THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Big Finish Productions
The Harvest

Written by Dan Abnett Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Released 2004
Continuity After Survival.

Starring Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred and Philip Olivier

Synopsis: On the morning of October 12th, 2021 Hex woke up. He was expecting to go to work at St Gart's in London as normal and, that evening, have a great time in the bar of the White Rabbit, celebrating his 23rd birthday. But after his ex-flatmate is wheeled into A&E following a bike accident, and the strange young woman from Human Resources tries to chat him up and an eight-foot tall guy in a Merc tries to run him down, Hex realises things are not going quite as he expected. Then in a Shoreditch car park he meets the enigmatic Doctor who explains that he's an extra-terrestrial investigator and something very strange is going on up on the thirty-first floor of St Garts.


Reviews

Back on Track by Mekel Rogers 3/8/04

After a series of recent Past Doctor Audios that were either too dark, too graphic, or too confusing, Big Finish seems to have gotten back on track with The Harvest. There were several times in which the drama could have become needlessly graphic and violent, but it didn't, and the story is much better for it. Thank you for that BF.

The adventure is set on Earth in 2021 and is a mixture of government conspiracy and medical thriller, with the Doctor and Ace acting as an undercover duo attempting to discover the secret that lies within the walls of a hospital. Without mentioning spoilers, there are several plot twists that work rather well and the cliffhangers are especially good.

Sylvester McCoy is very good in this one. Yes, he's still rolling his tongue every other line, but at least the shouting has stopped. He is moody, manipulative, and mysterious. Nice work, sir.

Sophie Aldred is marvelous. I've always hated the untrusting, gun-slinging, trooper Ace, and thank goodness this is NOT her. This is the adult Ace we SHOULD have had from the beginning. She is smooth, sensitive, and sexy. She is no longer a pawn in the Doctor's various masterplans, but rather an equal partner who gets to view the entire chessboard alongside the Time Lord. More importantly, this adult Ace trusts the Doctor and works with, not against him.

Philip Olivier is excellent as the new companion, Hex. The character gets well established in episode one and develops a great relationship with Ace immediately. Hex is exactly what the Sylvester/Sophie team needed to keep it fresh. With an older Ace, Hex now becomes the pupil in the relationship, with Ace as mentor, and the Doctor as overseer. This is going to be a wonderful mix. Olivier's Merseyside voice is great as well.

In the end, The Harvest, feels like a season opener (season 28, perhaps). With The Fearmonger, Genocide Machine, Dust Breeding, and Colditz making up a great season 27 (let's all pretend The Rapture never happened, shall we?), season 28 ushers in a new companion, a new Ace, and a great performance by our favorite chessmaster.

Bottom Line: We like this trio. More please!


What a babe! by Joe Ford 7/8/04

What do The Marian Conspiracy, Eye of the Scorpion, Storm Warning, Creed of the Kromon (eek!) and The Harvest all have in common? Do not fear, it is not me trying to ease your pain of losing the Watcher from DWM by quizzing you sporadically in my reviews... no the answer is not a whole bunch when you look at the actual stories themselves. But they do all introduce a new regular to Big Finish productions and The Harvest is the latest in BF's attempts to explore the existing Doctors by planting a character in their lap that they would never have been allowed on the telly. Let me introduce you to Hex (another Ace type name!) or rather Thomas Hector Schofield.

And what a babe he is. When I first heard that Philip Oliver was skipping from Brookside to Doctor Who I was popping open the champagne. I mean... he's gorgeous isn't he? The first totally desirable male companion we have ever been blessed with... and we are limited to hearing just his voice. Oh gee thanks for that. What a kick in the teeth.

But wait, all is not lost. Let's face it after their last few adventures together the seventh Doctor and Ace are about as popular as syphilis with all the usual complaints thrown in. Sylvester McCoy overacting (or under acting... but never just acting!) and all this McShane nonsense with Ace trying to fit her round character into a square hole. Plus the stories... Colditz and The Rapture were received with cold receptions, whether it's inadequate productions or kiddie storytelling, they were unpopular before they got to the bland Doc/companion effectiveness. Honestly I think you could wedge a sentient mouldy carrot between these two and introduce it as the new companion and it would improve the reputation of this pair. I know that might sound harsh but people were crying out for more Evelyn stories after Project: Lazarus left them hanging for a year but everyone was quite happy to forget about Ace after The Rapture.

