THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
BIG FINISH AUDIO
"THE DARK FLAME"
AND THE NOVEL
OFFICIAL VIRGIN 'NEW
RELEASED IN JULY 1994.
Dekker is a private
eye; an honest one.
But when Al Capone
hires him investigate
a new joint called
‘Doc’s’, he knows this
is one job he can’t
refuse. And just why
are the Doctor and
Ace selling illegal
booze in a town full
has been abandoned
on a vampire-infested
planet SOMEWHERE IN
E-space. There she
meets a mysterious
and discovers a
linking 1929 Chicago
with a lair of evil...
NEXT (GOTH OPERA)
Terrance Dicks is a living legend. I’ve read more of his Doctor Who novelisations than I can remember, and I absolutely loved his inaugural original Who novel, Timewyrm: Exodus. And true to form, Blood Harvest is jam-packed full of all those staples that we’ve come to expect from Dicks - action, drama, humour, suspense… fantastic cliffhangers! I doubt that there’s a man alive who knows how to write a good old-fashioned Doctor Who romp better than old Uncle Tel.
Like Exodus, this novel has a slightly more adult feel than Dicks’ novelisations ever did, but
I should stress the word slightly. There’s no swearing or shagging to be found here; such things are gently hinted at, but never explicitly explored in the way that they are in some of the earlier books. I seriously doubt that there’s anything in this book that could offend even old-school Doctor Who purists.
The plot is also fascinating, and is far, far better than the misleading cover and blurb would have you believe. The Doctor is hunting Agonal, a malevolent creature that he has tracked
to 1929 Chicago, where it is helping to escalate the violence caused by the gangs. Agonal feeds off death and misery, and so he does all that he can to worsen it wherever he goes.
The parts of the novel set in Chicago have an extraordinary atmosphere. In fact, I’d go so
far as to say these passages may be some of Dicks’ finest work, outshining even Exodus. Every one of Dicks’ characters is alive. Even minor characters like Luigi the barman and Happy the daft bouncer leap out off the page at you, and I can’t praise Dekker enough. He’s a law-abiding private eye who’s sent to investigate the Doctor’s speakeasy by Al Capone and is unwittingly drawn into the action-packed adventure. Not only is he a brilliant page-turning character in himself (and his non-reaction to the TARDIS interior is sublime), but he really brings out the best in Ace, who fits into prohibition-era Chicago seamlessly. If Virgin ever need a way to write her out, they could do worse than marry her off to Dekker.
I also like what Dicks does with Al Capone – it’s quite similar to how he handled Adolf Hitler in his last novel. He approaches a notorious historical character from an unusual angle, here portraying the Big Fellow as a sort of ‘honourable thief’ who is actually a surprisingly likeable chap. Even the Doctor seems to have a soft spot for him. He’s certainly no Robert DeNiro…
The passages set in E-Space are far less impressive, sadly, and really drag the novel down as a whole. At some point prior to the events of this story, Romana (who is still in E-Space following the events of Warriors’ Gate) sent the Doctor a telepathic call for help which he was too busy to answer, and so rather than go to help her out himself he just dumped Benny in E-Space and then went off to chase Agonal with Ace. Of course, these two threads of plot are inexorably linked as Agonal is also present in E-Space, exacerbating the conflict between the vampires and the villagers.
The village and the vampires
are dull to read about when
compared with the events in
Chicago, and for the most part
Dicks just recycles much of his
script for State of Decay. As
such I constantly found myself
hurriedly reading through the E-
Space chapters so that I could
get back to Chicago. Worse still, Dicks belittles the notion of E-Space as being completely cut off from our universe by having K9 devise a ludicrously simple way to cross in and out of it. It really takes the sting out of Warriors’ Gate’s dénouement. What makes the E-Space branch of the story palatable is the strained relationship that Dicks paints between Benny and Romana – they really don’t like each other. It makes a nice change to have Benny fight with someone other than Ace!
The finale on Gallifrey is an enjoyable read though; it reminded me a little of Dicks’ tried and tested format for six-parters – four episodes in one location, then two in another. I particularly like how he saves Borusa from his eternal damnation; his punishment had always struck me as being disproportionately harsh. The least said about the comical Committee of Three the better though – even Dicks takes the piss out of them! The events on Gallifrey also dovetail beautifully into Goth Opera, the first of the Doctor’s Missing Adventures, as upon her long-overdue arrival home, Romana bumps into Ruath, the villain of that novel. ‘Meanwhile’, back in Chicago, Bernice unwittingly sets loose a vampire from E-Space who had stowed away aboard the TARDIS. The Doctor just shrugs his shoulders and says “It’s already done. I took care of it ages ago.” Cue Paul Cornell…
In the end, Blood Harvest is a frenetic firecracker of a story. Whilst I didn’t enjoy aspects of it, any reservations that I have are completely outweighed by its evident virtues. A huge fan
of Paul Cornell I may be, but his prequel cum sequel to this one has a lot to live up to…
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
This story sets in motion a chain of events that lead directly into the fifth Doctor adventure Goth Opera. It also sees Romana return from E-Space, eventually set to claim the Time Lord Presidency.
Borusa’s release here is apparently at odds with his earlier release, depicted in The Eight Doctors. As such we must assume that between the events of The Trial of a Time Lord (which is approximately the time that The Eight Doctors posits he was first released) and Blood Harvest, Borus was - for whatever reason - recalled to Rassilon. Either that, or Faction Paradox had a hand in matters...
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