There are some Torchwood audio stories that are either unbearably bleak, or impenetrably geeky, requiring you to have watched every episode, read every book, and heard every previous adventure, if you want to know whether you’re on your head or your toes. The Last Beacon is not one of those stories.
Written by and starring Ianto Jones actor, Gareth David-Lloyd, The Last Beacon will speak to everyone who’s ever wanted a promotion, and everyone who’s ever been stuck with a colleague they’re sure doesn’t like them, and who simply won’t stop moaning.
Simply put, it’s the story of Ianto gaining his Torchwood stripes, moving up in the world from the bloke who makes the coffee for the ‘real’ Torchwood team, to a full and active member of that team. It’s an assignment, a test, and an utter joy from start to finish.
It begins when Ianto – clever but grounded Welsh Valleys boy Ianto – takes on the assignment of finding and shutting down a signal beacon from outer space, hidden in the wilds of the South Wales Valleys. This in itself would be fine and dandy: the Valleys make sense to Ianto – even though he’s never knowingly seen without a sharp suit on, and he’s almost absurdly knowledgeable and pernickety about coffee preparation – because he’s from the area. But then, there’s Owen Harper – Torchwood’s medic – who’s roped into going along for the ride. Owen, who’s English in the most sneery way imaginable, and who thinks even Cardiff’s a bit of a yawnfest. In the Valleys. With Ianto.
What David-Lloyd’s script shows here is the potential of Torchwood for character comedy. Putting the puppy dog-enthusiastic Ianto and the sarcastic omni-arse that is Owen together alone for any length of time is going to give you a Torchwood Odd Couple. Put them together in an environment where Ianto feels comfortable, and Owen wants to shoot everybody for their fundamental Welshness, and you have an hour’s worth of diamond-sharp, relatively uncomplicated fun. Along the way there are gang encounters, adventures in Welsh culinary robustness, an atmosphere of Welsh Deliverance, ghost miners, geocaching in the pouring rain and… shape-shifting badgers from outer space. A pretty normal day for Torchwood then, really.
Certainly, this is a lighter Torchwood story, skewing to comedy and to a central message rooted in the idea of close communities being lovely and supportive, rather than oppressive and nosy. If the message is a little overplayed towards the end, it’s a forgivable flaw because by the time you get there, you’ve been so richly rewarded with banter between the two fundamentally different viewpoints of Ianto and Owen. Yes, there’s a mystery, and yes, there are alien badgers, mysterious signals, and actually a poignant focus on the important things in life, but the real hardcore value of the piece is in the character-based laughter it rips out of you.
In short, The Last Beacon is a joyful romp in the Valleys with two of Torchwood’s finest: David-Lloyd’s Ianto is the perennial new boy wanting to make good, the optimist, the believer in people, while Burn Gorman’s Owen is a glorious scorched earth misery-guts and a fish very definitely out of his comfortable water. The combination of the two makes for a Torchwood story that is not only more accessible to occasional viewers and listeners than many, but also for a ‘buddy movie’ that recommends itself for a re-listen for the simple pleasure of the relationship.
Torchwood: The Last Beacon is available to buy now exclusively from Big Finish until June 30th 2018, after which date it will also be available from Amazon.co.uk and other leading audiobook retailers.