State of Decay
The Five Doctors
|ISBN#||0 426 20417 4|
|Synopsis: The newest joint in town is a place called Doc's, run by a strange guy with an even stranger doll called Ace. Just what does Doc have to gain by selling illegal booze in a town full of murderous gansters? It's a tough town and death is just a way of life. Ain't it?|
Terrance Dicks Can Be Quite Good When He Tries by Tammy Potash 14/7/00
This book is a followup to Goth Opera, but it stands alone just fine without it. When Mr. Dicks tries, you get a good or great book, such as Timewyrm: Exodus or Players. (I thought Catastrophea did better than most people generally seem to think, too.) When he doesn't, you get The Eight Doctors. He's putting forth effort for this one, and it shows.
The book divides into two halves: the Dr. and Ace running a speakeasy in 1920's Chicago, and Benny and Romana 2 on the E-Space Vampire Planet. The earth section is narrated by Dekker the P.I., who is delightful. The whole setting is delightful, in fact. The era is depicted with the skill seen in Exodus. The Doctor is not being excessively manipulative, which is a good thing, and he somehow fits so seamlessly into this era it's a pity he couldn't stay longer. Their foe is not so much trying to change history as worsen it.
Benny and Romana have to deal with people who don't dare trust each other. Someone is trying to worsen things here, too. You may want to watch State of Decay again before reading this book, but it's not essential by any means. Benny is confident enough to handle the situation, and not too skeptical to know how to handle vampires. She and Romana work well together. Eventually she and Romana get in more trouble than they can handle and send for the Doctor, who arrives with Ace and Dekker in tow.
Truly a fun book. The cover takes the rare step of not having the Doctor on it, and of actually depicting an incident from the book, instead of showing pictures of things relevant to the book, if you see the difference. Track it down, with Goth Opera if you haven't read that yet.
Death to the Doctor! Borusa lives, Rassilon must Die! By Ed Swatland 7/7/01
Here as follows is a conversation I had with a girl on the Doctor Who books chatroom who hadn't read Blood Harvest:
" Have you read the NA Blood Harvest, I thought it was very very good."
" But it's a (shudder) Terrance Dicks book. How can it be?"
"Well before The Eight Doctors he was pretty decent"
(HA HA HA HA) "You're joking, Dicks sucks arse."
"Well, what about Timewyrm: Exodus, then?"
"You should give it a try."
" Dicks is shit. End of story."
It went on like that for a while, with language that Transit would be ashamed of. I agree with Tammy Potash above. Blood Harvest is excellent. Now, onto the review.
Let’s face it. Are there any Doctor Who fans who haven’t read a Target book by Terrance Dicks? No one, and if they haven’t then why do you dare call yourself a fan? Anyway, if you’re a fan of the average TV story State of Decay then you’ll love this, if you’re not then you’ll at least LIKE it. I find my enjoyment of State of Decay to actually deplete on each viewing, but this book does do a great job of tying up the loose ends left from that story; you actually find out what ‘The Wasting’ is, though it’s never referred to. Of course being a Terrance Dicks book, you’re not likely to get a Paul Cornell character-study or a really deep, emotional thing, but what you get is a fast-paced, involving, fun and, generally exciting story. My exposure to Terrance Dicks has been over 40 Target books, most of his TV stories and The Eight Doctors (which I enjoyed in a flawed, brainless way). I was slightly afraid that this book would be to much like a Target book, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover it wasn’t. Still at least you know where you stand with him, unlike a certain author who recently produced a dire two-part book.
Anyway, onto characters. Erm...well I’m rather embarrassed to say they were good, despite the fact there characterisation was next to nil. I mean even substandard little characters like Spandrell (yes he comes back) was characterised simply by what he said. That’s a good achievement for a writer. The Doctor’s characterisation was top-notch, so much so it had me wondering why he was so poorly done in Dicks later effort The Eight Doctors. Ace was pretty decent, and, for that matter, so was Benny. Dicks captured her perfectly; that was quite a surprise. She produces quite a few of the witty lines in this book, and let’s face it. Dicks alas did Romana well, she’s her usual snooty self. Everything set in Chicago is one big piss-take. Surely an intelligent writer like Dicks wouldn’t include clichéd American Private Eyes and the usual load of gangsters seriously? Would he? Anyway, the book is actually quite witty, a lot of it had me chuckling out loud. That’s a rarity in this period of the NA’s. Dekker was probably the most fully rounded character in all, and my favourite actually. He was just delightful.
