Naoko Mori was there at the very dawn of the current golden age of geekery. Before the Marvel Cinematic Universe, before Game of Thrones, on the very first day of filming for the revival of Doctor Who, Mori was filming scenes as ‘Dr Sato’ in the episode Aliens of London, examining the lone survivor of an alien spaceship crash. Later, when the character returned in Torchwood, we learned that Toshiko Sato had only been faking her status as a doctor to get a look at the creature, being actually a member of Torchwood’s team of unorthodox extraterrestrial investigators.
Sadly (spoilers) Tosh didn’t live to see the end of Torchwood‘s second season, but thanks to Mori’s stylish screen presence and the character’s impish wit and mischievous cleverness, the character is well-remembered. Thanks to Big Finish releasing regular audio stories exploring characters and situations all across the Torchwood organisation’s century and a quarter of existence, Mori has been reprising the role for new adventures since 2016. The latest is a low-key addition, but in its own way, quite a gem.
Rossa McPhillips’ story sees a small criminal taskforce from insurgent group the Dow Cohort inveigle their way into the Antebellum, a closely-guarded – and long-unused – Torchwood storage facility holding its oldest collection of alien weaponry, which the Cohort seem to believe will allow them to carry out a military coup in Britain. They’ve sent a two-person team – Tom Butcher’s Vernon Rodan and Bahvini Sheth’s Nisha Bhatti – but the team has an ace up its sleeve in the form of a hostage: Tosh. Gaining access to the complex, once “the most dangerous place in the British empire”, under the pretext of being a Torchwood medical team sent to aid badly injured operative Edward Strong (Homer Todiwala), the group begins to move through the booby trap-laden Antebellum to find the weapon of most use to the Cohort. Tosh is trapped alone, without access to her Torchwood colleagues, at the mercy of the ruthless Vernon and carrying the burden of the near-death Edward – who they must keep alive, as he’s the only one who can let them out.
With a main cast of only four actors playing only four characters (although director Samuel Clemens makes a couple of brief appearances as a guard), War Chest is a claustrophobic drama that recalls the best of Big Finish‘s early, low-budget days. The cast really splits into two double-acts: Tosh and Edward, and Vernon and Nisha. Both double-acts have an engaging, almost familial bond. Tosh becomes a surrogate mother to the hapless Edward (whom she calls ‘Ed’, except when she’s cross with him), while Vernon is the fanatical big brother to the clever but more opportunistic Nisha, who has an amusing recurrent gripe that she regrets choosing to spend her birthday doing this. All the actors are strong, delivering McPhillips’ barbed dialogue with flair (Sheth is perhaps the standout) as the characters try entertainingly to out-manipulate each other while facing the Antebellum’s ancient-but-deadly defence systems.
The writer exploits the story’s temporal setting in fun ways too. As this is pre-2008 (since that was the year that Tosh died) and a long-way pre-Brexit, Tosh at one point ironically dismisses Euro-sceptics as crackpots who’ll never be listened to. Meanwhile, the Antebellum itself while a product of high technology is also a creation of the Victorian era: therefore its security systems are keyed not just to pass-codes and ID-scans but to good manners and propriety, catching out its uncultured modern-day intruders. This kind of thing gives rise to some bouncy, fun dialogue. Entering a semi-sentient weapons locker, Vernon comments: “This is like being in an art gallery; the guns follow you round the room…”
Building to multiple twist endings, War Chest is an engaging hour’s listening. It’s a funny, surprising potboiler that, with its quirky details and dark betrayals, backed by Blair Mowat’s effective channelling of Murray Gold’s pulsating, fizzing music score, is also very Torchwood.
Torchwood: War Chest is currently available to buy exclusively from the Big Finish website, going on general release on 31st July 2022.
There is an eight minute interview track talking to the cast, who all seem to be having fun with their characters. Todiwala refers to his character as ‘Ed Strong’ throughout, a joke that was perhaps impossible to resist.
It’s the largest depository of alien artefacts ever assembled, ready to wage war against the heavens. Of course, they called it the Antebellum. Of course, they forgot about it.
But the Dow Cohort have rediscovered it. And tonight, they’re breaking in. They have one hour and Toshiko Sato as a reluctant hostage. Can they steal Torchwood’s greatest secret?
- Naoko Mori (Toshiko Sato )
- Tom Butcher (Vernon)
- Samuel Clemens (Guard)
- Bahvini Sheth (Nisha)
- Homer Todiwala (Ed )
- Music by Blair Mowat
- Senior Producer David Richardson
- Additional themes by Ben Foster
- Cover Art by Sean Longmore
- Director Samuel Clemens
- Executive Producer Jason Haigh-Ellery & Nicholas Briggs
- Producer James Goss
- Script Editor David Winfield
- Sound Design by Toby Hrycek-Robinson
- Written by Rossa McPhillips
- Theme Music by Murray Gold