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Beth Meacham, David Brin

Dumdedum dumdedum dumdedum dumdedum dumdedum

Doctor Who: Harvest of Time - Alastair Reynolds

At the end of chapter one of Harvest of Time an alien entity has taken possession of a poor beachcomber, evicting the original personality in the process. The first thing the alien possessed beachcomber has to say is


"I am Sild and I must find the one. Find the one called the Master".


After reading this line, this popped into my head: “Dumdedum dumdedum dumdedum dumdedum dumdedum WOOO WOOOO WOOOOO!!!”


OK, that was pathetic but I had to get that out of my system. Although I have been a Doctor Who fan for years this is the first DW novel I have ever read. The reason is that I have concurrently been a sci-fi reader for years and there are ample sci-fi novels to read written by legends like Heinlein, Clarke and Asimov I did not feel a need to read novels based on a sci-fi tv show written by unknown writers. In all fairness some of these are probably very good but I would rather read books based on original concepts by the authors. Having said that, I am always happy to make exceptions, especially when we have well established sf writers deigning to write Doctor Who novels. There are three such novels that I know of: Harvest of time by Alastair Reynolds, Doctor Who - The Wheel of Ice by Stephen Baxter, and Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles by Michael Moorcock. I will probably pick up the Baxter book soon, not so sure about the Moorcock one as reviews are overwhelmingly negative.


Harvest of time is based on the Third Doctor played with aplomb in the early 70s by Jon Pertwee before he regenerated into Tom Baker and Worzel Gummidge (almost simultaneously). The Third Doctor (or “Three” as us Whovians call him) happen to be Alastair Reynolds’ favorite incarnation of the eponymous Time Lord, fans of the show often have a “My Doctor”, in my case I like all of them, but some more than others (bowties, scarves and recorders are cool).




The story is set mainly in the UK, in the early seventies (year not specified). Evil parasitic aliens called Sild are invading Earth and also searching for The Master (evil time lord portrayed by Roger Delgado in the 70s) who is incarcerated in a maximum security prison. At this time The Doctor is stuck on Earth, working for (or with) UNIT alongside Jo Grant, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and other familiar characters.


As a fan of Alastair Reynolds’ sf novels it is interesting to read his take on the Whoniverse. His books tend to be epic space operas like the Revelation Space series that span millions of years featuring rises and falls of civilizations, and they tend to be fairly lengthy (around 600 pages or more). There is an element of epic time span in Harvest of time also but the spanning seems to be on a much smaller scale thanks to the time travelling TARDIS, an almost magical spaceship that you would never find in a regular Alastair Reynolds novel. Normally he leans more toward hard sf and avoids inclusion of FTL drives, time machines and other sci-fi handwaviums. You cannot do that with Doctor Who which is basically science fantasy and practically anything goes. With that kind of loose framework Reynolds pretty much jettisons the rigidity of real world science, let his hair down and has a field day with all kinds of crazy inventions and technobabbles.


Harvest of time does not read like a typical Reynolds book, it is very fast paced, light in tone and rather short (around 360 pages). The 70s setting is also atypical of the author, he does such a convincing job here that I suspect that he can turn his hands to writing contemporary thrillers if he wanted to. What is characteristic of Reynolds’ work is the writing which is excellent, not so much for literary value as for the quality of story telling. For a thumping good read he is one of the best working in the genre today. The humour in this book is much more prevalent than in his other novels. He is clearly having fun writing about the quirks of the characters he knows and loves so well, and his enthusiasm is infectious. Particularly well written is the uneasy friendship between The Doctor and The Master, the scenes where they are forced by circumstances to work together and bicker like an old married couple is just wonderful. 



I think fans of “Classic Who” will enjoy the hell out of this book, fans of “Nu Who” will probably like it too. As for the rest of the world I have no idea, I don’t understand people who don’t like Doctor Who.