Allow me now to be more positive because Hex has arrived to give the Big Finish McCoy era a breath of fresh air. On the strength of this one story it is obvious that his presence will shake things up and in a mighty good way. Hex has excellent chemistry with both the Doctor and Ace and gets moments with each of them in the story that mines their potential. His character is extremely sympathetic which is the biggie emotion which has been missing in the Doc/Ace pairing... the story is written to push the character to the limits (basically his friend is used as spare parts, he finds out about aliens and his introduction to the TARDIS is peppered by a few believable "Oh my God!"s) and watching this brave but naive kid coping with all this outer space wackiness is great fun. When he turns around and snaps at the Doctor (who is mocking him for his astonished reactions to everything) and tells him he is coping pretty damn well considering what has been dumped on him I was cheering for him all the way. Throughout there is a sense that Hex thinks he is mad but there is a point near the end where he has seen too much sci-fi madness to accept it.

And he slots in between the Doc and Ace perfectly. She's the sassy seasoned time traveller who can show him the ropes and he is the smug, arrogant little Time Lord who has no time for little boys and their personal vendettas. The friction when they are all together is great but they actually work together really well, Hex's wide-eyed enthusiasm is a useful tool for the Doctor to use. Plus it helps that they didn't make the story about Hex... so many companions lose their potential because you find everything out about them in their first story, this just happens to be a story with Hex involved and a small but memorable scene with the Doctor looking up Hex's background information proves there is a more to find out about this blank character and it might not all be nice...

So the story is highly memorable for introducing the luscious Oliver (that accent is divine!) but is the story any good in itself? Well, yes actually and it's nice to be able to report three consecutive winners, one for each Doctor, although I would place The Harvest as the weakest of the three (with Axis of Insanity first and Arrangements of War second) it still has much to recommend it.

The story is ultra traditional in the sense that it could have been made for the telly and it has all the hallmarks of Doctor Who. It is contained to one location (the superbly creepy St Gart's hospital in London), has a whole bunch of running around and being captured, re-introduces an old enemy of the Doctors (which I shall not mention unlike other reviewers who spoiled my surprise!) and uses them in a refreshingly unusual fashion. In fact reading over that sentence it could almost be a really good JNT production, which I guess means Dan Abnett has done his homework.

And while it may sound especially challenging there are plenty of shocking moments and energetic performances to see you through. For a story set in a hospital it would be wrong of the writer to ignore the potential of body part harvesting and he puts a memorably disgusting spin on the idea. When the Doctor and Hex walk into a room full of people being kept alive but with bits missing it is clear we are not in kiddie territory. And the revelation as to what is being done with the bloody parts, stitched together like Frankenstein monsters, is astounding... honestly, your jaws will smack to the ground! I like how carefully the story has been considered with lots of hints being dropped in the first two episodes but waiting until the final two to confirm your worst suspicions...

Sylvester McCoy is still having some problems. There I said it. Had to get nasty at some point. Are these stories taped in order of the script because bizarrely as the story progresses he gets better and better until in the last episode his letting his rage out (a common complaint with McCoy is that he cannot portray anger effectively) and it is terrifyingly good. But it is those early scenes with Hex that are MORE important and McCoy botches them totally. When I read a novel aloud I sound terribly stilted, as though I am reading it for the first time and am uncertain of the material and that is exactly how McCoy sounds as he patronises Hex in his first TARDIS scenes. He doesn't quite get the inflexions right and rambles occasionally, a fault I have yet to notice in the other three Doctors. Still his scenes with Hex infiltrating the hospital are a joy and when he is tapping into System there is a growing sense of that New Adventures menace that McCoy pulls off so well... despite my reservations it is probably his best performance since Shadow of the Scourge.

Sophie Aldred however is much, much better; there is none of that horrendous shouting that has plagued her performances of late. Abnett makes no attempt to write Ace as an angsty teen with issues, instead he writes her as an intelligent and capable WOMAN who has learned a lot since travelling with the Doctor. Aldred laps it up; coping with Hex (and the ultra annoying Mathias) and the volley of problems the story throws at her. The first episode practically belongs to her (and Hex) and there is a sense of a character that has left her awkward transition phase (from Ace to McShane) and is getting on with her life with the Doctor. With her new friend in tow (it was Ace's choice to get Hex involved, not the Doctor) the future with these two looks quite interesting...

Subject One was a fascinating character and one I feel Big Finish should deal with again. William Boyde was the perfect choice for this robotic performance, how he starts to experience emotions from fear to anticipation to pleasure is quite chilling and his personality emerges in the last story as quite psychotic. His reaction to a massacre in the hospital was horrific.

