Torchwood – Release # 9
Written by: James Goss
Directed by: Scott Handcock
Performed by: Tom Price & Samuel Barnett
Duration: 60 mins approx
Chronology Placement: Cardiff, 2017 (takes place after “More Than This”)
Synopsis: Sergeant Andy Davidson has always wanted to join Torchwood. And now he finally gets his chance. Under the strict observation of his Torchwood Assessor, Andy sets out to prove he’s got what it takes. When a chemical spill turns out to have serious consequences, when monsters roam the Bay, and when an ancient entity awakes, Andy decides he could do with a helping hand. The problem is his Torchwood Assessor doesn’t have any hands. Norton Folgate is a ghost.
A perennial supporting character throughout all of Torchwood’s televised episodes, this audio adventure puts the spotlight on Sgt. Andy Davidson as he undergoes his practical exam to judge whether he is Torchwood material. What makes this test unique however is that his assessor is actually a hologram “ghost” from the 1950s, beamed into the future to monitor Andy’s actions. Much like the previous installments of Big Finish’s Torchwood range, this episode is largely a two-hander between Andy and his Torchwood assessor, Norton Folgate, as the pair explore a case. It is almost identical in format to More Than This and The Victorian Age, in that it features a lead character performing Torchwood duties in front of a ‘guest’. Despite this structural similarity to past adventures, Ghost Mission manages to distinguish itself due to the banter and warmth between the two characters.
Tom Price is terrific as Sgt. Andy, encapsulating that “every-man” persona that he held throughout the entirety of Torchwood’s TV era. I really enjoyed the way that this episode subverted the format and had Andy take the lead, despite his inexperience as a Torchwood agent, and relegated Norton – an experienced member of Torchwood – to a supervisory role. James Goss’ script managed to show how Andy is different from the usual Torchwood types, but not at his expense – despite a few accidents and pratfalls, Andy demonstrates a good degree of problem-solving and deduction throughout his test. I also enjoyed how Andy’s ‘welshness’ came through on the audio, both in his dialogue and his attitude towards alien activities. Samuel Bennett was also on-form as Norton Folgate, making the character’s debut an electric one and ensuring he reaches the top of every fan’s “must come back” list. The witty back-and-forth between the pair was great fun, and I enjoyed their little tangent conversations as much as the actual exposition and plot moments.
As for the plot, Goss’ script keeps the listener guessing right up until the very end, and unfortunately beyond the audio itself. There were a few unanswered questions that were left up to the audience’s interpretation, specifically regarding whether Andy’s test was legitimate or whether he had been a pawn in someone else’s game. Taking into account some of the developments from Forgotten Lives and Zone 10, it seems like this audio had a deeper connection to the ongoing Committee than it first appeared, although frustratingly the mystery and long-term ramifications still feel slightly out of reach and it’s beginning to feel like the Committee are becoming this shadowy deus ex machina for writers to pull out to end stories. I’d actually have preferred if Ghost Mission had been more straight-forward in its narrative, as the twist at the end actually had me feeling frustrated on Andy’s behalf, even if he did get the girl as a reward/apology.
Big Finish audio dramas are always rich with character, and Ghost Mission is no exception. The pairing of Andy and Norton is an immediate joy from their initial encounter, and the duo’s bickering and one-liners really played to the strengths of the audio format. James Goss’ script infuses humour and action together seamlessly, even dropping in a few moments of drama when it looks like Andy is about to die alone in a coffin-shaped vat. Big Finish excels in developing characters into viable leads for spin-off adventures, which is the case here as it takes Andy, a character barely explored beyond a few short scenes, and turns him into a compelling and all-too-human protagonist for a Torchwood adventure. Even Norton arrives into the audio world fully-formed and ripe for further exploration – an act he would probably enjoy! It appears the characters run into each other again in the later adventure, Goodbye Piccadilly, so I look forward to seeing how that reunion unfolds.