However, the writing is a little too simplistic, and at turns predictable. Let me make that clear. Yet much of it is so compelling and engaging, you just have to read on. The scenes set In Chicago are about as realistic as an ancient Gangster movie, but its comic book-like narrative is very readable. However, this leads into my main criticism with the book. For the vast majority of its length, Blood Harvest holds up to separate plot strands; One in 20’s Chicago, the other on the E-Space vampire planet. Then the two come together at end, and you realise how they actually were linked, that leaves another 30-odd pages of book. So Terrance decides for the TARDIS crew to go to Gallifrey were three hooded figures have been watching the Doctor and his companions and making a three-sentence chant (that makes up a hilarious joke later on). The problem is it happens to quickly. This novel could easily have been an extra 100 pages long at this point. Suddenly we’re in the tomb of Rassilon and poof that’s it. Hopefully some of it will be expanded on in Goth Opera, but at present I’m a bit disappointed.
Yarven hiding in a case of rum? Sorry, I just can’t buy that. A major niggle, if there ever was one. In conclusion I enjoyed Blood Harvest immensely, it’s got some quality jokes in it. Terrance even takes the piss at the hugely reviled “Not the mind-probe” bit from his own The Five Doctors. Good for him, I know it’s been got at before, but I’d hardly expect that from the guy who actually wrote it in the first place. Still, I’m at a loss about what to give this book. The writing wasn’t brilliant, but it kept me reading. The characters were shit, but interesting nonetheless. If a book leaves you grinning from ear-to-ear it means you like it. I’m really looking forward to reading Goth Opera now, and I hope all the loose ends are firmly knotted up. Find this book, you’ll enjoy it even if, like me, you had some doubts about it before picking it up.
A Review by Finn Clark 12/2/02
Yup, it's another Terrance page-turner. The words whizz by, unencumbered by deep characterisation or much in the way of menace. The vampires are a bit sinister at the beginning, but the Chicago gangsters are straight out of a comic book and Al Capone is portrayed as The Hood With A Heart Of Gold Who Don't Want No Trouble. Yeah, right. Renowned good guy, our Al. Famed for his charitable works. If this had been a more serious book, I might have got offended.
But it's not. Terrance is having fun, plugging every cliche to the hilt. The vampire planet has clearly fallen off the back of a Hammer movie, while Chicago is a world of hard-talkin' private eyes with a taste for booze and dames. It's full of energy and shamelessly pulp fiction. Mind you the tone wavers a tad when Uncle Terrance decides that an attempted rape is just what every boy's adventure needs - I've heard criticism of his other books on this count, but the Blood Harvest example is comfortably the worst.
Readers looking for subtlety can go dance to the "Chicago piano". The bad guy does bad stuff because... uh, because he's bad. Terrance is even starting to take the piss out of himself. And, yup, the Gallifreyan Army Knife reappears yet again, on page 281. We end up on Gallifrey, rehashing The Five Doctors (as if rehashing State of Decay wasn't enough). Borusa is freed (WHY???) and promptly expresses a wish to go back to sleep. I guess he's not a morning person.
Blood Harvest is a lot of fun. It doesn't achieve the atmosphere of Timewyrm: Exodus, its twin plotlines hardly belong in the same book and it eventually collapses in a sorry heap of sequelitis. However if you're not looking for depth then it's a very entertaining read.
Booze and blood by Tim Roll-Pickering 10/12/02
A cross between a sequel to State of Decay and a gangster novel set in the 1920s (and at times even written in the style of one), Blood Harvest sees Terrance Dicks' return to the New Adventures after his initial triumph with Timewrym: Exodus and once more he produces a book that is firmly in the 'traditional' end of the range. Blood Harvest is no unimaginative rip-off of past adventures but instead shows a lot of thought and originality. Prohibition Chicago is shown as a downbeat city that is at times almost sent up - the mobster way of life is shown as one of customs and conventions that are hard to accept at times, whilst from a modern perspective it seems almost absurd that Al Capone could be such an out and out celebrity as he is shown here, yet the novel is rarely far from the truth. Dekker provides a degree of comedy through the sections narrated by him in first person but otherwise this is a straightforward novel that rarely descends into endless introspection or pointless excessive humour.
