THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Illegal Alien
Matrix
Prime Time
BBC Books
Storm Harvest

Authors Mike Tucker and
Robert Perry
Cover taken from the excellent Doctor Who books page
ISBN# 0 563 55577 7
Published 1999
Continuity After Matrix

Synopsis: The seventh Doctor and Ace find themselves on an ocean world.


Reviews

A Review by Finn Clark 20/6/99

I approached Storm Harvest with extreme caution. The previous books of the Perry-Tucker combo were alarmingly variable, veering from the mindless (Illegal Alien) to the impenetrable (Matrix). What new extreme would the authors explore this time?

In the end, Robert Perry and Mike Tucker surprised me by not surprising me, if I'm not talking through my hat. Storm Harvest is a simple, unsophisticated story. It's action-packed, with oodles of danger and some really great aliens. It's fun. It feels like Doctor Who. There's nothing radical about it, but that's not what they're aiming for. If you don't approach this with any false expectations, there's plenty of enjoyment to be had here.

Probably the greatest surprise is that I expected it to be predictable. The back cover led me to expect a Jaws rip-off, with tension galore and unstoppable monsters coming out of the sea. The Ancient Evil has awakened! Great fun, but hardly very profound. I was right up to a point; all of the above plays its part in the story, but there's far more to it than that.

For once the mindless carnage is leavened by some genuine complexity. The plot is actually quite involved and contains quite a few twists. This I liked.

Another surprise is the involvement of our hero, the Doctor. Following the example set by Virgin, most Doctor Who books these days seem reluctant to make our favourite Time Lord the centre of the action. Other people run around and get their hands dirty, while the good Doctor stands on the sidelines looking enigmatic or getting involved in subplots. Not here. For once we have a main character who really is the main character and I found it really rather refreshing. At times it approaches Doctor Who - Action Hero. More like this, please.

Of course the ultimate irony is that it's the seventh Doctor who's been chosen to fill this role, the masterplanner himself. He does it rather well, thus giving the lie to all those books which seemed to think he was best handled by keeping him offstage and inactive. Sometimes it worked well, but eventually it became a cliche. In the end, we readers like characters who stand up for themselves - and that's certainly what the Doctor does here. Big, big danger is thrust in his face and he's got no option but to roll up his sleeves and get directly involved. Cool!

The story goes through various stages. At the beginning everything's lovely, with lots of relaxing fanwank references and a languid tropical scene-setting on our ocean planet. Of course we know what's coming, but the description is evocative. There's something terribly primal about the sea, but Doctor Who seems to have rarely made use of this powerful setting. I can think of a few television stories and no books at all before this. A missed opportunity, methinks.

Soon however we see a miracle - a subplot with subsidiary characters apparently unconnected to the main events... which isn't boring! Incredible! I never thought I'd see the day!

And the plot develops. I'll stop here; we're in danger of entering spoiler territory. What else have I to say?

The Doctor's good. Ace is good. The danger is big and immediate; often action-packed stories have me reading rather mechanically, but here I was always interested. It's a straightforward story, as the BBC likes, but executed well. We've seen far worse. It's quite clever, probably the authors' best book.

At the end of the day, it's exactly what it is. No more, no less. If you like your Who books to be challenging mindf*cks that push the envelope of genre fiction, then steer clear of this. If however you're looking for some good, honest excitement, then I'd recommend Storm Harvest. It's not going to win any Booker prizes, but it's a solid piece of storytelling.


The Power of Krill by Jason A. Miller 10/12/99

Of course, any review of this book could just as easily be called "Deep Blue Something". Storm Harvest is the second BBC novel this year with a cover featuring a poorly-drawn monster superimposed over a roiling ocean. Authors Mike Tucker & Robert Perry even reference Mark Morris' prior effort in the acknowledgments.

That's not where the similarities end between Deep Blue and Storm Harvest. Both books are pretty waterlogged.

The premise, again, is the TARDIS' arrival on a holiday beach, its crew determined to do like being by the seaside. The fun quickly ends when the sailors on page 1 (scientists, not grizzled fishermen) lose body parts to a beast from 20,000 fathoms on page 6.

There's nothing really wrong with Storm Harvest, but there's nothing really right with it, either. Tucker and Perry seem to have in mind the creation of a Season 27 -- a full set of 7th Doctor and Ace stories in between Survival and the first Virgin New Adventure. The opening epigraph is a BBC announcer quote, and early on there's a Target novelization footnote referring us to the previous Tucker/Perry story (Matrix, which I'd been hoping to forget).

The problem is, none of the three books are really consistent with each other, and the characters don't grow along the way. McCoy has some token angst -- people die and he has to steel himself to the death and chaos. Been done before. Ace, even though Mike Tucker once wrote a whole book about the character, betrays little of Sophie Aldred. Chronologically speaking, Storm Harvest contains Ace's first sexual encounter in DW -- but it's a random event with no emotion involved, almost an afterthought really. Once you place all of DW in a rigid "story" order, the "subsequent" Love & War loses some of its own emotional impact.

