Torchwood: Oodunnit – Written by James Goss & Starring: Shaun Parkes, Amanda Shodeko & Silas Carson (Big Finish)

In the second instalment of the three-story catch-up with the characters from The Impossible Planet, James Goss casts Zachary Cross Flane (Shaun Parkes) as industrial detective on a garbage reclamation planet.

A garbage reclamation planet where the Ood are being murdered.

In its set-up, it’s classic gumshoe whodunnit material – the victim is so insignificant to most of the people on the planet that the very fact of their murder sticks out of the garbage on Paraglas IV like a dead thumb. 

Why kill an Ood? 

Presumably, given that the Ood here are still in mass servitude to humanity, this is set prior to TV’s Planet of the Ood, but in a sense, it plays out like a sequel to that story, more than it does like a sequel to The Impossible Planet – there’s more active investigation than there is breakneck red-eyed Ood terror. But the events of The Impossible Planet have turned Zachary Cross Flane into that greatest of science-fiction tropes – the investigator with a primal dislike of the victims whose deaths he’s investigating. 

Waving briefly at Blade Runner and I, Robot as it goes along, though, the script by James Goss does what you’ve been led to expect a James Goss script to do – it hits every note you want it to, and a few more that you’d never considered along the way.

Bring The Satire

There’s a delicious thread of socio-economic satire here, with Belinda Stewart-Wilson playing Lady Drogba, the nominal ruler of the planet (so long as she keeps her productivity up) as a kind of Margaret Thatcher character with a charisma injection. Meanwhile, Paul Panting gives a sardonic twist to union leader Mr Brakow, seemingly in opposition to Drogba, and with answers all too ready for any interfering gumshoe.

His position is that clearly, the Ood have taken to killing one another – but there’s another option, and the further we go into human-Ood workplace politics, the more and more attractive and inevitable it becomes.

That’s why Oodunnit reminds us more of Planet of the Ood than it does of The Impossible Planet – there’s a touch of anti-Ood sentiment in it that encourages us to think of the Ood more as pathetic victims than as ruthless killers.

But James Goss still knows how to deliver the shudders – there’s a scene where Zachary’s trapped in a room in the dark with nothing but Ood, and Silas Carson’s voice acting makes you wonder whether the Ood may have turned again. 

There are also a couple of strong set-pieces where your adrenaline will be pumping, that nevertheless manage to advance the story and give us peeks into the characterisation of leading players. 

This is a tight-feeling, claustrophobic, almost noir piece of detective story writing, and it has more layers than you’ll initially appreciate.

At least a few of those extra layers are added by Amanda Shodeko as Chloe. 

There Is Nothing Like A Dame

Who’s Chloe?

That’s where Shaun Parkes is luckier than any of his Torchwood Archive alumni, in having had his first audio story, Empire of Shadows (also by James Goss) released significantly before this run of three stories. 

In Empire, Zachary was teamed up with the other great necessity of a noir detective story – the Dame. In this case, Chloe the Dame is probably smarter than he is, and for reasons we won’t spoil for you, she’s significantly cooler-headed than he is, too. Able to navigate the shenanigans, the politics, and the character interplays at work on Paraglas IV significantly more effectively – or so it seems – than Zachary, the two work as a highly effective double-act, with Chloe frequently able to gain an upper hand while Zachary works through his issues.

And those issues are allowed the space they need to come to the fore. Having that pre-established when the pair walk into the story of Oodunnit feels very smart, because there’s quite enough going on in the story on several different levels without having to do the relationship-building it would take for them to be fully effective if they came into the story either cold or with an assumed prior relationship. 

Gliding Through

Having Empire of Shadows in place allows Oodunnit a kind of fluidity of movement that makes it more Bogart and Bergman than Mulder and Scully, which is useful here because of the layered storytelling. 

Our heroes can essentially glide through the world of this story, rather than having to establish and explain the smaller details of it – which is what you want in a good whodunnit. 

Think of Holmes, or Poirot, or Marple, or Jessica Fletcher, and floating through the stories, somewhat apart, is what they all do for most of their crimefighting careers, once the details of their worlds are set up. That’s the benefit we get from Empire of Shadows being already out there and setting up the relationship between Cross Flane and Chloe before a single Ood dies on Paraglas IV. 

Significantly more than we heard in Ida Scott’s story, Odyssey, Zachary has clearly been affected by events on Krop Tor during The Impossible Planet. While not exactly anti-Ood, it’s clear that he’s struggling for rational fairness in everything he does, against the more visceral fears and phobias the events on Krop Tor left him with about Ood that can suddenly go red-eyed and kill.

And without unravelling the plot for you, it’s that process of difficult processing, even uphill against his easy fears, that eventually leads Zachary to uncover what’s really going on on Paraglas IV. Again, if you’re a long-term Torchwood listener, you’ll expect something with a twist from James Goss – and you’ll get it. 

It’s potentially a little more hard-hitting, and a little more convoluted, than you would’ve expected, but when things unravel on Paraglas IV, there’s a strong internal logic that takes you through the process, and – as with Planet of the Ood, rather than as with The Impossible Planet, the feeling with which the story leaves you is of things being made better as a result of the actions of the pair of nosy parkers for whom we root throughout the story.

A Box Set Future?

The combination of Empire of Shadows and Oodunnit suggest there may be more than just occasional random story potential in Zachary Cross Flane and Chloe. Given that Big Finish managed to get more than a handful of box sets out of the Kaldor City robots, there’s little reason to think that dedicated Torchwood fans wouldn’t buy into a box set future for the Archive world and characters, with Cross Flane and Chloe as mainstays, and occasional additions from the other survivors of Krop Tor. 

Oodunnit may have an irresistibly Dad Joke title, but in its layering, its world-building, and its characterisations, it’s top-notch Torchwood. The dark satire of the storyline itself is just a James Goss bonus that’s practically factored in as soon as you read his name on the cover. Tony Fyler

Be the first to comment on "Torchwood: Oodunnit – Written by James Goss & Starring: Shaun Parkes, Amanda Shodeko & Silas Carson (Big Finish)"

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.