Thursday, 21 July 2011

Harvest of Time

Fourteen months ago I was in Florida, on the eve of the penultimate flight of the space shuttle Atlantis. On my way to KSC to collect tickets for the next day's launch, I checked my email to find some brilliant news regarding the possibility of a future project. But, I couldn't tell anyone about it. What followed was a year of batting ideas back and forth, until all parties were satisfied. Throughout that process I remained enormously excited: this was a chance to be part of something that had always been very special to me. But - I still couldn't tell anyone.

Today I've just watched Atlantis land for the final time. And I'm now pleased to announce that in 2013, in the fiftieth anniversary year of Doctor Who, BBC Books/Ebury will be publishing HARVEST OF TIME, an original science fiction novel featuring the Third Doctor, his companion Jo Grant, and arch-enemy The Master.

I've never had much interest in spinoffery - the idea of writing in someone else's universe generally leaves me cold - but Doctor Who is different. I've grown up with it. It's been part of my life since I was tiny, watching Jon Pertwee on a grainy black and white television in Cornwall, and being terrified out of my mind. All of the usual cliches apply - I was the boy behind the settee, too afraid to look at the screen, but somehow unable to leave the room. Daleks scared the hell out of me, to the point where I wouldn't go round to another boy's house because he had Dalek wallpaper in his bedroom. Above all else, Doctor Who still seems to me to offer near infinite scope for the writer. It must be the least constraining of televisual properties.

I don't remember the very early Pertwee era, but I have very clear memories of the last two seasons, including the introduction of the brilliant and now much missed Liz Sladen. My love of Who transitioned seamlessly through to the Tom Baker period - as a child I accepted unquestioningly that this alien being was capable of regeneration, and I think my "loyalty" had transferred to Baker by about the middle of the first episode of "Robot". I continued watching Who throughout the seventies and eighties, into the Davison and Colin Baker eras. I lost touch with it when I left for university, but never lost my basic affection (albeit tempered with occasional frustration) for the series.

When I was offered the chance to pick a Doctor, it seemed natural to "do" Pertwee. He was the first, for me, and while I have equal admiration for the Baker era, I've always been attracted to Pertwee's portrayal of the Doctor as dashing man-of-science, charming, skeptical and rational. More than that, I felt that I had a better handle on Pertwee's mannerisms and modes of speech than I do on any other Doctor. I also loved the atmosphere of the UNIT era adventures - all that driving around in Land Rovers, crashing through checkpoints, sinister factories and bosses - and, of course, the looming threat of The Master, simply my favorite fictional villain in any medium.

I'll be blogging more about HARVEST OF TIME over the coming year - without giving too much away - but for now I'm as excited as when I got that first email. I hope that the book does justice to the characters and the actors who portrayed them.

28 comments:

  1. I've never bought a Doctor Who novel before... looks like that is about to change.

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  2. This is the best Doctor Who Novel news I've ever heard, and I've been reading Doctor Who Novels for nearly 30 years.

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  3. Wonderful news! There I was on twitter the other day, suggesting you should write a Who episode - little did I know you'd got a book in the works.

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  4. As I started reading this blog entry I was getting very excited because I thought you were going to say you've been invited to write a Doctor Who TV EPISODE!

    A book is still cool but I'd love to see you write an episode of Doctor Who.

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  5. I'd be thrilled to write an episode, but you know, one step at a time...this is already more involvement with Who than I ever expected to get.

    BTW, ought to mention Scott Hughes, who correctly deduced that I was doing a Dr Who book back in January (see comment thread for last post of 2010). I couldn't respond at the time, but well guessed, Scott.

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  6. Scott Hughes21 July 2011 06:50

    Came home from work to see this plastered over doctorwhonews.net and laughed out loud - I've never called anything like this and been right. After a quick stop at gallifreybase to stick my tongue out and shout "I told you so" very loudly, I came here to see... my name. My name on a website. Alastair Reynold's website. Typed out by Alastair Reynolds himself! Seriously though, this is fantastic news both for us and I suspect from your post for you also. I'm looking forward to BRP but HOT is going to be...er...hot?!

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  7. I still have never seen a doctor who episode. Where do I start? (I'm a fan of far out weirdness, aliens, space ships.. basically everything in an Alastair Reynolds book)

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  8. Blimey, Tyler - that's a bit like saying "I've never eaten any food. Where do I start?" :-)

    Doctor Who has been running for 49 years now (give or take a gap or two), so there is a *massive* amount of material to choose from, spanning just about every conceivable type of story. Tonally there is quite a difference between the classic Who, which ran between 1963 and 1989, and the newer series, but there are also lots of neat linkages in terms of backstory and adversaries.

    Not all of the classic adventures are, or ever will be, available on DVD - many were lost, although a surprising amount have been recovered in recent years. I have a particular fondness for the Pertwee and Baker years - basically 1970 to 1980 - and there is much goodness therein. "The Talons of Weng Chiang" is a marvellously atmospheric piece of proto-steampunk, set in Victorian London, but involving time-travelling villains, cyborgs, giant rats etc. "The Robots of Death" is an excellent murder mystery set on a giant mining vehicle in the future. Both of these are Baker stories. If you want spaceships, the Pertwee adventure "Frontier in Space" is enjoyable space opera with some well-rendered aliens but as with all classic Who, you have to make allowance for the special effects, which were often done on a very limited budget.

    The New Who, running from 2006, is very different - generally better effects, very fast pacing, and perhaps less emphasis on space travel and other worlds - although it does feature on occasion. Some of the most effective stories, though, have been those set on Earth, such as Paul Cornell's Family of Blood.

