Torchwood: Odyssey – Written by Patrick O’Connor & Starring Claire Rushbrook & Silas Carson (Big Finish)

It was all the way back in 2006, as part of David Tennant’s first series as the Doctor and only the second year of the renewed show, that we first encountered something called The Torchwood Archive. 

As part of the ongoing Series 2 story-arc, far into humanity’s future, the Archive had flung a bunch of would-be explorers out into space to investigate a seemingly impossible planet in orbit around a black hole. The cast of characters in The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit was one of the two-parter’s strongest elements – and that’s saying a lot when you consider it was a story that introduced the Ood, pitted the Doctor against what could very well have been the actual Devil, and brought the wonderfully unnerving voice of Gabriel Woolf (previously, Sutekh the Destroyer in The Pyramids of Mars) back to the show.

All the humans on board the sanctuary base where the beast and his armies rose to make war against God had just enough backstory to make them individually fascinating – and often, that backstory was revealed by the voice of the Beast itself, to shame them, or make them afraid, or scare them into making mistakes.

It is, then, frankly mad that we’ve never revisited any of them in Torchwood audio, with the exception of one story that proved the strength of the concept with Zachary Cross Flane (Shaun Parkes).

Now, Big Finish has finally come to the rescue of those of us who’ve been longing to catch up with the Torchwood Archive alumni, with three releases – one in the company of Science Officer Ida Scott (Claire Rushbrook), one more with Parkes’ Cross Flane, and one with Ood Ethics Officer Danny Bartok (Ronny Jhutti). 

What does their world look like? And how have they all been changed by their encounter with the Beast and its Ood army?

The Torchwood Archive Catch-Up Tour

First stop on the Torchwood Archive catch-up tour, we meet Ida Scott, famously “always running from Daddy” in The Impossible Planet

While that line always carried a lot of emotional weight and suggested a deep childhood darkness, here, we get to meet Daddy – Professor Odysseus Scott, mega-genius – and what comes to the fore is less conniving predator, more crotchety old man for whom nothing his daughter does will ever be good enough.

Having Odysseus played by Silas Carson (famously, the “voice of the Ood”) gives a neat additional detail to Ida’s family’s involvement in the Ood’s history – it’s Odysseus’ voice that comes out of their company translator balls. That means we might expect meeting up with “Daddy” again would give Ida quite the shiver down the spine after her near-death experience at the hands (and balls?) of the Ood on Krop Tor, but as she explains here, she doesn’t even think about the connection anymore. “That voice? It belongs to them now.”

So what’s the story of Odyssey

There are two strands. There’s the ostensible story, of Odysseus Scott, all but alone with one Ood and one researcher, looking into a scientific MacGuffin called The Spire. 

There are a reasonable handful of stress and story elevators thrown in by first-time Big Finisher Patrick O’Connor: a race called The Resilient, who apparently created The Spire and then mysteriously disappeared somewhere; a research establishment full of supergeniuses, all of whom have also apparently disappeared under cover of a deeply sketchy story; the apparent, senseless impossibility of getting off the planet, once one has managed to crash on it (landing being less than likely in the absence of the infrastructure to do so); and more.

The Human Factor

But really, the story is absolutely human. Odysseus Scott may, just possibly, have a disease that leads him to hallucinate, to lose track of reality, even to lose track of his closest family bonds. Or he may, as he fervently believes, be on the verge of a scientific discovery that will reshape human destiny forever.

But which?

If you want a tonal note going in, think Stephen King’s The Shining, with its uncertainty of what’s really going on for the vast majority of its run-time. Isolated location, voices from somewhere else swaying events, and at the very least, a monomania coming to the fore. Is there psychosis at play here… or something considerably more?

Meanwhile, on more universally relatable grounds, Ida Scott has never got on with her father, has always felt pressured and belittled by him. But here she is, reluctantly roped in to care of the old man in his potential frailty – or his equally potential homicidal madness (after all, the research team went somewhere). It’s the eternal battle of love and resentment in their family dynamic, with lashings of “doing this for your own good” and a harrowing amount of paternal freedom from the restrictions of a civil tongue. It’s a story that will resonate with many people who’ve nursed elderly, dementing parents.

That’s the ultimate battle for Rushbrook’s Ida – it’s not so much a fight against psychically possessed Ood, although the scars of that previous fight are here. It’s a battle against the truth that father and daughter have never particularly found the way to like one another, and now are thrust into a father-child relationship of care, all against the ticking clock backdrop of either Odysseus’ growing madness (and the daunting prospect that his syndrome is genetic, so there may be a similar fate in store for Ida down the line), or an immense, amazing scientific breakthrough with an enormously high price.

Rushbrook and Carson are both seasoned Big Finish actors (Rushbrook having more recently established herself in the Robots franchise, and Carson having returned many a time to voice various Ood), but here they bounce off one another with a kind of no-holds-barred realism, being both as intimate and as casually cruel as family members can be.

The whole thing spirals up its emotional arc in tune and time with its scientific mystery, so that by the conclusion, everything is pitched scream-high and desperate. Family drama, scientific mystery, and the nature of exactly what reality is, and what explains the events as they’re laid out for us all makes for a fitting tonal sequel to The Impossible Planet, though the Beast doesn’t make an appearance here, and if you’re looking for armies of red-eyed Ood, you’ll be disappointed. 

Rising Stress

As the continuation of Ida Scott’s story though, Odyssey is astoundingly assured, played with everything that made Scott a likeable proto-companion in The Impossible Planet but with extra weariness and fight as Ida deals with the only challenge that’s really ever defeated her – her own father.

Torchwood: Odyssey is not especially a laugh-a-minute script, any more than the original Impossible Planet was. But Rushbrook, Carson and O’Connor deliver more than you need to keep you hooked from the first moment of the story to its end. 

It will absolutely put you through the wringer. 

But prepare for that going in, and Odyssey will reward you for 17 years of patience with a cogent, creepy, emotionally high-strung continuation of the story of Ida Scott.

You know you can’t resist that. Claire Rushbrook alone would have sold you that. You get Rushbrook on top form here – and so much more besides. Tony Fyler 


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