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

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Big Finish: Torchwood: SUV Review

Tony’ll be in the car.

One of the great things about Torchwood on audio is its ability to flesh out the relationships we saw between different members of the team on-screen, and as an anthology series, to show those relationships as they changed over time.


Quite apart from the rewards that gives to listeners and fans, it’s presumably also both challenging and fun for the actors involved to try and remember how they played their roles at different stages of their Torchwood career.


Early Days

We mention that only because Torchwood: SUV by Ash Darby takes us right back to the very early days of Torchwood 3 as seen on-screen, with Ianto (Gareth David-Lloyd) little more than the sharply-dressed coffee boy, still with his secret cybergirlfriend in the basement and trying to ingratiate himself to the rest of the active team, and Tosh (Naoko Mori) still very uncertain of her place in this organisation of alien investigators. The energy between the two at this early stage bristles with a kind of tight-lipped distrust as they suspect they’re being set tests by the ever-manipulative Jack. 


It's also an adventure which emphasises the differences in their approaches to life – at least in public. Tosh is relatively upbeat and optimistic, playing slightly into the stereotype of the polite and cheery Asian geek, while at least here, Ianto, who’s frequently a fairly positive force in his own right, is downbeat and realistic about the valleys from which he came. The two out on manoeuvres in a Welsh valley allow for that odd couple dynamic to come out, but it’s rarely played for out and out laughs, even before they start being faced with unbearable, world-imperilling alien threat.



There are technically other characters in the story, not least the SUV of the title. The Torchwood SUV is in some respects – particularly respects which Blake’s 7 fans would understand – the extra member of the team that all too often goes unheralded. It’s how they get where they’re going before any of the law enforcement bodies, it’s frequently how they manage to do what they need to do when they get there, and on more than one occasion, it’s the thing that saves their lives by getting them the hell out of Dodge before the world ends. But it’s never had a voice until now (let alone the voice of Eighties Charmer and blight of Sarah Jane’s life, Nigel Havers). 


The reason it becomes a ‘character’ in this story is both logical and creepy by turns, and when it speaks to them, it has all the ghastly machine certainty of a homicidal satnav. Blimey – remember when they were a thing? Built-in satnavs that could turn the Earth into a Sontaran clone world? Ahh, good times.


The alien threat here allows us to not only eat our cake and have it, it allows us all a second slice to boot. Creepy fog – oh yes, we’ll have some of that. Horribly screeching, growling monsters that tear the living daylights out of unsuspecting Welsh folk? We’ll have some of that, too. And an embodiment of the threat with the voice of Nigel Havers? Lovely stuff. 


Triple Threat

As we say, you get three classic fear-triggers here. Creepy fog – ethereal, semi-sentient weather than can normally insinuate its way into any vehicle. Ravaging monsters – visceral fear of becoming prey to big things with sharp teeth and claws. But it’s through the voice of Nigel Havers that the most intellectual fear kicks in, because that’s the evil that uses psychology against our two relative Torchwood rookies. It worms its way inside their vehicle and inside their heads – and that’s the ultimate battleground of Torchwood: SUV. 


You’re relatively new and unsure of yourself, the world’s about to end from a starting point in the dismally picturesque Welsh Valleys, and you’re stuck with a member of the team you’re not sure you either like or respect that much, trapped in an SUV and waiting to run out of oxygen. What do you do?


The further into this release you go, the more puzzle-boxy it becomes, with new layers of the challenge of staying alive revealed every time you manage to take another semi-safe breath. In a sense, it also reminds the listener of films like The Martian. Ultimately, it puts our heroes in a situation where the likelihood of them dying horribly is at least in the high 90% range. And then things get worse. They have to fight not only the complicated alien threat outside, but their own simmering antipathy towards each other, and work each problem that’s in front of them with just the things they have to hand in an admittedly fairly souped-up SUV. One problem at a time, or they’ll fail and die. 


It's an approach which underpins their occasional recurring suspicion that this is all a Torchwood test to see whether they have whatever Jack Harkness imagines in the “right stuff.” We won’t spoil the dilemma of whether it’s a test or not for you – the point is, they have to treat it as though it isn’t, and as if the world and their lives are truly at stake, because if they get that decision wrong, it could be game over.


It's also true that if they didn’t genuinely believe everything is at stake, they’d be insane to do some of the things they do in this audio, which are dementedly inventive, screamingly dangerous, and perpetually desperate, adding a real punch of adrenaline to the story as you listen. 


For a three-handed piece, SUV is astonishingly accomplished, delivers its characterisation and its drama with aplomb, and leaves you feeling like you’ve just run 5 miles after Christmas dinner – breathless, winded, and strangely virtuous. The choice of early-period Tosh and Ianto allows for an effective exploration of their insecurities about themselves and each other, and the triple-threat alien menace is delicious, relentless, and dark. Torchwood: SUV will make you smile to begin with, then tear away your security blanket and push you into an insane race against the clock – and against the limitations our heroes believe they have. Save the world armed with only an SUV and some strong opinions about crisps?


That’s Torchwood.

Torchwood: SUV is exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until 31 December 2022, and on general sale after this date..

Tony Fyler lives in a concrete cave, somewhere on the edge of the sea, with his wife, who exists, and the Fictional People In His Head, who don't as yet. A journalist and editor by day, he has written Some Books, and is more or less always writing another. One day, he may even get around to showing them to people. In the meantime, he's Script Editor and occasional Executive Producer at Third Time Lucky Productions, and a proud watcher of things no-one remembers they remember until they remember.

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