Big Finish: Torchwood DRIVE Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish: Torchwood DRIVE Review

Tony’s lost in Cardiff.
You can rely on writer David Llewellyn for a lot of things. Creating characters you want to spend time with? Check. Giving great story twists to ideas that would in other hands be fairly flat chunks of storytelling? Check. Delivering realistic, character-driven laughs? Double check and mate.

One of his particular side niches in audio Torchwood though is drawing convincing Cardiff landscapes and characters, bringing the city into the drama in a way that on-screen Torchwood regularly tried to do.

In Drive, he takes a badly injured Toshiko Sato (Naoko Mori) on a tour of some of the less salubrious parts of Cardiff in a cab driven by a woman named Fawzia (Suzanne Packer), in search of a thief with an alien bit of gubbinry – a kind of teleporter which exacts a price every time you use it (not unlike a cab itself).

There’s a level on which the plot becomes secondary to the chase in this story, but given that the chase foregrounds the talents of Naoko Mori and Suzanne Packer, you really don’t mind that at all. Because ultimately, that’s the heart and soul of the story – Tosh is very much an outsider in lots of areas of her life, not least in her work, but very much in Cardiff. She has, at this point in her life, yet to unbend to her environment. If she’s not overtly keeping Cardiff at bay, she certainly has yet to let it get under her skin, or to understand it.

That will have changed at least a little by the end of the very long night that makes up Drive, and mostly it will have changed by her being forced into communion and talk with Fawzia, a garrulous, pro-people cabbie who’s going gradually blind.

There are plenty of movie precendents for the relationship they forge while Tosh hunts for the alien artefact and the thief who’s using it. But there’s something uniquely Torchwood about this version of the trope, because – without getting too sentimental about it – Cardiff has a very particular soul. It’s warm, and chatty, and nosy, with a touch of fatalism about its eagerness to find the funny in any situation.

That’s not really something that gels with Tosh particularly well at first. Her history is such that the bubbly warmth of a full-on Cardiff personality like Fawzia’s can feel grating and intrusive. But over the course of a night which involves schlepping from one dodgy location to another in search of the gadget-grabber, both Fawzia and the fundamental nature of Cardiff’s personality gets under the skin of Torchwood’s most particular fish out of water.

Weirdly, there’s not a huge amount more to tell you without starting to compromise story threads and plot details.

Certainly, there’s the intrigue of how a common-or-garden Cardiff thief gets hold of a gizmo that threatens not only himself, but the whole city and possibly much else besides. Certainly too, there’s the fact that it’s not just Tosh and Fawzia who are on his tail – and there’s a pleasing no-honour-among-thieves vibe in that sub-strand which pushes the drama along at a good but never over-frantic pace.

It would be genuinely spoilerific to tell how the whole thing ultimately pans out, and you could argue, were you a cynical old bugger even compared to me, that the ending of the crisis with Chris the thief (Robert Wilfort) is a touch on the soppy side. But then, Cardiff is a touch on the soppy side, for all its sometimes hard-as-nails vibe, so for anyone who knows the city, the ending will feel more like a vindication, an act of natural justice, than something which deflates the drama of the preceding hour of not-exactly-cops and robbers chasing each other around the city.

It probably helps, too, to understand something about South Wales vernacular and habits. In the Valleys (and in Cardiff), any driver of public transport, be it a bus or a cab, assumes the title of ‘Drive.’ If you thank them when they’ve dropped you off where you want to be – and you’d better, or every local will judge you – you acknowledge their skills and their position with a “Thanks, Drive” or even a “Cheers, Drive.” This is the unwritten law of South Welsh society.

So while there’s the sense of an imperative about the title, “Drive” is not only a kind of shortened version of “Follow that car!” here. It’s almost a hat-tip of acknowledgement of taxi drivers everywhere. People who, as Tosh remarks, put themselves in positions of absolute uncertainty fifty times a day, not knowing who they’re picking up, or what dramas might come with them.

When Fawzia picks up Tosh, there is blood, pain, drama, thievery, criminal danger, violence and a combination of alien technology and human skulduggery. But through it all, Fawzia and Tosh find themselves warming to one another.

Will they hang out, go to each other’s birthday parties and the like after this? The obvious answer is no, but here’s the thing.

Between David Llewellyn’s writing, a gooooorgeously likeable performance from Suzanne Packer, and a brisk but never breathless direction from Lisa Bowerman, you get the feeling that maybe – just maybe – they might. Certainly, Tosh has made more of a friend in Fawzia than she’s made in most other people in the city, and been taught to embrace its opportunities for interaction more.

So, yes, just possibly. We can almost smell the spin-off from here: Fawzia – Time Drive. Certainly, if there were circumstances where everyone else had naffed off in the Torchwoodmobile and left Tosh behind, a reunion with Fawzia in audio would be entirely welcome, because the chemistry here is chef’s-kiss perfect.

In Drive, David Llewellyn gives us another great slice of Torchwood, with a story that could be ordinary, but which is elevated by the central character-interplay between Tosh and Fawzia into something you’ll listen to again and again.

You’ll listen not so much for the revelations of the plot, but simply for the joy of hearing these two people interact and warm towards each other, and the realism of Cardiff’s character and nature bubbling to the surface. As such, Drive hits harder on the re-listen front than its plot and premise seem to promise. More Tosh and Fawzia, any time you like, Big Finish. That’d be tidy.

Tony lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at

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