Now one of the things that people have complained about is that some Doctor Who books, having been written by already established Science Fiction authors, more often than not lacked the feel of a Doctor Who story. I must confess this troubled me; I had nightmare visions of the Third Doctor offering people Jelly-Babies before readying his laser blaster. On June the 20th though I was fortunate enough to meet the author Alastair Reynolds when he promoted The Harvest of Time at my local Bookshop. I was really impressed with not only his love for the series and indeed this era of it but for the previous Doctor Who Novels that I mentioned above. Now I had a new fear though, what if this love came across too much, what if it appeared nothing more than a planned imitation of the TV Series and lacked the strong character development that made the previous novels so engaging? That I doubted an author of Mr Reynolds obvious talent is something I am ashamed of. Not only does he manage to capture the Pertwee-era regulars seamlessly (better than most I might add) but he also manages to make it feel like a story from the 70’s whilst also exploring new themes and ideas! But these books are written for all ages, would it have the same appeal as the previous novels? Ok so the book isn’t exactly dark but it looks at aspects of the Doctor, and particularly his relationship with the Master, that have never been touched upon before! The pace never lets up the plot really is accessible to all ages, being explained simplistically enough for a younger readership but containing several high-brow science fiction themes that make it appeal to an adult readership.
Upon meeting Mr Reynolds, one thing that really shone through was his love for the character of the Master and writing for him and indeed this love is extremely evident in the novel. The plot concerns the Doctor and the Master being forced to work together, something that is hardly new for Doctor who fans, but Reynolds explores the relationship between the two in ways that previous authors have overlooked. Reynolds scenes with Roger Delgado’s Master are the standouts of the book, capturing this version of the character perfectly. What I appreciated most though was how, whilst taking Delgado’s Master, he gives him an almost Hannibal Lecter quality, Psycho-analysing him in a way that makes him much more than a typical ‘Comic-Book Villain’. True in places he can appear almost TOO psychotic but these moments are brief and if one had any doubts of Reynolds love for the character then they only have to look at the first few pages and read ‘To all The Masters- Past, Present and Future’. There’s a brilliant scene towards the end of the book where the Master has a chance to change forever and appears to genuinely want to, begging the Doctor to help him but the Doctor refuses, believing it to be a trick. Reynolds states that it could indeed have been nothing more than a trick but he also leaves it open so that the reader can (if they choose) believe that the Master was telling the truth and that in refusing to help him the Doctor has caused him to become the Monster that he was before once again. It’s a superb little moment and adds more to the idea of whether the Master has any good left in him and whether the Doctor is right to be making these sorts of decisions. Like The Master, Reynolds version of the Third Doctor captures Jon Pertwee’s performance down to a tee, even putting in little moments like him picking bits of fluff off his Velvet Jacket. One thing I particularly enjoyed though was how Reynolds looked at The Third Doctor’s boredom with earth, at one point he is tempted by the opportunity to leave it to its fate and fly away, but manages to convince himself not too.
I read online several complaints that the first half of the novel is a little to derivative of the Third Doctor story, ‘The Sea Devils’. To a certain extent I can sympathise with this view, there’s a lot of scenes on a Oil Rig, there’s The Master in a Prison, there’s an Oil Rig worker driven mad by something he saw etc etc. Within the first few chapters though the book really becomes its own and Reynolds uses one of my favourite clichés in Doctor Who fiction by taking The Doctor to a different point in Space and Time to the rest of the cast in the latter half. His fictional world of Praxillion is beautifully described and I love how Reynolds manages to make the place have an almost fantasy feel, as the Guardian puts it ‘Injecting a good old fashioned sense of wonder’ into the book. I particularly like the idea of a world that has been born towards the end of time when Time Travel is no longer possible; he somehow seems to make the idea of Time Travel in Doctor Who wonderful again.
All in all I don’t really know what else I can say to recommend this book, it’s easily one of the best Doctor Who novels I’ve read. If you’re a fan at all of the Third Doctor or The Master then you really should try and find the time to give this book a read. I really hope we get a few more Classic Series Novels like this, it’s certainly made me want to go and have a look at The Wheel of Ice to see if that’s as incredible a read as this.