One issue I had with the story was the music, which many have commented as being hugely effective but like Chilli con Carne it just did not agree with me! It reminded me of Malcolm Clarke's score for The Sea Devils, utterly discordant; a collection of repeated bleeps and screeches. I get how it was supposed to enhance the "techno" feel of the story and one piece of music in the second episode hints at the returning baddies (it sounds like their voices from on appearance) but at times the music interfered with the story, sound FX and voices were drowned out and at times I thought the damn sound FX were part of the music! Sort it out Darlington!

Still I don't want to be too harsh on a story that utilises my least favourite Big Finish team THIS WELL and makes me hungry for a repeat performance of this success. Gary Russell has done it again and Hex is definitely an intriguing new character... can't wait to see where he takes us!


A Review by Richard Radcliffe 16/8/04

The 7th Doctor audios are a funny breed. Whilst all the other three audio Doctors have found their niche, their best combinations (5th Dr, Peri, Erinem - 6th Dr & Evelyn - 8th Dr, Charley and C'Rizz) the 7th Doctor stumbles from one team to the next - without ever finding that elusive ideal combination. I happen to think that this Doctor works better on his own than any other, Master being a fine example of this. He's most often though paired up with various companions (Ace - Ace & Benny - Mel). Big Finish have no doubt realized that the 7th Doctor hasn't quite received the plaudits that the others have - and it was high time they brought him an established, regular team of performers.

Sticking with Ace was a bold move. Fans have turned rather cold against this once lauded companion. Over exposure, thanks to New Adventures, is the main reason. Possibly that 80s Ace attitude is out of place now - I'm not sure, so I won't go on about it. Bringing in a male companion, one that we can identify with (he's from the near future - close enough to us) is a good move. Judging from this audio Ace will have a new lease of life, with Hex as her accomplice.

Harvest does follow a sort of arc with the 7th Doctor and Ace. It started way back in The Fearmonger - another story set in the near future. The Genocide Machine and Dust Breeding felt more traditional, but Colditz and The Rapture continued this Ace/McShane nonsense. The Harvest really comes from the same canvas as The Fearmonger however. There's that modern techno-type musical accompaniment, signifying our future, but not that far away. It also shares an Earth setting - one that is highly probable, rather than possible.

I really liked Hex. My family is full of medical people. My mum's a medical secretary, one sister's a nurse, another sisters a physiotherapist, the other sister training to be a doctor. I am very familiar with medical people as a result, and the character of Hex, with his medical background struck a familiar chord. I felt I knew him - and that has to be the intention.

I was also pleased how well Ace fared in this audio. I'm still not too struck on the Ace/McShane thing, but I thought Sophie Aldred put in a fine performance here. I have always liked Ace, and a few Ace audios each year is nice.

Sylvester McCoy is an interesting audio Doctor. It doesn't seem to be as natural for him as the others somehow. All that rolling of the Rs grates after a while - yet this is still the excellent mysterious Doctor of the TV series, and New Adventures. His audio Doctor can only get better, and The Harvest is a step in that direction. I'm confident that with the team of Hex and Ace, the 7th Doctor can find the success that the above other Doctors have done.

Best supporting character definitely goes to Dr Ferrer, as played by Richard Derrington. What a wonderfully smooth voice! At times I could have sworn I had heard it before, possibly some TV advert voice-overs. I was so impressed with his quiet menace throughout.

Dan Abnett wrote some brilliant comic strips for DWM a very long time ago. It's interesting that two of the new writers for audios this year, are not new at all, but have written for the Doctor in the comic medium. Both have produced very good scripts for Big Finish, and I would be quite happy to see their names appear again in the Big Finish range. The Harvest is impressive for its character building, and its surprises.

My review wants to glory in the big surprise of this audio - but it would be too big a spoiler for those who haven't sampled it yet. I don't want that eye-opener to be denied another fan - so I will leave it there.

Every year, when my wife and I go on holiday, we take a couple of audios to listen to in the car. The Harvest had just come out, the week before we were off to the south coast of England. Maybe therefore I was in a better mood for enjoying this story. I was probably in holiday mode, and more relaxed. Each day we played a new episode, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

The audios have definitely swung in a more consistently excellent direction since the old Doctors have taken the reigns again. We all knew that the 5th and 6th Doctor could do it - it's pleasing that the 7th Doctor can too. An entertaining story, with its gritty depiction of a near future society, and its wonderful surprises - The Harvest gets a thumbs up from this reviewer. 8/10


A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 9/10/04

The Harvest feels like a breath of fresh air, largely because of newcomer Philip Olivier as Hex (who really has a great voice for audio, just a shame as listener`s we can`t see him!). Thankfully however his peformance and the story in general injects some life into what was frankly becoming the somewhat dull Seventh Doctor/Ace relationship. Wisely writer Dan Abnett chooses not to reveal everything about Hex`s past in his opening story, not only does this allow for future character development, it also means we don`t get information overload. Thankfully his interaction between both Ace (she treats him like a pupil) and the Doctor (who acts all knowingly) makes him sympathetic and likeable. Plus the fact that he is basically a character caught up in a situation, rather than part of one of the Doctor`s schemes.

