A Day in the Death

Posted in Episode by - July 15, 2018
A Day in the Death

Aired 27 February 2008

As Owen reflects on his troubled adjustment to his new state while talking with a suicidal woman, ‘A Day in the Death’ by Joseph Lidster offers without any doubt the strongest character study of Torchwood’s complex doctor yet. This is a man who is constantly dying as he lives the same life as those around him without ever being able to truly feel or experience any of it, and after being relieved of his job and put in the position of Torchwood coffee maker, his grief, anger, and loneliness are threatening to tear him apart far more effectively than his non-healing condition along ever could.

The framing device works marvellously to imbue Owen with an immense degree of humanity that he so rarely showed while alive, and Maggie being ready to commit suicide on the one-year anniversary of losing her husband less than one hour after their wedding gives the two a morbid bond of commiseration that Burn Gorman and Christine Bottomley capture remarkably well. As could only be expected after Owen tries to test the limits of his new state, he finds himself in the perfect position to infiltrate a property guarded by heat sensors, one owned by a millionaire who collects alien artefacts and who has unknowingly been the subject of Torchwood monitoring for some time. Richard Biers gives an incredibly poignant performance as the elderly and infirmed Parker who has turned so bitter while he tries to cling onto the last vestiges of his life, and this is a remarkable contrast of himself for Owen to come upon at this particular time. Surprisingly but wisely, with Parker clinging to the alien Pulse with his every fibre as what he is convinced is the only thing keeping him alive, Owen finds that it has no special powers of its own, meaning that Parker and Owen alike truly are doomed to his condition in a world where consequences are often so malleable and erasable.

The climax and resolution are powerfully understated while introducing a certain degree of spirituality, a perfect culmination for both Owen and Maggie at this dark time in their lives that represents yet another massive leap in the characterisation and humanisation of Owen who was so crassly and unapologetically written when first introduced. This arc for Owen introduced in ‘Reset’ has unquestionably been one of Torchwood’s wisest narrative decisions given the immense drama that has already resulted, and Burn Gorman has more than ably stepped up to the task of portraying this unique conflict and its emotional and physical fallout on Owen to this point. As any great plot development should, Owen’s continuing death following his resurrection affects those around him as well, and Naoko Mori in particular is wonderful as Owen lambasts Tosh for all of her insecurities when the topic of her unrequited love for him inevitably comes up now that Owen is completely unable to be what she so clearly wants. Owen’s anger also reveals just how much Ianto cares for Jack and that their relationship is anything but just another office fling, and though this more sidelined appearance proves to be Martha’s final within Torchwood Three, only praise can be given to Freeman Agyeman who has so seamlessly crossed over from Doctor Who to Torchwood with its very distinct audience.

‘A Day in the Death’ is a remarkable step forward for both Owen and Torchwood as a whole, and the current character-based trajectory of the franchise looks to be a much more cohesive one destined for greater heights than the more eclectic first series fully managed. With the team much more a team than ever before and consequences finally starting to stick and resonate with no easy reset button in sight, the intense and intimate focus on Owen shows the potential storytelling power surrounding this group of misfits tasked with such an extraordinary mission, and the direction and strong guest performances round out this memorable episode wonderfully.

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