Doctor Who – “The Reaping”

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 traveling 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 traveled further than anyone could have imagined.

Meanwhile her friend, Katherine Chambers, mourns her father and Peri finds herself meeting some other familiar faces.

Colin Baker is the Doctor in The Reaping

Cast
Colin Baker (The Doctor)
Nicola Bryant (Peri)
Claudia Christian (Janine Foster)
Stuart Milligan (Anthony Chambers)
Jane Perry (Kathy Chambers)
Jeremy Lindsay-Taylor (Nate Chambers)
Vincent Pirillo (Daniel Woods)
John Schwab (Lt. Doyle)
Denise Bryer (Mrs Van Gysegham)
Allison Karaynes (Natalie Hamilton)
Nicholas Briggs (Cybermen)

Written By: Joseph Lidster
Directed By: Gary Russell

Trailer – http://www.bigfinish.com/releases/popout/the-reaping-252

X X X X X

You can’t go home again.

Home is a safe place to many of us.  A place in our lives where our most formative years were crafted.  A warm bed, a particular tree giving off the perfect amount of shade, the smell of cheap popcorn as you walk into a baseball stadium…and perhaps most of all, the people.  Family, friends, shopkeepers, teachers, police, fireman.  It’s human nature to look back on these people, places, and individual moments from time to time, often to seek out moments of happiness and joy.  To some, however, it’s the familiarity of the past that brings them comfort.   The past is set in stone, concrete and unyielding.  No matter what life throws at you – medical conditions, bills, job-related stress, the fact that Gotham gets better ratings than Hannibal – the past is always there for you, a reminder of the way things were, and to some the way things ought to be.

Life doesn’t work that way, however.  Where a person’s life goes through changes as time passes, the places and people that they call home change as well.  A familiar store might be closed, or a much visited restaurant might have a completely different menu.  A familiar walk through the woods sees a panoramic view ruined by a collection of McMansions.  And those who stayed behind, those who were always viewed through the lenses of the past?  They’ve changed as well.  Their lives have moved on, as well as their own perceptions of the people they once knew who chose to leave.  And sometimes, those perceptions can clash head on.

The Reaping is a story about the Cybermen’s continued struggle to survive, but more importantly it’s a tale about what happens when Peri returns home.  While Peri deals with the sudden outpouring of anger and indifference from her Mom after disappearing for several months, the Doctor finds himself embroiled in a murder investigation that leads to a horrific discovery.  What starts, proceeds, and ends as a pretty solid Cyberman story is ruined by a horrific and unnecessary “twist” at the very end of the story.  A “twist” that shouldn’t come as a surprise to the listener, considering the author of this story!

To Peri Brown, it’s been two years since she left her stepfather in Lanzarote to travel with the Doctor.   When Peri discovers that her best friend’s father has been brutally murdered, she demands the Doctor take her home to Baltimore for the funeral and subsequent wake.  But her homecoming, even in a time of grief, is more shocking than she could have ever imagined.   To her friends and family, it’s been four agonizing months since Peri mysteriously disappeared.  Believing Peri to have been kidnapped, her stepfather, accused of the crime, has divorced her mother, who is not pleased to see Peri has returned home to once again be the center of attention.  Her best friend, having just lost her father is happy to see her best friend, but admits to having felt a bit relieved at being out of Peri’s shadow.   And the Doctor, wisely staying out of the family dispute, instead finds himself drawn to the murder of Anthony Chambers.  But an attempt to interrogate a suspect reveals something sinister lurking in the shadows of Baltimore.  While Peri’s friends are coming to terms with her sudden return, an old foe of the Doctor’s has been waiting for him to arrive…

