THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
BIG FINISH AUDIO
SUMMER IN THE CITY
BIG FINISH CD#87
RELEASED IN SEPTEMBER
On the morning of 22
September 2006, Tegan
woke up. She was
expecting to spend the
day relaxing at home
and, that evening,
tolerate a party
thrown to celebrate
her 46th birthday.
But things don't
always go as
expected it's been
over twenty years
since she chose to
leave the Doctor.
She's got a job,
mates... a life.
Meanwhile her friend,
makes a decision that
could change all
their lives, and Tegan
discovers that you
can never really
escape the past.
(2 60-MINUTE EPISODES)
September 2006 has certainly been one hell of a month for Big Finish productions. Not only has the impressive first part of their fascinating I, Davros mini-series been released, but
also both parts of their ‘cyber-duology’ – the second of which, “The Gathering,” sees the return of an actress who swore she would never return to the role…
That is right - Tegan Jovanka is back. She is 46 years old and it is her birthday, so she is having to tolerate a gathering thrown by her workmates in celebration. Imagine her reaction when you-know-who shows up…
Again, writer Joseph Lidster’s inspiration seems to have come from the new series – this story expectedly more of a “School Reunion” than an “Aliens of London” this time around though. Again, the story is divided into two feature-length episodes and is underscored by a superb David Darlington piece of sound design. Again, Lidster creates his own little world of characters stumbling through their everyday lives before putting each and every one of them through hell. And again, just like “The Reaping” released earlier this month, this sequel / prequel to that story is an absolute classic.
“They reckon you were there at the beginning, when mankind discovered fire!
And there’s rumours you’ll be there at the end!”
The story begins – like “The Reaping” – on the Googlebox, with some lovely banter between the Doctor and Nicholas Briggs’ Alan Fitzgerald, an individual who I assume provides the template for all those ‘Alan’ clones that we met / will meet in “The Reaping”. The character made me chuckle the first time around with his Mervyn-the-robot-esque lack of enthusiasm, but here this Alan is the complete opposite – he is a fan of the Doctor, as anally retentive as the best of us. He even gets really worked up because “There’s no record…” of the Doctor ever travelling alone in his fifth incarnation!
“The Gathering” moves slowly at first, introducing us to the cast of characters that through either co-incidence or design are inexorably linked to the middle-aged Tegan Jovanka. The story also re-introduces us to Kathy Chambers, who herself is now twenty-two years older than when we last saw her (will see her?), and is a practising Doctor. Although Lidster’s storytelling in “The Reaping” was not exactly linear, in the early going here it is practically haphazard – “Creatures of Beauty” style – and believe it or not, this makes the story easier to follow; the way we are led into events by the writer helps us understand the links between the characters much more easily.
In terms of plot, “The Gathering” is quite a simple, two-fold story. First and foremost, there is Kathy’s story. After the events of “The Reaping,” she moved to Australia with her crippled brother Nate to try and start again. She was helped through this difficult period by James Clarke (Richard Grieve), a sinister character who was far more interested in the surviving cyber-technology she possessed than he was in Kathy or her brother. Sadly for Kathy, after their big move Nate did not live for long. Her story soon became one of seduction: James offered her the chance to use this cyber technology to bring Nate back to life, and from there she spiralled out of control. With James she planned to create a ‘System’ to stop people from dying. With the help of cyber technology, everyone will live forever…
“Doctor I am just like everyone else here. This is what our world is...
Doctor, after I left you, what was I meant to do?
Nothing could compare to that... This is what life is:
people bitching about each other at a party where nobody really likes anyone,
but they’re just doing what they can to... I don’t know. Survive.”
Secondly of course, “The Gathering” is the story of Tegan. Like Sarah Jane Smith in “School Reunion”, this story explores what happens when the Doctor has gone and left you behind. Wisely though, Lidster does not re-tread the exact same ground. Tegan’s fate is more… well, normal, for want of a better word. She is not investigating UFOs like Sarah Jane; she is running an animal feed company. She is having a rocky love affair with an employee. She has got a brain tumour.
She is dying.
“He thought you might be bitter with me ‘cos, well, you know...
that you were... or are, or were anyway... I mean... in love with me."
It is hard to say for sure of course, but I think it has probably been much longer for Tegan since the events of “Resurrection of the Daleks” than it has for the Doctor. She has had longer to dwell on their time together, and it has obviously affected how she has adjusted to life. At first, it seems like she is another Sarah Jane – another woman whose life was turned upside down by the Time Lord and then left to spend the rest of her days looking for that same excitement. Without giving too much away, Tegan’s approach to life (and indeed death) is refreshingly different. For an awful moment though, I thought Lidster was going to play the whole ‘Tegan was in love with the Doctor all along’ angle, which may work for the likes of Rose and Sarah Jane, but for Tegan? She and the Doctor did not even get on! Thankfully, when the Doctor (with much embarrassment) confronts Tegan about this ‘theory,’ her response well and truly put my fears to rest: “GET REAL!” And with that, the Doctor climbs back in the TARDIS to collect Peri and Erimem from Monte Carlo, leaving Tegan to live out the time she has left with her lover, Tanaka.
As one would imagine, “The Gathering” has obvious links with “The Reaping”, but more surprisingly, it also fits in nicely with Dan Abnett’s 2004 seventh Doctor audio, “The Harvest.” This story reveals that it is Kathy Chambers and James Clarke who create ‘System’ (that reappears in that story), using Kathy’s highly intelligent assistant Eve (Janie Booth, who actually played ‘System’ in “The Harvest”) as the biological ingredient. The second episode also ends like “The Reaping,” with the closing theme music being mixed with a voiceover from Hex advertising “The Harvest”, completing the circle that links these three stories.
Moreover, the “Eight six eight seven” mystery is solved: it is the name of the bar that the Doctor bumps into Tegan in. During the events of this story, the Doctor programs System to plant the phrase as a telepathic reminder to his future self as to Kathy’s identity. In “The Reaping”, it is the Doctor himself that subconsciously transmits “Eight six eight seven” to those around him, the fifth Doctor’s hope being that it would trigger his old memories. I
would have to go back and listen to “The Reaping” again to make sure, but I am pretty certain that in that story he did not demonstrate any knowledge of the events of “The Gathering” (other than a vague recollection of Kathy, that is.)
Suffice it to say that “The Gathering” is a simply cannot-miss event. Janet Fielding is superb in her return to the series, and Peter Davison once again puts in another superlative performance. With this and “The Kingmaker”, he has easily had the two best stories this year, and hopefully we will have another classic to come from the fifth Doctor and company next January.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
The Doctor is travelling alone in this story, having recently dropped off Peri and Erimem in Monte Carlo, as depicted in The Veiled Leopard (the Doctor confirms the same to Alan here).
From the Doctor's perspective, the events of The Reaping have yet to occur. However, for Kathy Chambers they occurred more than twenty years ago. The Doctor wouldn't recognise her when meeting her in 1984 for reasons explained right at the end of this adventure.
Thanks to Rebecca Stephens
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