‘Doctor Who’: ‘Harvest of Time’ by Alastair Reynolds book review

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The Master has of course taken the chance to turn the situation to his advantage, craftily transmitting a plea for help through time, but unfortunately he has unwittingly attracted the attentions of a hostile force that begin attaching Earth with his capture being their primary objective.

As the incursions begin we are introduced to the Sild. Horrific, relentless and seemingly unstoppable, these curious miniature parasites attach themselves to and take control of other life forms. It seems that nothing is beyond their control be it human, alien or even bovine.

UNIT attempts to both repel the invaders and protect their prisoner, and this makes for an unusual angle as we discover how far is the Doctor prepared to go to save his old enemy. A ‘time fade’ brings an added complication; try as they might, the Brigadier and his troops are beginning to forget the Master’s very existence. Ever practical, their response is to put up posters and to encourage people to keep talking about him.

As the action develops, the two Time Lords find themselves in an uneasy alliance at the far end of the temporal incursions. The plot surrounds a curious Gallifreyan folly and sketches in a little Master/Doctor back-story, neatly reinforcing what we already know and adding a further dimension to it.

The UNIT regulars get a fair outing too. With Jo and the Doctor separated, she heads off with a team comprising led by Benton and Yates to mount a daring rescue mission to an ailing oil rig. The rig’s Scottish owners carry a familiar name, which is a nice touch.

Along the way we discover a couple of interesting notes about the Master, namely that his potential to have many more than twelve regenerations and that not all of them need be male, or even human. With the current speculation surrounding Matt Smith’s successor, this is fortuitous timing. Eagle-eyed readers may well recognise some of the descriptions of potential future incarnations too.

Reynolds expertly captures the friendly but deadly rivalry between the Third Doctor and his Master. He also manages to give the Master a wonderful moment of fragility in-between some of the later action that it would have been a joy to see Roger Delgado play, and provides another suggestion for the source of the Time Lord’s unrelenting lust for power.

‘Harvest of Time’ is another great slice of adventure for the Pertwee era, with an imagination unbound by 1970’s budgetary restrictions and an ecological nod at the end of the tale, which seems entirely fitting to the show at the time.

Published on Thursday 6 February 2014 by BBC Books.

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