At the conclusion of my review for Red, a few people warned me in advance of the upcoming double-whammy gut punch of The Reaping and The Gathering, two well-known stories written by none other than Joseph Lidster.  Lidster has been responsible for several “memorable” Big Finish stories; the “say no to drugs and techno” screed The Rapture, the “let’s reveal a deep secret that goes against every single other story ever written about the Doctor” audio Master, and the “oh for God’s sake Eight’s got amnesia again” tale Terror Firma.  Having gone 0-for-3 with a walk (I liked the first three episodes of Master), I was very wary as I began to listen to The Reaping.  However, after listening to this story, until it reached the big “shocking moment,” I really liked it.  In some ways, it felt like an appropriate sequel to Revenge of the Cybermen as the Cybermen (and I’m not spoiling their presence in the story, one of them is right on the CD cover!) once again try to find a way to survive.  There are moments of horror (the return of Anthony Chambers), an out-of-nowhere jump scare in the third act, a decently mad scheme meant to ensure the Cybermen become the supreme race in the cosmos, and some moments of humor involving the Doctor being driven to the police station by a little old lady and a “logic game” involving a cup of poisoned coffee.  Add to it the melodrama of Peri’s return home, her mother’s anger as she believes Peri is once again being the center of attention, dealing with the death of a family-of-the-heart member, and the tension as the characters are trapped in a mortuary by a group of Cyber-controlled policemen, and all the elements are there in The Reaping for a damn good story.  A few passes with the editor’s brush could have been helpful; the “we’re happy to see you, Peri, but we’re not” goes on for a bit longer and it laid on a bit thicker than it should have been, and the “what the hell is going on” moments go right into the “OK, trust the Doctor/Peri” moments without any real sort of conflict resolution or Peri standing up to make herself heard.

The supporting cast is a mixed bag.  Peri’s mother, Janine Foster, is played Claudia Christian, cast member of the 1987 cult classic The Hidden and best known for playing Susan Ivanova on Babylon 5.  If you don’t know who Ivanova is, the below clip might help.

Christian has done voice acting for several movies and video games, but for some reason her performance in The Reaping falls between “bored” and “emotionally drained.”  Which to be fair might be the default setting for the woman who has put up with Peri Brown from infancy all the way to young adulthood…though one could also say that they see where Peri has picker up most of her own mannerisms! Christian’s range is this story goes from “slightly annoyed” to “slightly scared,” with a layover at “slightly proud” before a sudden stop at “slightly worried.”  Emotions aside, she’s good as Peri’s mom; angry at Peri for up and disappearing with a strange man, frustrated that she comes home to steal the attention at a funeral/wake, but also willing to believe her daughter and do what’s necessary to save both her and her best friend.  Basically, Janine’s a mom, and Christian sells that aspect of her character perfectly.

Vincent Pirillo plays Daniel Woods, the man accused of murdering Anthony Chambers.  As the Doctor’s “temporary companion,” Woods does a fine job mixing the nervousness at what he saw, a silver ghost strangling Chambers to death, with a bit of pathos at his wife’s passing, as she survived cancer only to get hit by a bus (ah, Lidster and his misery porn).  Stuart Milligan plays Anthony Chambers, back from the dead (via video tape and a little more).  Best known for playing Adam Claus on Jonathan Creek as well as President Richard Nixon in The Impossible Astronaut/The Day of the Moon, his brief on-screen time in this story highlights his nervousness, uncertainty, and horrific realization as he serves as one of the Cybermen’s pawns.  John Schwab (Bywater in the Ninth Doctor serial Dalek) has a small but important part as the policeman controlled by the Cybermen.  His interactions with the Doctor and the public in an emotionless tone, appealing for calm and urging citizens to stay in their homes, along with a brief scene where he flatly suggest the Doctor drink some obviously poisoned coffee, are well done to the point where a little bit of voice modulation would have made him the perfect Cyberman!

On the flip side, Jeremy Lindsay-Taylor gives a emotionless, flat performance as well, and not in the good way.  Playing Nathan Chambers, Anthony’s son, Lindsay-Taylor (who’s appeared primarily on Australian television including Heartbreak High) sounds incredibly bored with the proceedings.  While someone who just lost their father would be in a state of shock and come off as listless, Lindsay-Taylor takes it one step further to pure apathy, even when dealing with the silver ghost of his father.   On the flip side, Jane Perry’s Kathy Chambers is exactly what you’d expect; the daughter who takes it all on her shoulders and tries to do her best and be her best to everyone.  While her part in The Reaping is a bit superfluous, her actions here are a set-up for her decisions in the quasi-sequel to this story, The Gathering.

