Monday, 28 March 2011

The Gathering written by Joseph Lidster and directed by Gary Russell

What's it about: 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.

An English Gentleman: He is a traveller and he loves seeing, experiencing and meeting new people. Is this the first time the Doctor has used his youthful, not unappealing looks to try and gain access to somebody? The man without an appointment sums him up perfectly. The Doctor takes away your control and makes you feel like a little kid. Kathy came to Australia to hide from the Doctor because he destroyed her life once. The Great Fire of London was him; the Marie Celeste was sort-of him and he was with UNIT. Oddly the Gogglebox isn’t half as interesting with the sixth Doctor enthusing madly about it. ‘If you’re in your seventh incarnation you’d know, he knows everything.’ The Doctor has left Peri and Erimem elsewhere and when he checks up on events going on in Baltimore he soon realises that he is already there…or will be and gives it a wide berth. If the Doctor is here in Brisbane that means trouble will follow. Tegan forces the Doctor to eat his celery and makes him promise not to get anyone killed. The Doctor expected Tegan to do more with her life and finds her outlook on life quite depressing. He wishes he could have been here for Tegan to help her through her tragic news.

Trashy Tegan: Deep breath. I want to try and explain why I don’t like Tegan because it feels like half the time I have just taken an irrational hatred towards a handful of the Doctor’s companions when there is at some substance as to why. For one thing I feel that Tegan was kept in the TARDIS long past her ability to entertain, in season nineteen she had a arc of sorts of trying to get home to her job which she manages to do in the last story of the season so this is a natural end for her character. However we learn that she has lost her job and so this is the chance for her to throw off all her attitude and embrace her time on board the TARDIS but if anything she seems to be even more aggressive and irrational than ever. There are a few bright spots in her second year (Snakedance and Enlightenment) which show there are still attempts to do something with her but come her third season she literally spends entire stories (Warriors of the Deep, The Awakening, Ressurection of the Daleks) wandering around corridors failing to connect to the plot and certainly having nothing more to say as a character. Not only that but I also find people like Tegan irritating in the extreme, people think they are being in honest but are in fact rude, people who will happily make everybody uncomfortable so long as she is getting her own way and worst of all people who selfishly put their own needs above others. The final nail in the coffin as far as I am concerned is the complete failiure to follow up on any of the emotional turmoils she has been through (losing her Aunty Vanessa and being mind raped) and also Janet Fielding is a far better supporter of women’s rights than she is an actress, often sounding very unnatural saying her dialogue and failing to bring anything but wooden anger to a scene. That’s why I don’t like Tegan. It doesn’t help that my other half cannot stand her either and so whenever she is on the TV he pretends to be the wicked witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz and starts melting. To say I was a little apprehensive about her return is an understatement in the extreme. It seems my fears were pretty much justified…

Tegan starts her 46th birthday arguing with her mother. She is not overburdened with friends (great surprise); it’s just her and her work mates on her birthday. She’s not what you’d call quiet and she’s clever enough to realise the Doctor being here is nothing to do with her surprise party. Surprise, surprise as soon as she meets up with the Doctor she starts moaning, looking out for the next alien menace to mow down her family and friends, suggesting that she has never once looked back on her life with the Doctor (I refuse for one second to believe anybody would do that simply because ‘Australians don’t do nostalgia’ – you travelled through time and space you silly bitch!) and questioning whether they were even friends. ‘I’m not playing twenty questions – “what Doctor”, “when Doctor”, “how Doctor”’ – good get out of there quick Doctor before she decides to travel with you again! Something is wrong when Tegan is smiling. She does apologise for leaving him so suddenly but it’s hardly what I would call an exploration of her departure. A horrible bitter old woman (‘I’d love to stay and talk but you’re a total bitch!’). She works and she sleeps and she’s so angry! After she met him what was she supposed to do? Nothing compares to what they had. Tegan has a brain tumour and it is making her paranoid and sick and bad tempered (not that she was ever little miss sunshine!) and has a year at the most to live. She told Michael that when she was younger there was a man who had changed her life. Tegan couldn’t let go of the Doctor when she left him, like she knew her life could never be that exciting again and never even when on holiday because it couldn’t compare. She has a punch, which is full of agro! She thought she would never have to tell the Doctor there is something she doesn’t understand again. Her life since she has returned has been normal and she has been able to make her own choices. Tegan dumped Michael because she didn’t want him to remember her as a victim. She refuses to let the Doctor take her away and cure her because she is now happy with Michael. She isn’t in love with the Doctor: not now, not then and not ever. She doesn’t for a minute regret leaving him and hasn’t been holding her breath waiting for him to come back because he never really left her, he changed her for the better.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Human technology! It’s a wonder you made it out of the swamps!’
‘Behind you!’
‘Go on, back in your box!’

Great Ideas: Kathy killed Janine and Mrs Van Gysegham by activating the Cyberman technology and she and Nate moved to Australia. She graduated, became a Doctor and set up her own practice – Chambers Pharmaceuticals. Kathy is turning Nate into a Cyberman to try and save him. Tegan got her brain tumour when she was travelling with the Doctor – it is alien.

