THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

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.


Reviews

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say no but I am not one of them, in fact I am one of those (possibly insane) few who prefers her to the hopelessly outdated Ace.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.