Review by Jacob Licklider
Aaron Lamont got his start with Big Finish Productions with the Dark Shadows audio drama The Haunted Refrain, a story set in a house dealing with the destruction of a once happy marriage as someone wastes away and Quentin Collins is trapped on a gramophone record. Lamont’s script is characterised by character drama as someone wastes away, not taking advantage of the life that they are privileged to have. I bring this up because the first story where Lamont steps away from the Dark Shadows range, Torchwood: Lease of Life, plays with a similar theme in an almost more horrific way. The entire conceit is based on bad roommates, something that every adult has experienced in one way or another at some point. The opening of this audio doesn’t even include Owen, this releases lead, it just takes the necessary time to establish the relationships between Ellie, Seren, and Nye, the three flatmates whose flats is a large fixer-upper. Ellie is stuck home with a hangover, being annoyed by Nye who has been blaring rock music while locked in his room, and Seren is just trying to get to her job. These are people who if not stuck in a living situation would probably be close friends, but the flat just doesn’t allow them to really get along and a surprise inspection from the ‘council’ and Owen Harper makes things worse. There is a dangerous mould encroaching on their living space, the landlord is nowhere to be seen, and Ellie’s hangover is only causing problems. The mould, of course, is an alien coming to consume the house through the Rift and essentially the audio transforms into an hour long horror play in a trapped location.This is essentially a base under siege story, except there really isn’t a base, the siege has gotten inside with ease, and of course the theme of interpersonal relationships are more adult than your typical Doctor Who story. This doesn’t mean this is a sexually explicit release, however, just one that does an excellent job to speak to adults, something that younger listeners of Torchwood may find difficult to engage with. The type of horror would work fine for younger viewers, but for those of us who have had bad roommates, or dealt with a bad rental situation where the landlord is ineffective (and sometimes abusive) there is an elevation of the fear as the alien creature slowly picks off the few cast members and Lamont concludes the story with an all too real scenario where while one horror may be over, Seren’s life will never be the same and it while every cloud has a silver lining, her new situation really isn’t that much better than her old one. Scott Handcock’s direction takes Lamont’s script and brings it to life brilliantly, putting horror which on page works well, but could fall flat in lesser hands, right to the forefront making Lease of Life an incredibly effective tale. There is also a few moments which draw on fairy tales to essentially twist things right up until the ending.
Her final fate is one that is essentially horror in its most human form. Owen Harper is also an interesting character as outside of Gorman’s always brilliant performance, giving the character a bite and kind of a regret as he’s not necessarily the best at dealing with alien mould, Lamont provides a script where Owen is allowed to be a complete and utter asshole. That was always one of the most important aspects of Owen on Torchwood, he wasn’t a nice person, and could barely be described as a good person. Nice is a relative term, but he does try to get these people out alive, even if he cannot deal with any resistance on that front. Owen is resistant to making himself vulnerable so he can save these people who genuinely need his help, and it takes a while to coax that out of the character, something which is performed beautifully.
Overall, Lease of Life is an emotional hour-long horror story from a writer who is finally allowed to step outside of his customary range, a director who understands exactly how to bring horror to the forefront, and four performers who are all brilliant at bringing these characters (especially the one-off characters) to life. A must have that will resonate with everyone. 10/10.
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