Sunday, 23 November 2014

Richard and Alex In An Exciting Adventure With Doctor Who – [not very] Straight To Video


Hooray!

Celebrating fifty-one years today of Doctor Who – and four weeks today of our marriage.

And as this blog is one of our projects together, we’ve not forgotten it, either. Alex even took – steel yourself – a book on honeymoon. He read it, too. But in the light of his impressive record so far, he’s making no rash commitments.

You can of course and appropriately read for yourself the full text of the reading given at our wedding, with not a few lines from the New Adventures, but it may be more approachable to see Maius Intra Qua Extra delivered with pace and energy on video as well. A bit like Shakedown.





Many, many thanks to four very lovely men: Nick Campbell (hair) and Simon Fernandes (hat) for performing for us, and both of whom have previously guest-written for this very blog; Simon’s partner Barry for shooting them; and Nick’s partner Jon for looking sweet in the bottom of shot. And, of course, to Richard, for marrying me.

If any reader happened to record any other part of our wedding (or another take of the reading) on their hand-held devices, please let us know, as we’d love to see any videos that any of you have. New-fangled moving pictures were, alas, something we never got round to sorting out, so thank you again, Barry.

Richard and I are currently sorting through wedding photos for our next project, but here’s one that I particularly like: a shot from during the ‘gratuitous sexual innuendos’ part of the reading, showing the reactions of the two delighted grooms – and of our parents. Fantastic.



If you’d like to hazard a guess at identifying any of the intimidating number of mashed-up Doctor Who quotations, please chip in either below or on the written version.

I will at some stage just give up and attribute them all on my main blog, but if you’d like a hint for what’s left, though it was all assembled into one piece by Alex Wilcock and Richard Flowers, there were a few other writers.

As is traditional, with additional dialogue by William Shakespeare.

But mainly by David Whitaker, Gareth Roberts, Terrance Dicks, Paul Cornell, Russell T Davies, Anthony Coburn, Rona Munro, Ian Briggs, Ian Stuart Black, Robert Sloman and Barry Letts, Graeme Curry, Christopher H Bidmead, Robert Holmes, Simon Guerrier, Marc Platt, Jim Mortimore and Andy Lane, Ben Aaronovitch, David Fisher, Terry Nation Tom Baker, Stephen Wyatt, Robert Banks Stewart, Bob Baker and Dave Martin, Anthony Steven, Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis, John Lucarotti, Johnny Byrne, Matthew Jacobs TV’s Eric Roberts, Andrew Cartmel, and Peter Harness.

Thanks to them all, and to so many others.


Saturday, 8 September 2012

DOCTOR WHO: "Timewyrm: Genesis" – Richard's Review

Time and the Daleks can be cruel masters.

It was the Daleks that made John Peel's reputation, novelising "The Daleks' Master Plan" for the Target range – as two separate entries, no less – on top of making "The Chase" seem exciting, both long before the TV stories or their soundtracks were available in any legal format. And after writing "Timewyrm: Genesys", he would supply extra-long (i.e. about New Adventure-length) versions of the long-lost "The Power of the Daleks" and "The Evil of the Daleks".

Even then, his writing was filled with continuity links and nods that had not been in the originals, what would later become known as retcons and fanwank, but it was the 'Eighties and that sort of thing was what the buying fanbase wanted.

Those early books won him fan support and, more importantly, the enduring love of the Nation estate, to the extent that he was able to bring with him the coveted right to create new Dalek adventures when the BBC grabbed back the novels.

But therein lay his downfall, for the "new" Dalek adventures that he wrote were the widely-mocked "War of the Daleks" and the frankly-derisory "Legacy of the Daleks"*.

In brief, it turns out that Peel is okay at writing up other people's work for them, but if you want a story then you need Terry Nation. And if you want a good story, you're better off with Whitaker.

But between his arrival on the scene and these tragic discoveries, came the launch of the New Adventures and, at the time, at the height of his popularity, John Peel was absolutely the obvious person to invite to be first up to bat. And he falls back on his one trick of writing up someone else's adventure with added continuity references to please the fans.

