Written by Cavan Gilbey
Ianto Jones, on one of his many routine cataloguing trips to the basement, finds himself stalked by a ghostly presence while he lets out some demons of his own.
The premise of Maddie Wilson’s debut story is shockingly simple; she takes one of our beloved Hub crew members and sends them off to deal with a spook on their lonesome. We’ve seen this quite a lot with Ianto specifically in this range, and they always come out as being exemplars of what the range can do with character development. James Goss’ Fall To Earth and The Office of Never Was are both excellent delves into the man Ianto truly is; just a guy who wants to be liked and seen as one of the team. But Wilson goes above and beyond the call of duty and gives possibly the best solo Ianto story the Torchwood Monthly Range has ever received. Equal parts tragic and unsettling, the story is a fresh exploration of the secret hero of Torchwood Three.
Ianto Jones is one of the best characters to really just deep dive into the humanity of. He’s a guy who is secretly keeping Torchwood afloat behind the scenes, an invisible hero who lacks the same respect his fellow crew receive from each other. Often relegated to just being the lowly teaboy who occasionally brings in a pizza or two, couple this with the huge amount of paranoia caused by Cyberwoman then bitterness is bound to develop. Wilson captures this really pitiable side to Ianto without ever making him come across as whiney or petulant, the fatigue he feels with having to deal with the bumbling of Owen or being deliberately left out of a bowling night is something which get’s you straight into the heart of Ianto. You get this great look into how stressful it is just keeping this institution afloat as Ianto gives us anecdotes where we see just how neglectful and incompetent the Torchwood team actually; between Tosh using a teleporter as a coaster and Owen playing around with an alien gun which bonds with him, you don’t feel like Torchwood are that well equipped to even deal with alien threats they are employed to stop. Wilson just gets Ianto, there is no easier way to describe the way she writes the character other than that she perfectly gets him.
However Wilson proves they are more than just a great character writer by crafting a really unsettling atmosphere that captures the feel of a classic Gothic ghost story. There is something stalking Ianto down here, stealing items from the archives and draining the power causing many annoying lightbulb changes. The eventual reveal of the creature, The Drifter, is really quite impressive. I love the idea of this alien that has to build its body out of composite parts which it finds around it, which includes finding a way to talk; here a Dictaphone becomes a voice box and provides a chilling voice made of mimicked Ianto phrases stored on the device. The sound design on the voice by Toby Hyreck-Robinson, a long standing member of the Torchwood production team at Big Finish, has this great disjointed effect that leans heavily into frightening qualities of the uncanny. The multifaceted talents of this story further shine through in the sheer creativity on show with the variety of alien objects stuck down here in the Torchwood archives. From enthusiastic memory foam to a broken time machine that can only send you five seconds forwards or backwards, there is always a fun little concept that kick starts Ianto’s ramblings and emotional venting in a way that feels organic and natural.
Gareth David-Lloyd has this story all to himself, a one man show where he can really just show us the full breadth of his performance and bond with the character. The sadness captured by David-Lloyd from the get go is a real skilful bit of voice acting, a veneer of chirpiness and happiness masks a growing resentment which you can hear so well in the performance as he suppresses moments of true anger with this almost gritted-teeth happiness. There are moments in the closing moments where Ianto reveals that he has only been pretending to feel all this resentment in order to draw the Drifter out, but the way this is performed makes you realise that this is another one of Ianto’s fronts; a tough guy not affected by the tempest of emotions that he has bottled up inside from his time at Torchwood and David-Lloyd really sells on that ‘no I’m fine actually’ sentiment with a subtle weariness to his delivery.
Restricted Items Archive Entries 031-049, aside from being a mouthful of a title, is one of the best Torchwood stories in a long while and has effortlessly shot up into my top five stories from the range. A touching and fascinating delve into not only Ianto’s mental state but also the hierarchy of Torchwood’s team dynamic, on top of being a great ghost story as well. Maddie Wilson is the new blood Big Finish writer to watch, so hopefully she gets a lot more opportunities to flesh out the Doctor Who universe.
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One thought on “Review: Torchwood – Restricted Items Archive Entries 031-049”
[…] Jones has had perhaps his best year in 2022. Between this story, Restricted Items Archive Entries 031-049 and Lloyd’s outstanding performance in SUV its clear that he’s thriving under the new writing […]