The scenes set in E-Space are just as downbeat and the primitive feudal society contrasts strongly with the 'civilisation' in Chicago, with both featuring power struggles, ambitious whipper-snappers, rulers who are tired of fighting and manipulation from afar. What's astonishing is that there are no vampires at all in Chicago, but instead the link comes from a new foe who is manipulating events and feeding off the conflict. There's further manipulation coming from Gallifrey but this doesn't become fully clear until the end of the novel when events are wrapped up there. For some reason Dicks seemingly ignores all the developments of The Trial of a Time Lord by having Flavia in office as Lord President, though the time spent on Gallifrey is too brief to fully cover such things. The showdown in Rassilon's tomb is rather at odds with the rest of the novel, taking place on a far more fantastical level than the more down to earth events in both Chicago and E-Space. This is the novel's main disappointment, though it it's not clear if this has been forced onto it by the need to tie into Goth Opera.
Terrance Dicks' writing style remains as readable as ever, rarely containing sections that take an age to read and digest. All the main characters are described carefully without wallowing in description, with real historical characters like Al Capone being treated so as to keep them fully in character. After the three regulars, Dekker is probably the most likeable character in the book given his optimistic outlook on life and ability to maintain a level in many of the situations. Romana returns in this story but comes across as extremely stand-offish and arrogant as Bernice notices at times. One interesting development is to put Bernice in E-Space and Ace in Chicago, contrasting with the immediately preceding All-Consuming Fire where it was Ace who was put on the alien world as well as getting away from the cliché of Bernice being sarcastic and drunk whilst Ace is isolated and nasty. Consequently both companions work well. The Doctor is true to form in seemingly acting out of character through some of his actions and associations but having plans up his sleeves to sort things through. Apart from the ending this is a highly enjoyable book and definitely worth rereading. 9/10
A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 21/1/03
There are two items on the cover of Blood Harvest that should tell every Doctor Who fan exactly what to expect. The first is the extremely silly looking vampire that's being repelled by Benny holding a flashlight. The second, of course, is the name Terrance Dicks. Terrance Dicks doesn't really surprise us too much these days. We know what sorts of stories he tells, and the only unknown variable in his equation is how promising the execution will be rather than what level of ambition he'll be aiming at. Fortunately, Blood Harvest, while far from being his best work, is an enjoyable enough romp through Chicago mobs of the 1920's and several previous Doctor Who adventures.
As the story begins, the Doctor and Ace are running a rather generic speakeasy in 1929 Chicago. References to mob movies (and, oddly, Casablanca) abound, and what the narrative lacks in originality, it more than makes up for in entertainment. The Doctor's tavern is only a cover while he investigates some strange goings-on in the area, but the sequences concerning the local politics and crime are far and away the more enjoyable sections. The supposed science-fiction element to the story is neither inspired nor adequately explained and comes purely as an interruption to the fun pulp novel that's being told. It's really a pity that Dicks decided not to have the Doctor running the speakeasy just for the sheer hell of it. It would have eliminated the need to have a lot of the non-Chicago scenes, which do have a dragging effect during the rest of the book. For a story that steams ahead at times purely by sheer entertainment and fun, it's oddly jarring when the author tries (and fails) to tie things up into a logical and boring little point.
Benny spends most of the adventure being digitally inserted into location footage from State of Decay and wandering through those studio sets (while there's unfortunately no Tom Baker nibbling on this dusted-off scenery, there's also no Matthew Waterhouse which comes as no small relief). Other reviewers have complained of the story merely rehashing the adventures that have come before, and while I can't totally disagree with this point of view, I feel that the case has been somewhat overstated. For me, the beginning of the Benny subplot served as a needed reminder of the main events of the previous story. Unfortunately, there is a case for pointing out that the later sections tend to simply repeat the previous story more often than they build anything new. Strangely enough, the portions that do invent new material do so by getting several details about the previous serial wrong. In these passages, Dicks was probably being far more creative than he realized.
