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Reviewed: Big Finish’s Torchwood Ood Trilogy — Odyssey/ Oodunnit/ Oracle

Big Finish’s monthly Torchwood range in 2023 was an uneven but fun ride, going from plastic-infused drama to romantic intent, both under the sea and down the mean streets of Cardiff. But the year ended via an Ood-themed trilogy — Odyssey (why couldn’t they have called it Oodyssey??) followed by Oodunnit and Oracle. They’re all set in the far future to facilitate the use of Oodkind, and feature returning characters from the Doctor Who Series 2 two-parter The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit that was set in the 43rd Century and marked the first appearance of the Ood in the show.

Ida Scott, played by Claire Rushbrook, is the star of Odyssey and it is a story heavy on mythology and family relations. Scott has spent years distancing herself from her father, and now she has just about managed to fly a spaceship through a gravity (not mavity) storm to the planet Faber to see him.

Silas Carson gets to play Odysseus Scott alongside his usual role of voicing the Ood, and performs finely as both. Even better, the story reveals that the elder Scott is actually the man who provided his voice so Ood could communicate with humans. That doesn’t mean, however, that he (or his daughter) have a good relationship with them.

Gravity on Faber is stable at a place called the Spire, and Ida Scott wants scientific answers about its existence rather than mumbo jumbo about gravitysmiths speaking it into existence. Those beliefs have influenced her father, who is dying and also disappointed by her previous disastrous encounter with the Ood.

As is traditional with Ood, the mystery starts to build up once they start saying either ominous things or speaking in ominous tones. Rushbrook is given most of the work in this story, in both bringing forward the plot and carrying the emotions of her past and her family reunion, so you do need to be invested in her welfare given there’s not much else to focus on for a while bar the mythology of the Spire.

However, the unsettling voice of an oddly-acting Ood is as effective as ever in immersing the listener in the fear of a situation, even when the Ood itself does not appear to be a threat. Eventually, Ida’s suspicions gravitate towards her father, setting up heated discussions that reveal perhaps not only the deep history of the Spire but perhaps more importantly what had been happening prior to Ida’s arrival and even since.

There’s some interesting science about the gravity-influenced Axobar’s syndrome that Odysseus Scott suffers from, an illness that will perhaps be mentioned in the Doctor Who universe again in the future, but the focus of the story then switches to something very similar to The Satan Pit. It’s high stakes, there’s a higher power, and the Ood can’t help being used by another entity.

It must feel quite familiar for Ida, who does survive and gets the final say on what the origins of the Spire and the planet it sat on may be. The resolution that had been built up to may be rushed, but there’s an emotional final scene afterwards that makes up for it.

Oodunnit has two returnees in Zachary Cross Flane and his synth Chloe, who was introduced in Empire of Shadows, another post-The Satan Pit story for Torchwood Archive operatives that was release by Big Finish in 2021. They’re a really good double act, although a bit of a weird one, and they’ve visited a recycling planet to investigate the potential murder of an Ood at work.

Without needing experience of working on foreign planets or at recycling planets, the listener is transported into that environment through the music and sound effects all the way through, and the investigation very quickly gets underway. Chloe is the most interesting character in a world populated by humans and Ood, and makes the best observations that add an important layer to the story about what it means to be human and to be alive, compared with her and the Ood’s experiences. The brilliant title teases at what is to come too: lots of interviewing Ood asking if they killed one of their own.

Planet of the Ood, from Doctor Who Series 4, went in hard on trying to make an audience feel sorry for the slave race and used Donna Noble as the emotional vessel for that. Here, that job is kind of given to the Ood themselves, asking the questions about their own welfare that normally a human would ask.

The leadership on the planet, of course, want this mystery to be resolved in a PR-friendly way for them, so that adds some conflict to proceedings in addition to Flane’s own caution with Ood given his previous encounter with them. And as you can imagine with a recycling planet, when one someone gets too close to the truth, there’s only one place they’re going to end up…

This story is another that in recent weeks has become super topical due to what’s been happening in Britain, although obviously we do not use Ood labour here and investigation teams usually don’t end up in life-or-death situations. After the drama comes a proper Agatha Christie-style ‘Whodunnit’ resolution. While some fans may baulk at buying stories that don’t feature the Torchwood Three team and their ongoing storylines, it feels like the Flane/Chloe double act is one that will be revisited again by Big Finish in the future of this range.

If you’ve already listened to The Last Love Song of Suzie Costello, then some plot details in Oracle may seem excessively familiar given the latter is only seven releases later. As it turns out, once you get into the story, it’s not something to worry about and it is in fact the title that tells you where it is headed.

Danny Bartock, the ethicist who worked alongside Torchwood on Sanctuary Base 6, is dispatched to a lava world where a ship from 1000 years in the future has been found following an SOS being sent out. Timey-wimey. The lava setting provides plenty of high-stakes action, and once the ship is boarded by Bartock and a few others, they are greeted by the ship’s interface, a hard-light hologram with the visuals of an Ood.

While his colleagues for the day want to find out as much as they can, Bartock is all about the ethical considerations given they’re handling stuff from another time. It sets up slight tension between them, and each time a significant finding is about to be made, a different kind of tension arrives in the form of the ship basically exploding or the lava coming back into play. And then the hologram Ood starts teasing the future.

This is the most effective set-up for tension, and links to the story title, impacting each of the surviving members of the cast. It also leads to an ending with an ominous message that could have consequences should Bartock appear in another Torchwood story…

All in all, the Ood trilogy works well, drawing on the TV show — and that much-loved Series 2 two-parter in particular — while adding a lot to these main characters and their universe.

Odyssey, Oodunnit, and Oracle are all available now from Big Finish.

Ida Wood

Reviewed: Big Finish’s Torchwood Ood Trilogy — Odyssey/ Oodunnit/ Oracle

by Ida Wood time to read: 5 min
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