With a title that more than hints at the sense of ‘quirky otherness’ found in The Avengers episode “The Joker” that provided much of the original inspiration for this claustrophobic tale, this latest instalment in the single main-character Torchwood audio drama series impresses in terms of its atmosphere and in its clever and well-crafted plot.
Ianto Jones has taken on a solo nighttime inspection of an empty Cardiff office building, following reports that the premises are haunted. The abandoned site is an unsettling, and increasingly creepy place to wander around on your own on a Friday night (especially as Ianto would far rather be at home watching the latest episode of The Apprentice), but he knows that he has a job to do. One of the most disturbing interruptions in the otherwise silent building is the over-eager recorded voice of the building’s lift, which announces the different floors of the building with an eerily cheery enthusiasm.
Things take on a somewhat more worrisome tone when Ianto discovers that he appears to be trapped in the office block with no means to make his way to the ground floor or to exit the building. As he weighs up his options, Ianto catches sight of the fleeting figure of a young woman racing through the building. When he finally tracks her down, she appears to be uncertain about almost everything, including her name, although she’s fairly sure that she is employed to provide security for the unoccupied block. She has a lot of questions for Ianto, while he wonders if she might be one of the ghosts said to be in residence at the site. As the pair inspect the place floor-by-floor, things take a more alarming turn; especially when Ianto starts to hear voices that his new companion cannot.
Writer James Goss provides Gareth David-Lloyd with some fantastic material here, especially during the early sequences of the story when Ianto is wandering around the office with only himself to talk to. Ianto is at his dutiful best, quietly delivering on the Torchwood mission statement and getting it done without needing the limelight. Bethan Rose Young provides a great turn as the young Welsh woman Ianto encounters: she’s indignant, incredulous and far from being immediately impressed by the officious intruder. The sparring between the pair, neither of whom are completely clear about what is happening to them both, makes for some winning exchanges.
Events take a darker timbre in the final act, when Ianto, on his own once more, discovers the real reason he has been lured to this particular building. The Torchwood McGuffin that explains this unfortunate conundrum has been well used in the series before now, but there is a strong sense of both poignancy and ugliness surrounding its deployment here that works well. There is a chilling quality to the story’s resolution which casts fresh (but convincing) light on Ianto’s character and reinforces the sense that there might just be a steely toughness lying beneath the surface of that unassuming professional demeanour.
The growing sense of entrapment that dominates this latest standalone Torchwood saga is just the kind of absorbing material that can’t help but pull the listener in as, for the characters, the walls loom closer and the options narrow. However, sufferers of “elevator-phobia” are advised that they won’t find much relief from their condition here.
THE OFFICE OF NEVER WAS / WRITER: JAMES GOSS / DIRECTOR: SCOTT HANDCOCK / CAST: GARETH DAVID-LLOYD, BETHAN ROSE YOUNG, DAVID SHIELDS / RELEASE: OUT NOW, FROM BIG FINISH, GENERAL RELEASE, 30TH SEPTEMBER