It’s been three weeks since the Mayor of Cardiff was killed by a shop dummy and the fight is on to see who will replace him.
Yvonne Hartman is visiting the city to retrieve an invaluable alien device. She’s in charge of Torchwood One, she’s saving the British Empire and she doesn’t care about local politics. But she is going to find herself caught up in that fight. There’s a bloodthirsty alien stalking the streets and there’s a special offer on at the all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet.
It’s the 26th of March 2005 and it’s the day that everything changes.
Tracy-Ann Oberman is Yvonne Hartman in Torchwood: One Rule
X X X X X
Yvonne Hartman – Tracy-Ann Oberman
Barry Jackson – Gareth Armstrong
Helen Evans – Rebecca Lacey
Ross Bevan – Dan Starkey
Meredith Bevan – Catrin Stewart
Gwen Cooper – Eve Myles (uncredited)
Andy Davidson – Tom Price (uncredited)
Written By: Joseph Lidster
Directed By: Barnaby Edwards
Produced by James Goss
Script edited by Steve Tribe
X X X X X
Ladies and gentlemen, brace yourselves. A good Joseph Lidster story.
Torchwood: One Rule focuses on a character who, while a part of Torchwood, never appeared on the actual show itself. But with a superb performance and some insight into the early days of the modern-era Torchwood carrying a below-standard plot, One Rule continues the Big Finish trend of providing different kinds of stories showing various aspects of what it means to be a part of the mysterious organization.
It’s been three weeks since the Mayor of Cardiff was killed during an invasion of dummies, but that’s the furthest thing from Torchwood One administrator Yvonne Hartman’s as she embarks on an overnight trip. Head to Cardiff, grab a Drahvin scanner from Torchwood Three without Jack Harkness knowing about it, enjoy a nice relaxing massage in a high-end hotel, and be back on the morning train to London before anyone even knew she was gone. Too bad local councilor Barry Jackson knows she’s in town and working with Torchwood. Too bad the hotel she was staying in burned down. Too bad there’s an alien going around killing the mayoral candidates, one of which is Barry Jackson. Too bad the only place to eat is an all-night Chinese buffet. And too bad the only place to get a drink is a bar that makes certain parts of rural Wales look civilized…
I’m not a fan of Joseph Lidster’s stories, but for the most part Lidster is NOT a bad writer. Otherwise, he wouldn’t keep getting work, would he? Lidster has written an episode of Torchwood (A Day in the Death), three episodes of The Sarah Jane Adventures, and numerous audios for Big Finish’s Dark Shadows range as well as contributing several adventures to the main range for Doctor Who. Lidster has a knack for coming up with interesting settings and situations, but his writing (at least to me) fails in one of two places – Lidster either attempts to add a new piece to Doctor Who canon such as a long-lost family relative (The Rapture) or amnesiac companions (Terror Firma that future stories never pick up on, or he drops what I call the “Lidster Twist” near the end of the story, a moment that absolutely gut punches the listener but does so in a way that doesn’t enhance the story so much as distracts from it (The Reaping, Bedtime Story). The only time I’ve heard a Lidster-penned tale where both these traits come together in a great way is the Fifth Doctor audio The Gathering, where its established that Tegan is dying from terminal cancer and there’s absolutely nothing the Doctor can do about it.
Taking place three weeks after the events of the Auton invasion that took place during Rose, One Rule can be summed up in four words – “One Night in Cardiff.” The story’s events occur over a single night, from Yvonne’s arrival in the early evening to her departure the next morning. The plot itself is neatly divided into two parts. The first part sees Yvonne (with the help of an off-screen Ianto Jones thanks to the magic of one-way cell phone conversations) using an alien device to stop time sneak into Torchwood Three past the frozen forms of Tosh, Suzie, and Jack Harkness to retrieve a Drahvin scanner which will help Torchwood One solve the mystery of the void ship seen in Army of Ghosts/Doomsday. While One Rule does add to Torchwood’s canon, Lidster forgoes the “big event/twist” style that marked his work on the main range. Listeners instead get a whole bunch of little snippets, side comments, and one-line cameos that add a little bit of meta-spice to the story without drowning it in the sauce of continuity. These small moments also go a long way in establishing the difference between Torchwood One in London and Torchwood Three in Cardiff and how Yvonne (and by proxy the rest of Torchwood One) view the three-member Cardiff outfit.
