Sunday, 27 March 2011

The Reaping written by Joseph Lidster and directed by Gary Russell

What’s it about: 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 travelling 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 travelled further than anyone could have imagined. Meanwhile her friend, Katherine Chambers, mourns her father and Peri finds herself meeting some other familiar faces.

Softer Six: After fudging the seventh Doctor’s characterisation spectacularly in The Rapture (or at least asking far more of Sylvester McCoy than he can give) and then boldly learning from his mistakes and acing his character in Master (rather than externalising everything he went for the opposite tack and had the Doctor calmly internalise his menace and it was terrifying) now Joseph Lidster has the chance to tackle the sixth Doctor and he does a superb job. He never forgets that old adage of Colin Baker’s that he enjoys playing up the alieness of the character and there are several moments where he almost crosses the line with violent suggestions that I really admire. There’s one astonishing sequence where the Doctor suggest the Doctor’s should have stopped trying to fight Daniel Woods’ wife’s cancer because she was always going to die anyway to prove a point that you should never give up – the dialogue could sound extremely controversial but played as deftly as it is by Colin Baker it is an extraordinary moment of kindness, rather than a pointless shock moment. The Doctor doesn’t know what takes Peri so long to get ready because its not as if she ever ends up wearing very much! The Doctor is not particularly impressed by Allen’s sales pitch to Peri and so in true sixth Doctor style he feels compelled to interrupt and jazz it up a bit! Ouch, when Peri asks to be taken home when discovering that somebody she knows has died the Doctor states quite bluntly that being thousands of years in the future everybody she knows is dead! Don’t give up your day job and become a counsellor, Doctor. Peri asks the Doctor not to turn this homecoming into some adventure and she doesn’t want him to go too far because she wants to keep on travelling with him. The Doctor has a very special ability of convincing people that they have met him before and – oh what a laugh they had that time! The reason he wears his ridiculous clothes is because he is undercover as an American working for British Intelligence! He walks into a police station boasting that he is a member of UNIT but unfortunately the local US constabulary have no idea what he is talking about. I know we have seen so many scenes where the Doctor opens his pockets out and its guffaw city at what we discover inside but this is one of the best examples – tickets to the first night of the Rocky Horror Picture Show and ‘What on Earth’s an Oyster Card?’ With the Doctor investigating Anthony Chambers death this story almost feels like a dry run for The Condemned where he works with the greater Manchester Police – oddly the most colourful of incarnations works very well investigating the seedier elements of humanity. Its nice that some of the old violent sixth Doctor isn’t completely gone and his logical argument that he should either be released or he will throw a cup of scolding coffee in his captors face is rather wonderful. He rather likes being called a peculiar young man and he thinks there is nothing worse than being gaudy and ostentatious! His young friend is dealing with family issues but the Doctor doesn’t have issues. How funny – the Doctor holds the cup of coffee for a few hours! Interesting that Janine accuses the Doctor of bringing children into his terrifying lifestyle. The Doctor has a surprisingly forthright relationship with Janine who happily tells him he is an arrogant sod! He tried to happily skip over the conversation about putting Peri in danger on a regular basis! In a rare complimentary moment the Doctor tells Janine that she should be proud of her daughter. When Peri met the Doctor he was sweet, he died and he came back to life (but not like a Cyberman!) and he came back looking very different. ‘Have all the Cybermen finally died? Oh dear…never mind!’ Peri wishes that her Dad was still here.

