Big Finish Productions
The Reaping

Written by Joseph Lidster Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Released 2006

Starring Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant

Synopsis: 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 met. But things don't always go as expected as her friends and family discover when, four months later, she returns home having travelled further than anyone could have imagined. Meanwhile her friend, Katherine Chambers, mourns her father and Peri finds herself meeting some other familiar faces.


Homecoming by Joe Ford 18/9/07

I think we can safely say that Russell T Davies' contribution to Doctor Who had a large influence on this story but I have to be honest, despite early reservations, I found this to be as poignant or possibly more so than when Rose was returned to her mother. Frankly, I don't think anybody expects much from Peri, despite Nicola Bryant's enthusiastic performance and with a single story Joseph Lidster manages to fill in a lot of the blanks and make her a far more rounded, interesting and believable character.

Was Peri any good on the telly? Many people would say no but I am not one of them, in fact I am one of those (possibly insane) few who prefers her to the hopelessly outdated Ace. People expect greatness from Ace and are let down when she doesn't deliver, but Peri has the ability to surprise more because her character spec (moany American) is not very impressive. Peri makes The Twin Dilemma watchable, her horrified reaction to the sixth Doctor mirrors our own. Her scenes with the DJ in Revelation of the Daleks are unexpectedly relaxed and charming. Her reaction to the destruction of Earth in The Mysterious Planet is shocking and moving. Peri's real trouble is that once she was set up in Planet of Fire we soon forget she ever had a family and friends and a life (a problem that many companions have) and she falls into the trap of being the troublesome companion the Doctor has to rescue. Fortunately, sloppy writing is salvaged by the spiky and very watchable chemistry between Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant.

The Reaping is a story I never thought we would see but is one I am very glad we did. Rather than just dumping Peri off in her old life like the ninth Doctor did with Rose, there is an imaginative reason for them going back, Peri discovering the death of her best friend's father. And unfortunately for Peri it appears that everybody has managed perfectly well without her...

Firstly, I would like to praise the performance of Claudia Christian who plays Janine, Peri's mother. Their scenes together work a treat and there is no doubt for even a second that these two are not mother and daughter, they get under each other's skin like only this relationship can. There is a fantastic moment that frizzles with tension: Janine tells Peri to go again and that they are better off without her. Their relationship gets more believable the more time you spend with them and it is great that Janine doesn't soften until she realises exactly where Peri has been all this time. With Peri it seems arguing with her mother is the only way she can get attention, which explains a great deal of her relationship with the similarly abrasive Doctor.

Nicola Bryant has never given a greater performance as Peri, and nor will she again. This a story that she desperately needed on the telly to allow both the actress and the character to stretch and after all these years Bryant is finally given a chance to show her audience what she was capable of in the role. Listening to her recap that bolshie teenager who was bored rigid in Lanzarote is astonishing, she genuinely sounds about 17 years old. Then go and listen to her graveyard scene where she holds back the tears and talks to her old friend. They are worlds apart. It is fabulous to hear Peri re-acquainting herself with her old friends and family and listening to their reaction of how much she has changed; it gives you a good idea of how unbearable she must have been before she went travelling and "found" herself. Peri marches into danger with her mother and friends in tow, facing up to a Cybermen... and it is very realistic that when her plans start going wrong she turns to her mum for ideas and support. The strength of characterisation for Ms Brown is a huge plus and long behind schedule.

Her relationship with the Doctor is also long overdue an examination and The Reaping comes to much of the same conclusions as Kate Orman's Blue Box, that the pair care a great deal for each other but find it hard to express their feelings. When Peri is asked why she likes the Doctor after he behaves so horrible she simply responds, "That's just the way we are." Whereas Blue Box toyed with the idea of Peri leaving the Doctor, this story plays this card as a surprise twist and it works a treat... with the Doctor speechless and Peri unable to talk for her tears, it is here that you realise everything they have been through together and how much they have needed each other for so long. Even better is the Doctor's rush return when he discovers exactly what would happen to her; their scene in the graveyard is touching on a level Doctor Who rarely reaches, and even more shocking that it should come between two characters that are known for their dislike of each other. I had tears building in my eyes... and that is not easily achieved. Needless to say, the efforts of Baker and Bryant are phenomenal and it is so rewarding to know that I was right, that there was dramatic gold in this relationship.