The second part of the story makes up the large bulk of One Rule’s. Local government official Barry Jackson knows about Torchwood, or at least its invisible/underground presence in Roald Dahl Pass. He assumes Yvonne is part of Torchwood after seeing her emerge from Torchwood Three and asks for her help. Yvonne blows him off, stating that she doesn’t get involved in “local politics.” But when her hotel “mysteriously” burns down and Barry Jackson just “happens” to be there to save her from being stuck outside in nothing more than a bathrobe, Yvonne has no choice but to get mixed up in his affairs. Jackson is one of many people jockeying for the mayor’s office after the previous mayor died three weeks ago at the hands of a shop dummy. But anyone who has declared their interest in running for mayor seems to end up dead in a very messy and dismembered manner. It doesn’t take Yvonne very long to figure out that there’s an alien force behind the murders, one that’s invisible and strikes when the candidates are alone. This portion of the plot focuses very much on how “backwards” Cardiff is compared to London. Yvonne needs a new dress, but why get one from a fashionable boutique when there’s a 24-hour superstore just around the corner? She needs to sit down and figure out what’s going on, and the best place for that is one of the top-rated restaurants in the city…an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet. It gets a bit repetitive after a while but it does show once again how Torchwood and Yvonne feel about backwater Cardiff.
As for the actual “who is killing the mayoral candidates” plot, it’s nothing that really stands out. Who is behind it doesn’t come as a surprise and the why is revealed in that the person has been recruited by the Committee (in their only mention) as a patsy. The plot serves only to provide some sort of narrative strand to knit the story together. It does provide a few moments however. There’s a scene where Yvonne spills to Barry about how the twenty-first century is when everything changes, tying in the events from Rose and the 1999 murder-suicide of Torchwood Three in the Torchwood episode Fragments. There’s another scene where the alien gets to one of the mayoral candidates, and there’s nothing Yvonne can do but watch helplessly as they plead for their lives, mixed in with a lot of crunching and ripping. It’s a scene Lidster pulls off very well making it incredibly disturbing and just long enough to stick with the listener without being overkill. And finally, the ending scene shows just how ruthless Yvonne is capable of being as she confronts the final mayoral candidate, hobbles them, and convinces them that even though they give lip service to the committee, they really work for HER. And what she asks is that, since Jack Harkness will likely keep his arrival a secret, is for them to keep a lookout for a blue police box…
One Rule lives and dies by the performance of Tracy-Ann Oberman. Everyone else in the story is really just a one-note cardboard cut-out of a Cardiff resident, save Gareth Armstrong who hams it up enough as Barry Jackson to make his turn a memorable one. Perhaps he borrowed from his 1970’s appearance in Doctor Who as Giuliano in the Fourth Doctor story The Masque of Mandragora. I did wonder why Big Finish would go with a Torchwood character who didn’t even appear in the television series, but my misgivings were soon forgotten as Oberman dives right back into the role. Hartman talked of “For Queen and Country” in Army of Ghosts/Doomsday and her dedication to the Crown is on display during this story, even though its portrayed in a manner of “what _I_ do for Queen and Country is important, the little people can go hang.” The annoyed disdain of London vs. Cardiff is very evident throughout, but we also get to see a bit of Yvonne’s human side when she fails to protect one of her charges. Although, is it a human side, or is it just fear brought about by failure? Oberman doesn’t chew the scenery or go over-the-top, instead playing Yvonne as an ambitious and pragmatic human being who only gets ruthless when the situation calls for it. While it’s not a mandatory companion piece to Army of Ghost/Doomsday, it does shed some interesting light upon her turn in those stories, and I have to give props to Lidster for playing to his strengths and not going overboard with this script. Perhaps his time away from the main Doctor Who range with Dark Shadows has tempered his writing style. At the very least, it’s now much more agreeable to my audio palette…
I’ve come to see One Rule as a sort of “Torchwood Issue #0.” The Big Finish Torchwood range has given listeners a variety of different story and plot styles so far. There’s been the exposition heavy pilot episode (The Conspiracy), the day-in-the-limelight episode (Fall to Earth), the darker-side-of-human-nature episode (Forgotten Lives), and now the how-did-we-get-here episode with One Rule, with the next serial (Uncanny Valley) containing the…ahem…adult themes. One Rule takes a minor character in the Torchwood continuity and breathes her to life, focusing less on the plot and adding just enough bits and pieces to the show’s continuity to make this one a worthwhile pick-up at full price if you’re a Torchwood fan and one to consider purchasing if and when Big Finish puts it on sale.
+ Solid performance by Tracy-Ann Oberman
+ The best parts of a Joseph Lidster script without his “twists”
+ Bits and pieces of Torchwood continuity sprinkled throughout
– Flat, clichéd secondary characters
– Mundane plot
Cobi’s Synopsis – Torchwood before Torchwood, One Rule boasts the best parts of a script from Joseph Lidster and a top-notch performance from Tracy-Ann Oberman that help to carry the run-of-the-mill plot.
Next up – A couple of years ago, Neil Redmond was in a terrible accident. His recovery has been long and slow, but now he’s back and looking better than ever. Much better than ever…
John Barrowman is Captain Jack Harkness in…Torchwood: Uncanny Valley.