Terrence Dicks has always subscribed to the idea of never writing four words when one will suffice. But at the conclusion to this story he takes that philosophy to extreme lengths: never write a concluding chapter, when a sentence will do. The final thirty-five pages end the book in a bizarre sort of sequel tp The Five Doctors and to say that it feels a little abbreviated is to say the cover of Mad Dogs and Englishmen is a little bright. The book flies through revelations and plot-twists faster than the news of rec.arts.drwho.moderated going live went through on-line fandom. The main villain of the story goes from being completely in command to being utterly defeated, literally inside a single paragraph (it's right there on page 279, if you don't believe me). It's impossible to take this sort of thing seriously, and I would advise any potential reader to just sit back and enjoy the ride. To look for logic and seriousness in a story where Terrance Dicks is just trying to have a good time is a fruitless task.
It relies a bit too heavily on coincidences for my liking, but overall I still found myself enjoying Blood Harvest. The sequences of the Doctor and Ace running a prohibition-era speakeasy carry the rest of the book. Even during the more boring parts, I didn't find the book to be anything less than adequate. It's got some definite flaws, and while many of them are major, none are fatal. As a fan I enjoyed it, but I have no idea how anyone without some serious knowledge of Who history could even understand major portions of it.
Trad and rad by Joe Ford 9/7/03
I have not been kind about Terrance Dicks' current contributions to the Doctor Who medium, in fact a little while back I believe I said something akin to "Terrance Dicks has written his last decent word as far as Who is concerned". I still believe that. The Eight Doctors was shite, not just regular shite but shite in a whole new way that makes Parasite, The Taint and Zamper look like poetry. His Endgame was better but hardly spectacular, it was a fun romp but held little interest aside from the action. And to pour salt into the wound his debut script for Big Finish, Comeback, was possibly the worst audio I have ever heard, yawn inducing and going against what the series was supposed to be about. Extremely annoying.
Perhaps I've just grown up to be cynical and like my fiction a bit more juicier because back when I was a young teen I used to devour Mr Dicks' Target novels with real gusto. He used to take me to places I could have never dreamed, introduced me to the Doctor, this wonderful, whacky, unpredictable character and we had so many exciting adventures together. He may just have helped me through that awful 13-15 year old angst phase where you hate the world and everything about it.
It was with some trepidation that I picked up Blood Harvest from e-bay not remembering a thing about it when I first read it from my local library. I was shocked to death to find this book a real treat. Not just fun on a superficial level like most of Terrance's works, oh no, this had in jokes, a fast plot, good characters and a rock solid plot full of mysteries. Indeed if, like me, you feel the New Adventures went a bit too far with their storytelling this is a lovely piece to read to remind you it wasn't all just drugs and sex. They had a whole bunch of fun too.
I particularly liked the way Terrance played about with the tones of the two medias. The TV series was always quite light and quirky and the books are set in an entirely darker place. The two plots expose perfectly the difference between the two. The Doctor and Ace setting up shop in Chicago is definitely New Adventures fare with a ton of violence, a scheming Doctor who is in control of all things and a harder than nails Ace shooting anything that moves. The plot on the Vampire planet is much more akin to the series, it actually rehashes a lot of the plot of State of Decay, bringing back a whole bunch of characters from that story too. It's not completely traditional, there is more bloodshed here than Mary Whitehouse would allow but all this business with squabbling rebels, torturing prisoners and lots and lots of running about is very TV Doctor Who.
Terrance Dicks has a wonderful way with his prose, he can say so much in such short sentences and without using a lot of complicated language. Sometimes that is a real treat, its always nice to tax your brain on Lawrence Miles' torturously difficult prose but at times Terrance's fluffy prose is a real joy. You have to be in the mood for it but when you are (and you know what to expect) it is a lot of fun. Indeed I put this book down a few times for a few days but had no difficulty jumping back into the book. And don't you just love the way he manages to end every single chapter on a really cool cliff-hanger making you want to read just that little bit more even though its already 12:30 in the morning!
Joyfully although the Doctor has a lot of the answers early on he isn't portrayed as the pompous prick he often was in these books. He has a real sense of humour and seems to be enjoying his little flit in downtown Chicago. His relationship with Ace is left well alone and her awful attitude is extremely calm in this. New Ace is actually quite a likable character here, I love the bit where she shoots the guy dead just to prove a point. Bernice is as fun as ever, not as writer proof as Fitz but almost on that level, her nasty comments on everything going on on the Vampire Planet are hysterical and her snobbish attitude towards Romana raised a lot of chuckles.
And no angst! NO BLOODY ANGST!!!!! Yippeeeee! An entire book without the three of them at each others throats, bitching and fighting. They just want to have fun! And it's about bloody time!
