Big Finish: Torchwood LEASE OF LIFE Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish: Torchwood LEASE OF LIFE Review

Tony’s coming down with a mould.
A writer’s world will frequently make its way into their work.

When Robert Holmes had what he decided was an unreasonable tax demand, for instance, he gave Doctor Who the immortal story of The Sunmakers.

There’s a sense in which you have to assume that Aaron Lamont, writer of Torchwood: Lease Of Life, had quite the experience of student accommodation.

In a 3-bedroom house near to the centre of Cardiff live Ellie (Rosalie Craig), Seren (Luyanda Unati Lewis-Nyawo), and Nye (Angus Yellowlees).

They…have a mould problem.

Fortunately, Cardiff Council’s leading mould specialist, Dr Owen Harper, is on hand to investigate.

Mm-hmm. Yeah. That sound in your head is the story stretching out in front of you.

Mould is of course a famous and well-used wordless ‘villain’ in science fiction and horror. Like fog, it’s natural, spreading – and you can’t reason with it. It just eats.

It eats a lot in Lease of Life.

It seems hardly spoilerific to say that the mould in Seren’s house is not from round here. In fact, Owen’s seen it before, but usually, Torchwood gets on the case a lot faster than it does this time.

So from almost the word go in this story, Owen’s on a race against time. Time, and a mould from outer space.

Just as a heads-up, when you listen to Lease Of Life…maybe make sure you do it in the daytime.

Like most similar stories, the progression here is through stages of decay, and the stakes elevate as the story goes along. When it starts, it’s just mould. A patch of mould.

Sure, who cares, right? Spot a student house without mould, you’re on to a good thing.

But more or less from the moment Owen arrives, the mould shows its true…well, not colours, obviously, but its true potential, certainly. Ellie, Seren and Nye are not students, but they could well be – they’re each in a kind of stasis when Owen arrives. Seren in particular is putting up with the grimness of the house so she can save up the money to go travelling and see the world. Ellie doesn’t especially like either of our housemates, and Nye is out a lot, and playing loud music to isolate himself from the reality of the house and his housemates when he’s in.

It’s the very definition of dysfunction, and the mould, for all it’s an alien life-form intent on eating everything with which it comes into contact, is also a handy metaphor for the toxic isolation of modern life, where conversation and potential friendship is eaten alive by self-revolution and our own concerns.

If Ellie, Nye, Seren and Owen work together, there’s a chance they can get rid of the mould.

So… that’s simple, then.

Except before you know what’s happening, Ellie’s gone out on a run, potentially spreading mould spores over a 6km radius, the kitchen floor’s collapsed and a meeting with the landlord does nothing to resolve the situation.

And so the stakes are elevated, and the difficulty in getting to any kind of positive resolution is intensified. How do you stop a thing that just eats the floor out from under you? And then your legs out from under you?

When Owen finds the source of the mould, it becomes appallingly apparent that Dr Owen Harper, one of Torchwood’s finest, is way out of his league against a houseful of unthinking infection.

In fact, the worse the situation becomes, the less likely a solution seems to be.

It would spoil the building of the drama to tell you exactly what happens, but perhaps it’s fair to say that in stories where Owen Harper takes centre stage, things are rarely less than grim, and there’s usually a body-count.

Mould versus humans. Just saying. You’re going to need more than a damp cloth.

When a solution is eventually found, it’s very much last-ditch, do-this-or-destroy-the-world in its nature, and it demands at least sacrifices to implement. The escalation takes a patch of mould into a full-on horror story, and as in most horror stories, the odds of everyone getting out alive are slim. What happens to each of the self-revolving housemates puts Torchwood: Lease Of Life very firmly in the Torchwood horror sub-genre. Sure, the mould is alien, but that’s not especially important till the end.

In Torchwood horror stories of course, the odds of anyone getting out alive are pretty slim. This is no exception, but what it delivers is a solidly human fear, developing beyond the scope in which we usually experience it. It also gives you a reasonable allegory of isolation and how it leads to disaster, some engaging characterisation, and a story in which Owen is able to shine.

There are of course at least two modes of Owen Harper stories – there’s Early Torchwood Owen, where he’s able to be active, and there’s post-mortem Owen, where he’s far more cautious in the action he can get involved in, for fear of not healing his body. This feels like agreeably pre-mortem Owen, as he advises jumping down through rapidly rotting floors of the house, survives falls, and so on. But it’s also got that pre-mortem Owen bluntness when it comes to who can and who can’t be saved. He’s not by any means acting as judge and jury here – he passionately advocates for actions that would save all three of the housemates from the very beginning – but when the chips are down and the mould advances, that medic-sense of saving the people who can be saved comes through in his decision-making.

Lease Of Life is a rollocking adventure of seemingly natural, rapidly-advancing threat, against which there appears to be no defence. In that sense, it’s a classic pulp fiction horror story with a Torchwood twist. What elevates it above even great pulp is that Torchwood twist, the characterization of Owen, trying to herd the cats of the housemates before everything goes spectacularly mouldy. That voice of increasing desperation as the options narrow and the inevitability of the mould engulfing everything gives the story a modern rawness that will get your pulse racing, and have you pulling on your rubber gloves.

Kill the mould. Kill it all…

Just sayin’…

Tony lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at

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