Written by Joseph Lidster, directed by Gary Russell
Released: September 2006
The Doctor takes Peri to the Gogglebox, a hive of technological wonder set within a moon. Guests can utilize the unique time viewing devices to watch any point in history as if it were happening now. The Doctor is shocked and somewhat confused when his companion chooses to look in on her family shortly after she left Earth in 1983. Peri emerges from her booth in tears after watching the funeral of a close family friend. Compassionate to his companion’s feelings, the Doctor pilots the TARDIS to Maryland, 1984, so that Peri can revisit her home. The trip proves far more dangerous than an encounter with the Daleks as Peri is confronted by her angry mother and answer for her mysterious disappearance. When the interred bodies of the nearby cemetery start to come to life, the Doctor fears that there is more at stake here than simple familial misunderstanding.
In 2005, when Doctor Who was brought back to the TV screens by Russell T Davies (and certainly others who have escaped my venting), the decision was made to consciously focus on the Doctor’s companion, thus making it easier for the viewers to relate to the program. In 2006, a series of Big Finish stories were released that more or less attempted the same thing, first with Tegan in The Gathering with Peter Davison as the Fifth Doctor and in this story. The difference is that whereas the over-reliance on Rose Tyler’s family and the Doctor wearing a tread into her mother’s doormat, these stories are decidedly more subtle.
If anyone is interested, the companions of the classic Doctor Who series were far less developed than the current program (if by developed you mean knowing their entire family). Tegan had an Auntie Vanessa who got zapped by the Master and never once thought to mention her after 1980’s Logopolis. Similarly, Peri’s stepfather Howard is featured in the opening of her initial story and disappears from existence thereafter. This story is an unusual foray into the examining the life and family that a traveling companion of the Doctor’s leaves behind and the consequences that come up when they return. It’s pretty fascinating and well handled as not only do we meet Peri’s mom, but her best friend and her family as well. The little touches are appreciated such as Peri dropping out of sight made her friend’s life so much better and how her mother is reluctant to uncap her feelings of anger and resentment. Peri feels more like an outsider in her own life than she ever did in her travels through time and space. She wants to own up to her actions and stay behind, but soon realizes that there’s nothing left for her.
In short… dear Russell T Davies… this is how you do it.
Colin Baker, an actor who never got a fair innings on screen, once again imbues the Doctor with such a vibrant personality that you wonder how anyone could ever dislike his portrayal of the Time Lord’s 6th life. As Colin himself put it, it’s easier to like his Doctor when you don’t have to look at him (though personally I think that is unfair). Trying his best to stay out of Peri’s way, the Doctor falls in with a brash and colorful friend of Peri’s mom’s and adopts a similarly garish style of speech. He soon discovers that there are some strange events occurring in the local cemetery and meets a lost man who has taken to sleeping near his departed wife’s grave. Eventually he explains that she had won a long battle with cancer only to die from a random car accident. He angrily states that it was such a waste and the Doctor corrects him, claiming that life is precious and must be fought for. It is such a delightful moment and I wish he had dialog of this caliber during his short tenure.
The Cybermen appear late in the story and are so well used, striking fear into the humans by using the bodies of the deceased so that they do not know how to react. It’s a clever tool and builds upon Eric Saward’s Earthshock in which the Cyber Leader explains how emotions are weaknesses that can be easily exploited. The media is also used as newscasters drive locals into a frenzy. When the Doctor finally discovers the lone time-tossed Cyberman who has escaped extinction through a stolen Time Lord device, he almost has sympathy… almost. It is less through technology and more through psychological warfare that the Cyberman looks to accomplish his goal of domination over humanity and the extension of cyber life. By placing the Doctor and his companion in a situation that encourages emotional confusion, the Cyberman gains the upper hand.
However, the Doctor is a clever and canny individual and soon outwits his foes once again. Unusually, Peri decides to remain and help her friends heal from the encounter, leaving a gloomy and despondent Doctor return to the Gogglebox himself. With unlimited options, he decides to watch Peri in 1984… and havoc ensues.
One of the best Cyberman stories and another in a long line of superb Sixth Doctor audio adventures, The Reaping is highly recommended.
Doctor Who – The Reaping can each be ordered from The Book Depository with free shipping worldwide by clicking on the link below:
Additionally, a maxi-bust is on its way of the Sixth Doctor. Packaged with a Scout Cyberman from the 1984 adventure, a release date is till pending. To date , the Fourth, Third, Tenth and Eleventh have been released with the Eighth, Fifth and First still forthcoming. These are marvelously detailed pieces that I cannot praise enough.