I enjoyed the Chicago sections more mostly because of the marvellous character of Dekker. Terrance has spent a lot of time on this character and it shows. His attitude, his speech, it comes across as very authentic and he remains very likable throughout. His hysterical non-reaction to the TARDIS (especially when compared with the weirdness of Chicago!!) is great. Capone is another good character who has that lovely quality of being just nice and nasty enough to play on both your sympathy and your hatred.
State of Decay is a delightful four parter so being reminded of one Terrance's best scripts is a pleasure. Whilst the return of some old characters son (Tarak) is taking an indulgence a bit too far the similarities between the book and the story end quickly as things hot up between the rebels and the peasants. Lots of beheading and stabbings and massacres help the atmosphere immensely and the sudden inclusion of Romana gives the book a huge boost in its saggy middle sections. Anything with Benny is a lot of fun.
And what about that piss take of the "wheezing, groaning" sound! Terrance doing humour and pulling it off brilliantly! I laughed for ages. And the little gagette at the end with the third Lord saying "Can't we just dispense with the ritual chant... it's getting very irritating!" ...never were truer words spoken.
Unexpectedly joyful, this was a solid novel that kept me amused and intruiged right until the end. Oh and its miles better than Goth Opera despite Cornell's attempts, he will never be half the storyteller Dicks is.
A Review by Tim McCree 19/6/05
I wanted to like Blood Harvest, I really did. Terrence Dicks had been one of my favourite Who authors and this book was a sequel to two good televised stories, State Of Decay and The Five Doctors (both which were also written by Mr. Dicks).
The whole sequence in Chicago of the 1920's just falls flat to me. You could have cut it completely out of this book and still had the same story, more or less. If I want to see Al Capone, Eliot Ness, and gangsters blasting each other full of holes, I'll watch The Untouchables. Having the Doctor in a story like this is like taking Star Trek's Mr. Spock and sticking him on Law And Order! It just doesn't work.
Once the action moved to the vampire planet, I thought things would be picking up. However, I did notice a HUGE continuity glitch. To expand on this glitch, we must briefly revisit the television story, State Of Decay, in which this part of Blood Harvest is a sequel to. Here is a scene in SOD, soon after the Doctor and Romana arrive and meet the village headman, Ivo.
THE DOCTOR: I take it you don^Òt get many strangers here.That's right, ONE Village, ONE Tower, and that's it. At the start of the story, K9 did an orbital scan of the planet and picked up only that one single village. As most fans know, all the inhabitants of the Village and Tower are descendants of an Earth ship, the Hydrax, which had been brought to the planet by the Great Vampire a thousand years earlier. Before that, the planet was uninhabited.
THE DOCTOR: Yes, visitors. Foreign devils. People you don't know.
IVO: Everyone here is known.
ROMANA: What about people from the next village? Or the nearest town?
IVO: There is only the Village and the Tower. Nowhere else.
So how come when we revisit this planet in Blood Harvest, we see all these other villages and castles!? Also, dialogue in the book seems to indicate the planet was inhabited when the Great Vampire and later, the Hydrax, arrived! As I said above, SOD indicated that there was NO ONE on this planet prior to those arrivals. What is going on here? Why is Terrence Dicks stepping all over the established continuity we saw in State Of Decay? If Blood Harvest had been written by a different author, I could understand why this is happening, but Terrence Dicks is the SAME author of both stories! Why is he blatantly re-writing the history of his own story? Did he forget what he had written before and prayed we would too?
Ironically, this problem could have been easily solved by moving the time line up a few centuries, allowing the inhabitants of the original Village to spread out and colonize the rest of the planet. That would account for the other villages. True then one couldn't use the original characters from State Of Decay, but there are always their descendants. Don't forget, the Doctor and co. can time travel!
Also what is all this tromping back and forth between N-Space and E-Space like some inter-dimensional train travel? When Romana, who returns to Gallifrey in this book, asks the Doctor about how easy they left E-Space, the Doctor replies that K9 worked out how to do it just before they got blasted back into N-Space. THIS NEVER COULD HAVE HAPPENED!? If one looks at the end of the television episode, Warriors' Gate (in which this event is supposed to have taken place), you can see why. K9 was so badly damaged at that point that he could barely count to ten! It was only after he stayed in E-Space, and was permanently separated from the Doctor, that he regained full function. There was simply no time for K9 to work out any calculations about getting in and out of E-Space, to give to the Doctor, at the end of Warriors' Gate.