You might think that this means that the actual story is pushed to the sidelines in favour of Peri's homecoming but this is simply not the case; in fact, The Reaping features one of best Cybermen plots in Doctor Who's history. Admittedly, come the end of episode one, it was not looking good (although the cliffhanger itself is fabulous) but as soon as episode two is underway things become much more involved and interesting. I have never found the Cybermen to be particularly involving monsters, despite their fantastic hook, but Joseph Lidster has always been good at poking into unexplored areas of the show's mythology. The thought of Cybermen from the far future being all but wiped out and their last dregs trying last-ditch attempts to revive their race is great and this particular Cyberman's plan, drawing on the Doctor's emotional attachment to his companions, is not only clever but exploits the emotion vs. logic argument in an unusual way. For once, the Doctor is tricked hook, line and sinker: there is no Cyber-army or plan to invade the world, this time the plot is far more insidious. The Doctor's reaction to this plan gives Colin Baker the chance to vent his spleen, something the actor has always been brilliant at, and this time we are behind him every step of the way.

Also good is exploring the "used to be human" angle of the Cybermen which should be focussed on everytime we see them but rarely ever is. Allowing us to see the Chambers family at their best and worst in the first episode allows us a chance to get close to them so we can understand how horrified they are when their father returns from the grave as a Cybermen. Their appeals to his humanity recalls Spare Parts, but this feels far more dangerous and the scene where Anthony attacks his son is both emotionally and viscerally disgusting but it makes the point that Cybermen are stronger, physically and emotionally very convincingly. When Peri grieves in the final scene you can almost understand why people would want to have their emotions repressed.

Striking and effective in some very surprising ways, The Reaping takes its place as my favourite Big Finish adventure of this ever-improving year. For a chance to see the sixth Doctor and Peri at their very best, this really cannot be beaten.

A Review by Ron Mallett 12/2/08

On the surface, has a lot going for it - written by Joseph Lidster, Directed by the Big R, a great cast, great production values - but something is a bit unsettling. The Reaping is an example of how the BF series is starting to ape the new television series. The story is soaked in such overt emotionalism, I wasn't sure if I was listening to the BF audio continuation of Dynasty.

In my opinion, if a story wouldn't have been remotely considered for production in the eighties, then it shouldn't be made. This example of extension beyond the boundaries of sci-fi/fantasy into the realm of soap, comes across less like a more sophisticated reworking, and more like sophisticated fanwank. Of course, an audio adventure can never be exactly the same as the television series; it's a different medium for a start and while the audio medium is more liberated in the sense that it isn't limited by visual capability, that is balanced by the realities of small casts and a non-narrated format.

That's not to say that the series should be devoid of emotion and character development. The final McCoy series saw a good balance achieved. There was even an allusion to the potential emotional fall-out of the removal of a companion from their society in Survival when, on returning to Perivale, Ace is told that her mother has her listed as a missing person. But all this family angst and emotional baggage we discover in Peri's dysfunctional family is not what one expects in a Doctor Who story.

Colin and Nicola are both excellent as always. Still, Colin's voice has aged considerably in the last few years I think and when he is called a young man by Vincent Pirillo it just sounds ridiculous (anyway, didn't the 6th Doctor have the body of a 40 year old man? Oh well, I suppose these things are all relative). Maybe Vincent is really 70 and just has a younger-sounding voice? I just don't think he sounded 70.

The plot also seems very convoluted and just smacks of something a fan would write. I can't help shake the feeling that the Cybermen have been pulled out of mothballs again due to their appearance in the new series. This story just doesn't offer enough that is new to warrant the relative ease of resurrecting such a perennial monster.

To be honest, I'm a fan and even if it were total crap, if it had Colin and Nicola in it I'd listen to it anyway. I'm just not so sure I'll ever bother to listen to it again.

Town of the Living Dead by Jacob Licklider 5/9/21

The New Series began a trend of letting the companion's departure actually effect those they left behind, but it was only a matter of time for Big Finish to do that plotline, and when they did it was glorious. They gave the story to Joseph Lidster who has a three for three track record on excellence with The Rapture, Master and Terror Firma and had him use the background of Peri, whose ending is still unclear to this day thanks to Nev Fountain, who doesn't like to keep things consistent. Peri at the beginning of her travels with the Doctor was an absolutely vapid character whose mother had already been through a divorce before her daughter disappeared.

