Doctor Who
The Harvest

Starring: Sylvester McCoy
Big Finish Productions
RRP 13.99
ISBN 1 84435 096 7
Available 26 June 2004

On 12 October 2021, Hex expects to go to work at St Gart's hospital as usual. Then a friend is wheeled into A&E; McShane, the strange young woman from Human Resources, tries to chat him up; an eight-foot tall guy in a Merc tries to run him down; and an enigmatic doctor tells him that something strange is going on up on St Gart's 31st floor...

It is easy to imagine this audio adventure being the soundtrack to a television story that could have been made if Doctor Who had not been cancelled following its 26th season in 1989. Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred sound just the same as ever, while the dance-style riffs of David Darlington's incidental music bear a hint of Keff McCulloch's work on the series, but with a more up-to-the-minute feel.

As in several of the New Adventures novels, which picked up where the TV show left off in the early 1990s, we find that the Doctor and Ace are already on site some time prior to the beginning of the narrative.

However, more casual fans, who might be contemplating buying this CD in light of all the current excitement about the new series, need not worry unduly about being excluded by off-putting references to the show's long history both on and off screen. Allusions to the series' past are kept very straightforward. Indeed, there is a distinct "pilot episode" flavour to this adventure, which reintroduces the listener to such strange concepts as the TARDIS through the eyes of new companion Hex (Philip Olivier). Just like the suspicious schoolteachers Ian and Barbara in the very first Who episode, Hex follows a mysterious girl, in this case Ace, back to a very strange dwelling in Shoreditch...

Former Brookside actor Olivier is very likable as Hex (short for Hector), who, in a nice change, is a companion whose accent originates north of the Home Counties.

As I indicated, allusions to the past are kept very simple, though they are not altogether absent. I was delighted, and yet somehow still surprised, when some of my own vague ponderings were borne out. This is not to say that writer Dan Abnett's script is predictable - far from it, there are some excellent cliffhangers here. I must say that the reuse of some Gallifreyan-style door and control bank sound effects sent my suspicions up a blind alley to begin with, though I'm not sure whether that was a cunning red herring on the part of Abnett or just a bit of technical cost-cutting by Darlington.

Abnett is more used to writing for the visual medium of the comic strip (including several Seventh Doctor and Ace strips for Doctor Who Magazine) than audio. Consequently there are a few instances of descriptive dialogue such as "He's really tall."

That aside, though, I strongly recommend this double CD to Who fans both old and new.

Richard McGinlay