Audio Landscape: The opening mirrors The Reaping with somebody working through a number of radio broadcasts, telephone ringing, birdsong, there is a summing up of the events in The Reaping as Kathy explains her story to a waiter, the chatter in the Gogglebox, ice cubes rattling in a drink, a van alarm, a pretty lame final explosion.

Musical Cues: Didn’t make an impact on me at all unlike its predecessor, there is a discordant electronic warble that plays throughout but that’s about all.

Isn’t it Odd: I’m not convinced that Kathy was an interesting enough character in The Reaping to bring her back in The Gathering and give her such a large slice of the action. It is nice to see some of the consequences of that story (especially some discussion about Janine’s death and what happened to Nate) but beyond that she is a pretty empty character. And besides which why give Kathy such a huge slice of the action when Tegan is practically ignored? Wow this really is an eighties story – the first disc is 18 tracks long and the Doctor doesn’t make an entrance until track 8! The Reaping handled Peri with far more aplomb than The Gathering handles Tegan, for a starters Peri is vital to the story all the way through whereas halfway through the first episode of Tegan’s spectacular comeback and all we have experienced is a 2 minute phone call with her mother (some would consider that a blessing). Whereas The Reaping had a real emotional thrust from the start this story is very oddly structured and has two beginnings which aren’t connected – Kathy telling the story to the waiter which opens the story and the Doctor landing once again (although from his point of view for the first time) on the Gogglebox which happens somewhere in the middle of episode one. By this point the story should be well underway but I still have no idea what this is supposed to be about, why any of the characters are relevant or if there even is a threat. Unfortunately all this flaws are highlighted against the crisp and emotive plotting of the last story. The 8687 links are tenuous to say the least, anybody expecting a clever revelation will be disappointed to hear that the Doctor used the name of the bar to stop himself remembering these events from his past. Is it beyond the realms of possibility that Peri’s best friend as a child would wind up to be one of Tegan’s closest friends as an adult – it does seem a bit of stretch? The scenes between the Doctor and Tegan at her birthday party where she bitches and moans and then spits out that she has a brain tumour are deeply uncomfortable and not in a pleasant way – it feels wrong for a show as wonderful as Doctor Who to sink to this level of depression. I couldn’t believe the first cliffhanger, not only because it was duff but also because it meant that the first episode literally ran on the spot for 50 minutes still not revealing one iota of a plot! Dait Abuchi gives a terrible performance as Michael, he fails to convince as Tegan’s ex lover and plays his concern for her with a stiff clumsiness that makes Tegan’s taste in men as unfortunate as ever. There are scenes between Michael and the Doctor where they bitch over who is closer to Tegan, where he tells the Doctor he was the reason that she wouldn’t marry him and that there is every possibility that she was in love with him – how deeply so-cringeworthy-my-I-get-chills-down-my-spine embarrassing. Jodi is a disturbingly provocative character – someone who enjoys upsetting people and getting her own way through bullying. Surely Kathy is so thick to think that what she is doing is ethically responsible? Whilst I am glad that they matched up the superb homecoming plot for Peri with the far more attractive Cyberman plot in The Reaping wouldn’t it have made more sense to have run these two stories with consecutive Doctors to avoid all the ‘I must make myself forget’ nonsense? The climax is beyond underwhelming – the Doctor convinces Nate to kill himself sounding almost bored as the audience as he does.

Notes: The Doctor is trying to reach the Ice Caves of Shabadabadon and winds up on the Gogglebox (which is precisely what happens in The Reaping). We get to meet Allen for the first time.

Result: The antithesis of The Reaping so it is astonishing that both stories came from the same writer – a barely plotted (you don’t discover there is a plot until the second episode) Cyberman story with nothing interesting to say about the creatures and some truly horrible characterisation of the guest cast to add salt to the wound. None of the characters are remotely likable and hardly any of them have any depth beyond bolshie Australian, misguided Doctor and jilted ex lover. This was a chance to bring Tegan back to life with some real sparkle but it turns out she left the Doctor and denied her previous lifestyle, turned away friends, lost herself in her boring job and resented pretty much her entire life – I never thought they could have made Tegan even more obnoxious and unfriendly than she was during her three year run and I have never been more displeased to be proven wrong. The Gathering suggests that travelling with the Doctor can poison your mind and that’s a concept so disgusting I don’t even want to consider it. As much as the last scene tries to suggest she is happy the proof of her dull, repulsive, miserable lifestyle wafts from every scene in this play. A very hard story to like and a huge disappointment after the sterling effort in The Reaping. What’s that? Tegan’s coming back again? Really looking forward to that: 3/10

Buy it from Big Finish here:


ali said...
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David Pirtle said...

Don't mince words. Tell us what you really think about Tegan.

But seriously, while she's never been my favorite companion (is she anybody's?) I totally understand her reaction to the Doctor showing up in her life again. Everywhere they went, there was mayhem and death, and her last adventure with him was absolutely brimming with the latter. Plus, he really deserved a slap for treating her life as some sort of failure on her part. How dare he swoop in and do that?

As for the story overall, it's pretty mediocre, but I think your loathing of Tegan has dragged your score down lower than it deserves to be.