I’m half way through reading Harvest of Time by Alastair Reynolds a Dr Who book written by one of the outstanding talents of current British sci-fi. I grew up reading Doctor Who books; in fact the first “grown up” book I ever read was Doctor Who and the Revenge of the Cybermen, publisehed by Target Books.
TV Tropes has a detailed article dedicated to these Dr Who novelizations. The quality of the writing varied considerably, but some were very good. My favorite of the writers Target employed was Terrance Dicks, and I remember how he had many stock phrases that he repeatedly deployed in his novelizations. In his books, for example, the noise the TARDIS makes is invariably “a wheezing, groaning sound”. I also remember being struck by the biography of Terrance Dicks, included at the back of his Dr Who novelizations. I seem to remember he boasted of doing numerous jobs before starting writing, including building chicken coops.
The books were intended for children, though they later became more interesting to adult collectors, and were never over 150 pages in length. I wasn’t expecting the normally wordy Alastair Reynolds to capture this style of writing, but I think he has come very close, much to my pleasant surprise. The style of the book is just like the books I grew up loving, not in the least believable or even grounded in science to any particular degree, but suffused with menace and gritty 70s locations in windswept and rainy parts of the UK.
The book is very much a treat for me, and pushes a lot of my buttons. It has Dr Who, of course, which I love, but it also has a large helping of 70s nostalgia. For example, when the Brigadier calls in an air strike to deal with the alien threat at the center of the story, the planes he calls in are Phantoms. I remember watching TV in the 70s, and the stock footage of military jets used was always a squadron of Phantoms. There were lots of little gems of nostalia like this in the book that made me smile.
The Doctor that Reynolds has chosen to portray in the book is the Third Doctor played by Jon Pertwee. My favorite is the Fourth Doctor, played by Tom Baker, but I also like Pertwee, and the characterization in the book rang true for the Third Doctor.
There are some differences between the book and the style of British sci-fi shows from the 70s. For example, a lot of helicopters are flying around in the book that the BBC would never have been able to afford back in the day. But otherwise it was very true to the spirit of old-school Dr Who. Some of the scenes in the book are set on an oil rig out in the North Sea. As I was reading, in my minds eye, the surroundings were all cheap studio sets with walls that wobble when doors are slammed and everything overlit and filmed on video. It all just felt so right.
The bad guys in the book are not one of the classic monsters, such as the Cybermen or the Daleks, but they are creepy and appropriate for the Pertwee era. The characters in the book compare the menace to the Autons, which shows what Reynolds probably had in mind as he was writing. Again, these creatures would have been beyond the BBC sfx department’s ability to create at the time. They could be made now, using CGI, but are a little jarring compared to all the other elements that are spot on.
I heartily recommend Harvest of Time to any Dr Who fan, especially anyone who used to enjoy the Target Novelizations.
Galaxy Dog (Dark Galaxy)
Not content with reading and watching a lot of sci-fi and genre stuff, I also write it. The fist sci-fi book I ever wrote, and stil the one that sells the best, is Galaxy Dog. It is the first book in the Dark Galaxy series and it is a story of adventure, spaceships, and rebellion across a galactic empire. A small group of friends, one woman, one man, and one robot incite a revolt and take on the might of the Tarazet Deep Space Navy. They find an immensely powerful alien spaceship so, even though the rebellion is extremely outnumbered, they still stand a chance. Galaxy Dog combines the action of military sci-fi with the heart of space opera. There are robots, aliens, space battles, and all the good things that make sci-fi so enjoyable. Galaxy Dog is available from Amazon right now, so just click the link and download a copy.