Torchwood has recently seemed to have a thing about placing the action in as small a space as possible, with the car-based The Three Monkeys just four releases prior to this and the brilliant and socially claustrophobic Rhys and Ianto’s Excellent Barbecue coming out the month after that. But when the sound design sells the idea so well that you think you’re in a car with the cast, why not revisit the trick?
The only downside, in this case, is that the cover for Torchwood: Drive shows a typical London taxi, and once again uses a left-hand drive vehicle, when the story is in fact set in Cardiff.
Naoki Maori’s Toshiko Sato is the focus of this episode set during (or even before) Series 1, as she hails a cab and then essentially drags the driver into the story with her as she tracks down a criminal with a personal teleporter.
Tosh thinks it’s just an adolescent who has got their hands on the teleporter, and they’re using it to create havoc in the city by robbing the kind of high-street stores and businesses (legitimate or otherwise) you would see in pre-recession Britain. There’s even a scene that follows a robbery at Chicken Village, a side-track for the plot, that’s delivered slightly for comedy relief but also plants this story firmly in Cardiff.
In fact, what this story really is is a guided tour to mid-2000s Cardiff, geographically and politically, primarily for the benefit of Tosh who is yet to be fully comfortable in the city. Don’t go listening to Drive on the move elsewhere, because otherwise exploration of your own surroundings will conflict with the very detailed map of Cardiff being drawn up in your mind.
It’s very much like a Series 1 episode in that way, with a Cardiff taxi replacing the Torchwood SUV as the plot zips about the city and encounters the mix of economic left-behinds and ambitious but shifty entrepreneurs. And of course the big threat is humanised in a small-scale but emotional way that reminds you it wasn’t easy for everyone in Wales at that time.
Tosh is also against the clock during her hunt for the teleporter in Drive, with a group of gunmen after the same person she is. It’s an oddly used plot point: though it does lead to stand-off scenes, you can tell fairly quickly that the addition of a menacing counterforce on the same hunt isn’t going to add too much substance to the drama. The focus is on Tosh and two totally new characters in her taxi driver Fawzia and the man they’re chasing, and it doesn’t really need more than that carried through.
It’s good to hear Mori back in the hotseat, and the brilliant Suzanne Packer alongside her in recording as Fawzia, but having a Tosh so early in her Torchwood timeline and without the relationship with her colleagues to explore does make the story feel a little flat, even if the end scene is incredibly Torchwood.
Torchwood: Drive is available now from Big Finish.