The story itself is traditional in feel, reintroducing the Cybermen in the process, and indeed would be suited for television, featuring as it does much running up and down hospital corridors and captures and recaptures aplenty. Regardless of this, The Harvest boasts particularly strong performances from Sylvester McCoy, who gets better as the story progresses and particularly from Sophie Aldred who laps up every opprtunity to portray a much more adult Ace.

Of the guest cast William Boyde is perfect in the robotic role of Subject One, his emotions ranging from fear to anticipation to psychotic throughout the play. If I have one complaint to level against the story, it would be the incidental music, which grates somewhat but aside from this The Harvest is a welcome return to form for the McCoy era.


A Review by Brian May 2/5/13

The Harvest is highly impressive, in both content and production. Regarding the former, the plotline is relatively simple, but Dan Abnett makes it into something just that little bit more. He has an ear for fantastic dialogue, with some lines standing out in their brilliance, augmented by the haunting context.

(Oh, before I continue, you wouldn't be here if you didn't know all about it anyway. This and the fact it's been available for almost 9 years means there's no spoiler protection: it's the Cybermen!)

I had to include this because it's the dialogue pertaining to them that is among Abnett's best. Their "marching to a sterile alien logic" as the Doctor describes it, and Subject One/the Cyberleader's announcement "we have wearied of our cold existence" and desire for "lives of sensation" are such gems, reflecting the horror of these creatures. The "minute signals of base flesh" in part one is also notable. Quotable quotes aside, the basic character exchanges and general to-and-froing of dialogue are both engaging and naturalistic. There's only one naff line, and that's Ace's rather poor joke about eye-stalks and sink plungers; but it's not particularly well delivered by Sophie Aldred in any case. When all is said and done, this is a well written techno-thriller, the hospital environment strongly reminiscent of Robin Cook's novels, embellished with political overtones (the Euro-sceptic sentiment isn't exactly subtle!). There's one strange touch though, that of making the Doctor's introduction a cliffhanger. It's one of the few times we follow a new companion from their point of view in their debut episode, an action that's definitely an homage to Ian and Barbara in An Unearthly Child (reinforced by the presence of Totter's Lane). It's a good idea, giving the listener a chance to get to know and empathise with Hex, but the episode ending just didn't sit right with me.

Now, onto the production values: they're superb. The direction, acoustics and sound effects are all great, bringing to life perfectly the sterile atmosphere a hospital setting demands. It's so good, the end of episode three will make your blood run cold. The music is something special. A synth-pop score dominates, but never fear, it won't send you back to the 1980s! For the rest, imagine Dudley Simpson's Season 8 excesses combined with the noise Malcolm Clarke composed for The Sea Devils. And it suits perfectly! It evokes the setting every bit as much as the sound effects. In part two, there's a long sequence that sounds like a duck quacking; it took me a while to realise that this may have been a clue to the as-yet undisclosed Cybermen (well, it does sound a lot like the Cyber Controller from Tomb!). Less ambiguous is the excellent metallic chiming that nods to Earthshock which, as in that story, rings out at the cliffhanging reveal.

There's one problem. Now, I'm quite a fan of the seventh Doctor and Ace, and I like the kind of story this is, where they're investigating strange goings-on undercover. But I wasn't at all enamoured by either of them here. Well, not them per se, but the actors. There's the aforementioned poor delivery of a joke, but that's not all in Sophie Aldred's performance I have issues with. She's too blase and flippant, not really seeming to take this production seriously. It's a lesser effort from Sylvester McCoy as well. In fact, he plays up to his weaknesses, in particular moments of overwrought anger, which never flattered the actor. (And he seems to roll his r's too self-consciously as well.) Overall, he seems uninterested in the material. The guest cast come out best, Richard Derrington and David Warwick particularly, who are both excellent. William Boyde's great voice gives Subject One a real sympathy as he adjusts to self-awareness and emotion, real motives notwithstanding. Philip Olivier should also be mentioned, particularly as it's his debut as a new companion, and a very strong one it is.

The other debutant is, of course, Dan Abnett. It's quite a coup for Big Finish, getting him on board, and The Harvest is an admirable result; simple, but written and realised wonderfully. It's a pity the regulars didn't come to the party though. They spoil the fun, but not irreparably. 8.5/10