Yvonne Hartman may have only been a brief part of Doctor Who lore, appearing as the charismatic leader of Torchwood in series two’s Army of Ghosts / Doomsday two-parter, but thanks to Big Finish, she has had many more stories to tell. From pre-series two stories during her reign at Torchwood One, to a very clever reintroduction in Torchwood series five and six, Tracy-Ann Oberman vivacious and ruthless leader is as essential part of the Torchwood mythos as Gwen Cooper.
The wonderfully titled The Five People You Kill in Middlesbrough is officially written by Yvonne Hartman (in truth it’s a pseudonym for Tracy-Ann Oberman, Tim Foley & James Goss) and charts her rise to power, though you’d be mistaken for believing we were listening to a story set in 2020-21. This story is a delightfully cutting satire on the state of the UK today, framed through the ‘incident’ of a crashed alien ship in Middlesbrough that is spreading a deadly radiation cloud and killing millions. All Hartman wants to do is enact The Icarus Protocol and save the country; unfortunately she is faced with inept, deceitful, spineless and corrupt officials at every step.
If you have an ounce of sympathy, respect or gratitude for the Tory Government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, Brexit and every other soul-crushing action taken over the last few years, you’re going to hate The Five People You Kill in Middlesbrough. Though I suspect, the very liberal, inclusive and analogy-style narratives of Torchwood are not going to be your thing. As a reviewer, I think everything James Goss and his team are doing with Torchwood is bloody wonderful. Not only does it expand the Torchwood mythos in and new and interesting ways, it tells deeply emotional character driven stories (take this year’s superb Drive as a clear example of why Big Finish‘s Torchwood output is some of the site’s best work). This release delivers cutting satire; it is scathing at times, but it’s a joy to listen to and Oberman is electric as the character of Yvonne cuts her way through red tape to get the right thing done.
Yes, Yvonne kills – and the five deaths referenced in the title are as ruthless as they are ingenious – but she is absolutely the star and hero of the show. You never once believe she is anything other than the one person standing between the UK and its utter destruction. As the various fourth-wall breaking hints to the listener suggest, if Yvonne Hartman was handling the UK’s response to Covid, things would go far differently. Not all the bureaucrats she deals with are evil (though Denis Lawson’s Dominic Cummings-inspired Casper Beacham comes closest), but their actions and inactions cost lives. Removing them one by one, Yvonne takes steps to avert the disaster spreading through the country in what almost feels like a soft replay of elements from Russell T Davies’ superb Doctor Who story Turn Left.
It’s a story that builds and builds, starting with a small-scale response to the crash in Middlesbrough and spreads to encompass the whole of the UK. Timothy Bentinck’s Alfie Scott is a frustrating representation of local officials doing all the wrong things in response to a crisis; the idea of a new bypass is a terrific dash of black humour. Sara Powell’s Mo Simister becomes a representation of celebrity power and how it overrules any real sense of truth when it comes to handling a disaster. The manner on which Yvonne deals with them is satisfying, though it’s the narrative surrounding Nathaniel Curtis’ Lancelyn Green that is the real highlight of The Five People You Kill in Middlesbrough. It’s a bold, fun and very dark look at the nature of cancel culture and the reaction to it in the media; there are some fun twists and Curtis makes Lancelyn such a despicable piece of work that the manner in which Yvonne deals with him is black humour at its finest, with an delightful sci-fi twist.
Hartman’s ‘script’ doesn’t just target those who make bad decisions; it also examines those who have the power to make change and instead sit in inaction. The character of Jill Kerr, played by Kacey Ainsworth, is the most sympathetic of the five co-stars, but no less frustrating and there’s some clever Torchwood magic to examine how Yvonne deals with such a spineless character. It’s in Lawson’s Casper that The Five People You Kill in Middlesbrough goes for the jugular. It doesn’t hold back in its exploration of the lies, deceit and corruption within the government with some blatant references to the real world that are clever, while leaving you frustrated by how how bad a place the UK really is in. You’ve even got some commentary on the north / south divide (in one ‘it’s so ridiculous it’s believable’ moment, Middlesbrough is ‘mistaken’ for ‘Middlesex’).
There is so much to appreciate about this story that it’s easily worthy of a second listen or two. The performances from everyone involved are superb, the script packed full of political satire and a breathless direction from Scott Handcock, who has brought many a great Torchwood story to life at Big Finish. The Five People You Kill in Middlesbrough breezes through one encounter to the next, packing so much in without ever feeling rushed or too dense. It helps that Oberman is at the top of her game. You’re with Yvonne every step of the way, while still being surprised by her approach to every situation she faces.
The Five People You Kill in Middlesbrough is a clever, brutal and twisted satire on the world we live in, with Yvonne Hartman the ruthless hero we all want and need. The audio is available to purchase exclusively at the Big Finish site here, before going on general release on the 31st August 2021.
There’s plenty of insight and laughs from the cast as they delve into the satire within the script and the joys of working with Tracy-Ann Oberman, Big Finish reunions and recording remotely. Kacey Ainsworth and Oberman talk about bonding as new mothers, working on Eastenders and plans for a sketch show, all of which are sure to delight fans of the soap, while Denis Lawson and Oberman talk being legends, neighbours and their time on New Tricks and breaking his Big Finish virginity!
When a spaceship crashes on Middlesbrough it’s very sad, of course. But we at Torchwood have long had a plan to contain such a disaster.
Only, nothing is happening. And the disaster is spreading. So, I set out to find out what’s going on. What has happened to The Icarus Protocol? Who launched a Moonstrike Missile? And why will no-one admit that there’s a cloud of deadly particles sweeping across the United Kingdom?
My name is Yvonne Hartman. Don’t come between me and my country.
- Tracy-Ann Oberman (Yvonne Hartman)
- Kacey Ainsworth (Jill Kerr)
- Matt Thomas Battersby (additional voices)
- Timothy Bentinck (Alfie Scott)
- Lisa Bowerman (PA)
- Nathaniel Curtis (Lancelyn Green)
- Denis Lawson (Casper Beacham)
- Sara Powell (Mo Simister)
- Senior Producer David Richardson
- Additional themes by Ben Foster
- Cover Art by Lee Binding
- Director Scott Handcock
- Executive Producer Jason Haigh-Ellery & Nicholas Briggs
- Music by Blair Mowat
- Producer James Goss
- Script Editor James Goss
- Sound Design by Peter Doggart
- Written by Yvonne Hartman
- Theme Music by Murray Gold