HARVEST OF TIME
By Alastair Reynolds
Harvest of Time is an action-heavy, classic-era Doctor Who novel, showing the Third Doctor and Jo struggle in the face of a relentless alien onslaught from a vicious, long-thought extinct enemy of the Time Lords, invading without remorse. Meanwhile UNIT are investigating a series of mysterious time-warps appearing over Earth’s oceans, destroying oil-rigs and shipping traffic. However, as all of this unfolds, the strangest thing begins to happen – everyone around the Doctor and Jo are unable to remember UNIT’s most dangerous prisoner: the Master. Oblivious to outside events, the murderous Time Lord is hell-bent on escaping his imprisonment, no matter the cost…
Alastair Reynolds has chosen, in the 50th Anniversary year, to revisit one of the most iconic eras of the series – the UNIT years, and the “family” of the Third Doctor, Jo, the Brigadier, Yates and Benton. Against a backdrop of a twelve million year-old civilisation, a full-scale alien invasion of Earth, and hints of a dark secret from the old days of Gallifrey, these elements promise us an epic adventure. Yet sadly, Harvest Of Time fails to completely gel into a satisfying reading experience for either fans of the Pertwee years, or for the fans of modern-day Doctor Who.
Unfortunately, in choosing one of the most familiar and iconic eras of the series, the characterisation of the UNIT regulars repeatedly fails to match those fans will know and love from the 1970s – Benton and Yates feel virtually interchangeable, resorting to unfamiliar dialogue ticks, while the Brigadier seems have lost his charming stiff-upper lip attitude, as well as acting towards the Doctor in a way that doesn’t match their spiky, on-screen relationship. It also feels as if UNIT has been given a family-friendly, Torchwood-style vibe. Reynolds also takes a while to get a firm grasp on the Doctor and Jo, which along with broad characterisation for the novel’s supporting players, results in a rather uneven first half.
Coming off more successfully is Reynolds’ approach to the Master – here, there is a well-crafted take on Delgado’s incarnation that could easily leap back into the UNIT years on television without difficulty, barring a few traits that you sense belong more to Ainley’s performance. Over the course of the novel, Reynold’s successfully builds up the love-hate dynamic between the two rival Time Lords, resulting in one incredibly moving scene where a terrible mistake is made.
Indeed, the mystery surrounding the Master soon becomes the most interesting and original elements of the novel, driving the action in the last half of the book, which I enjoyed the most. Certainly when the story reached the revelation behind the Master’s sub-plot, I found myself hooked; it’s just a shame it felt like it took a long time to reach the most interesting aspect of the overall plot.
Also, the novel suffers from trying to tie itself too closely with Doctor Who‘s newer legacies; elements and references from the RTD-era are included here, sometimes creating small fan-pleasing moments, while others feel forced, laboured and unnecessary.
Despite a very interesting central mystery and a fantastic exploration of an iconic villain, Harvest of Time doesn’t quite succeed in being a successful return to the UNIT years.