Torchwood – Madam, I’m (Big Finish Review)

Big Finish continues to expand the world of Torchwood in exciting ways. We’ve had glimpses of the institute’s activities across different times and locations both on audio (The Dollhouse, The Dying Room) and onscreen (Tooth and Claw, Exit Wounds), and the 1950s Soho setting represents probably the most distinctive ‘new’ era to be explored by the Big Finish creative team.

Last month’s release was a brutal, twisted satire set in the modern day, whereas Madam, I’m brings us back to London in the 1950s, where Torchwood is a sprawling, bureaucratic organisation and our two leads, Norton Folgate (Samuel Barnett) and Lizbeth Hayhoe (Dervla Kirwan), are underlings struggling to make a mark after being demoted to the stuffy corridors and cramped storerooms of Section 13.

Madam, I’m acts as a prequel to the television episode Adam, bringing back the titular Adam (Bryan Dick) some time before his infiltration of the Torchwood Three team. (This story is also a prequel to last year’s Big Finish release Torchwood Soho – Parasite, in which Kirwan’s character meets her demise.) The best part of the original episode is how Adam’s memory-bending machinations create alternate versions of the lead characters – Tosh becomes confident and smooth-talking, Owen loses all cynicism and pines after Tosh like a puppy – and his manipulation of Norton and Lizbeth in Madam, I’m is similarly disturbing.

You couldn’t, however, consider this to be a carbon copy of the original. There are some similarities – Adam seduces Norton as he later will Tosh, and making physical contact with someone enables Adam to wipe or overlay memories – but his method of wheedling his way into the Soho team is more prolonged and, in many ways, more insidious. This time, not only is he implanting memories left and right but also manipulating how people perceive time; no one in the Torchwood offices can agree on what date it is. Although we can’t see the character’s smarmy grin owing to the audio format, we can certainly imagine it.

Barnett’s Norton is and always will be a riot. From his introduction back in 2016, he’s been an unashamedly colourful in temperament and motivation, with a few shades of grey for good measure. His verbal sparring with Lizbeth sparkles, and their habit of imagining increasingly farcical nicknames for each other in lieu of conventional (read: boring) workplace greetings is a lot of fun, particularly when contrasted against the 1950s backdrop. Speaking of which: like the best stories, this one is evocative of an era: the clacking typewriters, the furtive night-time liaisons for gay men evading police and the prospect of prosecution for their sexuality… classic 1950s. Even the theme tune gets an old-timey do-over.

Dervla Kirwan first appeared as Lizbeth Hayhoe in Parasite, and is set to return (from the dead) in the next six-part Torchwood serial, subtitled Ashenden, in October. She made a strong impression in her debut and was obviously a hit with the production team; bringing her back for this one-off outing opposite Norton is a smart choice as she’s a great foil for the cherubic Norton. The alien invasion subplot is mostly by the by; we’re here for Adam’s return, for the banter between two co-workers, and to see how the pair ends up realising the deception.

Because we know things will be resolved – indeed, having Adam banished into the Void between worlds ties neatly into where he ends up prior to the start of the TV episode – making the true appeal of this release is the 50s setting and the interplay between Barnett and Kirwan. Torchwood stories at Big Finish range from dark and grisly to light and fluffy – and often a bit of both – and Madam, I’m dabbles in the area somewhere in between: playful banter balances out dark undertones in a psychological and entertaining instalment in Torchwood – The Monthly Range.

A short suite of interviews is also appended to the release, acting as an agreeable post-episode palate cleanser. Keep an ear out for Bryan Dick’s perspective on dreary night-time shoots, the cast’s attempts to comprehend the memory-twisting nature of this story, and some pensive reflections on five years of Norton Folgate.

Torchwood – Madam, I’m was released in July 2021. It will be exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until 30 September 2021, and on general sale after this date.

Synopsis

Torchwood, Soho, the 1950s. Disgraced agent Norton Folgate has a new boyfriend, the very lovely Adam. Brilliant scientist Lizbeth Hayhoe meets a charming stranger on the underground, the very lovely Adam. Very soon, Torchwood has a new leader – the very lovely Adam.

With people losing their lives and their souls, Lizbeth and Norton must work out what’s happening to Torchwood. And why is Torchwood preparing to go to war?

Cast

Samuel Barnett (Norton Folgate)
Bryan Dick (Adam Smith)
Dervla Kirwan (Lizbeth Hayhoe)

Credits

Senior Producer David Richardson
Cover Art by Lee Binding
Director Scott Handcock
Executive Producer Jason Haigh-Ellery & Nicholas Briggs
Music by Blair Mowat
Producer James Goss
Script Editor Scott Handcock
Sound Design by Peter Doggart
Written by James Goss
Theme Music by Murray Gold

Suggested Listening

Torchwood Soho – Parasite
Torchwood Soho – Ashenden
Torchwood – Goodbye Piccadilly

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