Released June 2004
Dan Abnett, famed for his Doctor Who comics efforts over the year, makes his Big Finish debut with ‘The Harvest,’ a fascinating story that continues to show just what the programme can do with the Cybermen when the typical constraints of television are removed. Part of what made ‘Spare Parts’ so successful was how unabashedly upfront the script was about the true horror of the conversion process, and that aspect makes a welcome return here as well. However, ‘The Harvest’ takes the typical Cyberman script and turns it on his head, choosing to tell the tale of converted beings looking to regain their lost humanity through human body parts.
This premise and the various states of the creatures allows for some truly grim and dark scenes, but the emotional weight of the story is carried by William Boyde as Subject One, a vulnerable Cyberleader attempting de-convert himself. Subject One is a chilling creation, and Boyd does a fantastic job portraying the necessary coldness that the role requires, while still adding in a modicum of emotion as needed. The scene in which he initially regains his senses and waxes poetically about seeing London with new eyes and what new experiences he can have now is quite moving and suggests that this desire to regain humanity is genuine and heartfelt. This is further exemplified as he tells the Doctor that he has tired of living life with only yes or no as decisions, unable to experience any sort of nuance or subtlety, and it’s telling just how shocked the Doctor is to hear these statements, sadly proclaiming that he’s not sure there is any chance of a full return to humanity.
The normally manipulative and controlling Seventh Doctor so badly wants to believe in redemption- even for some of his most hated foes- that he doesn’t see the obvious but still incredibly effective plot twist coming. The Cyberleader has come to realize that the Cybermen’s logic and lack of creativity is an inherent weakness and have found that a return to humanity- at least to some extent- through the designated C-program allows them to overcome this weakness. Having been let down by hope, the Doctor cruelly jokes and walks away after the Cyberleader- whom he now knows is capable of lying- succumbs to organ failure, a very human side effect of the plan.
Much like stories in The New Adventures range, the Doctor and Ace have already infiltrated the suspicious St Gart’s Hospital at the start of the story to bypass the need for any extended exposition. This is fully the darker and more manipulative version from the novels, and that persona meshes very well with the sinister events at hand, and for the most part McCoy is able to rise to the challenge. Sophie Aldred again proves that she is much more comfortable at this point playing a more mature Ace, though Ace’s insistence on being called McShane still seems a bit forced.
However, the protagonistic character most worthy of mention is Philip Olivier’s Hex, who by story’s end has joined the TARDIS team, finally giving the Seventh Doctor his own audio-exclusive companion. Hex’s journey begins as his flatmate dies after being rushed to hospital, and Olivier effortlessly portrays misery. The conversation that ensues between Ace and him also flows naturally, and Ace provides the crucial comforting force who makes him talk about what he’s been through before something serious happens. By having Hex join the Doctor and Ace, there is now a viewpoint from everyday life to balance out the more crazed lifestyle that the other two have grown so accustomed to over the years. The sense of awe and wonder as sees the TARDIS for the first time and, later, learns of its capabilities is great, and even provides the source of a joke at Hex’s expense towards the end. This is quite a strong introductory story for Hex as he put through quite a number of harrowing experiences, but the quick rapport he develops with both the Doctor and Ace bodes well for their future adventures together.
Abnett does quite well in rounding out his supporting cast as well. Doctor Farrer gains the most import as he is written initially into the role of human collaborator, unafraid to use dead human bodies to further his gains. However, there is an innate level of sincerity and well meaning to his actions that Richard Derrington brings across perfectly as he seems shocked at the prospect of murder and eventually does repent for his actions. Instead, it’s David Warwick’s Garnier who becomes the villain of the piece, a pompous bully in his own right, but one also motivated by his superiors’ desire to further Cyber research for practical applications.
Some of the scenes seem to lack the intended emotional punch, but overall this is another successful Big Finish story by a new writer that successfully puts a new spin on the Cybermen, brims with atmosphere and tension, and introduces an exciting new companion in Hex.