Late again this week, due to the neccessities of having to deal with far too many people who still haven’t got the hang of Christmas shopping (c’mon folks, it happens every year after all – is it really so difficult to get organised and communicate with the rest of the family so you don’t all go out and buy THE EXACT SAME BLOODY THING FIVE TIMES OVER for cousin Barry? God ‘elp us if there’s a war.)
Ahem. Anyway, onwards and upwards.
The Gathering, by Joseph Lidster
Directed to a series of unexplained energy spikes by a man who claims to be a fan of his, the Doctor finds himself travelling to Brisbane… and arrives just in time to witness the conclusion of events he first set in motion twenty years ago in Baltimore. Only… he hasn’t actually done that part yet. And there’s the small matter of a surprise birthday party too – the surprise being that neither the Doctor nor Tegan ever expected to see one another again…!
Here’s a tale heavy in continuity. Being a twisty timey-wimey sorta thing, I can’t quite tell if it’s the first or second half of the story, and there are enough loose ends flapping about that it’s certain to have repercussions further on down the line. It’s definitely not a story for the beginner to dive into – so many references and nudges to past and future continuity that I was fair flummoxed for the first ten minutes as I tried to work out what was going on (not helped by the way the play’s structure flips back & forth between narratives). Events will apparently be further explained in The Reaping. Other loose ends, on further examination, seem to point to a first (chronological) encounter with agents of The Forge, Big Finish’s super-nasty “dirty tricks” department that will play a large part in both 6th and 7th Doctors’ continuity later on. Blimey. And – not least, of course – there’s Tegan too: Janet Fielding’s first actual appearance as the character since she left the TV series in 1984, having previously declined to appear for Big Finish. And quite an appearance it is too, giving plenty of depth and emotion to a much-older Tegan, as well as a sense of closure at last.
Once the play shakes off that first ten minutes of confusion, it settles into being a very satisfying tale, riffing on familiar Frankenstein-style tropes and the moral ambiguities of science and medicine. Tegan’s own part in the dilemma gives it a personal edge however, and that more than makes up for the few little niggles. The character of Michael Tanaka sounds a bit weak next to Fielding’s brassy Tegan, and you can’t help but feel that he’d be somewhat overwhelmed in that relationship; and the first episode device of having Katherine Chambers explain her problems to a random bartender doesn’t quite work for me – it over-complicates things as far as I’m concerned. There’s a hole at the end too – Chambers disappears very conveniently, her sudden removal never properly explained (unless that happens in a future play, like The Reaping…?).
In all, a good fun play, though part of me dreads the mass of continuity that The Forge will bring this coming year…