McGanniversary Week: THE PEOPLE'S TEMPLE

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Andrew East takes a short trip. Regrets it.


The People’s Temple is a short story by Paul Leonard which was originally published in BBC Books Short Trips anthology. It was subsequently read by Paul McGann as one of the three stories on BBC Audio’s Earth and Beyond collection which featured the only original material performed by McGann in the wake of the TV Movie – at least until Big Finish came along.


The People’s Temple tells of the Doctor and Sam Jones (a companion from the full length novels published at the time) visiting Stonehenge during its construction. The plot revolves around Sam attempting a ‘Barbara in the Aztecs’ by stopping a sacrifice which ultimately leads to her realising that she cannot affect the behaviour of a race of people as different to her as aliens from another world.

We meet members of the tribe, in particular Bear and Deer who we are introduced to briefly as children before fast-forwarding to their time as adults and the Doctor and Sam’s arrival. Bear Cub is now Great Bear, the ‘physical’ leader of the tribe, whereas Young Deer is the Deer Man, seemingly the ‘religious’ leader of the tribe. Sam saves a young boy, already perceived as a man by the tribe’s culture, from sacrifice.

The setting of Stonehenge is sketchily presented with references to round huts and wooden and earth defences, as well as, obviously, the stones themselves (one of which crushes a poor unfortunate girl).

Overall, The People’s Temple is a little slow and uneventful. The slightly dreary setting is reflected in slightly dreary characters and a slightly dreary plot. The possibility for an interesting dichotomy in the two sides of the tribe represented by Bear and Deer is not really explored and Sam’s contact with Doran, the young sacrificial victim, has some potentially interesting material when he first experiences the TARDIS, but ultimately comes down to Sam realising that, try as she might, she cannot impose her values and culture on to a human who has been brought up in a totally alien culture to hers.

I’ve only listened to The People’s Temple about twice since buying the cassette in the late 90s and, were it not for this McGanniversary, I don’t think I would have revisited it again any time soon. One day I may read the written version to see how close it is and maybe pick up on any aspects I missed from Paul McGann's the reading.

As an example of an early Eighth Doctor curio it's interesting, but being that single-voice audio tends to allow my mind to wander whilst listening to it, which can mean salient points are missed from time to time, The People's Temple really just leaves me with more appreciation of the superior audio range from Big Finish.

A primary school teacher and father of two, Andrew finds respite in the worlds of Doctor Who, Disney and general geekiness. Unhealthily obsessed with Lance Parkin’s A History, his Doctor Who viewing marathon is slowly following Earth history from the Dawn of Time to the End of the World. He would live in a Disney theme park if given half the chance.

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