The last bit of the book is set on Gallifrey and follows up events we saw in The Five Doctors. This bit is okay, as it seems to follow what we saw in the televised story.
As I said, I wanted to like this book. However, the flat and pointless Chicago scenes and the major violations of continuity on the vampire planet ruined it for me. In my opinion, this is not one of Mr. Dicks's better novels.
A Review by Brian May 9/8/05
Blood Harvest is derivative of earlier Doctor Who, but at least it's highly enjoyable - and that counts for a lot. Terrance Dicks tends to wallow in nostalgia at times, mainly when it comes to the programme's history, but especially when it comes to Terrance Dicks. His first NA, Timewyrm: Exodus was like this. A sequel of sorts to The War Games, which he co-wrote; it featured an otherworldly, omniscient and evil being, a specified period in human history, and the inclusion of real historical figures. It was also a great read. Blood Harvest is a sequel of sorts to State of Decay and The Five Doctors, both of which Dicks wrote. It features an otherworldly, omniscient and evil being, a specified period in human history, and the inclusion of real historical figures. Sound familiar? And what's more, it's just as enjoyable - even more so, as it avoids the earlier book's disturbing themes of Nazism and possession - so it's a lot more fun. The author's indulgences are counter-balanced by his unparalleled connection with Doctor Who and his ability to write good adventure stories. He had low periods (his later Target books), and would sink further, both in quality and the level of self-indulgence, with The Eight Doctors andWarmonger. But, assuming Blood Harvest to be the here and now, Dicks is going through a good phase.
It's highly readable, suspenseful, at times humorous and at other times horrific. The juxtaposition of two locations, Chicago during the Prohibition Era and the medieval setting of the unnamed planet in E-Space, post-State of Decay, succeeds because the scenarios are so different, while the similarities linking them (Agonal stirring up warfare among the mobsters and setting the peasants and the Lords/guards against each other) work well. The shift to Gallifrey at the end also helps the narrative along, but this section is incredibly rushed - 32 pages out of 287 - and could actually have been longer, with some fleshing out of the Three and the current situation on the planet. Indeed, when I read it a second time I was surprised the arrival was so late, having remembered it being much earlier. Accordingly both the Chicago and the vampire stories tend to drag a bit towards their respective ends.
But that's a minor complaint. The story has a wonderful feel, with all the scenes bristling with atmosphere. The woods, inns, castles and towers of the E-space planet are freed from State of Decay's budgetary restrictions (although much of its locations and interiors were pretty good anyway), while the Chicago scenario is fun to read; what it lacks in realism is made up for by the author's obvious relish in plundering characters and dialogue from a period that's indelibly entrenched in a cliche-ridden genre. The only thing that doesn't work is the shifting in and out of Dekker's first-person narrative; the chopping and changing between him as a narrator and third person character grates because of its inconsistency.
Fortunately he's is a wonderfully colourful character - think Duggan (City of Death) combined with Bill Filer from the novelisation of The Claws of Axos (not the televised version, for mercy's sake!) His flirtation with Ace is amusing, and their coupling at the end is a surprisingly natural outcome. Al Capone also comes across pretty well; using an historical figure in Who fiction is always risky, but Dicks gets it right here, much better than Hitler and the other Nazis in Exodus. The rest of the Chicago characters aren't that spectacular, but given their cliched mannerisms and speech, this is forgivable and no doubt intentional. The people on the vampire planet are pretty poorly drawn, even characters Dicks has brought back from State of Decay (Ivo, Kalmar). Agonal isn't the creepy, wraith-like figure he should be, either. He's sinister enough, but a lot more could have been made of him; and the descriptive terms "tall", "thin" and "elegant" are overused. I know Dicks is trying to emphasise his ubiquitous and shadowy presence, but the repetitiveness grates a bit, losing its intended impact after his first few hundred appearances. The Time Lords are all a bit flat, with the exception of Spandrell, who's a wonderful realisation of a past character, a glowing tribute to George Pravda's dry, sardonic Castellan from The Deadly Assassin.
