Harvest of Time by Alastair Reynolds


The Doctor, Jo and UNIT investigate mysterious happenings at sea, which quickly escalate into an invasion by the unstoppable alien Sild. But what is the Master’s role in this, and why is everyone forgetting who he is?

Alastair Reynolds is clearly a fan of the Third Doctor era, not only evoking the characters and the warm familiarity of the ‘UNIT family’, but peppering the prose with references like C19 shows he has a good knowledge too, and is probably aware of spin-off media such as Gary Russell’s excellent Doctor Who and The Scales of Injustice. The Master is incarcerated, placing this story between The Daemons and The Sea Devils. For continuity buffs, the Doctor’s line when he and Jo see The Master’s prison in the latter , “That’s the Master’s permanent residence from now on,” could even mean they’ve visited a different one.

His evocation of Pertwee’s incarnation is excellent. I read this book right off the back of finishing Tommy Dombavar’s Shroud of Sorrow, and the difference between the two Doctors couldn’t be more pronounced. The Eleventh Doctor starts rattling off observations and banter immediately he’s put in a situation, gabbling his way through his introduction and back story. The ‘elevator pitch’ has become very much a part of modern Doctor Who (“I’m the Doctor, I’m an alien from outer space, I’m a thousand years old, I’ve got two hearts and I can’t fly a plane!” in The Bells of Saint John), but they do counteract the mystery of the character. The Third Doctor, as here, is rather more laconic and prefers outright confrontation and a sarcastic one-liner to authority figures than bamboozling them.

Where the story differs from many of its stablemates is pairing the Doctor and Master off together. In most stories of this era they meet quite late in the tale, with the Doctor and UNIT dealing with the Master’s allies for a while, before having to join forces with the other Time Lord. It’s certainly an interesting dynamic to explore further, with the master becoming de facto companion in this story.


Reynolds combines the two type of Pertwee-era story by splitting the action in this way. The invasion of Earth by the Sild is handled by UNIT and Jo Grant, allowing the latter to shine and show bravery and initiative above what was always possible in the TV series. The Sild themselves are a creepy creation, taking people over in an era-authentic fear-of-communism way. Meanwhile the two Time Lords are on an alien planet and an amazing spaceship. Doctor Who books should show us things that couldn’t possibly be achieved on the small screen, and this one rightly takes advantage of the medium.

The narrative flashes back to Gallifrey, and explains the origins of their rivalry. As with any story which involves Gallifrey, it strips some mystery from the Doctor. Here, Reynolds has done the same for the Master. Just as Russell T. Davies came up with the ‘sound of drums’ explanation for the Master’s malignity, here we have yet another explanation; and one which would seem to contradict the former. I’m not too keen on writers explaining, or excusing the Master’s actions. He’s far scarier and effective if, as a highly intelligent, powerful Time Lord, he’s simply decided to adopt a life dedicated to destruction and the pursuit of power and dominion over others. He did chose the name ‘The Master’ for himself after all. In both of explanations, he’s not even the Master of his own actions.


Order Harvest of  Time from Amazon:

Doctor Who: Harvest of Time

On Kindle:

Doctor Who: Harvest of Time


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