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 ive 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 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 Chigago is definately 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. Its not completely traditional, there is more bloodshed here than Mary Whitehouse would allow but all this buisness 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 dont you just love the way he manages to end every single chapter on a really cool clifhanger 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 Chigago. 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 its a about bloody time!
I enjoyed the Chigago 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 wierdness of Chigago!!) is great. Capone is another good character who has that lovely quality of being just nice and nasty enough to play on both your smypathy 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 similarites 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 dipense with the ritual chant...its 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 attmepts, he will never be half the storyteller Dicks is.
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 to 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 anything without some serious knowledge of Who history could even understand major portions of it.