But the regular characters are wonderful. Bernice benefits from being separated from the Doctor and Ace for most of the time, and her interactions with Romana are good. The Time Lady returns to Doctor Who quite well, although I'm not convinced she would have settled so cosily back into Gallifreyan society. The Doctor and Ace are excellent; Ace is stunningly cool as she swans around in her stylish 1920s get-up, and it's a shame when she changes back into her combat suit; until now I'd forgotten New Ace existed! The presentation of the Doctor establishing himself in the Prohibition era, insinuating himself into the Chicago underworld in order to track down an old adversary is nicely handled, evoking the more conniving elements of the McCoy Doctor while steering clear of the manipulative puppeteer that had become overused. Together he and Ace make a great Doctor/companion combo, a team working on a mission. Great stuff - exactly as it used to be, once upon a time.
As mentioned already, Terrance Dicks is self-indulgent by writing a combined sequel to two of his stories, but he's also willing to gently poke fun at himself. There are some wonderful in-jokes - a chapter titled "Escape to Danger"; the infamous "Not the mind probe!" quote is lampooned, and there's a hilarious use of the "wheezing, groaning sound" description of the TARDIS engines. However, stealing a memorable quote from The Untouchables (film version) doesn't work, and I don't think incorporating the St Valentine's Day massacre into the events of this story is completely successful.
What would also have helped the book along would have been to omit those interlude-like stanzas with the Three altogether. Reading "Death to the Doctor!", "Borusa lives!" and "Rassilon must die!" over and over tells the reader that: a) some Time Lords will be encountered and b) Borusa and Rassilon will be among them. We don't need to know any of this at the start - to suddenly arrive on Gallifrey would have been a pleasant jolt, and as the build-up leads us inexorably towards the Tomb of Rassilon, there are enough clues in these final chapters to reveal to the knowing reader what's going on. I'm glad Borusa was freed - I find him one of the most fascinating characters to appear in Doctor Who. His corruption in The Five Doctors was an interesting idea, but occurring in the anniversary story there's no background motivation - it just happens. He's not given any page time; he's released, Rassilon appears again and Agonal is defeated all within two pages. I don't mind the old "to lose is to win" deus ex machina outcome being re-used, but for what's an incredibly dramatic buildup, it's a disappointing anti-climax, practically forgotten by all at the chapter's end.
But despite these criticisms, I'm still a big fan of Blood Harvest. It wins you over by being an engaging, atmospheric, fast paced and well-plotted adventure. 8.5/10
Bullets, Blood and Booze by Andrew Feryok 13/4/06
"A hat, a coat and a gun," said Ace wryly. "That's all you need to face the dangers of an alien planet?" Dekker shrugged. "Can't be much worse than downtown Chicago on a Saturday night. Ready when you are, Doc!"This is another landmark moment for me: Blood Harvest is the first New Adventures book I have ever read! I had three sitting on my shelf, but I had just got done reading several Target novels about Cybermen and I didn't want my first New Adventures book to be the last book of the New Adventures series! Therefore, it was going to be Blood Harvest: yet another Terrance Dicks book. I had seen him in action with the Target books, but how would he fare writing a feature length novel targeted for an older audience?
- Blood Harvest, Chapter 27, page 244
I must admit that I ended up liking the parts of this book that I thought I would hate. When I read the blurb and heard the Doctor and Ace were setting up a speakeasy in 1920s Chicago and dealing with mobsters I groaned. I thought this was supposed to be a book about vampires and E-space? Am I going to have to drudge through this filler just to get to the meaty gothic horror story? But by the time I had read the first few chapters, I was surprised to find that I was much more interested in the Chicago story than the vampires in E-Space. Part of this was because Terrance Dicks literally rewrites State of Decay only with Benny and not the Fourth Doctor and Romana for the first half of the book. But there is also the fact that the Chicago piece has much more interesting characters than the E-Space part of the book.
Prior to reading this story, I had read many reviews that painted the New Adventures Doctor as a dark and brooding character who was not all that recognizable from his television counterpart and was callous in his manipulation of his closest friends. But either people's imaginations have been stretching this vision of the Doctor or Terrance Dicks decided to break with that characterization for this story because this is not the Doctor that is here. Sure, the Doctor manipulates and has secret plans, but he doesn't brood or angst. In fact, he seems to genuinely enjoy himself and loves every moment of playing gangster and speakeasy owner. It is partly his sense of fun about the entire proceedings that helps drive his segment of the story.