Of course, in this case the "someone else's story" is the legend of Gilgamesh, a story that predates and to an extent prefigures the stories of the Biblical book of Genesis (in a "do you see what he did there" sort of way). The setting may have been chosen for him, of course – the four Timewyrm novels obviously setting out to do a cycle through past, near contemporary/sideways, future and... well, we'll get to that.

The surprise is just how small the story is. With the best will in the world, not a lot happens. They go to Kish, they go to Utnapishtim's hideaway, they go back to Kish. And that's it.

The setting for the novel is the cradle of human civilisation, the beginning of the greatest story ever told and the opportunity to write a Biblical epic in the Cecil B De Mille sense. But it's told in no more detail than could have been staged in Riverside Studios with painted backdrops.

Underpinning the story is – supposedly – the grand tragedy of the fall of a civilisation, brought down by one woman's jealousy of the Time Lords. And yet we only get this in perfunctory exposition from other survivors late on in the book. The prologue, where you would have thought such things would go to establish the humanity of it all, is written to preserve an air of mystery about what is going on, quite in contrast to the way every other development in the plot is laid out baldly in front of you. It almost seems wilfully perverse. Or possibly a product of someone convinced that the secret of storytelling is keeping the reveal of the Daleks until the first cliffhanger...

Give Shakespeare a wooden stage and he'll conjure the fields of France. Give Robert Holmes two sets, a supply of green bubble-wrap and Tom Baker, and he'll imply the whole of human history, the fall of Earth and an intergalactic war. Peel pretty much manages the reverse.

It's fair enough to start small, intimate, and grow, but what the book lacks is any sense of escalation; there is no feeling that events are spiralling out of control. None of the characters develop or change or even discover some key that will grant them victory.

Gilgamesh starts supremely confident of his ability to slay or screw anyone he meets. He's convinced that he's the most important person in the world. And by the end of the book... he's convinced that he's the most important person in the world. The Hero's Journey this is not. There are some deeply mixed messages about cultural relativism. Are we supposed to think that Gilgamesh is the hero, or a bit of a spoiled brat, or a monster? Because he is portrayed as all three often interchangeably. Peel seems to think that it's a bit funny, this violent stupid thug being king of the world. He certainly seems to be lionising him, even as he describes him raping the women of his court. It's quite hard to get around Gilgamesh the comedy rapist. Coupled with the teenage breast obsession it could all make the book a bit creepy if it wasn't so flatly written.

Qataka/Ishtar spends most of the story holding all the cards, smugly confident that her vaguely-described master plan is on the brink of victory. Her motivation falls mainly into the school of "she's a megalomaniac, deal with it": she's supposedly driven by a desire for immortality, possibly having heard of the Time Lords and that they possess it, but having evolved into a cyber-snake/woman she seems to have gone on a power bender. Her actions are much more about taking over the minds of everyone in the world than prolonging her own life. Nor is it clear how she sustains her "immortal" existence: sometimes she feeds on pain or "negative" emotions, sometimes "life force", sometimes she needs actual brains to eat. So we kind of come back to she's bad because she's bad.

Conversely, it appears that the Doctor could have – or at least thought he could have – defeated her on their first encounter had Ace not intervened to "rescue" him. And frankly, you believe him. Fresh from taking down genuine gods in "The Greatest Show in the Galaxy" and "The Curse of Fenric", this fake Ishtar never seems up to threatening him.

Ace is sent on a mission to find Noah-analogue Utnapishtim explicitly to keep her out of the Doctor's way, and yet he still contrives that he only reaches his confrontation with Ishtar in time for Ace to get back; he might as well say "pad for fifty pages, could you?" And her side trip seems as though it only appears in the plot because it's another part of the Gilgamesh legend, while coming across more as collecting a plot coupon – a computer virus to defeat the baddie – than a natural development of the story.

