Saturday, 16 October 2010

Blood Harvest by Terrance Dicks (Virgin New Adventure)

The Seventh Doctor and Ace tangle with mobsters in 1920s Chicago, while Bernice takes a blood-chilling trip to E-Space.

Don't we all just love Terrance Dicks? It is so tragic that the new generation of Who fans, raised on the new series have never known the pleasure of reading a Terrance Dicks novelisation. I became a Doctor Who fan in between the cancellation of the show in 1989 and the launch of the Virgin New Adventures series, so my first experiences of Doctor Who were for the most part reading Target novelisations borrowed from the library. Dicks was for many years a writer I knew and loved. His magnificent Timewym: Exodus was the first New Adventure I read and it forever coloured my experience of Doctor Who, setting me on course to be a total New Adventure fan.

Dicks stood out from other New Adventure writers like a sore thumb. He wrote fun, old-fashioned Dr. Who stories in the mould of his novelisations, with lots of returning villains and mosters. Nevertheless, despite his Trad leanings, he still had a great feel for the New Adventures Seventh Doctor, with is manipulative and Machiavellian ways and for Ace. However, he dealt with these characters in a rather more light-hearted way and without the heavy angst of other NA writers. In Blood Harvest, Dicks seems to make the violent, gung-ho Ace of the New Adventures into something of a figure of fun.

Blood Harvest is very much a story of two-halves. The first half is a gripping tale of gangsters in 1920s Chicago at the time of the prohibition. The Doctor's schemes lead him to open up an illegal bar and act as a mediator in a turf war between the famous Al Capone and his rivals. This is narrated by the wonderfully film noir private detective, Dekker. This is a delightful period piece. It is only slightly marred by the attempted rape of Ace. Why was this necessary? A rape scene would have worked fine in an NA like Transit, which is a grim and bleak book. Blood Harvest is far too light-hearted for that scene to come across as anything other than tasteless or insensitive.

The second-half is a little odd. The action moves from 1920s Chicago to E-space, where Bernice is investigating the vampires. Bernice comes across very well here. Her portrayal seems rather more realistic than the hard-drinking wise-cracker we see in some other stories. Bernice meets up with Romana, who is portrayed delightfully as an aristocratic snob. I love Romana and I love her as a snooty posh girl. I know some fans feel Dicks has rather caricatured her. I like Bernice's reflection that the while Romana chose to work amongst the nobility of the E-space planet, the Doctor would inevitably have hung out with the peasents. Terrance Dicks gets the left-wing bias of the show.

What we have in the second-half of Blood Harvest, a sequel to State of Decay. This ties into the Missing Adventure, Goth Opera. Blood Harvest is an odd kind of sequel, in that it alters some of the premises of State of Decay. In State of Decay, the village was apparently the only village on the planet, but in Blood Harvest, we learn there are other villages, ruled by other lords, some vampires, some mortals. This is a rather more realistic scenario than the rather half-imagined world of the original serial.

At the climax, events shift to Gallifrey. At this point, Dicks seems to stop taking the story seriously and creates a pastiched sequel to The Five Doctors, with a group of rogue Time Lords attempting to free Borusa from his imprisonment in Rassilon's tomb. This is all rather funny, but its comic tone is a little out of step with the more serious (but still fun) elements in the novel. It certainly is fun to read the Doctor exclaiming 'No, not the mind probe!' Oddly, we see the return of Castellan Spandrell (who also makes an appearance in Goth Opera). We have already seen two of his successors has he come out of retirement, like the sort of aging, gristle heroes played by Clint Eastwood?

I am not terribly happy with the idea of Romana returning to Gallifrey. I know it has become established continuity that she becomes lord president of the Time Lords, but I don't feel this fits her character. She was desperate not to go back to Gallifrey. We saw her develop into a sort of female Doctor and her departure to help the Tharils, however rushed seemed a fitter conclusion to the character. Besides, if she were in E-space its more likely that she might return to the New Series (dream on..).

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