Published on June 17th, 2013 | by Christian Cawley
Alastair Reynolds Chats Harvest of Time
The author of June’s hardcover Doctor Who novel Harvest of Time is Alastair Reynolds, a writer who is no stranger to sci-fi. With Hugo awards nomination shortlist mentions and a British Science Fiction Award for Best Novel for his second book, Chasm City, in 2001, Reynolds is a hugely respect writer – just like his predecessors in this range Michael Moorcock, Dan Abnett and Stephen Baxter.
It could be said that his career has already reached great heights – but then, he’s never had the Third Doctor and the Master to play with… Alastair Reynolds recently chatted with us about the book, which features Jo Grant, UNIT and a fearsome new enemy, the Sild.
It seems that the successful writer is a huge Doctor Who fan “Always have been.” And while Reynolds says that he had “no hesitation about doing the book,” he has no plans to work on any other book or TV series.
“Doctor Who seems to me to offer much more creative scope than any other “franchise” universe. You can do almost anything within the frame of a Doctor Who story.”
Then again, what could top Doctor Who? With Harvest of Time, Alastair Reynolds gets to be a part of the 50th anniversary, even if he does admit that “it’s largely accidental, I think, but I couldn’t have hoped for better timing!”
Harvest of Time is a superb adventure for both the Doctor and the Master, one that sees the Time Lords venture into time and space in order to prevent an ancient enemy from conquering Earth in the present. Back on Earth, Jo is the focus as she and UNIT try to unravel the mystery of some unusual and unprecedented events in the North Sea, and there is also a mysterious and surprising link between the two epochs.
“BBC/Ebury said that they were interested in bringing in “outside” writers to do Doctor Who books and they were open to ideas about earlier incarnations. I was immediately certain that I wanted to do a UNIT era story with the Third Doctor, Jo, the Master, Brig and so on. I think those episodes come from a time when I first connected with the series and began to understand it on some level. As it happened no one else had gone for the Third Doctor yet so that wasn’t a problem. My friend Stephen Baxter [The Wheel of Ice] is a big fan of the Troughton era so for him that was the natural one to do. I think Jenni Colgan [Dark Horizons] and Mike Moorcock [The Coming of the Terraphiles] both went for the current Doctor.
As a “hard” sci-fi writer, Reynolds has a strong reputation. In contrast, Doctor Who is essentially science fantasy… “I was pretty clear in my mind that this was not going to be a Hard SF story. That wouldn’t have worked, I think. The mere fact that the Doctor gets to where he needs to be in a transdimensional time machine is a bit of a stretch!
“But I’ve always been attracted to the notion of the Doctor as a scientist figure, with his inherent skepticism and calm rationality. That was probably never stronger than with Pertwee, whose Doctor was also into gadgets and vehicles of all sorts, but I did want to reflect it a bit. I became a professional scientist and one of the reasons for that is that when I grew up there were two strong scientific role models on TV – Spock and the Doctor.”
It’s unusual to find a convincing new Doctor Who enemy in any medium these days. With the Sild, Reynolds has created a crab-like race that are both fascinating and reckless. “The main thing I tried to bring out with the Sild is that individually they’re a bit rubbish. I liked the idea of this all-conquering alien species that you can easily kill, just by stepping on them or something. But there are so many of them that they eventually overwhelm by sheer force of numbers.
“They’re not well armoured and they don’t have powerful weapons. It’s just that there are a lot of them. We’ve not tended to have that in Doctor Who because the budget usually only stretched to three monsters at a time.”
“I’d had the name for about 20 years! I was walking through a supermarket once and I saw some fish labelled “Sild”. I thought – great name for an alien species! It turns out that there’s a Harry Hill skit based on the same fish but I didn’t know that – and I love Harry Hill!”
On the matter of writing the book, I was interested to find out how Alastair Reynolds approaches his craft. Some writers plan meticulously. Others put things together in their head first, and simply having an idea and setting off isn’t that uncoming, it seems. “I just dive in and write,” says Alastair (I had him down as a planner…!). “I have a notional idea where I’m going but I don’t go in for a lot of outlining and planning. The Who book was a bit different in that I had to provide a fairly detailed synopsis but even then there was still a lot of making it up as I went along.
“The downside of that, of course, is that I need to do a lot of rewriting and I end up discarding a lot of material.”
What of his predecessors? Who does Alastair Reynolds admire from the 50 years of Doctor Who writers? “I’m so clueless I honestly couldn’t tell you who wrote what. I’ve been rewatching a lot of the DVDs lately and so some of the names are starting to sink in, but I can’t say it was ever a concern when I was 8 years old. It was just – are the monsters going to be any good?”
“In terms of the novelisations, though, they were a huge influence on my early adult reading. I owe Terrance Dicks a lot! As do many of us, I suspect. And the other authors, of course.”
One of the things about Harvest of Time – which you’ll love if you buy a copy – is the perfect capture of the interplay between Jon Pertwee’s Doctor and Roger Delgado’s Master. “They felt totally effortless,” recalls Alastair, “the only drawback was that I had to trim them down a lot as I got so carried away.”
If only books had special “directors cut”-style editions!
Finally, I asked Alastair for his thoughts on the current series, and whether he would be interested in an Eleventh Doctor novel.
“I like the new series a lot, with reservations of course. All three of the “new” Doctors have been terrific, I think. Matt Smith might be the best of the lot. He gives good sonic! How well I’d get on writing him I don’t know. The dialogue and interplay is a million miles from Pertwee. I’d give anything a shot, though.”
Many thanks to Alastair Reynolds for a great interview and superb book, which we’ll be reviewing shortly on Kasterborous.
Harvest of Time is out now in hardback with an RRP of £16.99 – you can buy it now from Amazon for £10.19 (a 40% saving) or download the Kindle version for £9.17. An audiobook read by Geoffrey Beevers is also available for £5.59.
Although most of the promotional events have now taken place, there are still a couple of locations where Alastair Reynolds will be signing copies of Harvest of Time in the next couple of weeks:
- Thursday 20th June 6.30pm – Forest Bookshop, Coleford, Forest of Dean (8 St John’s St, Coleford, Gloucestershire GL16 8AR)
- Tuesday 2nd July 8 – 9.30 pm – Toppings Bookshop Bath (The Paragon Bath, Somerset BA1 5LS)