Torchwood – ‘Corpse Day’ reviewed

❉ Burn Gorman returns in Big Finish’s edgiest Torchwood audio drama yet.

There was no storyline from Torchwood’s pre-Children of Earth incarnation more compelling than Owen Harper’s death and (temporary) resurrection in the middle of Series Two. In theory Jack’s well-established immortality should have made another undying character superfluous at best. Thankfully, the writers – particularly Joe Lidster, who seems never to have met a character challenge he too great for him – found a unique angle for Owen. Where Jack, despite some angst about his circumstances, could still enjoy life to the fullest, Owen found himself in a living hell where even the most basic pleasures were inaccessible to him.

It was unfortunate that the TV series didn’t spend more time on this storyline, because it finally gave the character – and the actor playing him, Burn Gorman – material matching his potential. Nearly a decade later, both the character and their story have been satisfyingly revisited in the latest Torchwood audio drama, Corpse Day. Written by series producer James Goss, Corpse Day is Burn Gorman’s first appearance in the audio series and arguably the edgiest story they’ve done.

That may sound surprising for a story that co-stars Tom Price as PC Andy Davidson, but it’s actually a good fit. The pairing of Owen and Andy is explained as a joke on Jack’s part within the narrative but also makes sense from a storytelling standpoint. The combination of sardonic and earnest is ideal for the fairly horrific situation in which the two men find themselves.

The beauty of these hour-long plays – and audio drama in general – is the focus on character. In that respect, the medium has served Torchwood well. For the TV series, the need to attend to a relatively large cast limited the opportunities to get immersed in a particular character. The spotlight on Owen in A Day in the Death was a noteworthy exception – and a fitting one, since Corpse Day is set between that and the second series’ finale.

Considering the darker territory the story veers into, it’s striking how lighthearted it seems at first, at least by Torchwood standards. The action begins as an investigation into missing girls that wouldn’t feel out of place in any number of police dramas but with a requisite twist. “Corpse Day” is an annual event where a member of Torchwood teams up with a member of the local police to investigate cases that have gone cold. For his part, Andy believes that Owen can help him solve the case. In contrast to Andy’s sincere enthusiasm, Owen is far from thrilled and looking for nothing more substantial than the quickest way out of this ad hoc partnership.

The interplay between them – much of it mild abuse directed at Andy by Owen – likewise echoes the cop genre. However, it also serves an important role in the story, building a rapport of sorts between them. As a result, when the investigative trail takes its disturbing turn, the dynamics between both each other and the other characters feels thoroughly believable.

Not wishing spoiling the plot, suffice it to say it continues along the path of twisting genre conventions. With a different pair of lead characters, the end result might have felt less substantial. In this case, though, the relative familiar situation keeps Owen and Andy in the forefront as people. Credit here goes to director Scott Handcock who gets just the right delivery from the leads.

This was certainly to be expected of Tom Price, who’s already reprised his role in several audio stories, but Burn Gorman understandably draws more focus. Knowing how good he is from a wide range of roles, it’s not really a surprise that he slipped right back into the role Owen. However, that doesn’t make it any less welcome. With an audio version of the fifth series Torchwood didn’t get on TV starting later this year, it’s unclear what the next opportunity for Gorman to return might be, but Corpse Day is certainly cause to hope it wasn’t a one-time thing.

❉ ‘Torchwood – Corpse Day’ was released on 7 May 2017. It will be exclusively available to buy from the BF website until July 31st 2017, and on general sale after this date. It can be bought for £7.99 on Download or £9.99 on CD – or as part of the Torchwood releases 13-18 Subscription which makes six stories available for just £45 and £50 respectively.  

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