize on David-Lloyd’s evident enthusiasm for the character and his immediate future, there’s every chance that come 3015, new generation of fans will still remember the “coffee boy” who gave his life to stop the 456 a thousand and six years before. The Skypuncher may have experienced a Fall to Earth, then, but far from it looking set to follow a similar trajectory, Ianto Jones’ appeal may well only continue to rise with future appearances – and quite right, too.