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

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Big Finish: Torchwood GOOSEBERRY Review

Tony plays gooseberry.
When Owen Harper (Burn Gorman), Torchwood’s medic, sometimes walking dead and King of the Weevils, and Andy Davidson (Tom Price), the organisation’s on-again off-again traditional police liaison, star together in an audio drama from Big finish, 90% of the time, some really dark and creepy stuff invades the next hour of your life.

They’ve been caught up in domestic prison/torture horror in Corpse Day, searched mountains for victims of a grisly child killer in The Hope, and…erm…chased the ineffable monkey of good luck around Cardiff.

OK, 66% of the time, some really dark and creepy stuff invades the next hour of your life. 33% it’s just weird. Fun, and still with dark moments, but weird.

So which side of the dark and creepy/mostly just weird divide does their fourth pairing, Gooseberry, fall on?

Well, it’s fairly dark in that it develops into a study of addiction or obsession that leads both to tragic consequences and to a deeply human disregard for those consequences on the part of the obsessive. But it would be a mistake to say it’s dark…by their standards when they get together. It’s certainly more than half-past light and frothy, but by their standards it’s about quarter-to dark. That feels like a deliberate decision by writer James Goss – there would be ways to go much darker with the story of this premise than he goes here, but you’d run the risk of straying into audience-depressing territory if you went much further than Gooseberry goes.

The premise of the story?

Andy Davidson has a girlfriend.

Exactly – it’s not what you’d call earth-shattering, as a premise, is it?

There’s so much to it than that, and James Goss draws you in to the complications that arise from Andy Davidson having a girlfriend before the credits even roll, with a single, economical line from Owen. The thing about which is, if we’re keeping you all pristine and spoiler-free, we can’t tell you what it is.

To know would really blow the impact of that moment, and that moment’s worth preserving because its consequences collapse in on you while the theme plays, and the drama expands in your head as you begin to understand the ramifications you’re about to hear played out.

Andy’s girlfriend, Caite, is played with a fabulous joie de vivre by Lois Chimimba. And Caite has a secret. A secret Andy has yet to notice, despite convincing himself he’s in love. And a secret which Owen clocks within seconds of meeting her.

That inevitably draws the two of them into an immediate, intimate-but-different relationship. It’s not a relationship of traditional lust, but there are elements in their dynamic that make it feel interestingly transgressive. It’s more than ‘my friend fancies my girlfriend.’ In fact, it’s much more visceral and primal than that, because Caite’s secret is something that can make Owen – dead man walking Owen – feel alive again.

Imagine that for a moment. You’re dead, but you’re still here, in your body. Your senses don’t work. You can’t smell coffee or enthusiasm, bacon or raindrops, you can’t taste love or chips or regret or tears.

And then you meet someone who can give that back to you.

What would you not do for them? For more of that feeling?

That’s the actual premise of Gooseberry – Owen gets a chance to feel alive again. But to a dead man, life is more addictive than it ever was when he had it the first time round.

In some ways, there’s a positive message to be taken from that premise – enjoy everything you have, because you have so much more than you’re conditioned to knowing. But in the tack we take in Gooseberry, Owen begins to exist for those moments when, with Caite’s help, he can peek back through from where he is, and feel life in all its rancid, wonderful complexity.

It’s not traditional lust – it’s a lust for life. And it’s only fair to say that Louis Chimimba plays it straight – the lust is very much one-sided, Caite sharing her gift with Owen more and more only because he wants and needs it. Her love for Andy feels real the whole way through, and she never displays what in TV Torchwood you’d almost expect – some sign of being out for a bigger prize, some verbal tick which on re-listening you’d point to and go “Ahh, you see?”

It's also worth acknowledging the levels on which the story works. Sure, it works on its surface level, as Owen increasingly demanding something he feels he needs, and Caite’s consent to it starting off eager to share with him but becoming increasingly resentful of his demands over time.

Especially because there are consequences to her gift. Consequences which aren’t immediately clear as the two explore what it can give to Owen, but which increasingly, Caite warns him of, and Owen stops caring about. Even when the consequences come home to roost, Owen wants to carry on, wants to use his Torchwood privileges to make sure Andy doesn’t find out about what the Gooseberry has been getting upto with his girlfriend.

This is the interesting duality at the heart of the story. You can listen to it on its surface level, and of course, Owen’s journey into moments of ecstasy that make life worth living and damn the consequences also works as a drug addiction parallel.

But more than that, it works as an actual, traditional-lust affair story – especially because as time goes on and Owen throws more and more caution to the wind, he goes to more extreme lengths to make sure Andy doesn’t find out – destroying lives, memories and on some level his rational morality (such as it is) in the process.

Andy, he reasons, may love Caite – or at least, what he knows about Caite. But Owen needs her. Physically, mentally, even almost spiritually, which for a man who knows the darkness is all there is beyond his life is really saying something.

It’s a journey into the sacrifice of every principle, every standard, in the search for moments of light against the darkness, and Burn Gorman was absolutely born to play Owen in this story, his gift for characters on the edge of concepts like good and evil really bolstering the boldness of the writing here.

Tom Price, meanwhile, is able to show what has at some other points been told – Andy Davidson is no fool. Dogging the steps of the not-couple as they go beyond the reach of principle, he’s a kind of implacable avatar of destiny here.

For all Owen says he respects Andy enough to lie to him about what’s really happening, it’s an insult from Owen to automatically assume that he can outwit ‘Plod,’ as he calls him, especially as his removal of evidence is so typically…Torchwood. Subtle as a sledgehammer in the face, and self-congratulatory to boot, Owen reckons without the grounded, dogged determination and the copper’s instincts of Andy Davidson.

That leads to what on screen would have been a classic and impressive visual effects finale. Here on audio – and surprisingly, for Big Finish – the ending feels a little underpowered, the resolution of the fundamental threat feeling a little pushed for time, and lower in Owen angst than befits the ultimate dilemma it offers him: continued feelings of being alive versus…erm…well, versus badness (Spoiler-free, remember?).

What feels certain at the end though is that the relationship between one of Torchwood’s best Odd Couples will be – or should be – significantly changed in future audio adventures. Andy has given Owen so many chances to do the right thing, and been perpetually disappointed, not so much in terms of the Gooseberry factor of running around with a friend’s girlfriend, but more in terms of doing the typical Torchwood thing, and not crediting him with the intelligence to see beyond it. Whether they can be the almost-sort-of-friends they’ve been before must surely be in question from here on out.

Pick up Gooseberry for a cracking, fast-paced relationship drama with two of Torchwood’s finest. With the perfectly-pitched help of Louis Chimimba, Gooseberry gets to the fundamental truth of Owen and Andy’s friendship, and leaves it in a very different state to how it finds it. It’s a high-octane ride into life, death, love, need and lies, with a light touch and a Torchwood twist.

Torchwood: Gooseberry is exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until 30 June 2021 and on general sale after this date.

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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