Sargasso

Posted in Audio by - June 20, 2019
Sargasso

Released June 2019

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

Concluding this run of Torchwood audios featuring classic Doctor Who villains, Christopher Cooper’s ‘Sargasso’ presents the long-awaited return of the Autons as Rhys Williams finds himself stranded on a container ship in a sea filled with debris. With people on board dying, the solution to Earth’s polluted waters that Rhys stumbles upon presents concerns he could never have expected.

More than any other Doctor Who foe, the Autons have only become more and more relevant as time has passed and plastics have continued to dominate daily human life. Quite rightly, plastics have also gained notoriety for being a significant contributor to the ecological and global changes that humanity now faces as it struggles to provide a better and safer future. Thus, while Robert Holmes tapped into the terror that everyday plastic objects could present in ‘Spearhead from Space’ and ‘Terror of the Autons,’ ‘Sargasso’ contains an extra sense of immediacy compounded by the fact that Rhys is within a vast collection of garbage that has accumulated in the middle of the ocean to signify just how monumental the pollution concern truly is. Cooper is not afraid to reference David Attenborough documentaries to drive home this point, and he has clearly researched just how pervasive plastics are even on a microscopic level in every location on Earth. While ‘Sargasso’ does not begin to look at the effects of a controlled plastic on a more personal level such as those in prosthetics or even ingested in foods such as fish, the discussions about how easily the Autons could infiltrate society on every level are nonetheless frightening with even something as simple as a plastic keyboard providing them unfettered access to continuing their goals.

Rhys’s reason for being aboard this ship is somewhat tenuous and never properly explained, but that doesn’t stop Kai Owen from delivering a powerhouse performance that sees Rhys seize control of a situation he can hardly comprehend despite his past association with Torchwood. Paired with Big Finish newcomer Sydney Feder as Kaitlin Russell, Rhys takes on the role of father figure while doing his best to ensure they maintain their composure and retain the best odds of survival. Feder’s delivery is a little more stilted without the same emotional resonance as Owen’s, but Kaitlin’s gradual acceptance of Rhys’s alien theories and quick contribution is notable for the character development of this woman whose family is so important in the plastics industry but who has spurned tradition to look after the planet instead. Unfortunately, the script does Feder few favours as significant portions of her dialogue are spent recounting her family’s past and talking about the environmental plight in statements that are more suited for a dry documentary than an emotional drama, but these disjointed moments are still a necessary means to an end and again drive home just how personal this threat remains.

‘Sargasso’ doesn’t necessarily try to meet the visual scope of the Autons’ televised appearances, but it absolutely capitalizes on the inherent menace they present and the fear of just how easily they could take over humanity without anyone being any the wiser. The twist ending is telegraphed quite early on, but the fight for survival and the limited options available to Rhys and Kaitlin within this confined and tense environment are brilliantly realised with strong direction and sound design to capitalise on the modern plastic dilemma and to breathe new life into one of the Doctor’s most iconic and yet lesser-used foes.

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