All this charmless ticking through plot points rather than developing and expanding the story means that end, where Ishtar becomes the prophesied Timewyrm, is both crushingly inevitable and still pulled out of her hat. The sudden double-turnaround as she takes over the TARDIS itself, then falls for the Doctor's Brer Rabbit Briar Patch bluff, but then turns it back on him by integrating the ejected TARDIS circuits into her own cybernetic frame to achieve her evolution could have been great – ruthless opponents each raising their game to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat – but instead it feels like a tacked on "phew, that was close" moment. Almost as though he'd finished his story and then been told, "oh, and bring the villain back for the next one"; almost but for the way that the set-up suggests that it was the point all along. If the story had been more full of these reversals, it might have felt like a more epic confrontation between the Doctor and an equal, rather than the second-rate opponent that Ishtar appears. If anyone needs a knock to their confidence, it's the seventh Doctor, but alas it'll be a while before the New Adventures realise that.

Peel's style is, at best functional, occasionally veering into the utterly clunky, as with the line: "these annoying premonitions were starting to annoy him". And although he captures something of the seventh Doctor and Ace, it's by no means a detailed portrait.

Nevertheless, there's enough charm and charisma in the performances of Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred (who generously allowed their images to be used for the covers, and Sophie kindly wrote a foreword to this) that when Peel does hit the right note, their on-screen characters come shining through. And maybe that's enough.

Because somehow the book isn't utterly dire. Like his mentor Terry Nation, the plot may be totally formulaic and linear but it still manages to feel enough like Doctor Who – nothing as sophisticated as "Survival"; possibly a middling Graham Williams era story or something by the Bristol Boys Bob and Dave – and you are left still wanting to read the next book. Or at least not robbed of all will to do so.

This is a lukewarm start to the New Adventures. If they'd all been like this then... well, we wouldn't be writing this blog. But better things are on the horizon.



*"War of the Daleks" – possibly the absolute apotheosis of the fanwank novel; squeezing out by a whisker "The Quantum Archangel" from the master of the form, the late and much-missed Craig Hinton (of whom more later in this series) – suggests that the 'Eighties televised Dalek stories (i.e. the ones not written by Nation) never happened, or at best were faked.

"Legacy of the Daleks" – a story so over-excited by unnecessarily answering the questions: "What happened to Susan after the Dalek Invasion of Earth?" and "How did the Delgado Master end up on Tersurus?" that it looks like "Curse of the Fatal Death" is spoofing it directly – largely forgets that the Daleks are supposed to be in it.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

DOCTOR WHO: "Timewyrm: Genesys" – Question Marks

By John Peel

Who's in it?


The Doctor and Ace.

Guest stars: Gilgamesh, legendary king of Uruk and Enkidu his hairy half-man first advisor, who turns out to be a Neanderthal; En-Gula, aged thirteen, a bare-breasted priestess of Ishtar; Avram the songsmith, he's going to end up writing the epic of Gilgamesh, isn't he.

Also starring: Ninani, fourteen-year-old princess of Kish; King Agga, her father; Dumuzi, high priest of and mainly possessed by Ishtar; Ennatum and Gudea, two of Gilgamesh's councillors who, unhappy with his rule, arrange for him to be ambushed while scouting Kish; Utnapishtim, legendary Noah figure who turns out to be an alien refugee; Urshanabi, one of Utnapishtim's crew.

Special guest villain: Qataka of Anu, masquerading as the Goddess Ishtar who evolves into the Timewyrm in the conclusion.

Where in Time and Space?


Earth, Mesopotamia, c2700 BC (also the planet Anu, far side of the Universe).

What happens?


The Doctor finds an old hologram of himself warning about the Timewyrm. He sets the coordinates to track it down, and the TARDIS arrives in a grove outside the Mesopotamian city of Kish in time to rescue Gilgamesh and his friend Enkidu from an ambush by the Kishites. Ace's use of Nitro Nine explosive leads Gilgamesh to name her Aya Goddess of the Dawn, and the Doctor plays along claiming to be Ea, god of wisdom.

