Once a year, Torchwood Cardiff does a different kind of public service – it helps the local police with long-idle cold cases.
Naturally, PC Andy jumps for this opportunity to follow in Gwen’s footsteps, though she isn’t to be his liaison – for what better member of Torchwood for Corpse Day than the currently-rather-dead Owen?
Together, Andy and Owen investigate a trend of missing girls, and soon end up far deeper than they expected. It’s not just The Rift that spirits people away, and sometimes humans can be more vicious and disturbing than anything beyond this planet…
One of the strengths of Torchwood as a series both onscreen and in Big Finish has been the way that it balances humour in the light of sometimes extremely dark themes – a captive alien used for food, time travelling organ harvesting, children as narcotics… And yet, if you were to ask for the darkest story made you would very likely get one response standing out – the distinctly-short-on-alien-involvement Countrycide. But once you’ve finished listening to Corpse Day, the former may become less of an immediate go-to answer…
Yes, it really is extremely dark at times, and with moments of brutal violence and themes that also bring to mind controversial stories from other series (Home from The X-Files, for one), it’s not a story that is for cheery listening while walking home alone on a dark night. But this is written by James Goss, so no matter how disturbing the subject matter becomes there is a sly streak of finely balanced wit to ease tension when needed.
Having a strong cast is crucial when the material is challenging, and they are uniformly up to the task – Burn Gorman revels in Owen’s flaws as well as his strengths, and with PC Andy caught out of his depth Tom Price gets to sink his teeth into aspects not before seen and adds further dimensionality to the character. Nigel Betts brings shivers with a believable creepiness and compelling abuse of faith, and Hannah Maddox, Alex Tregear and Rhian Blundell are disturbingly credible in reflecting the horrific experiences they have been subjected to.
On the technical front, Rob Harvey’s atmospheric sound design allies with effective use of music by Blair Mowat, and Scott Handcock brings everything together as impressively as always. It sounds repetitive, but Big Finish have really gotten the production side down to a fine art and it pays dividends throughout.
Boasting an utter gut punch of a script with superb characterisation and exquisitely balanced humour, Corpse Day explores new depths of darkness but remains identifiably Torchwood throughout. It is not an easy listen at times, but it is destined to be recognised in future as a classic – and that’s not said lightly!
Torchwood: Corpse Day is available now from BigFinish.com