The official publication day for my Doctor Who novel is the 6th of June, but (as tends to happen) I'm hearing reports that copies of the book are already in the wild. I am tremendously excited about it all and looking forward to the signing and reading events to follow in the coming weeks.
That said, I'm well aware that for many of my readers, Doctor Who is going to be a bit of a blank. It is a huge cultural property in the UK, but much less so beyond our shores. It can be intimidating, coming into the continuity of a long-running imaginative universe, so I can imagine some readers might feel justifiable hesitation in picking up the book. This is a series that's been running, on and off, for fifty years - so isn't the backstory hugely complicated and bewildering, something for insiders only?
Obviously, I hope not. And I hope that if you like my other stuff, you might consider giving the Who book a shot. The first thing to say is that my grasp of Doctor Who continuity isn't very detailed - there are huge gaps in my knowledge of the show, and lots of stuff I don't know as well as I should. It doesn't matter, though. At almost any point in its existence, Doctor Who has usually tended to be quite simple in formula, which is one of the reasons that generations of children have been able to jump into the series and feel that it is theirs. It's never been too burdened by its past.
I aspired to write Harvest in such a way that you wouldn't need to know very much about the Doctor Who universe to get on with the book. Whether I've succeeded or not is not for me to say, but not having watched Doctor Who needn't be a reason to give the book a miss. If you have seen the show over the years, you'll hopefully enjoy picking up on the characters and references, but none of that is essential. And as I say, the basic premise is incredibly simple.
The Doctor is a time-travelling humanoid alien, a member of an alien culture known as the Time Lords. The Doctor can regenerate his appearance - my Doctor, played by Jon Pertwee, was the third actor to play the role on television. For various reasons, Pertwee's Doctor spent much of his time confined to Earth in the twentieth century. There's a particular flavour to these Earthbound stories, all of which aired in the early nineteen seventies, and for me they are very much a defining element in my relationship with the series. The Doctor is attached to the British wing of UNIT, a military branch set up to deal with the routine invasion of the planet by various alien factions. The UNIT stories mostly take place in the UK, with a small surrounding cast of regulars. Jo Grant was the Doctor's assistant at the time, a civilian laison to UNIT. Jo answered to the Brigadier, head of the British wing of the organisation. The Doctor and the Brig eventually became friends, but were also at constant loggerheads over the best way to deal with whatever alien invasion was presently on the agenda. Supporting the Doctor, Jo and the Brig were two more UNIT regulars, the soldiers Benton and Yates. And that was your entire regular cast of good guys.
Adding a strong thematic element to this run of Pertwee stories was the introduction of a recurring adversary, in the form of the Master. The Master was also a Time Lord - but a distinctly antisocial one. Like the Doctor, he had rebelled and stolen a shape-changing time machine (Tardis) of his own. They had much in common, and often found themselves "teaming up" to solve a particular crisis, usually of the Master's making. But they were also mortal enemies and the Master was only ever waiting for a chance to kill the Doctor, as he attempted to do so on many occasions. Generally speaking, if some aliens were up to no good, the Master would usually turn out to be involved in the plot on some level. If the Doctor was Holmes, the Master was his Moriarty. A genius with an intellect beyond even that of the Doctor, the Master's downfall was generally caused by his arrogance and conceit.
Like the Doctor, the Master also had the capacity to regenerate. During the Pertwee era he was played to terrific effect by Roger Delgado. Sadly, Delgado was killed in an accident during the actual run of Pertwee stories, meaning that his version of the Master never got the big send-off that he deserved. It would be some years before the Master returned to Doctor Who, but the character remains an important element of the mythos. For me, the Master is the best fictional villain of all time and was at least as strong a motivator for me choosing the Pertwee era as the other characters.
That's really all you need to know. The plot of Harvest of Time depends on some alien villains that are entirely my own invention, and the backstory that I invent in regard to these villains, the Time Lords, the Master and so on, is also unique to the book. At 100,000 words it's about half the length of one of my usual novels, but there's a lot in it - stuff set on Earth, stuff set in the far future - time travel, alien technology, dangerous super-weapons and so on. If you do try it, I hope you enjoy Harvest of Time. If you don't give it a go, there won't be a long to wait until my next normal novel.