On the morning of 22 September 2006, Tegan woke up. She was expecting to spend the day relaxing at home and, that evening, tolerate a party thrown to celebrate her 46th birthday. But things don’t always go as expected, it’s been over twenty years since she chose to leave the Doctor. She’s got a job, mates…a life.
Meanwhile her friend, 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.
X X X X X
Peter Davison (The Doctor)
Janet Fielding (Tegan)
Jane Perry (Katherine Chambers)
Richard Grieve (James Clarke)
Dait Abuchi (Michael Tanaka)
Janie Booth (Eve Morris)
Zehra Naqvi (Jodi Boyd)
Jef Higgins (Waiter)
Nicholas Briggs (Alan Fitzgerald)
Belinda Hoare (Rosemary Stark)
Written By: Joseph Lidster
Directed By: Gary Russell
X X X X X
Wherever you go, there you are. But wherever you go, there’s someplace else. A place that’s warm and familiar, where all the things you enjoy and take comfort in can be found. The fact that the third floorboard in your bedroom always creaks when you step on it. The fact that the bottom portion of Witherow Road will wash out during a heavy rainstorm meaning you have to take the long way around up Gallows Road. The fact that the best place to park for a Pirates’ game is across the Alleghany River in Downtown Pittsburgh, so you can walk across the Roberto Clemente Bridge with other fans while avoiding pre-and-post game traffic.
But around you, life goes on. Fighting in the Middle East. A distant relative passing away. A movie you used to enjoy becoming a bit dated and the humor a bit uncomfortable. And sometimes, just sometimes, the past comes crashing down right smack in the middle of your comfort zone, and both the good and bad moments that faded away into a peaceful, harmless nostalgia come flooding back
The Gathering finds the Doctor reuniting with a long-lost companion decades after they parted company. A perfectly serviceable script with just a dash of time-travel elements mixes with a 1980’s synth heavy musical score to provide a decent outing. While the main plot involves a secondary character more than it does the companion, there’s no doubt in the mind of the listener that this story is about one person and one person only – Tegan Jovanka, making her Big Finish debut (one night only!)
Brisbane, Australia, 2006. It’s Tegan’s 46th birthday, and while she’s not too thrilled at the idea, she’s promised some friends a few drinks at a local tavern. The “few drinks” turn out to be a “surprise party” that leaves Tegan a bit overwhelmed, especially when it turns out that one of the guests is none other than the Fifth Doctor! By perfect coincidence, the Doctor was investigating a series of strange energy spikes that led him to one of the hosts of the surprise part – Dr. Katherine Chambers. And while the Doctor doesn’t know her, SHE knows him. And she won’t let him get in the way of her grand plan…a plan that involves an unwitting Tegan, who finds out that even though she’s come to terms with her past, she might never be able to out run it…
Janet Tegan was a cast member on Doctor Who from 1981 to 1984, playing Australian flight attendant Tegan Jovanka, who finds herself stranded on the TARDIS just before her first day on the job! Stubborn, loud, incredibly direct and never one to mince words, there was times where I swear Tegan was going to light the Fifth Doctor on fire using nothing more than a disdainful glance. Along with her solid friendship with Nyssa and incredibly antagonistic relationship with Turlough, Tegan’s incredible strength of character (along with being quite pleasing on the eyes) made her a memorable companion in the eyes of viewers. In broadcasting terms, Tegan was the Doctor’s longest running companion, clocking in at 3 years and 1 month from Logopolis to Resurrection of the Daleks. Upon leaving the show, Fielding would part of the Women in Television and Film International’s United Kingdom chapter, as well as becoming a theater agent (she was Paul McGan’s agent when he got the part for the 1996 TV movie!) and the head of a charity in Ramsgate called Project MotorMouth focusing on helping young people get a handle on starting their own business. While she was happy to provide several commentaries for DVD releases of classic episodes, Fielding had always been wary of returning to Doctor Who. When Big Finish approached her to do some audios for the main range, Fielding turned them down several times. When she finally agreed to reprise the role for a Big Finish story, it was under the condition that it would be for only ONE story, meant to close the book on the woman from Brisbane. Big Finish agreed…
…and handed the writing duties over to Joseph “Misery Porn” Lidster.