The Doctor is intrigued to see copper circuitry being fitted to the outer walls of Kish and goes to investigate, heading for the temple of Ishtar while Ace, Gilgamesh and Enkidu hang out in a local bar ostensibly looking for gossip, but mainly so that Gilgamesh can get drunk. Ace, however, meets Avram and he tells her that the goddess Ishtar is in Kish in person, and that she is killing people. So Ace heads swiftly to the temple to rescue the Doctor.

The Doctor, having penetrated the temple, realised something was wrong during a conversation with Dumuzi, roped En-Gula into to guiding him into the inner sanctum and allowed himself to be captured (using his respiratory bypass to avoid being sedated by the priestesses), is deeply annoyed to be rescued. But with the temple on fire, he has to leave with the others, including En-Gula and Avram, as Gilgamesh fights his way out of Kish.

They return to Gilgamesh's city of Uruk to regroup and plan, and to have a feast and show off Mr Peel's research. Ace spots that Gudea is acting guilty, and Gilgamesh hints he knows it too, so Ennatum has Gudea poisoned, and having completed his sub-plot is not seen again. At the feast, Avram sings a song he's made up about Utnapishtim. The Doctor guesses that two alien presences are probably related, so sends Ace, Gilgamesh and Avram off to find Utnapishtim and warn him about Ishtar. (Though this is probably a wild goose chase to keep Gilgamesh out of harm's way, and hence avoid damaging recorded history.)

The Doctor returns to Kish and on En-Gula's advice, seeks the aid of Princess Ninani, only to be caught by her father, King Agga. The King tells the Doctor that Ishtar has a box (in fact an atom bomb) with which she will destroy civilisation if she is harmed. He has the Doctor and party locked up. Ninani, however, releases them and they enter the temple. The Doctor confronts Ishtar, who he discovers to be a cybernetic half-woman half-serpent who controls people by injecting their brains with her probe circuits. Like you do.

Ace arrives in the nick once more, accompanied by Utnapishtim and Urshanabi on flying skimmers from their spaceship. A fight ensues, at the end of which Ishtar injects one of her probes into Ace's head. However, Utnapishtim had prepared them all for this eventuality, and had placed a computer virus in each of their minds which infects Ishtar and will destroy her.

Knowing that this will cause her bomb to detonate, the Doctor hurries them all back to the TARDIS where he extracts the probe from Ace's head and connects it to the TARDIS telepathic circuits in order to create the illusion that Ishtar's mind is still alive and thus gain enough time to disarm the bomb.

Unfortunately, Ishtar is able to transfer her consciousness to the TARDIS itself and takes control of the ship. The Doctor tricks her into moving her mind into the secondary console room and ejects her into the vortex.

Using the disassembled bomb, the Doctor repowers Utnapishtim's crashed ship, and gives them the coordinates of a habitable planet they can colonise. With peace agreed between Uruk and Kish too, at least for now, Ace and the Doctor leave. But as they go, they detect, at last, the Timewyrm bearing down on them in the vortex. It turns out to be Ishtar, who has integrated with the TARDIS components and evolved into something new. The Doctor tries to destroy her by by Time-Ramming both 'TARDISes' into one another, but she flees, and he vows to pursue her and set right what he has done.

Continuity?


Moderate to heavy going.

The Doctor:
  • receives a holographic message from his fourth self (ostensibly just after "The Invasion of Time" but in his Season 18 outfit). This sort of cameo, where the author writes in the Doctor he (and it's always a he) would rather be writing for, will become something of a cliché of the early New Adventures, and you get the sense that the editor eventually stamps on it. Not soon enough.
  • remembers using the time path indicator during "The Daleks' Master Plan" (coincidentally novelised by the same author) .
  • mentally regresses himself to his third incarnation (with "hilarious" running gag about calling Ace Liz, Jo or Sarah) in order to better manipulate the TARDIS' telepathic circuits.
  • appears to espouse mutually contradictory positions on cultural relativity.
Ace:
  • begins the series robbed of all her memories by the Doctor's telepathic house cleaning; subsequently this is an excuse for a review of her televised stories from "Dragonfire" to "Survival".
  • while reminiscing, she manages to recall the horrors of "Paradise Towers" from two stories before she joined. I guess the Doctor added back too many memories.
We introduce the Timewyrm, who'll be around for the next three books too, a cosmic threat that the Time Lords have feared since the Dark Times, though she is little more than a novelty Cyberman with extra sadism circuits.

