The Harvest by Dan Abnett

Big Finish plays work best when they evoke the era from which they propend to hail. It is, after all, a clear intention to mimic a style from the past; there can be no other reason for listing the stories between which each adventure is supposed to dwell, and it's logical enough. The market for these things is fans, and fans like that sort of thing.

It can go too far; nobody needed a return to Traken in "Primeval" for example, a play which invented a new genre: the unwitting evocation of a period or story in original Doctor Who that nobody liked in the first place. But luckily "classic" Doctor Who, as we are now forced to call it, isn't stitched up at both ends. There are plenty of avenues for creating 'new' era's that both fit snugly inside existing ones (the most obvious being post-"Trial" Colin stories) or extending the series beyond Paul McGann's abortive debut. There's even been plays set between New Adventures novels and comic strips. But one chink in Doctor Who's sometimes shiny, sometimes slightly rusty armour remains unexploited (well, okay two; they've never breached the aborted Season 23 and set a story just after that lost jaunt to Singapore). It's the gap that sits beyond "Survival" but before all those realism-drenched Cybertech New Adventures forays. Perhaps because this period of theoretic Seventh Doctor action remains tantalising half-planned by an actual production team (some now deceased) and half unknown, so it seems in bad taste to touch it.

I'm talking Season 27 here. Ace at the Time Lord academy, Ice Warriors, that safecracker woman and McCoy, straightjacketted and insane in a mental asylum. Okay, completed work since has made some of those eventualities impossible, but it's still a very evocative period in which to set a story; perhaps the most nearly-tangible era we never got to experience because there were probably very nearly props and costumes waiting to be started for it, if only the silly old Beeb hadn't shown the red light instead of the anticipated green one. Even though it doesn't claim to exactly hail from this patch of unseen history, "The Harvest" very much feels like it does, and that's what counts.

The Seventh Doctor (incidentally McCoy on one of his good days) feels closer to the TV series, and particularly the direction whispers about the lost Season 27 indicate it was going in, than the New Adventures. There is still that frisson of industrial, early nineties modernism in the future setting of St Garts (awful name by the way), and the return of an old villain, classic but not parodied (in a way the Daleks might have been) lends. Above all, there's an inexplicable feeling of a fresh start here - the series origins are all re-stated, from the TARDIS down to the Doctor, and how nice that feels. One can almost believe the producer of this adventure has been given one last chance to pick his show up from the ashes of poor ratings and drag it into a new decade...

It doesn't all quite work of course, or "The Harvest" would be a King of stories, rather than what it is, an attractive and well-intentioned Prince. The central twist for the main baddies sounds innovative at first, but doesn't really make a lot of sense. And one can't really get away with an ending as simplistic as this these days, no matter how pretty the rest of the story is. Still, it's telling that new TV Doctor Who has recently bought back the same foes in a story suspiciously similar to this one - traditional and up to date all at the same time, with buckets of promise for what's going to follow. McCoy deserved a break like this, and in an odd way we did too.