But! My worries were for naught as Lidster’s script for The Gathering is a pleasant surprise and definitely an improvement upon his previous four Big Finish serials. Serving as a quasi-sequel to The Reaping (as well as a very loose quasi-prequel to the Seventh Doctor story The Harvest), The Gathering features a standard science fiction plot – in an effort to save a loved one, someone fiddles with technology they don’t understand, eventually coming to the conclusion that committing one murder to save thousands of lives is perfectly reasonable. The secondary characters surrounding the story do their jobs well (including a nice little scene of verbal cat-and-mouse where the mouse doesn’t realize just how in over her head she is), and Lidster’s use of science fiction elements work well within the narrative framework. It’s not a perfect story by any means. The plot is a bit of “been there, done that” and some of the secondary characters are a little bland. And then there’s the “Lidster Twist.” The Gathering’s “moment” comes near the end of the first episode where Tegan reveals a secret to the Doctor…
…she has a brain tumor. And it’s terminal.
Where I would normally be rolling my eyes at this, Lidster deserves credit for two things. One, since this is Tegan’s final story per Fielding’s request, this isn’t a “game changer” or an attempt to “imprint” a huge moment onto canon. Instead, it’s an explanation that helps show why Tegan is acting the way she is towards her friends and colleagues. She’s dying, there’s nothing she can do about it, but that doesn’t mean she’s going quietly into that good night. It’s part of the story, but it’s not the one moment that entirety of the narrative hinges around. And two, the moment isn’t a big “WHAM!!!” moment or a cliffhanger, but instead a quiet scene that completely catches the Doctor off guard, well played by Fielding and Davison.
And really, The Gathering is all about Tegan Jovanka as played by Janet Fielding. I admit that I’ve only seen a handful of Tegan episodes, and as mentioned above I’m truly surprised she didn’t end up shanking the Doctor as some point. But underneath the acidic wit and blunt demeanor was one hell of a brave woman. We see those personality traits on display in The Gathering as Tegan point blank tells the Doctor that his reappearance in her life means that things are about to go sideways and someone will die, we see Tegan utilize sarcasm in the face of danger, and we see Tegan break out the running shoes as she drags her colleague away from a mechanical monster. Honestly, it’s like Fielding never took a nearly 20 year break from playing Tegan, and I mean that in a very good way! My one complaint is that sometimes the snark is TOO much, threatening to paint Tegan as a one-note character (Tegan making the Doctor eat his celery stalk? Funny. Tegan telling someone “I’d love to stay and chat, but you’re a total bitch?” Borderline). But at story’s end, everything is worth it as Tegan tells the Doctor, as only Tegan can…that’s she happy. And she won’t go traveling with him again, or rely on alien technology to cure her brain tumor. There’s no sappiness, there’s no melodrama, it’s Tegan…and perhaps Janet Fielding…closing the book on a happier time in her life, but a time that belongs to the ages. She owns her own business, she has her own friends, her own boyfriend, and most of all, HER own life to live for however much longer she has it. Where a lot of Big Finish listeners cried over the ending to Thicker Than Water, I could imagine fans of the classic series tearing up, just a little bit, over the ending to The Gathering.
This is Tegan’s story, even though there was times where she takes a back seat to the main action. We do get Peter Davison in full “Five” mode for this story, letting his curiosity get the better of him as he wisely avoids a trip to 1984 Baltimore for 2006 Brisbane in an attempt to track down the source of these strange energy readings. Davison sells the “timey wimey” aspects of Lidster’s script that not only set up this story, but also some of the events of The Reaping. But mainly, it’s the Doctor’s attempts to keep people out of harm’s way and to save them, sometimes from themselves. And since it’s Five, those attempts go wrong. People die around him, one regulated to a fate worse than death, and all he can do it try to make the best of things. Davison sells the noble and alien nature of the Doctor in this story, especially at the very end when his efforts to help or save Tegan are gently rebuffed…and the Doctor does his best to try to explain his own feelings to Tegan, and of course he can’t spit it out, and yet Tegan understands. Someone once told me when I said I never “got” Tegan that she was one of the few people in the classic series to straight up call out the Doctor on some of his actions, but she always had his back and would do what she could to save HIM. I think there’s a bit of that here; Tegan is trying to save the Doctor from the heartache that would come about from him not being able to save her. First Adric, and then Tegan…this is why I say the seeds of the War Doctor were planted in the hearts of the Fifth Doctor.
