Yes, that's a surprise; I bet you thought you'd have to wait until next week for the next review, didn't you!
Writer Joe Lidster has come up from the Big Finish Audios, beginning with "The Rapture" for Sylvester McCoy in 2002, gaining acclaim for "Master", again with Sylv, and then "Terror Firma" with Paul McGann facing Davros and the Daleks. He's also contributed a couple of "Sapphire and Steel"s. Moving to BBC Wales, he's worked on the Doctor Who website and finally been given a chance to write for television. And this is the best thing he's written yet.
Suicide and obsession with death are themes that have informed much of his work, particularly the first of his "Sapphire and Steel" stories. So he's the perfect writer to take Owen through his death. And the framing device of this story, Maggie Hopely ready to jump from the roof of a Cardiff car park and Owen explaining his life to her, is very Joe. It lends a non-linear aspect to the story: Owen telling it in flashback but not necessarily in order and cutting back to what may be the "present" moment, and flashback within flashback – as Owen drifts off while Tosh talks – even crossing dialogue from "then" to "now".
It's less a whole story, more a collage of character moments, strung together on Owen's stream of conscious. So we see all of Owen's reasons to give up: Jack relives him of his status, and his job goes to Martha, even though she doesn't want it (Martha leaves Torchwood this week; she's got this good scene early on with Owen, and a snog from Jack before leaving, but otherwise it seems that she was hardly here). And, to Owen's obvious envy, Ianto's life is coming together just as his own is falling entirely apart; and he can't even work the coffee machine or get the coffee order right.
Then there are the powerful scenes between Tosh and Owen, as she babbles and he drifts off; as he snaps back to reality and screams at her; and as they are reconciled to his death and undeath.
It's done with clever direction as well. A lot of the episode uses silent montage, letting the music and Burn Gorman's facial expression carry the moment, and it works very successfully. Own staring into his fridge, Owen staring into space, Owen screaming into the waters of Cardiff bay.
It's nice too that they don't try any "zombie" make up for him – there's just a nice moment with the lighting near to the end where Owen sits with Tosh and the light on him is blue and on her is yellow.
That musical score is very beautiful (except Owen's own taste in music which is suitably nihilistic) and transparently evokes the emotions it wants you to feel, the descending theme of tragedy as Owen stalks Henry Parker's house in particular.
Richard Briars appearance as Henry Parker is less of a guest staring role, more of a meaty cameo. And it's a nice excuse to use an old publicity still for the briefing scene. But he plays it beautifully, not Tom Goode but King Lear: bitter and railing against the darkness just as Owen rails against continuing to exist. It's just the pair of them in a long scene, almost no action and one glowing prop, yet it's still most affecting.
Minor quibble: Owen says that Parker dies because he has no breath for mouth-to-mouth. Except he's talking. He's been flapping his lips all episode and clearly people can hear him, so… doesn't that need breath to come out?
The death of the old man is, for Owen, the last straw and he seeks his self-destruction only to discover new meaning instead. Life is crap but sometimes it's not is the message of the day. You have the choice. And that's enough.
So the reinvention of Owen is complete, with probably the darkest of this Undead Trilogy. It may not be news that no one is dead forever in science fantasy, but seems like they've paid for the right to not have him just be dead (and unlike Buffy the audience doesn't have to pay as it didn't take a whole season).
Next time… It's Gwen's big day, and she's "big" in more ways than one. And as she and Rhys finally tie the knot, the wedding is crashed by a shape-shifting mother-in-law from hell. You'll scream… with laughter! "Something Borrowed"
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