The Doctor and Ace have insinuated themselves into the staff of a London hospital in 2021, trying to discover what they can about a top secret project called “C Program,” which the Doctor suspects is using alien technology. The Doctor’s nasty suspicions about the origins of that technology come into sharp focus when Ace befriends a young medic nicknamed Hex in an effort to find out more about C Program, and a hulking humanoid tries to kill both of them shortly afterward. Ace lets Hex into the TARDIS, and he quickly becomes involved in the time travelers’ plans to find out what’s going on. He might even join Ace and the Doctor for more of their travels, if any of them survive the harvesting of the human race for the organs needed by an invasion force that could overrun Earth in mere weeks.
Cast: Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Sophie Aldred (Ace), Philip Olivier (Hex), William Boyde (Subject One), Richard Derrington (Dr. Farrer), David Warwick (Garnier), Paul Lacoux (Dr. Mathias), Janie Booth (System), Mark Donovan (Polk)
Timeline: after The Rapture and before Dreamtime
LogBook entry and TheatEar review by Earl Green
Review: Yes. Yes. The seventh Doctor is back and in fine form. For you to understand that statement, it’s important to look at the seventh Doctor audio stories within the context of Big Finish’s entire Doctor Who range. Though some of the early seventh Doctor stories with Ace got off to a strong start, that particular range has slid into a bit of an angsty rut, especially with Ace abandoning her nickname as of 2001’s Colditz and insisting on being called simply “McShane” (the character’s widely recognized surname in print and fan fiction, despite never having been used on TV). Since Colditz, only one seventh Doctor/Ace audio has been issued (The Rapture), and the rest of the seventh Doctor’s travels have taken place alongside Melanie (Bonnie Langford) or with the team of Ace and Bernice (Lisa Bowerman) from the New Adventures years, or completely alone, in the ambiguous time frame leading up to McCoy’s solo appearance in the 1996 TV movie. Compare this to the energizing presence of Maggie Stables as a new audio-only companion for Colin Baker’s sixth Doctor, or Caroline Morris as a similar heard-but-not-seen sidekick to the fifth Doctor and Peri, and one begins to see the problem. Between TV stories that put Ace through the wringer (especially season 26) and years of New Adventures novels, Ace has been explored more than any other companion in Who history. And this isn’t a slight toward Sophie Aldred, because if not for her spirited performance in the role over the years, I doubt anyone would care to explore the character. But the petulance and sulkiness of the character in the audio realm were, perhaps, a misstep.
A misstep which is brilliantly corrected by introducing a second companion to the TARDIS in the pre-New Adventures time frame. Philip Olivier turns in a brilliant performance as that new companion, Hex, first hinted at in a laundry list of past companions recited in 2003’s Unbound story He Jests At Scars. As spirited and curious as Ace, though with a different emphasis and feel, Hex is a great fit in the McCoy-era TARDIS, and he’s a breath of fresh air throughout The Harvest. In fact, the cast of the whole story is above par, and as for the bad guys…well, that would be telling, but bravo to Big Finish for keeping it under wraps until the CDs were in our hot little hands.
From the script standpoint, everything is fairly tightly plotted, and like many of the best seventh Doctor/Ace adventures (see also their first – and, before this, best – Big Finish pairing, The Fearmonger), things are already afoot, and the adventure is already in progress, with the Doctor trying to stay one step ahead of his enemies. The characterizations are sharp (with Hex again, understandably, being instantly likeable – though we don’t yet know what the Doctor found “interesting” in Hex’s history file), and the moments of terror are palpable. And you know what the scary thing is? This would’ve been a fantastic adventure even if Hex hadn’t joined the TARDIS crew. I’m glad he did, but it points up what may have happened to the seventh Doctor and Ace on audio: new blood was needed. Dan Abnett, who has authored a lengthy series of novels and graphic novels based on the Warhammer game, as well as stories for DC Comics’ Legion and even Star Trek: Voyager, 2000 A.D. and Planet Of The Apes comics, is new to the Doctor Who fold, and maybe it’s that fresh perspective that Big Finish has been missing. And maybe, with almost all of their 2004 Doctor Who audio output being the work of writers they haven’t worked with before, the Big Finish brass recognizes this as well. In any case, The Harvest is a most promising starting point for a new series of adventures – promising enough that I’m now disappointed that the next seventh Doctor adventure has been pushed back into next year’s schedule.