The other driving force of the Chicago story are Dekker and Ace. When I first encountered "New Ace" I immediately didn't like her. She was a one-dimensional character whose only ambition in life seemed to be to kill everyone in the universe with her ever-present gun and mess up the Doctor's plans whenever she has the chance. But Dicks manages to handle her character in a very interesting way. Her killer instinct is contrasted against the other henchmen that work for bosses in Chicago and Ace seems to fit right in. She seems to develop into a kind of pseudo Leela throughout the story. I could almost hear McCoy's Doctor telling New Ace "no janis thorns!" Through the course of the book, Dicks manages to open up Ace's cold exterior as she warms to the character of Dekker and their relationship is both hilarious and touching.
Dekker is hands-down one of the single best aspects of this book. He is a wonderfully cliched character who makes absolutely no apologies about being a cliche. His wisecracks are hysterical and he has a great chemistry with Ace, managing to wind her up just to the point where she is prepared to kill him and then suddenly doing something that makes her love him. They are in many ways similar to each other, although maybe Dekker is a little more open and friendly than Ace is around new strangers. Dekker is in many ways similar to Duggan in City of Death, only a lot smarter. Both characters serve as a temporary companion to the Doctor and as comedy relief. By the time the Doctor, Ace, and Dekker are traveling in the TARDIS at the story's end, I was wishing he would stay with them. If anyone deserved to be a companion, he certainly did. I am beginning to wonder if Fitz is like this? I have yet to read a book with that companion yet.
This was also my first encounter with the legendary Bernice Summerfield. And I must say that she appealed right from the start. I could immediately see why she was given her own spin-off series and remains a popular character. She is charismatic, wickedly funny and has a keen nose for adventure. Unfortunately, she has to singlehandedly hold up a very poor E-Space plotline that does nothing original. Half of her story is a yawn-inducing remake of State of Decay in which Benny tries to piece together the the events from that story (and manages to get it wrong!). The other half is essentially the same storyline as the Chicago story only set in a medieval society. While I realize this was done deliberately and makes for an interesting contrast, it quickly tires and you wish that the story could get moving a bit rather than constantly doubling back on parallel events on another planet.
Romana doesn't fare very well in this story. I was waiting for her to arrive and start showing her mettle. But for someone who has traveled for so long with the Doctor, and then traveled E-Space freeing the Tharils, she remains extremely naive and unlikable. Although she initially takes the side of Benny and the peasants at first, which is clearly where the Doctor would have stood, Romana instead seems to ally herself with the Lords and if it wasn't for Benny, she would have seriously messed things up on that planet! Not the Romana I remember.
The villains of this story were rather well done. "The Three" turn out to be less impressive than I thought by the stories' end as we retread ground from The Five Doctors, but for the majority of the story they make for a tantalizing force working behind the scenes. And certainly the use of the time scoop at the end was a glorious upsetting of the Doctor's plans that really adds to the power of these watchers. I was also surprised that while the book proclaims to be about vampires, they are merely the small-time monsters in this book compared to the real threat: Agonal! What a fantastic villain. The Doctor has encountered many horrors from the dawn of time, but Agonal is truly unique. A force solely out to cause as much blood, chaos and devestation in the universe as he can, simply because it amuses him. He makes the perfect opponent for the Seventh Doctor, giving our heroic manipulator a run for his money as he is able to manipulate the minds of the people around him through the power of suggestion. I almost wish Agonal could have continued to appear as an ongoing opponent for the Seventh Doctor since he is clearly a force to be reconned with and requires the Doctor to really think his plans through since Agonal is capable of becoming any piece in the game at will and change the rules.
Overall, I thought this book was rather good. The E-Space part of the story sags a bit, but Benny manages hold things together on that end. The Chicago segments are where this story really shines. It revels in every Hollywood cliche of gangsters and makes no apologies for it. Dekker is a wonderful character and has great chemistry with Ace and the strangly fun-loving Seventh Doctor. This book had to do a lot to get me interested in the New Adventures series, and it managed to do this with flying colors. Now it's time for me to investigate the sequal to this story, Goth Opera, which I suspect is going to have more to do with vampires than this book promised. 8/10
PS: I like the mention of the TARDIS swimming pool from The Invasion of Time which the Doctor and Ace use to brew vats of illegal moonshine!