Owen Harper was perhaps the underdeveloped character in Torchwood’s initial two series. Apart from being a doctor, we didn’t really know anything about his past until the penultimate episode of Series 2. It’s in Fragments that we learn some of the tragedies that Owen has been through.
He also seems to be at his happiest when he is being a doctor; he’s kind, compassionate, thoughtful, and considerate. Given his tragic backstory, all the things we still don’t know about him, and the fact that he loves being a doctor, Iceberg author, Grace Knight, decides to combine those elements of Owen’s character and gives us a story which explores more of his history.
With a couple of exceptions, over the last few years, Big Finish has always paired Burn Gorman’s Owen with another Torchwood character, most notably Ianto and PC Andy. This time around, Gorman gets a time to shine on his own, with a small cast of just two other actors: Lowri Walton as Lucy Shepherd and Maya Saroya as Amira Hussein.
Answering a call for help from his old friend Amira, Owen finds himself at a hospital where wards of people have fallen into comas. One patient, Lucy Shepherd claims to be able to see her dead sister. The central mystery from Grace Knight is excellent, the type of story only Torchwood could have done, with the true horror of the situation becoming apparent as each layer of the mystery is revealed to us.
As someone who finds hospitals really creepy and unsettling, it’s the perfect location for a Torchwood story, something that Big Finish has done really well (even if the beeping of the monitors get a little annoying after a while!).
Amira proves to be a good inclusion, and, of course, integral to the central mystery and it’s fun to hear Owen slowly working out what is going on. I suppose a good way of describing this story without giving anything away is to say it has strong Invasion of the Body-Snatchers vibes. Certainly the main alien is an interesting concept. Again, the alien fits the Torchwood landscape brilliantly. In the television series, a lot of the threats worked because they were surrounded by so much intrigue. We don’t know where these aliens come from or if they’ve been defeated entirely. Indeed, the story rightly ends with the notion of all Owen being able to do is putting a plaster on the problem. It’s certainly one of the darker instalments and would have made a cracking television outing.
As normal, Gorman is excellent as Owen. Say what you like about the character on television, but in Series 1, he was supposed to be particularly likable; here though, Owen quickly wins you over in the first few minutes and it’s really nice that Grace Knight offers us some more looks at his backstory.
Owen’s history is certainly a tragic one, and it isn’t hard to see how he became the person he was at the beginning of Series 1. Iceberg goes a great way to developing that more and allowing his history to be integral to the plot allows it to feel incredibly fresh. Knight has done a terrific job here, crafting a horrific mystery with no easy answers – making listeners ask if the villains are really that villainous after all.