Fiction Reviews

Doctor Who: Harvest of Time

(2013) Alastair Reynolds, BBC Books, 7.99, pbk, 367pp, ISBN 978-1-849-90419-3


This is the mass market paperback edition (2014) of last year's hardback: an especially commissioned Dr Who title as part of the marking of the television series' 50th anniversary.

The Doctor (the Jon Pertwee incarnation) and Jo Grant are called to an oil rig due to mysterious submarine phenomena and problems with other affiliated rigs in the North Sea. Could this be anything to do with the top secret government military monitoring equipment being trailed with the aid of the rigs? Meanwhile mysterious, small, metal and glass crabs appear on the N. Sea coast who seam to take over anybody with whom comes into contact with them. Far in the future, near the end of time, a civilization is dying: its Queen desperate for salvation.

Die hard (for which read longstanding) Dr Who fans will recall that much of the Pertwee years saw the Doctor stranded on Earth as a punishment by the Time Lords. Nonetheless, he still had Time Lord capers with his counterpart The Master who for a while was a prisoner of the British Government ('The Daemons' 1971 and 'Sea Devils', 1972). Reynolds' Harvest of Time is set sometime between these two episodes. Reynolds does a commendable job in providing a mechanism by which the stranded Doctor can leave Earth and part of this adventure takes place far in the future. The Master is central to this adventure and this book is especially worth it for one set piece a third from the novel's end. No spoilers but, do trust me, fans of the Master will simply love it!

Alastair Reynolds is of course extremely well known to those who enjoy widescreen hard SF space opera. But for those Dr Who fans who have not ventured quite that far in the genre's space-time continuum Alastair is a writer that a number of us on the SF2 Concatenation team enjoy and whose books include: Galactic North, The House of Suns, The Prefect, Pushing Ice, Revelation Space, Terminal World and On the Steel Breeze.  His standing, and resulting commerciability is such that he received in 2009 a major ten-book publishing deal. In short, if you are a Dr Who fan who likes other SF novels but have not read any Alastair Reynolds novels then do try him out.

As for Dr Who: Harvest of Time, this is a much simpler novel than Alastairs' usual fare, but it does hit nearly all the Pertwee buttons. We get Bessie, as well as the UNIT crowd with the Brigadier sadly here no 'three rounds rapid', and Benton. There are a couple of inconsistencies: one of which is not-explained away with a good non-explanation and another not addressed but acknowledged so its down to the reader to sort out (occasionally make the readers work is what I say). And so all-in-all this is a very credible adventure. (I do wish they would manage sometime to include the aforementioned Master scene in the television series: it is simply too good an idea.) We also get brief hints of new (post-2005) Dr Who related information, but blink and you'll miss them: one includes a hint of the Master incarnation as he appeared in four David Tennant (2005/6-2009) Dr Who adventures.

As for the BBC-Ebury-Random House production of the book. A few comments I hope that they will at least consider. The size of the typeface font is a point or two too small. The early 1960s and '70s Dr Who books had a larger font. Yes, this will increase the page count and so bump up unit production costs (or should that be UNIT production costs?) but it will increase the books' potential market size brining in younger readers: I do personally know a couple of youngsters who only know of Ecclestone-onwards broadcast Doctor Who but who have enjoyed some of the early 1970s Doctor Who on video and/or DVD. And of course key clips from these earlier series can be seen on YouTube. Secondly, because Doctor Who now does have over half-a-century's worth of history, it would be valuable having a page explaining the early incarnation Doctor in an early-incarnation Who novel, otherwise some of the references and background will be puzzling to younger readers. Finally, please can we have more of an afterward from the author! Alastair does give us a half-page end-of-book 'acknowledgements', and that is great, but I would have also enjoyed a two or three page of 'afterword' on how the author inserted the novel into the broader sweep of the Doctor's history. BBC-Ebury-Random House, please note.

And so what we have with Harvest of Time is a satisfying addition to the growing number of Dr Who novelisations and books of brand new adventures. And, of course, it is brilliant to give the reigns to an established SF author.  Perhaps Stephen Baxter, Paul McAuley, Robert Charles Wilson next time? Even light weight, but great gung-ho, writers such as Eric Brown and Robert Sawyer I'm sure would be delighted to provide the publishers with adventures. Until the next time, TARDIS on stand-by.

Jonathan Cowie

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