Review by Jacob Licklider
When Torchwood was first conceived as an arc for Series 2 of Doctor Who it was established in universe by Queen Victoria, so having Big Finish Productions producing a series of audio dramas based on Torchwood, doing releases with Queen Victoria as a prominent character is a given. Big Finish Productions cast Rowena Cooper in the role; and several monthly range releases, and an appearance in The Torchwood Archive established her as the definitive Queen Victoria. The final Torchwood monthly range release for 2020 is The Crown which is promoted with a striking image of Her Majesty, Queen Victoria in a straitjacket and padded cell with a skeleton looming. This image, combined with a vague product description, can only lead a potential listener to buy this on intrigue.
The Crown is told from the perspective of Dr. Gideon Parr, who has a patient in an asylum who has been convinced that she is Queen Victoria, and another patient who believes in the Ferryman. Nothing should connect these patients, yet something does, an underlying madness and belief in a curse. This madwoman who would be queen tells her tale to the doctor, who listens intently about how she was minding her own business until she couldn’t be seen by her royal retinue. This woman finds herself intent on disfiguring her once perfect visage to be seen by others and retain some sense of normalcy. It is the story of someone who initially finds a curse to give her freedom the heavy head the crown gives a queen, before becoming incredibly soured when the novelty wears off. The script suits Jonathan Barnes, who found much success with Big Finish’s Classics range; making The Crown feel like a real ghost story being told around a fire right before Christmas on a cold, long winter’s night. Like many a classic horror tale there is a final twist leaving the listener shocked into decontextualising the previous events. Now, this twist is perhaps a bit too obvious, but it is pulled off beautifully in the end. Rowena Cooper is an excellent performer, giving this patient nuance and a sincerity as she believes herself to truly be Queen Victoria, but there are cracks. This is a character who only follows cliches about royalty, not quite acting as a queen should.
Lisa Bowerman provides an excellent direction for this release, utilising the music of Blair Mowat to add to a haunting, yet festive atmosphere. It has the editing of a Companion Chronicle with music and sound design (provided by Joe Meiners) kept to points where it is only a subtle enhancement and Bowerman’s previous experience with many of that range’s successes comes into play brilliantly here. Best of all, The Crown is a story which does not require any working knowledge of Torchwood or the previous adventures with Rowena Cooper as Queen Victoria meaning it becomes a perfect entry point for new listeners. Overall, it is one of the perfect releases for the Christmas season and rounds out the year of Torchwood releases in a near perfect fashion. 9/10.
Download/buy here: https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/torchwood-the-crown-2147