The SkyPuncher is the first private spaceflight. But Ephraim Salt’s visionary project has gone horribly wrong – the ship is falling out of the sky and there seems no way to stop it.
Ianto Jones thought the flight would be sabotaged. The only problem is… he’s on board.
Gareth David-Lloyd is Ianto Jones in Torchwood: Fall to Earth
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Gareth David-Lloyd (Ianto Jones)
Lisa Zahra (Zeynep)
Written By: James Goss
Directed By: Scott Handcock
Produced by: James Goss
Script edited by: Steve Tribe
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Torchwood: Fall to Earth, the second in Big Finish’s Torchwood line, is an audio worth listening to. A two-hander radio play, Fall to Earth is well written and amazingly acted while making a solid attempt to play on the listener’s emotions.
Billionaire Ephraim Salt had grand plans for the launch of his new plane, the Skypuncher, packed with celebrities and dignitaries from all walks of life…along with the plane’s new bartender, one Ianto Jones, who snuck on board to ensure everything involving Earth’s first private spaceflight went off without a hitch. With any initial voyage however, there are a few snags – everyone on board except for Ianto is dead, the flight controls have locked the Skypuncher into a decaying orbit that will cause it to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere, and there’s a saleswoman on his Smartphone trying to see Ianto a life insurance policy…
The first release in the Torchwood line,The Conspiracy, focused solely on Captain Jack Harkness and his discovery of a vast global network known only as “The Committee,” a group of aliens dedicated to stripping Earth of its resources and leave it a barren husk. It was a fine story that suffered from a lot of set-up exposition for the long-term story as well as Jack having to do a few stupid things to advance the plot. Fall to Earth continues the “Committee” arc, as the group has their reasons for hijacking the Skypuncher that are slowly revealed during the course of the story. But the focus of the story is on Ianto Jones and his attempts to survive as the spaceplane plunges towards Earth with the assistance of a plucky telephone saleswoman named Zeynep. The script by James Goss (who has done a TON of script work for Big Finish’s various audio lines as well as plenty of short stories, novels, and audiobooks), with an assist from editor Steve Tribe (who has written numerous guidebooks and companions for both Doctor Who and Sherlock) moves very quickly with very little filler. Everything happens for a reason. It could be Zeynep, using her computer’s new super search engine abilities to find the Skypuncher’s flight manual, telling Ianto how to unlock the plane’s autopilot before it crashes into a piece of space debris, with alarms blaring and Ianto yelling for help. It could be a moment of humor as Ianto desperately buys a pet insurance policy so he can stay on the phone a little longer with Zeynep, his only lifeline. It could be a quiet moment as Ianto takes a breather while explaining to Zeynep just why he ended up on the Skypuncher – to do something Jack Harkness would have done instead of just being the guy who fetched coffee and looked good in a suit. And it could be Zeynep realizing just why the Skypuncher has been hijacked and what its final destination truly is. Goss’ script deftly mixes humor and moments of tension, both loud and bombastic AND quiet and understated, to tell its story. The only narrative misstep comes with the “zombie” attack. The passengers of the Skypuncher are revealed to have been killed by a poison in their drinks, and apparently the poison causes Ephraim Salt (and just him) to either become a zombie or an Infected and attack Ianto. It provides for a few good moments of shock and humor, but it just feels a bit out of place, unless the poison comes back in a future story.
One of the themes for Torchwood, and your mileage may vary on how well it’s been pulled off over the years, is “Doctor Who for grownups.” While this has lent itself at time to sex and violence, it’s also given moments as the moral dilemma in Children of Earth. Fall to Earth doesn’t reach the levels of Children of Earth, but the big moment of truth at the end as well as the emotional lead-up to it is very well done. It’s the kind of thing Joseph Lidster would have compressed into 30 seconds, whereas Goss takes all of the secret agent things Ianto had implied throughout the course of the story and lets Zeynep be brutally honest about them. It’s some of the best writing and acting I’ve heard from Big Finish. Having spent the entire script building a relationship between Ianto and Zeynep, the final minutes where Zeynep calls Ianto out on Torchwood and the decisions they’ve made and the decision Ianto is asking her to make is the payoff to everything that’s come before.
That moment works thanks to the efforts of the two actors who carry the entirety of Fall to Earth on their shoulders. Gareth David Lloyd played Ianto Jones through two series of Torchwood before dying during the events of Children of Earth. The best way to describe Ianto’s contribution to Torchwood was best summed up by Jack Harkness – cleanup, getting the team from Point A to Point B, and looking good in a suit. His presence and screen time would grow over the course of the show, eventually becoming Jack’s boyfriend in the second series, but there was always an aura of resentment surrounding Ianto for being “the reliable one.” I believe Fall to Earth takes place between Season 1 and Season 2, as there’s a definite sense that Ianto is trying to prove himself to Torchwood, to Jack, and to himself as well. David-Lloyd plays up both the bitterness of Ianto and the fact that, well, he’s not a secret agent. He panics time and time again, snapping at his situation and throwing sarcasm in Zeynep’s direction. There’s no sense of “Ianto Jones, Super Agent” here. It’s a character making a very bad decision for a very good reason (keeping an eye on Earth’s first private spaceflight) and getting in way over his head. David-Lloyd does a damn good job with it, given the listener a sense of both Ianto’s vulnerability but also his dedication to trying to do the right thing…or make the right sacrifice.
And on the other side of the phone, Lisa Zahra is an absolute revelation at Zeynep, the insurance saleswoman. Zahra has starred in numerous threatre productions in Wales, and her experience on stage shines through in the audio format. Starting off as a call centre drone desperate to stick to the sales script no matter how crazy the man on the other end of the phone is, Zeynep slowly gets drawn into Ianto’s desperate flight. The by-the-numbers “performance” breaks down as we learn more and more about Zeynep, her family, and her life…all punctuated by the fact that she is still on a sales call, and has to deal with her manager, the time spent on the call, and how she has to keep selling Ianto policies to stay on the line with him. The listener becomes invested into the relationship between the pair, hundreds of miles apart, as Zeynep tries to keep Ianto alive. When the tables get turned near the end of the story and it’s Ianto’s turn to keep Zeynep alive, she doesn’t become a damsel in distress. Instead, Zeynep calls Ianto out on what he does, what Torchwood does, and how a single person doesn’t matter to them in the long run. It’s natural and fits in with how Torchwood’s method of operations worked at that time during the show’s run. It’s Zahra who brings Zeynep to life, and its why her final moments on the phone with Ianto are so gripping.
Torchwood: Fall to Earth is 55 minutes of a masterpiece. I listened to it straight through in one sitting, dying to know where the story was going next. If you’re a fan of Torchwood, purchasing this audio should be a no-brainer. If you’re considering getting into Torchwood, this story is a fine place to start. If you’re just a fan of radio plays, then Fall to Earth is definitely worth a listen as its simply a well-done piece of audio.
+ Fast paced script
+ Great performances by Gareth David-Lloyd and Lisa Zahra
+ Moments of levity and tension
– The “zombie” Ephraim Salt
Cobi’s Synopsis – A script laced with humor and tension, backed by two great performances, helps to place the two-hander Fall to Earth as one of the best Torchwood stories ever produced.
Next up – Gwen and Rhys are about to discover that Torchwood stays with you for the rest of your life…
Eva Myles is Gwen Cooper and Kai Owen is Rhys Williams in…Torchwood: Other Lives