Big Finish main range release (#58) The Harvest was a Seventh Doctor cyberman tale written by Dan Abnett in which we got introduced to Hex. Just over two years later (#86 and #87) these were followed up with a pair of Joseph Lidster stories – The Reaping a Sixth Doctor and Peri tale immediately followed by The Gathering, a Fifth Doctor and Tegan tale. These latter two stories are a pair of connected cyberman stories and together make an almost trilogy told in an odd order.
How good are the stories and does the trilogy work? I finally listened to The Reaping and am now in a position to put my opinion out there. Here goes…
The Individual stories
I review in the order released which is the reverse of the point of view of The Doctor.
The Harvest: this story by Dan Abnett (he of Silent Stars Go By) is a well rounded piece that not only introduces Hex to the world but also an intriguing story of cybermen and medical experimentation in which the twist is that the cybermen want to revert to organic form. We also get St Gart’s hospital and mentions of the White Rabbit pub.
Hex is curious about mysterious deaths and bumps into McShane (older Ace) and together with the Doctor they slowly get to the bottom of happenings. What follows is essentially a spy story with Ace and The Doctor in the driving seat.
To add to the ambience the TARDIS is also parked in what was the location of the Totter’s Lane scrapyard now a Shoreditch carpark. Even at the end of the action packed story Hex is a reluctant companion at best and this also adds to the flavour.
The Reaping: the first of two Joseph Lidster stories, this starts with The Docor and Peri visiting the Gogglebox which is all of recorded history in a big user theme park inside the moon. With all history to choose from Peri views Baltimore news from after she left with The Doctor and finds that her best friends father has been killed. Of course she wants to go the funeral.
Quickly we get drawn into what seems to be a tale of dead bodies being turned into zombie cybermen and the Doctor and Peri must protect Peri’s friend Kathy Chambers and Kathy’s brother Nate from their own cyber-father! We have a cyber time travel capsule and repeated mentions (for no clear reason) of the number 8687. Nate gets his back broken but the cybermen are defeated leaving some technology behind that just gets left by the Doctor. There is plenty of atmosphere as well with graveyards and mind-controlled police.
To the side this is also about Peri coming home, arguments with her mother, back story and this is almost treated as incidental to the plot in places. The story ends with Peri staying at home for no clear reason then her mother playing with some cyber-tech only to blow herself up so The Doctor appears to take her away. Clumsy plotting at best.
The Gathering: I actually listened to before The Reaping and with a large gap, even so my review thoughts stand. The Doctor is on the moon at the Gogglebox; via a weak setup he goes to Australia and meets up with Tegan.
Katherine Chambers meanwhile has become a doctor, gone to Australia and is mates with Tegan (what!!!) and we now get a story where she knows the Doctor and his role even though he doesn’t. This could have worked as an idea but the work-around was The Doctor submitting to alien technology and wiping memories through use of the 8687 anti-mnemonic. Katherine is meanwhile using cyber-tech to convert her brother to save him following his injuries in the previous episode.
We also get a complex plot in that Tegan has a brain tumour which is colouring her relationships but is part of why she won’t hop back in the TARDIS with The Doctor. This does lead to lots of argument and misplaced soul searching.
In case it isn’t obvious, The Harvest is the stand out story and makes one wish that Dan Abnett had penned more Big Finish (the only other being Nocturne which I haven’t read).
The two Joseph Lidster stories don’t work for me at all and are as poor (in my view) as the dreadful Terror Firma. He also penned The Rapture which I don’t mind and other non-Who titles. The whole conceit of swapping the Doctor order around from the normal sequence failed to work and the two stories were not successful as a pair given the most distinctive elements were to the side of the plot not the main plot. The 8687 device failed completely and I do wonder if the ball was dropped in the creation of these two stories. I note that most of his stories do seem to focus on back story (The Rapture gave us Ace’s brother) and none of these has been particularly well handled though The Rapture was the best of the bunch.
Given also that first appearance of a classic character (Tegan) this story is a disappointment on that level along with a weird sound treatment via local radio that annoyed me several times.
BTW I got the title for this piece from the gospel song of that name that uses harvest and reaping even if it doesn’t use gathering.
Back to the my thoughts – I can’t say enough positive about The Harvest but the more I think about the other two stories the more I wish I could get those hours of my life back. Others have different views, Doc Oho gives The Reaping a massive 10/10 with the Gathering getting 3/10. I would probably go 7 and 3.
What do you think? Am I exaggerating or are they really not very good. Please let me know!
Tony, February 2013