Busty Babe: Probably my favourite scene in this entire story is a very heated exchange between Peri and her mother, which works beautifully because you can see precisely how Peri came to be how she is. It’s a long overdue and extremely revealing homecoming, giving this latest Cyberman story an equally strong character thread to fall back on if the story doesn’t work out. Our first chance to see Peri’s life in Baltimore, her relationship with her mother and what happened exactly before she met the Doctor in Lanzarote. I really love how Nicola Bryant plays the younger Peri with such insane enthusiasm – she really does sound as though she is eighteen years old! Janine knows her daughter – if she’s in trouble there’s bound to a boy involved! She has been travelling with the Doctor so long she takes the piss out of his theatrical delivery with he is excited! Quite the Oscar Wilde today! Nicola Bryant gets to play the urgency of Peri’s situation at discovering somebody she had long forgotten about in the Doctor’s travels is dead – she knows she cannot change the past and save Anthony but she just wants to go to the funeral. Its an interesting thought, you always expect everybody to be left in a sort of holiday pattern when you go travelling with the Doctor, that you will return where you left off and nothing will have changed – this is a terrific reminder that life goes on. Only Peri’s mother would wear fuchsia to a funeral and be the one making the speeches – given her striking personality you can see so much of her mother in Peri. Janine thinks Peri thinks the world revolves around her. Peri comes face to face with the consequences of her disappearance at Lanzarote – Janine accused Howard of being responsible for her death when she went missing and their marriage (naturally) fell to pieces. Peri is surprised that it has only been four months when she has actually been away for years. There’s a wonderful scene where Peri and Kathy catch up on old times and its written so well you learn all sorts of snippets about Peri’s childhood – misbehaving at the Prom, making out with Nate and hearing about her circle of friends. Its nice to finally have some background for her character – there is something very new series about this that really works. Peri finally gets to tell her mum that she moved on from her Dad’s death too quickly and Janine gets the chance to chew out her daughter for worrying her so much with her disappearing act. Peri was always the popular one and everybody loved her at school and since she’s been gone people have been interested in Kathy. Can you imagine how awful it would be to hear your best friend and your mother talking about how much better it has been since she has been gone? After hearing that I think Peri shows real braveness in facing them and pretending she has heard nothing. I love that Peri manages to unearth Anthony’s message from beyond the grave – she’s far too used to this sort of thing now. Janine doesn’t recognise Peri anymore and she wants to know what has happened to her daughter and she tells her mother that this is what she does now, fighting monsters and she’s proud. The Doctor suggests that they don’t have time for the soap operatics but Peri insists that they do and explains that she was all ready to go to Morocco when she left the hotel in Lanzarote but got tangled up with the adventure on Sarn and decided to stay with the Doctor (and he has been trying to get rid of her ever since!). We get to see Peri not only trying to deal with somebody she once knew half converted and slightly mad but also trying to calm down his two kids who happen to be her best friend – to her credit she does a fine job. When Peri thinks the Doctor is walking to his death she is devastated and wants to rush in after him. She explains that the Doctor died for her and that she cannot lose him again. He’s her best friend and the bravest person she has ever met. There’s a parallel between Peri’s relationship with the Doctor and her relationship with her mother, a lovely touch. What I really love about this story is that it finally puts to rest the misconceived opinion that the Doctor and Peri don’t like each other. When she tells the Doctor at the end of the story that she isn’t going with him, that she cannot leave her family again he is clearly devastated and she can barely hold back the tears. Their ‘you’ll miss me’ ‘You’ll miss me too’ is perfect. The fact that he then visits the Gogglebox so he can see how she gets on proves how much he cares about her. In final scene where the Doctor comforts Peri at her mothers graveside is agonisingly poignant and the performances of Bryant and Baker are exceptional. The Doctor takes her away from all the pain and whilst it is really upsetting, a little part of my heart melted as well.

Standout Performance: Colin Baker excels as ever but this is Nicola Bryant’s chance to shine and I think (despite some real competition with The Kingmaker and Point of Entry) this may well be her most accomplished performance as Peri. It’s an impressive chance to look at where her character came from and Bryant seizes the opportunity to explore her past and to show how much she has grown since travelling with the Doctor. How frustrating to be treated as the same cool, image laden brat when you have spent the last couple of years fighting for your life and finding yourself. How wonderful to be able to show your doubting mother that you has made something of herself.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘1984, its never as good as the book.’
‘Don’t come any closer. I’ve got coffee and I’m not afraid to use it!’ ‘To all our listeners we ask that you be like us…’
‘Find your old family and make them like you…’
‘Two Peris for the price of one!’
‘But the way he talks to you…the way you talk to him!’ ‘That’s just the way we are. We argue but that doesn’t mean we don’t like…or love each other!’
‘You are responsible for the final destruction of my race. It is suitable that you create the new Cyber race.’ – hints at the Doctor’s future.

