Torchwood – “Zone 10”

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.

Naoko Mori is Toshiko Sato in…Torchwood: Zone 10

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Cast
Naoko Mori (Toshiko Sato)
Krystian Godlewski (Maxim Ivanov)
Ella Garland (Anna Volokova)
Geoffrey Breton (FSB Agent)

Written By: David Llewellyn
Directed By: Scott Handcock
Produced by: James Goss
Script edited by: Steve Tribe

Trailer – https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/popout/zone-10-1390

X X X X X

Torchwood: Zone 10 focuses on Toshiko Sato, otherwise known as Tosh, as Naoko Mori slips easily back into the role. Built around an intriguing real life concept, the story provides some much needed information on the Committee to push that story arc forward while also serving as a neat story with some unique temporal mechanics and solid characterization for Torchwood Three’s technical genius.

The Pulse. A radio signal that has been broadcasting for nearly 40 years. No one has been able to crack the transmission – code breakers, mathematicians, military intelligence officers, all had been stumped by the steady tone of the signal. Until Toshiko Sato manages to decrypt the mysterious signal and discover two shocking truths. The Pulse is directing its listeners to an isolated area of Russia, a winter wasteland known only as Zone 10. And its message is addressed directly to none other than Tosh herself…

Zone 10 writer David Llewellyn continues to advance the Committee storyline that runs throughout Big Finish’s Torchwood releases, much as he did in his two stories in the first series, The Committee and Uncanny Valley. He begins with an intriguing concept – numbers stations. Numbers stations were shortwave radio stations used during the Cold War by intelligence agencies to broadcast instructions to their agents throughout the world. These messages often took the form of random series of numbers or short phrases that would be deciphered by the agents using a one-time pad or computer program. Even with the end of the Cold War several of these stations continue to broadcast on a loop. Perhaps the most famous of these stations emanates from Russia known officially as UVB-76 and unofficially as “The Buzzer” for the steady buzzing tone it broadcasts at 25 beats per minute, 24 hours a day, with the occasional interruption by a female voice. With the mystery of the Pulse serving as the story’s central pillar, Llewellyn builds the plot around it by taking a Russian espionage story and combines it with the inception and consequences of a temporal loop. The Russian side of things has its moments. It does have the standard cliches of an experienced agent (Maxim Ivanov, which is a great name for a Soviet/Russian spy) who talks about the “good old days” of the Soviet Union and may or may not have a secret motive that works at cross purposes with Tosh. Luckily, actor Krystian Godlewski imbues the role of Ivanov with an easy-going and disarming charm that helps to enhance his internal conflict when the time comes to betray Tosh. Portraying an agent of KVI, Russian’s counterpart to Torchwood, Godlewski gives his performance a good bit of heart and there’s never a point where the listener really loathes or hates Ivanov as they understand and perhaps even sympathize with him. Godlewski gives a very good turn in his first audio performance, which is a little funny as he’s best known for being the CGI stand-in for Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy!

The timey-wimey aspects (and I don’t know if I should thank or curse Blink for introducing that phrase into the modern science-fiction lexicon) are a side-effect of the Committee. Much like Torchwood, KVI was responsible for bringing the Committee to Earth. Hoping to capitalize on the group’s advanced technology, the KVI soon found themselves under the thumb of the Committee and chose to strike back in what Ivanov called “the shortest war in Earth history. 32 minutes.” Zone 10 was a demonstration by the Committee as they used a temporal bomb to lock the entire area in to a stable time loop. Anyone going into Zone 10 is stuck inside, never aging, their supplies regenerating, never going hungry or thirsty. Trapped inside Zone 10, Tosh and Ivanov soon find the source of the Pulse – an old 1960’s Soviet space capsule containing the first female cosmonaut and the first woman in space who was plucked out of orbit by the committee, both to send a message to the KVI that no one is beyond their reach…and to send a message to Torchwood 40 years later. Voice actor Ella Garland plays cosmonaut Anna Volokova, space pioneer whose moment of glory was cut short. Being a woman out of time is something Tosh can empathize with, and the last third of the audio focuses on Tosh doing her best to ensure Anna has her opportunity to escape Zone 10 and live her full life one again. Garland portrays Volokova as tired, someone who can’t believe that her moment of rescue might just be her last moment on Earth. Her anger is laced with a weariness, the kind that only 40 years in a Russian winter could draw out, and knowing that all she’s known is dead and gone, both family and country, makes her decision during the climax and final fate all the more bittersweet.

Of course, this audio is all about Tosh. Big Finish has done a great job shining the spotlight on Gwen and Ianto, and Zone 10 continues that winning streak. Naoko Mori hasn’t portrayed Tosh since 2008, but she effortlessly slides right back into the character of the lonely genius. Mori is simply fantastic in the part. Removed from the rest of Torchwood Three, Tosh shows much more confidence as well as her scientific bent. Spending her spare time trying to crack a 40 year old radio signal is something that Tosh would try to do. And it’s not a sense of recklessness and need for approval, like that which framed Ianto’s actions in Fall To Earth, but a genuine scientific interest and need to solve the puzzle. And that scientific interest is what saves the day during the final third of the story, with a callback to Tosh’s creation of the Time Bubble that surrounds the Hub as well as figuring out how to use both the time loop and Volokova’s capsule in an attempt to save their lives. There’s also a nice moment where Tosh shoots one of the agents trying to stop her and Ivanov and she tries to comes to grips with the fact that she just killed a man. Mori puts a good deal of grief and pathos into the scene, further humanizing and differentiating Tosh from the other members of Torchwood Three.

Whereas The Victorian Age was a fun melodramatic and comedic romp, Zone 10 is much more intense, a claustrophobic affair even though it’s set on the wide open Russian wilderness. It furthers the story of the Committee while also adding some great characterization to a core member of Torchwood. Combining three greats portrayals and unnerving temporal happenings, Zone 10 does great credit to the character of Tosh and easily recommended to both Torchwood fans and science-fiction fans.

Random Thoughts
– I couldn’t help but notice that the KVI building was set up above a pizza place, which brought back memories of Gwen’s efforts to infiltrate the Hub by dressing up as a pizza delivery girl during Torchwood’s very first episode!

Cobi’s Synopsis – A tight and claustrophobic affair, Zone 10 combines the Committee, number stations, a lost and forgotten cosmonaut, and Naoko Mori bring Tosh to life once again with a fantastic performance.

Next up – Sergeant Andy Davidson has always wanted to join Torchwood. And now he finally gets his chance…

Tom Price is Sergeant Andy Davidson in…Torchwood: Ghost Mission.

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About cobiwann

A guy who's into a niche fandom of a niche fandom - the Big Finish audio plays of "Doctor Who." Also into the show itself, both old and new, plus pop culture and a smattering of human insight.
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