THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
BIG FINISH AUDIO
THE COMIC STRIP
DEAD MEN WALKING
BIG FINISH CD#86
RELEASED IN SEPTEMBER
ON THE MORNING OF 9
May 1984, Peri woke
up. She was expecting
to spend the day
relaxing in Lanzarote
and, that evening,
leave her mother and
stepfather to go
travelling with some
guys she'd only just
But things don't
always go as
expected as her
friends and family
discover when, four
months later, she
returns home having
than anyone could
Meanwhile her friend,
mourns her father
and Peri finds herself
meeting some other
(2 70-MINUTE EPISODES)
As soon as Big Finish posted the covers and blurbs for “The Reaping” and “The Gathering” – September 2006’s ‘cyber-duology’ – I started to get very excited indeed. When my copy
of “The Reaping” arrived - somewhat earlier than expected I might add - I banged it straight
it in the CD player and found myself blown away by yet another Joseph Lidster masterpiece.
Now that said, “The Reaping” certainly will not be to everybody’s tastes. It contains quite a few traditional elements, but on the whole the play comes across as something a bit different. I think that Lidster has been greatly influenced by the new series, and so what we have here is a strange amalgamation of “Aliens of London”, a traditional Cyberman story, and… something else. Like “The Rapture” and “Terror Firma” especially, these two feature-length episodes have an identity that is very much their own.
Now as much as I admire Lidster’s skill with a pen, the first thing that struck me about this story was the superb incidental music and overall sound design. David Darlington has absolutely excelled himself here; the music is very soft and natural, not unlike Andy Hardwick’s very Celtic, ‘stringy’ score for “Time Works.” This fits perfectly with the story, as the first episode particularly dwells much more on character than incident, and tends to wallow in itself quite a bit. I am not citing this as a criticism; on the contrary. In my opinion
one of the greatest strengths of this story is how it so completely sucks you into this small, domestic little world before all hell break loose within it.
I love how Lidster portrays the Doctor and Peri in “The Reaping.” Here we are treated to a wonderful mix of that quite disagreeable sixth Doctor, with a few sprinkles of compassion thrown in. Peri is also given much, much more depth, which can only be a good thing. Perhaps the biggest thing people with take away with them after listening to “The Reaping” is the idea that Peri is real. She is not just a wise-cracking, screaming piece of eye candy; she has a Mum. Friends. An ex. She is real. In many ways, “The Reaping” turns Peri into an American Rose.
There is a beautifully written scene in the second episode where Peri tries to explain her relationship with the Doctor to her Mum, about how they always fight and fall out but still love each other. Yes, the Doctor argues with Peri throughout this story but he also shows beyond a shadow of a doubt how much he cares for her, and vice versa. I would go so far as to say that, set in the gulf between “Revelation of the Daleks” and “The Trial of a Time Lord”, this story could be the turning point in their relationship. They both learn some hard lessons here, and I think that it brings them closer together. Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant both give astonishing performances – this is certainly their strongest outing together on audio, if not overall.
I like the writer’s mix of humour and melodrama to; at times, some scenes seem almost surreal. We have laugh out loud scenes, such as Mrs Van Gysegham driving like a maniac whilst the Doctor tries to probe her for information, and the opening scenes featuring the inspired character of ‘Alan #56’ on the Googlebox (an inspired creation in itself). We also have a lot of drama, and a lot of that almost-trademark Lidster philosophical pondering. In the first episode we are introduced to a tormented character, Daniel Woods, who has been blamed for a murder. He is a man who has not been able to come to terms with his wife battling and beating cancer, then being run over by a bus, and so he sleeps rough every night; a vagrant beside her grave. Where, perchance, he saw the “silver ghost” that actually was responsible for the killing in question…
The story itself is exceedingly well-crafted. The Doctor takes Peri to the Googlebox, a media-archive located inside the moon that allows a person to view any event from known history. When Peri watches her hometown’s local news for 1984, she is distraught to find
that her best friend Kathy Chambers’ father was murdered. Naturally, she and the Doctor head for Baltimore, 1984…
“What the hell have you done to my daughter? What’s going on?
They’re just children and because of you they’re here!”
… where Peri has to face the mother that she abandoned in Lanzarote. The mother who blamed her husband, Howard, for Peri’s disappearance and divorced him. The mother who has spent months grieving for her missing presumed-dead daughter. Claudia Christian is superb as Janine Foster, a woman who is without a shadow of a doubt Peri’s mother! Not only does she sound like her, she comes across as an older, harder, embittered version of Peri. It does not stop there, though. Peri has to deal with the best friend she left behind, the grieving Kathy (Jane Perry) and her brother Nate (Jeremy Lindsay-Taylor) whom Peri had a relationship with before she took off. Suffice it to say it is a bit of a domestic nightmare, and so the Doctor just leaves Peri to it whilst he investigates Anthony Chambers’ death…
On top of everything else, the story’s narrative moves you in one direction when in reality, something very different is going on. The Doctor’s investigations in the first episode imply that the Cybermen control everyone – the Police, the media; everyone. Surely they are preparing to take over…? All I shall say is that it is far more interesting that that. The Cyberleader, played by Nicholas Briggs, does not sound like your traditional Cyberman, either. Nor does he behave like one. At times he is almost emotional, and, quite shockingly I thought, is far more ruthless than the silver giants that we saw on television. For example, in the second episode the Doctor gives one of his eloquent, pompous speeches about how he “knows the drill” and that the Cyberleader will threatens his friends, so he will pretend to help for a while… and so the Cyberleader orders Nate’s death, just like that, no messing about,
to prove to the Doctor that he is not to be trifled with.
The story’s ending is genuinely sad and moving and to Lidster’s credit he kept me guessing right up until the end, even about things like Peri’s future, which one would assume - given the finite cut-off point of "The Trial of a Time Lord" - is concrete. Moreover, there are lots of apparent links to “Real Time”, which could be something or nothing, and at the end of the story things are far from fully explained. A sequence of numbers – “Eight six eight seven” – is repeated throughout the episode, a bit like the phrase “Bad Wolf” in the new series, which I am sure will have some significance in “The Gathering.” I have to say though that it puzzles the will how the sixth Doctor cannot remember something here that the fifth Doctor must
have done earlier! There is a brief moment where he seems to recognise Kathy, but from his actions it is unclear whether or not he actually does…
On a final note, I like how Big Finish overlaid the trailer for “The Gathering” over the closing theme of “The Reaping”; a move obviously borrowed from the new series’ “NEXT TIME” trailers. I say if it works, nick it! And - I never thought I would say this - I cannot wait for Tegan’s return in a couple of weeks!
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.
This play’s blurb places it between the television stories Revelation of the Daleks and The Trial of a Time Lord, and after the Big Finish audio drama ...ish. As the story offers no clues as to a specific placement,
we have made it the Doctor and Peri’s fifth post-Lost Stories, pre-Trial adventure, simply because it was released fifth.
From the Doctor's perspective, the events of The Gathering have yet to occur. However, for Kathy Chambers they lie more than twenty years in the future. The Doctor doesn't recognise her when he meets her here for reasons explained right at the end of The Gathering.
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