Review by Jacob Licklider
There really is something special about the way character drama can be done with a two-hander. Writing a story with only two speaking roles means that the author has to get really close with who these people are and what their relationship is; often times testing what their relationship and interactions mean. It’s odd then that in promoting Torchwood: Iceberg, Big Finish Productions don’t really mention this is ‘that’ type of story, instead implying that it’s going to be an examination of the character of Owen Harper, who died and was resurrected via alien technology in Series 2.
Iceberg is set in Series 1 at the absolute latest; with no real indication about exploring Owen’s death, but exploring what happened when Owen joined Torchwood and the people that he left behind. The title refers to a metaphorical iceberg, looking small on the surface, but underneath there is much more substance and danger to the situation than initially presented with. It becomes an example of how promotion of a story about someone apparently finding a bridge between life and death just doesn’t work in marketing terms, especially when said character already becomes a bridge of sorts between life and death.
The story itself is essentially an extended dialogue between Owen Harper and Dr. Amira Hussein, an ex-colleague of Owen and his fiancé who helped him get into medical school and find his residency. This is a close friend whom Owen had to cut off when joining Torchwood which is where the character drama starts. Amira is a junior doctor specifically looking after forty comatose patients, one of whom is seeing hallucinations of her deceased sister and who happens to be a mutual friend. The dialogue between Owen and Amira becomes about how their friendship deteriorated and the tragedies which have befallen Amira and their mutual friends in the eighteen-month period between the point when they last spoke. Listening to the story author Grace Knight immediately sows the seeds of doubt into the listener as Owen was sent to this hospital because of Torchwood duties, he knows that there is some sort of alien threat there which could easily end poorly. It only becomes more suspicious when Amira forgets basic medical terminology and procedures, simple things that even someone who isn’t trained in medicine would know. There is the seed of doubt planted into Amira’s mental faculties offering quite a few conclusions as to what the threat could be. Owen’s fiancé was a doctor who had an alien parasite in her brain which caused her memory loss and death, and there is the undercurrent of this happening with Amira. Burn Gorman and Maya Saroya give excellent performances through the hour runtime of the story and work off each other well, heightening the drama with their performances.
Knight’s script is also tightly paced; running at only 54 minutes for the whole thing, which keeps the story moving while the characters interact. It does not become a rushed roller coaster ride, but Knight includes several twists and turns in the plot to misdirect listeners and Owen as this investigation occurs. If there was one fault with Iceberg it’s that Knight includes one twist about what’s going on that comes out as an obvious twist, though it does come early enough in the plot that the rest of the story does something completely different because of it. There also is a point where the ‘iceberg’ of the title is explained in the dialogue which isn’t necessary as the story is already a thematic iceberg of ideas. Outside of that, Torchwood: Iceberg is an excellent hour of character drama exploring a character at an early point in his development to great effect, and one that doesn’t need much prior knowledge to fully enjoy. 9/10.