The Harvest opens with preparations for a birthday party for a chap named Hex who will be celebrating at The White Rabbit, and I can’t help but wonder: did I miss an Alice in Wonderland reference in Arrangements for War?? There certainly were some in The Axis of Insanity! The writers of Doctor Who seem keen to let us know that Doctor Who is often best as a fairy tale. But when I think of fairy tales, I think of kid-friendly things. Oh, I know, Grimm was grim and not particularly kid friendly, but I mean modern fairy tales come to mind first. And yet The Harvest is far from kid-friendly; in fact it’s very mature in its story-telling. Where it really dawned on me was the end of part two when the threat is revealed. C-Program should have given it away, but I didn’t expect it until right before it happened… Cybermen!
Why does that make it mature? Surely we’ve had plenty of silly Cyber stories. Let’s go to the CD first. The CD case is a dark blue with partially obscured faces. Looking closely, one can see the circuit board imprint but at first glance I didn’t see it. All the trappings that classic Doctor Who used to ensure people tuned in were absent. That was very refreshing. Big Finish put it together: people tune in because Doctor Who is clever! The title also offers little. In retrospect, sure, it makes sense, but I usually hear that word in association with Vampires. And even the Cybercontroller is only credited on the CD insert as Subject One! To add to the maturity, the story is about harvesting organs in a hospital. There’s even a bone saw used to kill an enemy. Oh my giddy aunt! This is not the Doctor Who that Mary Whitehouse was complaining about but one that might have fully blown her mind had she heard it. And that was awesome.
Hex seems to be a great character, full of potential and a lot of awe. His first encounter with the TARDIS is not Capaldi-level shock, but it’s a close second. He even manages a “Doctor who?” in there without sounding forced. His “just Hex” is a nice parallel to Ace’s “just McShane”. There are some nice homages to the classic series as well, with Ace rattling off a number of things like “eye stalks and sink plungers” (referencing Daleks.) And they park the TARDIS on Totters lane, now a parking garage, in spot 76. (This sounded forced, because McCoy decides to count 74, 75 and 76… let’s face it, do you need to count the parking spots when you see your car? Do you think it would be any harder to identify an 8 foot tall blue box?)
One thing that grates on my nerves with many of the Big Finish range is the exposition to explain where things are. Not so here! This story has dialogue that fills in all those blanks without ever feeling forced. I didn’t write the exact quote but when someone says something like: “I thought it was against the law for a nurse to turn down a party at the White Rabbit”, it establishes the credentials of the person and where they are. It’s not “tell me what you see… explain the smells, what color is it?” The sound design does a lot as well. I could tell this was sometime in the future from the sounds of the tech. Doors open with more technological power and keyboards type with much more futuristic effect. (To find out this takes place in October of 2021 was a bit of a surprise, but this was recorded in 2004, so that was the future back then!) Speaking of sounds, I did find that on many occasions the actor who played Mark, Paul Lacoux, sounded a lot like Colin Baker and my brain kept doing a mental double take.
Of those moments that stood out to me, there’s a scene where Hex is trying to find a friend of his who died. Dr. Farrer encounters Hex and is extremely brusque, but when Hex identifies why he’s looking, the “villain of the piece” changes tact very believably. Again, this is not designed like the standard 2D story. The mustache twirler is not, in fact, a mustache twirler! That said, there was one thing that bugged me. When the Cybercontroller (who had a wonderful voice) is talking to the Doctor, he says the Cybermen grew weary of being machines. Well… yeah… now I know they’re lying. How do machines grow weary of something? Maybe the same way they look for Revenge (of the Cybermen) or start shouting when things go wrong. Throw a temper tantrum much, machine-man? Come on! You were doing so well.
Still, all in all, this was a solid story and the Doctor is on form as the mysterious alien that he should be. Ace, or McShane, to acknowledge her own maturity, is a very capable companion and Hex might just be a great addition to the family. I’m not going through the effort of rating these like we did the Top of the Docs, but this is definitely an above average story with some really eerie moments and is a very “visual” audio story. The Cybermen really are the most frightening recurring race in the series, but so rarely done well. This is one of the stories that understand what make the Cybermen scary. But I do wish, just for once, they bad guys would actually be good guys and we’d see the Doctor misjudge them once in a while. It’s what made The Curse of Peladon so damned good. Still, there are a lot of these stories to go… sooner or later, my wish will be granted! ML