Big Finish Review: Torchwood - Drive
The latest release in the Torchwood range sees Naoko Mori return as Toshiko Sato. It's another uniquely-character driven piece that have made these Big Finish's monthly releases essential listening.
Written by David Llewellyn and directed by Lisa Bowerman, Torchwood: Drive is available to purchase exclusively at the Big Finish site here, before going on general release on the 30th April 2021. Here's the synopsis...
They know everything about Cardiff – they hear the city's secrets, they move between its hidden places, they understand its nightmares. And they're the people you turn to if you're in trouble. They are taxi drivers.
Toshiko Sato, wounded and desperate, wakes up in the back of a cab. She's got one night to save the city, and the meter's running.
The joy of these Torchwood stories from Big Finish is the opportunity to expand the the characters that only had a limited run on TV. Naoko Mori's Toshiko Sato was certainly beloved by fans in those first two seasons, but she often felt second fiddle to the bigger, bolder characters like Jack and Gwen. Like some of her previous solo adventures, Drive is Tosh's moment to shine and this script from David Llewellyn is rather special indeed. Not only does it show Tosh at her very best, but it also gives her a wonderful double act with Suzanne Packer's Fawzia, a cab driver that becomes her partner in a night-long drive through Cardiff to stop a thief from wreaking havoc on the city.
As someone who lives in Cardiff, the recreation of the city through Fawzia and Tosh's journey is utterly vibrant and real. The mix of fictional and real makes every stop - from casinos to chicken takeaways - completely believable, with Fawzia providing a very human guide to Tosh as she hunts a thief down. There is atmosphere and tension aplenty, but also a wonderful joy to the narrative too; Llewellyn really makes Cardiff come alive in his script and the direction and performances from all involved convey that passion,
Fawzia is a real triumph of a character, brought to life with loveable gusto by Suzanne Packer. The intricacies of the script and Packer's endearing performance make her instantly understandable. Whether it's health issues, the thought of becoming a grandmother or just looking forward to her reheated Jafrezi breakfast at home, you are completely brought into Fawzia's world. She's not a cliche blokey cabbie but someone who feels instantly human. There's a lovely contrast with Tosh too, who is more serious, more intent as she rushes around Cardiff to complete the mission without her team in tow. But there's a deep bond that carries the story. Fawzia's hesitation builds to excitement and her ability to assist Tosh in her mission gives a boost of confidence for the quieter member of the Torchwood team.
Drive is a great story for Tosh. We see grit and determination without ever comprising who she is as a character. This is Tosh without Jack, Owen, Ianto or Gwen to overshadow her and she is the absolute hero of the story. Be it standing up to villains like Taylor Jay-Davies' Lee or finding compassion in the actions of Robert Wilfort's Chris, she succeeds in her mission while remaining altogether human in her approach.
This is one of my favourite Torchwood stories, something I would not have expected to say about a narrative centred around Tosh; not because I find her a bad character but some of the louder, more vibrant members of the Torchwood team and generally more entertaining. But Drive brings Tosh to life in a truly heroic fashion, backed by a script that is full of love for Cardiff and the characters she meets. Suzanne Packer's Fawzia is instantly one of the most memorable and endearing guest stars of the Torchwood range and while it is likely their mission together lasted just one night, I would quite happily see Tosh and Fawzia in action together one more time...
Sixteen minutes of behind the scenes interviews accompany this latest release. David Llewellyn talks the origin of Drive as Torchwood takes inspiration from Michael Mann's Collateral. As an inhabitant of Cardiff, he uses his own experiences of using cabs in the city and drawing on a memorable female cab driver that became the basis for the character of Fawzia.
Director Lisa Bowerman chats to the cast all their thoughts on the script. Bowerman talks about the humanity of the script and the relationship of Tosh and Fawzia. Packer relishes the opportunity to play the character of Fawzia, her openness to new experiences and the relationship with Tosh, which Mori draws upon too. 'Everyone needs a Fawzia!' Mori also enjoys the opportunity for Tosh to get out on her own and bond with someone new. There's also some lovely exploration of Robert Wilfort's Chris and how he Tosh connects with him despite his actions, while Taylor Jay-Davies finds inspiration for the character of Lee from a familiar family member.
Memories of Torchwood and its wider cast wrap up the discussion and a reflection of the very real nature of Cardiff as the setting for the story - and a character in the show - offer a sentimental and heartfelt exploration that certainly I, as a Cardiff resident, could appreciate wholeheartedly.