    Running through 49 years are some recurring adversaries - the Daleks, Cybermen, Master, as well as many others.

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  9. You have so much narrative space to write more about the Clockmaker, about the second golden age after Absolution Gap and to develop the events after House of Suns. I'm glad you're excited, but this is just chump change. Too bad.

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  10. One of my favourite sci-fi authors combined with one of my favourite sci-fi shows? My anticipation will be great!

    I am curious though: You're generally known for being towards the harder end of sci-fi. The Pertwee era though gave us "reverse the polarity of the neutron flow" to save the day... not exactly rigorous science. Will you fit in with the traditional mould or would you like to take the show into a "harder" science edge?

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  11. Swagger - Dr Who is entirely separate to my mainstream novel activities. I'm contracted to write books for Orion to a schedule, and that's what I'll be doing. Doctor Who (which will be around 80,000 words, so half the length of a typical Reynolds book) won't affect that at all. It may mean I write a bit less short fiction in 2012, but that'll be the only difference. As I've said elsewhere, the next three Orion novels will be Blue Remembered Earth and its follow-ups, so it's not like I was planning an RS book or House of Suns any time soon.

    Aidan: it won't be hard SF by any stretch, but I do want to emphasize the Doctor as a man of science (which I think was done very effectively during the Pertwee era, even though the science itself was often daft).

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  12. this should be great fun, and quite exciting. I grew up with the same era of Dr Who so it's perfect for me. There really was a sense of fate, foreboding and gravity in the fight between The Master and The Doctor.

    For those who haven't watched Dr Who there are some old episodes (up to Tom Baker) available free on the MSN video player section of Windows Media Center (which I think comes with all Windows 7 versions) might just be in the UK though.

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  13. Have been a fan since childhood, and I think it's amazing you've been given such a great opportunity. I always found the banter between Jon Pertwee and Roger Delgado to be some of the funniest. I can't wait to read it.

    Is there any chance you'd resurrect the Keller Machine and put your own spin on it?

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  14. Interesting. I have never read a Doctor Who book but would certainly give this a read. I would love to see you get a chance to write an episode or two (parter). The recent Neil Gaiman episode was certainly the highlight of the first half of the current series for me.

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  15. Try as I might, I've never been able to get into Dr. Who so I'll be one fan of yours that wont be looking forward to Harvest of Time. But still, I'm very pleased for you that you get to contribute to a series that you have loved all your life. It's way cool.

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  16. So I started with what Netflix had available which is the Christopher Eccleston doctor and I have to say it is very entertaining. I can't believe I never watched it before!

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  17. This news just made my day! Of to amazon to get some of the old ones. Can you recommend to start from the beginning or is it possible to jump in on any doctor?

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  18. Hans - I wouldn't necessarily recommend starting from the beginning, as you're going back to very early black and white episodes with grainy reproduction and next to no production values - from recollection some of the early eps were even shot and broadcast live? Perhaps best to jump into the colour era - Pertwee and on. The amazon reviews should give an idea of the good stuff, and what perhaps to avoid. Or you could check out the newer series made from 2006 onward.

    For myself, I'm currently watching the 1968 series "The Invasion", which, although perhaps overlong at 8 episodes, is a terrifically well mounted story with a very good villain. Two of the episodes were lost, but the sound recordings survived, so they've been replaced by animations - which work fantastically.

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  19. Congratulations! I'm so happy for you!

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  20. Good luck with this - it's very exciting news. I've watched Doctor Who since the age of about 3... it's almost a lifeblood now! But I've never been keen on spinoffery, so I'm selective about what I read/watch/listen to. But a new novel for the Third Doctor, will definitely be worth!

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  21. ...and The Invasion is excellent. The animated missing episodes work really well. Some of the B&W stories are somewhat slow by today's standards, but there's something about 1960s who that is special. Some of my favourites are The War Machines, Seeds of Death and The Mind Robber.

    I still think the modern series needs to go back to the show's roots a little, and bring back that air of mystery and intrigue. These days we know too much about the Doctor (or everybody else in the universe also knows all about him), and for me, that just doesn't work.

    Anyway, maybe the success of the book will lead to you writing a TV episode. If Gaiman can do it! ;-)

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  22. Good news. My relationship with Who novels never stretched past the Target novelisations of the broadcast stories which was a good way of 'catching up' with some of the Troughton episodes that I must have seen as a small kid but had little or no memory of.

    So Pertwee was my first proper Doctor so I'll definitely give the book a shot.

    Hope it does well - I'd love to see a Reynolds TV episode at some point and the short fiction suggests you'd be a good fit.

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  23. My dad was the Dr. Who fan at our house, mainly during the Tom Baker years, but I have enjoyed it off and on since then. I actually prefer the earlier episodes -- the cheesy special effects and the "daft science" are part of the charm for me :)
    Haven't ever read a Who book, but I will look out for this one -- congratulations!

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  24. How exciting! I've always loved Jon Pertwee's Doctor. I'm sure it must be amazing to be able to participate in this phenomenon.

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  25. As Spock would say... Fascinating!
    I have my own collection of Doctor Who videos starting from the first episode. I recently watched "The Invasion" while I was away from home with only my computer and hard drive for company. I watched a lot of old DW shows.
    I used to be an avid reader but my eyes are not up to it any more so I've changed over to listening to audio books. I'm a big fan of yours but I haven't read any of your books. They've all been on audio. I hope "Harvest of Time" will be on audio.

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  26. Im late to the party, but I cannot wait for this to be released! I hope this trend continues of the top sci-fi writers taking on Doctor Who books.

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