|The Harvest by Dan Abnett|
Firstly I should mention that this piece contains spoilers for The Harvest. It’s been out for a few months and the big surprise did leak out in advance for those of us silly enough to go looking for it but there may still be those of you who don’t know and to you I would say stop reading here.
One thing about The Harvest which wasn’t a surprise is that Hex debuted as a companion. My main worry about him was that he is a scouser. I’m sorry if anyone out there in readerland is a scouser but I’m sure you have good points too. It’s the accent which gets me and on audio the voice is kinda important. The scouse accent seems to be little more than a series of vowel sounds said in either an accusing or defensive tone. So to join such a character with Sophie "still sixteen even though she’s forty" Aldred and Sylvesterrrrrrrrr McCoy seemed something of a recipe for ear-trauma. Fortunately this don’t happen in The Harvest because Ace and the Doctor are the more mature characters of the NAs rather than the over the top ones we saw on television. In fact, Hex’s inexperience allows Aldred to play Ace as a more serious and in control person and this is to her infinite credit.
Ok so I’ve left enough space for even the most optically lax spoilerphobe. The Cybermen are the big guest stars in The Harvest so how does it rate as a Cyber-story? The answer is that there is no such thing as a Cyber-story. Your actual Daleks have a set range of adventures. Generally they rant and shoot and invade and lose. They are motivated by conquest. The Cybermen on the other hand have never quite fitted into a pattern. You had the survivalist Cybermen of Tenth Planet, Tomb of the Cybermen and Revenge of The Cybermen. The invading Cybermen of The Moonbase and Wheel in Space. You had the robotic slave/means to an end Cybermen of The Invasion and you had the cannon fodder Cybermen of the 1980s who marched around with vague plans of crashing things into things and who got killed every few minutes by anything from bullets to coins.
Then the Harvest came along and introduced a fourth Cyber-genre – the incomprehensible plan which might make sense but then again it might not. If it does make sense then it is the Cyber equivalent of the Daleks seeking the Human Factor. If it doesn’t then it’s just an excuse to do something gimmicky. Which is a silly aim considering the secrecy surrounding the Cyber-presence. I would’ve thought that the commercial benefits of the concept of a group of Cybermen who want to become organic again outweighs any gratification Big Finish could get from their rigid security. But they know best.
I’d like to think that this was the beginning of a story arc with the Cybermen on Earth. The possibilities are there for some interesting developments. They could even tie it in with the forthcoming UNIT series. But I fear they’d rather have Hex go through emotional issues in space and call that an arc rather than develop this apparently bizarre de-evolving of the Cyber-race.
And obviously the ending is a cop out. They build up an atmosphere of London "five minutes in the future", add an air of terror by having shots rather than laser blasts echoing around the hospital and then what happens? Someone effectively flips the off switch and all the baddies die. Not good enough. So it ends on a disappointing note having given us four episodes which felt like a welcome reboot for the Seventh Doctor's era.