The monsters in Storm Harvest are mindless and rubbery. DW's appeal was never in this -- even its mindless monsters were underpinned by humor (Nightmare of Eden) or morality and terrific directing (Full Circle). But the Krill just kill a lot of people offscreen. The other alien race (who look akin to Gamorrean Guards from "Return of the Jedi") is a little more interesting, but gets short shrift in the gory conclusion.

I'm not sure what Tucker and Perry have in mind for any possible future Season 27 novel. They've already used up their allotment of 14 episodes, but Storm Harvest has none of the "epic" feel of a typical season finale. Maybe the disconnect between stories and the lack of a season arc is true to the TV series itself... but then, Season 27 would be one of the weakest ever, and I'm sure that's not what the authors have in mind.


A Review by Brett Walther 26/3/04

While reading Storm Harvest, I was haunted by a monumental "What if"...

What if, I pondered, Storm Harvest had launched the Virgin New Adventures rather than Timewyrm: Genesys?

Storm Harvest certainly feels more like Doctor Who in Season Twenty Seven than that John Peel endeavour, and is all the better for it. It's got some chills, some seemingly indestructable monsters, a great Doctor and companion pairing, and never loses track of the importance of telling an entertaining story.

This is possibly one of my favourite evocations of the Seventh Doctor in print. He's heroic yet seriously fallible, curious rather than smug, and most significantly, a lot of the time in Storm Harvest, he's in the dark. He has to do some exploration to uncover what's going on under the seas that cover the surface of the planet Coralee, and is miles away from the all-knowing manipulator that the Virgin series created.

This book also served to drive home the tragedy of New Ace. I haven't read an Ace book for an absolute eternity -- the last time was probably when I gave up on the Virgin line entirely after the 'New Ace perpetual angst' arc (well not so much an arc as the actual series of books itself), and I was struck by how well she worked as a companion. She's certainly grown up here -- the development she was afforded in Season Twenty Six is continued quite nicely in a charming scene in which she glams up spectacularly for dinner with the Doctor -- but she's still recognizable as Ace. She's travelling around the universe with the Doctor because... it's fun. And when the TARDIS crew are having fun -- rather than pursuing some ulterior motives or out of a "Time's Champion"-esque duty -- it's fun for us as well.

The plot concerns a genetically engineered life form, the Krill, who lie at the bottom of the oceans of Coralee, and a warmongering race known as the Cythosi who want to use the Krill as the ultimate weapon in their age-old war against another alien species. Unfortunately for the human colonists who have built a booming tourist industry on the islands of the planet, the Krill are reactivated and run amok, tearing the colony to shreds and resisting Cythosi control. Throw into this mix a Cythosi double agent who has developed split-personality disorder as a result of his living among humans, and this is a refreshingly volatile situation. Oh yeah, and there's a massive hurricane brewing, too.

The Krill are pretty scary, and as with most monsters in Who, are all the more frightening when we don't have a real sense of what they are. The opening moments of the book, in which a diving team is massacred by the unstoppable fish-headed creatures, are positively terrifying. Perry and Tucker seem to thrive on the traditional four part Doctor Who adventure, delivering three superb cliffhangers that lovingly harken back to the good old days of televised Who.

For a book set on a world of water, Storm Harvest is anything but wet. It's rock-solid, in fact, and a highly enjoyable read.

7/10


"Get out of the water!" by Joe Ford <21/9/04

I have never in all my years of watching/reading/listening to Doctor Who ever come across a story as predictable as this. Robert Perry and Mick Tucker might fill their story with incident and a frantic pace but it is ultimately a hollow work, one of budget busting ideas over plot and they make it quite a struggle to complete (I did in fact stop reading this halfway through to read the infinitely superior The Tomorrow Windows and then returned afterwards feeling guilty). The first time that a plot twist grabbed me happened on page 205 when Garrett turned out to be a Cythosi agent... and even that was obvious in hindsight.

I fail to understand how the team who gave us the superlative Matrix, dense with prose and ideas, could drop their standards to what is little more than a beach blockbuster movie (with about as much depth as they usually have). It's almost as if they have thought up one really good idea and think that it is enough to power a novel. They were wrong... the tone of book is all wrong; it feels as if it has been written for ten year olds, silly sea monsters and all. Thank goodness we were spared this from season twenty seven (although I fail to comprehend how Tucker and Perry would have managed to realise this with Doctor Who's meagre budget).