Once again…it’s Colin Baker. His performance is easily the highlight of this story, as it’s everything good and wonderful about the Sixth Doctor distilled down to its purest form. Hurt when his companion doesn’t appreciate his grand gesture? Check. Willing to abide by his companion’s wishes, but unable to get involved anyway? Check. Alien in nature but able to relate to humanity? Check. Willingness to do whatever is take to save the innocent? Check. Double-crossing the Cybermen and leaving them to their fate? Check. Baker has always been solid in his Big Finish stories, and that pattern easily continues with The Reaping. Moments of humor, such as his trip to the police station with Ms. Van Gysegham, mix with moments where the Doctor shows his intelligence, such as using logic to outwit a policeman trying to poison him. Lidster’s script excels at playing up the Sixth Doctor’s alien nature (which is something Colin Baker has tried to do with Six) as well as his capacity for violence and revenge. Six doesn’t go all Revenge of the Cybermen on the bad guys in this one, but leaving the Cybermen to their final fate (which includes a nice callback to Spare Parts) is something slightly horrific, but well within Six’s capacity.

If The Reaping is supposed to be a Peri story…it doesn’t quite succeed. Let me just get this out of the way now – for all the flak Nicola Bryant has gotten about her American accent, it’s definitely NOT a Baltimore one. Not even close. Not ONE mention of Old Bay seasoning. Come on, Lidster! Joking aside, The Reaping seems to be nothing more than one attempt at another to break Peri’s spirit. She returns to Baltimore because her best friend’s dad has been murdered, finds out her mom is pissed at her, her best friend kind of wishes she hadn’t come back, and now the Cybermen are invading her home town! On one hand, Peri and the Doctor both spend the first half of the story coming to the same conclusion, and when they meet in the graveyard, it’s nice to see Peri be the one explaining things to the Doctor, much to his pleasant surprise. But on the other hand…viewers know that the Peri from Planet of Fire is a very far cry from the Peri we saw in Revelation of the Daleks in terms of maturity, and that’s not including the character growth she’s had during her travels with Five and Six in the audio range. The Doctor gets to see that Peri, but Peri doesn’t really get a chance to turn around and show that maturity to her friends and family. There’s no big fist-pumping moment when Peri throws down to her mother that she was wrong to leave and not say where she was going, but she’s not the teenaged attention grabbing girl she was when she left. She takes charge a bit in the second half of the story, but in a very passive and quiet way…not like Peri Brown at all!

So The Reaping is a fine, but flawed story. The Cybermen portion is legitimately unsettling, we get some nice character moments with Peri’s friends and family that could have shown some more emotion and character growth, and Colin Baker is once again in fine form…and then the “Lidster Twist” hits in the last five minutes of the story. I won’t go into the details to avoid spoiling anyone who hasn’t “experienced” it yet, but it’s out-of-nowhere, shockingly cruel, and knowing that Peri still has some travels left with the Doctor (I’d put this story right after Revelation of the Daleks and before The Mysterious Planet), NOTHING CHANGES WITH PERI. For someone so desperate to go home when things go wrong with her friends and family, having what happens and then seeing the same more-mature-but-go-lucky-Peri in future adventures with Six once again means the “Lidster Twist” was for NOTHING in the long-term. Granted, the “twist” does have major ramifications in this story’s follow-up The Gathering, but there were much better and less mean-spirited ways to get there…

I admit, Joseph Lidster is a published writer and I’m not.  It’s very easy for me as an amateur review to sit here and criticize his writing when the best I’ve got is this blog and a piece of fan fiction with a TV Tropes page. But when all four of his Big Finish stories that I’ve reviewed to date contain the same sort of shocking “twist” or “character  revelation”  that add nothing to the overall direction of the characters, it’s very hard for me not to point at those twists and go “that’s just bad writing.”

Especially since, until the very end, I enjoyed The Reaping.

Pro
+ One of Colin Baker’s best portrayals of the Sixth Doctor
+ A needlessly complex scheme to ensure the survival of the Cybermen
+ John Schwab and Stuart Milligan as pawns of the Cybermen

Cons
– Peri doesn’t get her big “I’m not the same woman” moment
– The “Lidster Twist”

Synopsis – A solid Cybermen story with Colin Baker again being wonderful, The Reaping’s attempt to show Peri that she can’t go home again is hampered by Joseph Lidster’s ending twist.

Next up – Katherine Chambers makes a decision that could change all their lives, and Tegan discovers that you can never really escape the past.

Peter Davison is the Doctor in…The Gathering.

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About cobiwann

A guy who's into a niche fandom of a niche fandom - the Big Finish audio plays of "Doctor Who." Also into the show itself, both old and new, plus pop culture and a smattering of human insight.
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One Response to Doctor Who – “The Reaping”

  1. Cygnia says:

    …nobody Tropes my stories…*singleperfecttear*

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