Great Ideas: We’ve heard about the Ice Caves of Shabadabadon before, haven’t we? I wonder if we will ever get there! The Doctor has taken Peri on a quite detour to the Gogglebox, one of the human races great achievements. Deep down inside the moon (‘My moon?’ says Peri!). The Gogglebox lets you experience anything – any visual or auditory recording. The Sergeant at the police station tries to murder the Doctor with cyanide. The Cybermen have long memories and very thorough records – they recognise Peri from their experiences on Telos. 20 people buried since Anthony took the job at the graveyard ready to be converted into Cybermen, including Maureen. A Cyberman who feels fear…brrr. Control the police force and tell everybody to stay at home and then everybody is in the right place for the Cybermen to come around and convert them. Cybermen marching through the suburbs where everyone is safely lock indoors, kill them and each family rises from the dead and they go on marching. Peri forces Anthony/Cyberman to watch a video of his birthday party and he is mesmerised by the emotion. These Cybermen are from the future, a dead race using the dead of the Earth to try and live again. Their time ship is Time Lord technology which they have acquired from the future. Baltimore, Anthony Chambers, all of it was a trap for the Doctor because he couldn’t resist not investigating. There is a link between the Time Lord and its user, which the Cyber Controller didn’t have and when he travelled in time he was battered by the ravages of the vortex. He had access to all of recorded time and knew that murdering Anthony Chambers would bring Peri…and thus the Doctor back to America 1984. The climate of fear was not for the benefit of the human race, it was for the benefit of the Doctor all to lure him here and take the Cyber Controller back in time to the dawn of humanity and make them all one. From their birth the human race will be Cybermen. The Doctor takes the Cyber Controller to the real birth of the Cybermen – 1984 Mondas where he will be destroyed in two years time when they attack the Earth. In a final bitter shock Janine dies fiddling about with the Cyber equipment that Peri put in the basement.

Audio Landscape: The theme music melds into a radio broadcast, static as we go from programme to programme, the overlapping voices in the Gogglebox, Peri in the booth going from news story to news story, Mrs Van Gysegham’s insane driving ability, swerving through the traffic, there’s an astonishing scene that we hear from the POV of a Cybermen listening to Peri mourn at the graveside, the bustle of the police station, children playing in the streets, the chatter at Anthony’s wake, rain hitting the window in Peri’s room, the rain falling in the graveyard, Anthony’s raucous birthday tape, Anthony breaking free of his grave with a chilling Cyber voice, police sirens, the Cyberman time ship sounds awfully like the eighth Doctor’s console room, I almost had a fangasm when the 80’s Cybermen collides with the 60’s version, birdsong.

Musical Cues: David Darlington’s score is mournful and beautiful, playing up the tragic events that unfold. I really love the guitar theme that plays over the funeral scenes; we haven’t heard such great use of the instrument since Loups-Garoux.

Standout Scene: The cliffhanger is exceptional because Joe Lidster has spent enough time building up the threat of the Cybermen and dealing with Anthony’s death in a very emotional fashion and as those two threads collide you know the shit is going to hit the fan! Nathaniel’s death is horrible; his father stumbles towards him saying ‘Hold me’ and crushes him until his back breaks all to convince the Doctor of their intent (his reaction: ‘I’ll destroy you, I swear!’ is gripping). Its awesome how they mirror the scenes in the Gogglebox – Peri dashing off in horror at the beginning of the story and the Doctor doing the same at the end. Notes: The Airship R-101, the Red Planet, St Garts Hospital – the opening radio broadcasts takes us through a montage of Big Finish continuity.

Result: A revelatory story for Peri, Joe Lidster writes a script that explores her character like never before and really give her substance. Nicola Bryant grabs hold of this opportunity and gives her most assured performance as Peri, ably backed up as ever by Colin Baker and they once again prove what fantastic chemistry they have. It’s an innovative Cyberman story too which I find something of a novelty, often the metal meanies are dumped into a story for no rhyme or reason but to boost ratings or increase sales. Lidster takes the Cybermen and gives their story a definitive ending and a new beginning and their brilliantly over complicated plan could only come from a mechanical mind. Some tasty moments of body horror, a genuinely emotional exploration of losing somebody to the Cybermen and subtle blanket of control over America – somebody is finally exploiting the potential of these creatures. Its Peri’s homecoming that makes the most impact, Joe Lidster takes all the domestic elements that made The Rapture such a disaster and skilfully provides some emotionally choking moments in this outstanding tale: 10/10

Artwork by Simon Hodges @


Bad Andy said...

This is interesting as while I found The Harvest to be a fantastic little tale, in contrast The Gathering is one of the company's worst. Because of that I've always shied away from this release, but I might track it down now. I do like BF's cybermen stories.

Tony Jones said...

I just listened to this having already heard the dreadful Gathering. I was much less impressed and felt that it was clunky and could have been much better choreographed.

Bad Andy said...

Only took two years but finally caught up with this today. Wow. A bit of an emotional tour de force. For the first episode all the American voices got on my nerves a bit, but soon I didn't notice as the story got into full swing.
I'm not sure what I think about the deaths at the end. Gratuitous or necessary? There's an argument on both sides.

Oh an another small note - in all the radio chatter at the beginning there's also a sting of Enigma Smith - the Mega City 1 newsreader from BF's Judge Dredd plays!