Owen Harper is known for being a bit of a– well, whatever word you want to use to describe a socially unpleasant person, but he always makes for great drama as a result. After confronting his own loss in Iceberg last May, then PC Andy Davidson’s in October’s release The Three Monkeys, it’s now down to Owen to handle the loss of total strangers in Lease of Life. Which should suit him, given he is a doctor (with awful bed-side manner). There’s also the return of that recurring Torchwood foe: genetically-engineered alien mould.
It’s a different mould to the ones that have needed Torchwood intervention in the past (most notably in Torchwood Soho: Parasite — do check it out) and future, but is just as horrific.
Lease of Life involves Owen inspecting a house being shared by Seren (Luyanda Unati Lewis-Nyawo), Nye (Angus Yellowlees), and Ellie (Rosalie Craig). The rent is high and the quality of the facilities is low, and there’s a lot of (that word again) mould. So much so that the floorboards are starting to dissipate and the food in the fridge is starting to rot.
Despite being occupied by fairly friendly and likeable characters who aren’t screaming for their lives, this story really plays out like a proper horror film with a lot of body gore and anxiety-inducing moments where the spores of mould are going to spread like Covid-19. It’s certainly scary stuff for a 2021 audience.
The script is funny though, and certainly relatable with the characters it creates to occupy the house, which makes it even more pandemic-relevant given how much time we’ve spent with our co-habitors over the last 12 months. Or more. This combination of fun and fear makes it a riveting listen (for those who aren’t really squeamish), and Blair Mowat’s music definitely adds to that too.
Owen’s control of the situation over the story ebbs and flows, but it feels like he’s doing or saying the right thing throughout even if it results in some awkward conversations and blunt admissions of imminent death. Burn Gorman’s role as Owen is also the perfect sounding board for the arguments between flatmates that take place. He stands there, waits, and either delivers a memorable line or reminds everyone they’re about to die. He’s not being a d*ck, but everyone around him thinks he is and he’s being written so the listener has to resist thinking the same too.
Psychological horror adds to the gruesomeness in the final act, which ends with an immense final scene that is another Torchwood highlight across all mediums. It’s so cruel yet incredibly crafted, putting a normal person in a horrible and extreme situation — and then having the Institute just do what it does by focusing on the bigger picture.
It’s horrible but brilliant, and possibly one of those moments that is just screaming for a sequel.
Torchwood: Lease of Life is available now from Big Finish.