The supporting cast is the weakest portion of The Gathering, as they’re kind of just…there. Katherine Chambers, Peri’s best friend from The Reaping, is once again played by Jane Perry, but this time she’s the villain of the piece. The events of that story, especially the big twist, have seen her become driven to save people, at any price. Her interactions with the Cybermen were the catalyst for her to become a surgeon and their technology, used properly…and do I really need to say any more about how that turns out? The listener just never gets a true sense of her motivations beyond “I’m saving people.” Her performance could have used a bit more obvious insanity to it. Luckily, her assistant James Clarke as portrayed by Richard Grieve handles that insanity. He’s the kind of villain who just loves to show off and act like he’s the guy in charge with everything all figured out. His scene opposite Jodi Boyd, a co-worker of Tegan’s played by Zehra Naqvi, where he calmly lays out just how screwed she comes off as very chilling (even if it’s drawn out just a bit long). Tegan’s ex-boyfriend is played by voice over artist Dait Abuchi. Put simply, imagine the type of man who would date Tegan and propose to her. That’s Michael Tanaka for you, and Abuchi does a very good job being the man Tegan needs AND a man jealous of the Doctor who comes barging back into her life.
Gary Russell does a good job handling the directing duties, especially the slightly non-liner opening episode which lays out the situation with a little bit of back and forth. But David Darlington does a fantastic job with the music, especially because every single line and note of the score reminded me of one thing – the soundtrack to one of the best PC games of all time, System Shock 2. Hell, this entire story could have been a mod for that game, the music is that spot on. I love the soundtrack to this game…it…sings to me…
As I listened to The Gathering, I kept finding myself thinking of the revival episode School Reunion. Sarah Jane Smith left the Doctor, but in many ways never stopped being his companion as she stuck her nose into the weird and unusual. Tegan Jovanka left the Doctor and the TARDIS behind, carving out her own life and staying well away from the weird and unusual. Sarah Jane kept looking up at the stars while Tegan focused directly on what was in front of her. In an era where Rose Tyler did everything she could to get back to the Doctor and Clara Oswald can expect the Doctor to pop up in the supply closet three weeks after she sent him out for coffee, Tegan stands out because, instead of being forced to leave the TARDIS or finding something better in their lives, Tegan left because it wasn’t fun anymore. The horrors of the Doctor outweighed the beauty. And she never once regretted it. Tegan stopped the Doctor’s world and got off, and if anything that makes her one of the strongest companions ever to travel along side of him.
If there’s one thing I learned from The Gathering, it is this – I need to watch more Tegan episodes.
Programming note – The Gathering came out in 2006. In 2012, Janet Fielding revealed she was fighting cancer. To help bring awareness to Project MotorMouth and keep her spirits up, Peter Davison organized a fundraiser for the charity. Aside from Davison, in attendance were Paul McGann, Sylvester McCoy, Colin Baker, and David Tennant. And after having so much fun working with Davison and Big Finish, Fielding has come back to do several more stories for Big Finish along side Davison, Sarah Sutton, Mark Strickson, and Matthew Waterhouse. Must be something in the catering up at Big Finish…
+ Tegan makes her return
+ Tegan and the Doctor saying ‘good bye’ to one another
+ Top notch soundtrack
– Bland story
– Poor character motivations
Synopsis – The Gathering sees Janet Fielding say hello and Tegan Jovanka say goodbye in a serviceable story carried by the relationship between Tegan and the Fifth Doctor.
Next up – No summer can ever quite be as glorious as the ones you remember from when you were young, when a sunny afternoon seemed to last forever and all there was to do was ride your bike, eat ice-lollies and play with Legos…
Paul McGann is the Doctor in…Memory Lane.