I will get to those character portrayal later, but first the plot. The Doctor, trying to find a missing book and wanting to take Peri to some ice caves lands on the Gogglebox, basically Google in space, which Peri decides to enjoy by looking back on her hometown. Before I continue, a quick note that the Gogglebox has to happen in our future with an actual intern who has to be cloned billions of times because that would be pure torture. Of course she gets the information after she had left that her best friend's father has been murdered in the graveyard, so she demands that the Doctor takes her home, which he does after a little note that Anthony Chambers has been dead for millions of years. All is not well in Baltimore, which is nothing new, but things are slightly worse as there are Cybermen basically doing the inspiration for Dark Water/Death in Heaven, by converting the dead while Peri and her mother have to go through some damage control.

While this is a story to feature some of the best Colin Baker acting, which I will get to later, the focus is planted firmly on Peri, her mother Janine and Katherine Chambers, her best friend. Peri shows just how much she has grown, as, upon hearing someone she knew died, she demands to be taken back to her own time just to console her friends. She breaks down when she realizes just how awfully she treated her mother by walking off and essentially ruined her mother's second marriage. She even gets the idea that life without her as she was is actually a better fate than having her stick around, and she has to show just how much she has grown as a person. Nicola Bryant shows just how much of a range she has as an actress here as she plays the bubbly Peri in a flashback, Peri in distress and a triumphant Peri who gets everything she wants. This is helped of course by the fact that we get to see what Peri's mother is like, which helped form Peri's initial character. Janine, while not wanting to take any of her daughter's smug self-importance, exhibits a lot of the same traits as her daughter. She is self-righteous and downright selfish, as she refuses to accept the fact that her daughter has returned to her, and it is up to the Doctor to let her grow by having Peri have a hand in the action along with her mother and that forces a catharsis. It of course makes it all the more heartbreaking with her eventual fate.

Other than her family, we actually get the chance to meet Peri's best friend Katherine Chambers, played by Jane Perry, who is in mourning in the loss of her father. She is happy of course to see her best friend and is of course glad to see her again but has her doubts that it's going to be a good life and of course with the death surrounding this story that is extremely accurate. Yes, this is a story that heavily deals in death, and the body count is extreme. Basically everyone in this story dies as per the title, The Reaping. It's another perfect example of how to do the Cybermen: force them into a bleak scenario where to survive they must go to extremes, and here those extremes are converting the dead. Honestly, that idea is extremely dark, as there are more dead people on the planet than alive, and if the invasion succeeds, the human race is most certainly doomed. Colin Baker as the Doctor is great at giving off that sense, as he has no idea of what he's getting into, and it comes across as a very dark performance except in the few comedy bits with Mrs. Van Gysegham, which are a delight. Now don't read any further into this review if you haven't listened to this story, as I'm going to spoil the ending. You have been warned.

So The Reaping sees Peri decide to leave the Doctor to spend time with her mother and Kathy once the Cybermen are defeated and Kathy's brother Nathan is left paralyzed. She takes a little piece of Cyberman technology as a parting gift, which amounts to a paperweight, but several months after the events of this story and several months of enjoying time with her friends and family the technology activates. Peri's house explodes, her mother dies in the blaze while Kathy and Nathan have fled in the aftermath. Peri is left at her absolute lowest, and the Doctor sees it all occur at the Gogglebox. He comes and gets her and actually gets to comfort her, showing just how much he's grown and explains the main theme. The theme is the uplifting one that is echoed throughout the audio, with Mrs. Van Gysegham's many husbands having scrapes with death making her grateful until they die, the backstory of tramp Daniel Woods' wife who died in a bus crash three years after having a near-death experience with cancer. Death is inevitable, but every moment spent with loved ones is worth it.

To summarize, The Reaping once again shows just how great Joseph Lidster is great at writing Doctor Who and delivering the emotional gut punches. It is one of his best works yet, as it really gives the themes the time of day to reflect on itself. Everything about the story reflects that, and it makes a great middle to the Cyberman trilogy. 100/100