Doctor Who Harvest of Time by Alastair Reynolds review

A little while ago if you had asked me who my favourite Doctor Who actors were I don’t honestly think Jon Pertwee would have been very high on my list. This was not due to any dislike of the actor or the era but I had simply not seen very many of his stories and I had the impression that he always seemed to be a bit stern.

Then I went through a period of catching up on old Who adventures, mainly on cheap VHS copies I bought in a collectibles shop. (Incidentally I was surprised at how good the picture quality was on some of the old tapes, having convinced myself how superior DVD was supposed to be. In fact the only downside was the lack of a working VHS remote control.)

After watching a few Pertwee era stories he quickly shot up my list. I loved the UNIT family and the contemporary Earth (i.e. 1970s England) setting. And I loved Pertwee’s reactions to wrong-headed bureaucrats. In fact if Patrick Troughton was not already my favourite Doctor then I decided it would probably be Pertwee.

In particular I enjoyed the middle three seasons of Pertwee’s five years on the show, partly because they had his most successful companion, Jo Grant, but mainly because they featured the original Master played by the wonderful Roger Delgado. He seemed to pop up as the Doctor’s nemesis in nearly every story and the interplay between Pertwee and Delgado quickly became a highlight of the era for me.

Which leads us onto this work.

Alistair Reynolds has been a favourite science fiction author of mine for the last few years. He and fellow-Brit Stephen Baxter have been turning out solid entries in the hard-SF field. Last year Baxter had his chance at writing a Second Doctor story called Wheel of Ice. This year it is the turn of Reynolds with Harvest of Time. And he does not disappoint.

It is set firmly in the golden-age of Pertwee, i.e. the middle three seasons. Jo Grant is there, so is the Master. So is UNIT. And so is an extra-terrestrial threat from the end of time. The unstoppable Sild have invaded Earth by homing in on a signal that the Master has been trying to send to his future self while incarcerated by the British government. The Sild are particularly nasty little creatures that get around via metal crabs and attach themselves to their victims, taking over their bodies to do their will.

Meanwhile the personnel of UNIT and the authorities have started to forget the Master. Unless they concentrate he slips from their minds as if they had never encountered him. Only the Doctor and Jo seem immune and the Doctor must find out what the Sild want with the Master. The answer lies at the end of time where the Doctor and the Master will be forced into an unlikely alliance to survive.

The book is a very entertaining evocation of early-seventies Who. It feels completely authentic as a story from that era, albeit one withy a slightly higher budget. In particular Reynolds gets the ‘voices’ of the Doctor and the Master exactly right. Many times while reading the book I could hear Delgado saying the Master’s dialog and I can think of no stronger praise than that.

So in short if you have any appreciation for Pertwee-era Who this is a must. And even if you don’t, get it anyway.

One side note. That’s a very rude looking spaceship on the cover. Sorry, just saying…