That great idea of course being the Krill, Doctor Who's equivalent of Jaws... go on, you can almost hear the music as the nasty buggers attack boats, dolphins, humans... the cover for this book is dominated by a horrific looking monster which certainly helps to visualise the monsters as they attack en masse. But like Illegal Alien it is the moments of electrifying action that impress the most, like Tucker and Perry are so obsessed with "cor wow!" moments (well they did work under JNT!) that they forgot to add any depth to the situation. They should have taken a look over their shoulder at Curse of Fenric which managed to juggle a good deal of action and still provide a fulfilling story. Storm Harvest is all set pieces and no brain and as such I fail to understand this rumour that it reminds all and sundry of season twenty-six which was anything but.

But let's not take away the power of some of their action scenes, as my old pal Brett Walther mentions, the early scenes do have a palpable sense of menace and build up the suspense of revealing the creatures in a number of tense attacks. The climax to episode two is probably the high point of the book, where the Krill find a way into the settlement via the dolphin tunnels and massacre them in their pool before jumping out and having a go at the humans who are utterly unaware of the Krill. The suddenness of the scene, the characters realising the dolphin tunnels are open and the Krill choosing that exact moment to attack provides the book with a moment of shock that the rest of it severely lacks.

Anyone expecting some fallout from the disturbing events of Matrix will be sorely disappointed as this holiday adventure is the Doctor's gift to Ace after almost slicing her throat open. There was one scene around the dinner table that threatened to have some resonance but chickens out by having Ace fawning over the Doctor rather than confronting him. And what about her Cheetah side, which was so apparent in their last book? She seems to have no concern over it now and if there was ever a moment to get uncontrollably aggressive it's when you are being savaged by genetically bred monsters with big sharp teeth.

Is anyone else sick of the grandiose descriptions of Sylvester McCoy in these New Adventures? Just how many different ways can you say he is a little man but radiates power and knowledge, his grey eyes holding back a thousand emotions from several lifetimes? Grrr... why can't any describe him as a short arse with stupid clothes who sounds unconvincing saying long speeches? I get that he is supposed to be Time's Champion, the player of games, a thousand tricks up his sleeves and all that but isn't it about time somebody revolutionised McCoy's Doctor and gave him a new spin? I wish somebody would write a season twenty-four book when he was a right goofball, it would be a real laugh seeing him pratfalling and overdoing everything... this restrained, manipulative Doctor has had his day.

This is a shallow version of the NA Doctor but at least he is heavily involved in the action. Everyone seems to be in awe of him and accepts his authority (despite the fact that he has none) and he breezes through each problem in the book as though ticking off a list. Matrix made him such a compelling character by snatching his memory away and forcing him to confront the evil inside but Storm Harvest proves that sod all has changed because of this. There is no real danger when the Doctor seems so effortlessly in control.

Generic Ace is present too, a cipher in a book full of them. Some of her NA characteristics arise here (there is some swearing and bonking) but on the whole she isn't really recognisable as the troubled teen that was explored to death in season twenty-six. This is not really Ace's story so she doesn't get much attention (again unlike Matrix where she is put through the wringer) and gets all the action bits without harm or complaint. If I were Ace I would be pissed that my holiday was interrupted by horrid Krill but she just smiles at him and says "Wicked". Silly cow.

The other characters are pure cardboard and it is amusing to note that rather than discover about them throughout the course of the book we are given a little bio of each of them when we first meet them as if that is all there is to know about them. They then proceed to dive into the plot and respond to the threats with little individuality and presence and make no impression whatsoever. I've not long finished the book and can only remember a few character names -- Raajid, Brenda -- but where they are in their lives, what their past was like... haven't a clue!

Surely there are more words for "lack of depth" I can find; generic, shallow, cardboard... nope I think I've used them all! Needless to say the plot is the worst offender of them all... the writers seemingly under the impression that if you chuck a whole bunch of plotlines in it will make a gripping read. Wrong. You have the Krill, the Cythosi, the weapon, Garrett, the ancient civilisation... rather than creating some chaos and having them all blow up at once the writers only seem to be able to cope with one plot at a time and hence others are pushed into the background for ages. The Krill threat was mopped up astonishingly easily halfway through... only to surface again at the end! None of the solutions are especially ingenious and for such a fearsome race (apparently) the Krill are driven back easily enough.

The scenes on the Cythosi ship were the worst of all... I could just imagine a non-fan picking up this book and it confirming all their fears. Shallow non-characters (you don't even have an introductory bio for these ciphers!) on a spaceship talking about escape attempts from the big, lumbering monsters that abuse them for fun. The writing here is atrociously childish and unforgivable.

And what is this obsession with talking/walking dolphins? I don't get it!

I have read more riveting bus timetables than Storm Harvest. It's one of the weaker McCoy PDAs (second to Heritage of course!) because it seems to have been written in an incredible hurry without much thought but to get it finished. There is a decent monster in there wasted on a crap story.

Still it's probably better than anything I could write so I'll shut up now.