Torchwood – “Zone 10”

Torchwood – Release # 8
Written by: David Llewellyn
Directed by: Scott Handcock
Performed by: Naoko Mori, Krystian Godlewski & Ella Garland
Duration: 60 mins approx
ISBN: 978-1-78575-210-0
Chronology Placement: Russia, 2008 (takes place after “Uncanny Valley”)

Synopsis: They call it “Pulse” – a radio signal which has puzzled the world for 40 years. But now Toshiko Sato has solved it. She’s uncovered a message which leads her to Russia, and into an uneasy alliance with the KVI – the Russian equivalent of Torchwood. Toshiko needs to get into Zone 10 – a frozen wasteland which officially doesn’t exist. An intergalactic war was once fought in Zone 10. And it turns out there’s a survivor.

As she was rarely given the spotlight in the series itself, the concept of a solo Toshiko Sato Torchwood adventure really appealed to me as I always thought she had plenty of potential for growth, and it was great to see Naoko Mori returning to the role. Taking place shortly after the events of “Uncanny Valley”, this adventure forms part of the Committee storyline which began back in “The Conspiracy”, and while other stories have made use of the mysterious extra-terrestrial organisation, it is the adventures written by David Llewellyn which seem to centre on them the most and follow on from each other to tell an ongoing narrative. “Zone 10” continues that trend, and sees Sato discovering more about the uneasy alliance between Earth and the Committee.

Set mostly in Russia, there is a very different atmosphere to this Torchwood adventure and the supporting casts manage to portray very convincing Russian accents, although this authenticity does lead to some moments where the accent obscures the dialogue. I had to rewind a few times, and I still don’t know what they were saying when they meant to say “KVI” – sounded like “Kar Vee You” most of the time. That said, both Maxim and Volokova are interesting companions for Toshiko to interact with, and I really liked the characterisation of Maxim as he balanced the line of friend and foe throughout the story. The concept of a ‘Russian Torchwood’ is rife with possibility, and I would be quite happy to hear more stories with the KVI – and other nations’ Torchwood equivalents.

It was great to hear Naoko Mori back as Toshiko, and this solo adventure really gave the character the opportunity to shine and step out of the shadows. Toshiko was often used as the ‘deus ex machina’ for a scientific fix in the TV series – and while that does happen here – Llewellyn fleshes out the character, demonstrating her thirst for knowledge and problem-solving. There is even a moment where she has to take a life, and Llewellyn highlights how she is inexperienced with fieldwork and more of a scientific support. She is not a natural like Gwen Cooper or Suzie Costello, so she makes mistakes and has poor judgement, and Llewellyn makes sure to highlight that side of her in the story. I was really impressed with Mori’s performance, and am now even more eager to hear stories featuring Toshiko taking a lead role.

While “Zone 10” is extremely atmospheric and the concept of an Area 51 hidden in the snowy wastelands of Siberia is a brilliant stroke of genius, it feels like little actually happened in the story aside from a few scant clues seeded for a future release. As with “The Conspiracy” and “Uncanny Valley”, the actual plot seems to revolve more around a shady character delivering exposition about their involvement with the Committee rather than any strong narrative. The more I hear about the Committee, the less enthused I am about them as a “big bad” for the audio adventures – they sound reminiscent of the 456 from “Children of Earth” and somewhat overpowered for our heroes to deal with. These past few series have done a solid job at establishing them as a threat embedded in Earth’s history, and now I’m hoping we’ll see them play a more active role in future episodes.

Overall, “Zone 10” was a bold example of storytelling, taking both Tosh and the listener out of their comfort zones and dumping them into the snowy plains of Siberia. Filled with genuine tension and atmosphere, Big Finish excels at crafting believable locales in the mind’s eye through subtle sound effects and background noises. Tense and unsettling, “Zone 10” offers fans a more cerebral thriller than typical Torchwood adventures, isolating Toshiko in a foreign country without her friends for back-up.

Score – ★★★

Torchwood: Zone 10 is available from Big Finish on physical CD or digital download. It can also be found on Amazon UK in the physical CD format.

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