an uncomfortable reminder of Abbadon the giant grey Chewits monster

[Note: Seriously, don't read the following if you haven't heard the episode which is available to download from AudioGo. For that matter, don't read the BBC's own programme synopsis which just might tip you off. Right, let the squeeing commence.]



Best. Radio. Torchwood. Ever.

If the first of these lost files was fairly hum-drum and yesterday’s was entertaining but superfluous, James Goss’s The House of the Dead made the leap into the ambitious territory of Children of Earth by exploding our expectations and producing a truly great piece of character drama. Goss, author of the award winning Dead Air, has been known to bend the curve a bit in terms of structuring his stories, rarely formatting them around more traditional forms of story telling. But he’s the first writer, I think, to take advantage of the audience's expectations of the time frame in which an adventure is set and then use it create an existential crisis within one of the main characters.

Let’s be quite clear – the half hour leading up to the twist don’t make this seem like it's going to be the most impressive of episodes. It feels terribly derivative even by this franchise’s standards. Investigating time-encrusted “haunted” houses has been a regular pastime in the Whoniverse this past few years, from the slippage in Captain Jack Harkness to the Sarah Jane strand in Lost in Time. Plus the Siliath (or however its spelt), the ancient demon hidden in the rift is an uncomfortable reminder of Abbadon the giant grey Chewits monster that wrecked half of Cardiff or at least its wastelands in End of Days.

This was Torchwood at its messiest with Jack’s “revelations” clunkily delivered but now I think Goss is playing about with our expectations, feeding into some of our prejudices about early Torchwood’s general inability to pace episodes properly and know who the viewpoint character is so as to throw us of the scent in terms of that timeframe. In the rubbish version, the Gwen stuck in traffic was an audio expositional prop until she arrived just in the nick of time to save everybody perhaps by snapping the regulars and attending supporting character out of their reverie in being reunited with their loved ones from the past (the central idea behind the first radio Torchwood, Lost Souls).

Then, oh, then.

Someone on Gallifrey Base has already joked “So much for him never coming back, ho ho” and it would be simple to interpret this as a sop to the #saveianto campaign in giving coffee boy a properly heroic death and allowing him and Jack the chance to go over a few things. But the #saveianto campaign want to have him back for good and how must they have felt to experience their hero die again?  Having the two of them discuss his potential permanence in the real world was just plain cruel, though my interpretation was that the characters were discussing something they both knew wouldn't be possible.  Fatwa's against Goss will no doubt be forthcoming.

Plus like the earlier part of the drama, it’s not a twist that hasn’t been seen before but of course to mention the names of said previous visual entertainments employing said surprise would ruin those too, but you’ll know which ones they are if you’ve seen them. What sold it here was the writing and the performances. Both of the actors were at the top of whatever game they have and Goss investigated exactly how Ianto should feel about being the man this immortal fixed point in time would want to reappear. In the best tradition of mcguffins, the reason the bomb would be activated became the catalyst for words, words, words.

Quite how Ianto was resurrected with such realism, apparently in comparison to the other “ghosts” wasn’t completely clear, though to have treated Gareth’s voice throughout would have tipped us off to his resurrection however temporary. Similarly, I wasn't sure on why he'd need to be tempted by his father if they were both from the spirit world since you'd assume the devil woman would be controlling him too. But I'm willing to forgive because of the power of that revelation for those of us to tend to live these things as much as listen to them was so strong. Chronologies will have to be rewritten.

The House of the Dead also mops up some left-over questions from Children of Earth. RTD’s interviews in the wake of Amy's cracks suggested that they were what sorted out the rift, but now we know it was ghost Ianto and his rocky bomb box. We wondered why Jack’s farewell to Gwen on the hillside was set six months after he’d saved the planet; perhaps we can assume now it was because having met Ianto one final time and repaired the rift he felt he’d tied up all the loose ends or seeing Ianto go again was the last straw. Which makes The House of the Dead not just a spin-off audio but an essential part of the Torchwood story.

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