Big Finish Review: Torchwood - Coffee
Big Finish kicks off its 2021 Torchwood range - and the 15 year anniversary of the series - with Coffee, featuring Gareth David-Lloyd as Ianto Jones. He is joined by Shaun Chambers as David and Sarah Griffin as Kathy, the proprietors of the local cafe that Ianto regularly frequents, as they observe the world of Torchwood from a very different perspective.
Coffee has been written by James Goss and directed by Scott Handcock. It is available to purchase exclusively at the Big Finish site here, before going on general release on the 31st March. Here's the synopsis...
Baps has long been the best (and only) café in Cardiff Bay. But something’s coming to the Bay – will it be posh coffee or aliens?
David thinks that Cardiff’s under a curse, ever since his Mum went missing. One day, a young man called Ianto Jones walks into David’s café. He’s looking for something. Will he help David learn what’s really going on in the city?
Coffee is a charming exploration of the lives of ordinary people impacted by the big events of Torchwood. It's an idea not unique to the franchise, presenting alien invasions, explosions and strange events through the eyes of the public, but it is effectively done. In Coffee, old fashioned cafe owner David (Shaun Chambers) and Kathy (Sarah Griffin) get a glimpse into the mysteries at the heart of the series through their regular encounters with patron Ianto Jones.
For Ianto fans, it's a great way to explore his journey prior to season one, all the way through to the dramatic events of Torchwood: Children of Earth. Suddenly we are presented with a long-standing relationship outside the confines of the team, which starts with the seed of Ianto getting coffee for everyone, as he did in the early years of the show. His presence and banter with David and Kathy is a joy to listen to, as he grows in confidence in his role on the team and gradually exposes them to the good and the bad of alien life living on the rift.
Through Ianto, Coffee explores some of Torchwood's greatest hits, even tapping into the wider universe was a cunning mention of Harold Saxon. It's a kind of Turn Left without the existential dread, though as the story gets every closer to Torchwood: Children of Earth, and Ianto's fate, there is a grim inevitability that this long-standing relationship withe the proprietors of Baps will come to a crushing end.
While Gareth David Lloyd brings Ianto to life in such a compelling way, it helps that the guest actors are equally as engaging. The twists and turns of Ianto and Kathy's connection, a one-way flirtation, turned respectful friendship is delightful. Griffin's performance is warm and vibrant, playing off both cast members perfectly. Her relationship with her boss David is just as engaging. She starts off very much the subordinate, but as their experiences grow, so does her confidence. From a harrowing hospital scene to jokey banter over new tables, their relationship feels deep and meaningful.
David could easily have been an obnoxious character, but Chambers brings plenty of charm and humility. He is compelled to investigate the mysterious happenings in Cardiff - there's a nice reference to series one's Pterodactyl - while grieving the disappearance of his mother. The cafe becomes more than a business; it's his connection to his parents, the place that grounds him and keeps him in Cardiff even as greater and more dangerous events unfold all around them.
Again, it is the smaller moments that ground the story too; coffee is at the heart of the narrative. It's what brings Ianto into their lives and keeps him coming back. The change from instant to ground coffee is literally represented in the growth of David's business and how he connects with Ianto; the moment he starts to distrust him, Ianto is forced to drink instant again. It's a lovely motif that connects him to David and Kathy's lives as much as it gave him purpose in the early days of Torchwood.
Coffee could comes across as twee, but Goss's script and Handock's direction do far more; it's not just a celebration of Ianto's life, but Torchwood's journey too, a sweet, charming manner by which to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the show.
The disk is accompanied by 10 minutes of behind the scenes interviews as Gareth David Lloyd as he chats to Shaun Chambers and Sarah Griffin about the characters of David and Kathy. There's a lovely recollection of Cardiff Bay back in the original 2005 setting from David Lloyd and Chambers, as they take their own trip down memory lane. There are some interesting memories of their worst cup of coffees too.
Writer and producer James Goss and script editor Tim Foley also chat over a bad Zoom connection, exploring just what it would be like the live in Cardiff with the events of Torchwood happening around them and the challenges of keeping closely to continuity. Perhaps most fascinating is Goss talking about the ever changing Welsh accent of Gareth David Lloyd depending on the events taking place in the story. Foley finishes off with the 'death stare' element of working as a barista and moving on to become a writer and playwright! As always, these little insights into the making of the audios and love of the stories told, are what make each Big Finish release a delight to listen to.