There’s more to Torchwood than the small team operating out of Cardiff; Big Finish’s audio series has already shown us Torchwood London before its fall and taken us all the way back to the alien-hunting institute’s Victorian incarnation. This latest instalment, The Dollhouse, takes us across the pond to Los Angeles, in the 1970s, where an all-female team of operatives keeps an eye on extraterrestrial activity in one of Britain’s former colonies (yes, any awkwardness about Torchwood being a British Empire institution is brushed over with one line and a quick wink).
It’s a story featuring a lot of débuts – this is author Juno Dawson’s first time writing for anything Doctor Who-related, and the three main cast members are new to Big Finish, too. Thankfully, The Dollhouse assuages any fears in its first few minutes, setting up its premise and characters in a fantastically camp Charlie’s Angels-esque title sequence that promises us we’re in for a good ride.
We have Laila Pyne as scientist Marlow, Kelly-Anne Lyons as former burglar Charley, and Ajjaz Awad as thrill-seeking Gabi. Throughout the story, this trio are a delight; their sparky dialogue may be a bit too knowing for some tastes, but there’s scope for development and most viewers will be left wanting to spend more time with Torchwood LA.
As to the plot: young women have been going missing across the city. The Torchwood team discover that they were all aspiring actresses, who’ve been sent to audition for a mysterious production called ‘The Dollhouse’. This trail leads them across LA, and to the heart of a surprisingly dark scheme.
It’s a pacey plot that sends the team into a series of tense and exciting situations and shows off the dynamic of this new team, though it’s a shame that Marlow never gets to use the scientific skills teased in the opening. Dawson also, as is perhaps inevitable when dealing with an all-female team, makes good narrative use of the sexism of the time, particularly when the team encounter sleazy agent Don Donohue (Stuart Milligan), a sadly very believable adversary.
So while The Dollhouse, being entirely separate from all previous releases, may have been something of a risk for Big Finish, it’s one that’s thoroughly paid off. Juno Dawson has crafted a brilliant new corner of the Doctor Who and Torchwood world, and it’s one we hope to return to. Perhaps the women of Torchwood Los Angeles will even meet Captain Jack one day... we can only imagine the chaos that would ensue.
TORCHWOOD: THE DOLLHOUSE / AUTHOR: JUNO DAWSON / DIRECTOR: LISA BOWERMAN / STARRING: LAILA PYNE, KELLY-ANNE LYONS, AJJAZ AWAD, STUART MILLIGAN / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW