Wrapping up the interesting series of Torchwood VS Doctor Who monsters is Sargasso, a claustrophobic tale about plastic pollution featuring Rhys Williams and the Autons!
Right off the bat, Sargasso feels different from the previous releases. In much the same way the previous Rhys-solo adventure, Visiting Hours worked, Rhys is a character who didn’t work closely with Torchwood but someone who was dragged into it by Gwen. Stuck in the middle of the ocean without any form of communicating with the outside world and no way to get a message to his wife, Rhys has to work it all out by himself with no idea of the real threat he is facing.
Also from the word-go, author Christopher Cooper, makes commentary on the plastic pollution but like all the best Doctor Who-ecological stories, it isn’t a message that’s front-and-centre, its something that is gradually drawn out, a warning about what might happen if we don’t stop dumping plastic in our oceans. Of course, a giant Nestene won’t really come out of the ocean, (that we know of) and convert people in plastic replicas but the idea of plastic coming back to kill us is a great way of getting the point across, especially now that we know there are traces of plastic in the fish we eat.
To his credit, Cooper comes up with some rather interesting ways of utilising the Autons, the big one being rubber-ducks popping up across the Sargasso. We’ve got keyboards that melt and the ocean spitting back everything we’ve dumped into it. It is a little upsetting that there weren’t any proper-proper Autons here as I think more of the fantastic gun-sound design could have been used and I had an image of Rhys running through a ship swearing his head off and dodging Auton-gunfire. But what we have is great and another brilliant example of how anything plastic can be used as a weapon. Cooper even throws in a few amusing lines about previous methods of attack including living telephone wire.
I’ve always liked Rhys in Torchwood, especially as he really came into his own in Series 2 and Children of Earth on television, proving to be an unconventional yet invaluable asset to the team, saving their collected bacon many times and Cooper keeps him a strong character here. While he acknowledges it would be better if Torchwood, Jack or Gwen were there instead, Rhys doesn’t try to hide the fact that he’s got no idea what’s going on and it makes a change to hear an audio adventure where the listener knows more than the main characters do from the beginning.
As with all the Torchwood single-releases, there is only a small cast and Rhys is paired with Kaitlin, played by Sydney Feder, who when you listen to the extra’s, clearly had a ball here. And she is a great character, a self-proclaimed Eco-Warrior, her character is given plenty of depth when she explains that her father runs a company that dumps its plastic waste into the sea. And the way she plays into the plans of the Nestene Consciousness is pretty interesting and leaves the story with perhaps a promise of a sequel. Feder does a brilliant job here as a newcomer to the Big Finish world, she works brilliantly with Kai Owen and the pair form quite the dynamic duo over the course of the story.
Also delivering a really enjoyable performance here is Chloe Ewart as Captain Anika Banaczik, who, as well as playing the Captain of the Cargo ship, is ultimately the mouth-piece for the Nestene Consciousness. While it is clear that she is pretty obviously the baddie from the beginning, the reveal is pretty brilliant and she plays all her scenes brilliantly, never once stepping over the line into ‘moustache-twirling’ villain mode, instead rightly choosing to play the moment with a cool and calm conviction. As a result, she is much more terrifying.
And it is great to see Robert Jezek’s name back in the Big Finish catalogue. He played the companion Frobisher, a shape-changing alien who stayed in the form of a Penguin and travelled with Colin Baker in Big Finish’s early years. Does this mean we might be getting some more Frobisher adventures Big Finish? Pretty please?! And he does a brilliant job here too, proving why he is such a missed audio contributor.
But what of the leading man himself? Well, Kai Owen is brilliant as always, playing terrified, confused and down-right hilarious brilliantly, sometimes in the same sentence! As I said above, I’ve always really liked Rhys and any release with Owen in will be a must-buy from me. He doesn’t disappoint here either, easily leading the cast and really gelling with the other members of the cast to bring home a story with a fantastic ensemble. He is clearly delighting in getting a solo-outing, as great as he is with the rest of the main Torchwood cast, it is still a great thing when he gets one of his own.
Overall Sargasso is another hit from the Torchwood range. Written with a brilliant concept from Christopher Cooper and some tight direction from Scott Handcock, the whole cast brings together another great story. And like The Green Life a few months ago, it proves that Torchwood can deliver messages on ecological problems just as well as its parent show can and like The Green Life, it promises to stand out from the rest because of those messages!