The House of the Dead

Posted in Audio by - January 31, 2022
The House of the Dead

Aired 13 July 2011

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

The final instalment of the BBC Radio 4 Torchwood: The Lost Files series is James Goss’s ‘The House of the Dead.’ With the most haunted pub in Wales set to close, Barry the barman has invited renowned psychic Mrs Winterburn to mark the occasion with a special séance. A large group is convening to have the chance to see departed loved ones one final time, and Gwen and Ianto are determined to find out just why Jack is determined to stop it all from happening.

Few moments in pop culture have inspired such an outpouring of emotions as Ianto’s death in Children of Earth, prompting not only fan outcry online but also in real life through the construction of the memorial Ianto’s Shine in Cardiff. As such, it’s perhaps no surprise that Torchwood should retroactively focus more on the relationship between Jack and Ianto in the latter two of these The Lost Files stories, although ‘The House of the Dead’ certainly plays with expectations and setting to do so all the more devastatingly effectively. This is a series that was predicated upon being set prior to the events of Children of Earth, but as deceased loved ones begin to take corporeal form within the pub, it slowly becomes clear that Jack’s own visit here is some six months after Ianto passed away in his arms because of the 456.

Of course, this is Torchwood, and Jack quickly reveals that Syriath, an entity from before time and from the oldest universe of all is waiting on the other side of the Rift for an opportunity such as this to cross over. Still, Jack finds nobody willing to listen to him, instead being confronted by those consumed with the emotions of having the opportunity to see spouses, children, and more once again. The script makes no secret of the fact that these individuals have been misguided, but this is a powerfully resonant statement about the powers of emotions that becomes all the more resonant when the reality about Ianto and his conversations with Gwen are revealed. Fittingly, in what proves to be Ianto’s final chronological appearance in Torchwood, both Ianto and Jack are dynamically fleshed out by the appearance of Ianto’s father, and ohn Francis Harries is superb in this role that so easily brings out immense guilt in both leads, for Ianto because of not calling him while he was in the hospital for three weeks and for Jack because of letting Ianto die and wondering if he will do so again.

Accordingly, ‘The House of the Dead’ becomes an incredibly emotional experience, and John Barrowman and Gareth David-Lloyd both rise to the task admirably with arguably their strongest audio performances to date. In a storyline that would normally be reserved for television, this tale surprisingly features the permanent closure of the Rift, and while the ultimate resolution is a bit too easy, it’s all too fitting that it should be this manifestation of Ianto who stays behind to put Jack’s plans into motion after exploiting Jack’s own sympathies and emotions. There is plenty of open and at times heated discussion about just why Jack has brought Ianto back on this occasion, and Jack poignantly talking about how he is forced to outlive everyone he loves and how he always comes back alone after cheating death are incredible pieces of development for a character who so often puts on such an ostentatious exterior. Still, these scenes serve to highlight the genuine foundation of this beloved relationship and just how much each man means to the other, serving as a fitting coda to this particular era of Torchwood while allowing them one final opportunity to bare their souls. With this strong emotional core and a brilliant toying of expectations by keeping its temporal setting shrouded for maximal effect, ‘The House of the Dead’ is easily the highlight of The Lost Files and absolutely necessary listening for fans of Torchwood or of Ianto and Jack.

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