Big Finish Folly, Part 69 – The Reaping, by Joseph Lidster
Baltimore, 1984. Time for Peri to see how life has moved on without her. Unfortunately, her mother is none too pleased to see her: Peri’s disappearance hastened the breakdown of her parents’ marriage, and Peri herself has turned up just in time to interrupt the funeral of a murdered family friend. Nobody else seems happy to see her either, not least her friend Kathy Chambers. And while Peri deals with the fallout, the Doctor investigates the murder. And it soon transpires that an old enemy is haunting Baltimore – and that events here will have a massive effect on the Doctor’s past…Hands up if you remember The Gathering. Yes? No? Well the link is there if you need it. Anyway, this play is technically the prelude to The Gathering, although events in that play have already affected the Doctor’s timeline (in his last incarnation). It isn’t really all that confusing. Honest. So the character of Kathy Chambers reappears, this time far younger, in the role of Peri’s ex-best friend, and we finally get to discover exactly how the alien technology got used to augment her brother Nate to begin with.
What this means in effect is that unlike The Gathering we already know how this is going to end. The trick is how we get there. To divert us Lidster plays hard with Peri’s emotions – in her relationships with Kathy, her own mother, the Doctor himself – but the effect is less subtle than in the Gathering, where Tegan’s struggle to adapt to her life post-Tardis is dealt with far more sympathetically. In the main, Peri just cries a lot. Admittedly there’s a hell of a lot for her to cry about, especially at the end, but for me it doesn’t build her up as a character, although it does serve to allow Peri to swan off with some alien prince further on down the line without hurting her family.
There are other bits of disjointedness too (even as there are nice touches to tie the story in with both Spare Parts and The Tenth Planet): the character of Mrs Gysegham serves no purpose at all as far as I can tell, and the alleged murder suspect Daniel Woods gets a death that drowns out whatever point he is trying to make at the time so thoroughly that it sounds like a blunder. There’s a gaping hole in the Cyber-logic too: the whole plan depends on the Doctor doing something out of the Cyberleader’s sight – now if it was me, I wouldn’t be taking the Doctor on trust.
One definite plus point is the inclusion in the cast of Claudia Christian as Peri’s mother (despite the fact that Nicola Bryant is in fact the elder of the two…). Nobody does take-no-nonsense like Claudia Christian, and the play needs a strong voice to hang Peri’s relationship woes on. (This makes two of the Babylon 5 regular cast to have done BF Who thus far; I’m holding out for Bill Mumy…)
You don’t need to have heard The Gathering to enjoy The Reaping; likewise, you don’t neccessarily need to have heard The Reaping to enjoy The Gathering and the whole Forge arc that begins there. This makes The Reaping a sort of curio, replete with the feeling that – like several of the Sixth Doctor tales thus far – it never really plays to its strengths in the way it ought to.