The Shadow of the Daleks?


Hardly anything, surprisingly.

The Dalek-shaped hole in the continuity becomes a looming presence in the New Adventures, particularly with the arrival of Benny, but you'd have expected more with Mr Peel's Dalek background than a couple of mentions of "The Daleks' Master Plan" (or, 'Buy my other books!').

Angst?


Low.

The Doctor's dwelling on his dead companions, soon to become a cliché, comes across more as Peel advertising his earlier novelisations.

Ace is understandably pissed off at getting her memories wiped.

Nor is she especially chuffed to spend most of the adventure hanging out with Gilgamesh whose idea of a good time is fighting or raping. Yes, it uses the word "rape" quite a lot. Sorry.

How Many Killings?


Many, but all but one are "extras", mainly the many, many soldiers who are hacked to death by Gilgamesh.

Ishtar bumps off the crew of her fleeing spacecraft in the prologue. (We also hear about more victims of Ishtar with their brains sucked out.)

The only named character to die is the high priest Dumuzi, who is killed by Ishtar in one of those "villain proving how evil she is" moments.

Too Broad and Too Deep?


It's the back cover blurb of this novel that introduces the early NA mission statement: "Full-length science fiction novels; stories too broad and too deep for the small screen."

Peel mainly takes the series "more adult" remit in the "Torchwood" fashion to mean a lot more sex and violence, with a particularly unappealing fascination for early-teenage girls getting their breasts out. The descriptions of Gilgamesh and Enkidu chopping up the soldiers of Kish are pulpy and borderline pornographic too.

Gratuitous Kate Bush Song Titles?


Even this first New Adventure displays several of the sorts of pop culture references that helped to make them seem modern and refreshing even if not, in general, references to the most modern and refreshing bands.

Many of these chapter titles are of the old-fashioned melodramatic sort, but others might have been used by the likes of Paul Cornell in his punning moments: "Band On The Run"; "Spying Tonight"; "When You Wish Upon Ishtar" (no, really); though it's unclear whether "Guardians At The Gate Of Dawn" wants to be Pink Floyd, "The Wind in the Willows" or merely pretentious. Mr Peel's 'Gun' tendency before the tribes were named is perhaps most extreme in his choice for a postmodern moment: "'Back off, bitch!' Ace yelled, doing her best Sigourney Weaver impression."

Why Should I Read This?


Because this is where it all begins.

Because it's the continuing adventures of Doctor Who. Because it's a piece of history – in both senses. Because the introductions by Peter Darvill-Evans and Sophie Aldred set the scene for the series. Because it starts off the whole range, almost all of which are better than this and will be flattered by the comparison, and starts off a four-book arc, absolutely all of the rest of which are better than this. Because you don't want to miss Terrance Dicks' tour-de-force "Timewyrm: Exodus" or Paul Cornell's glorious debut novel "Timewyrm: Revelation". And because it's not that bad, if you can ignore all the sex, which is repellent not because it's 'adult' but because it's shallow, terribly written, and non-consensual in far too many ways.

Arguably "Time's Crucible", which could be said to start where "Survival" ends, forms a better bookend for the series with its twin and mirror, "Lungbarrow". But "Lungbarrow" is not the end of the New Adventures and "Time's Crucible" is not the start.

It all begins here.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

What Doctor Who – The New Adventures Mean To Us: Nick

The role of the New Adventures novels (at last to be given their due, in this blog) and the Missing Adventures ones too (next year perhaps, fellas?) has been underestimated in the history of Doctor Who. Inasmuch as online forums now constitute fan activity, Virgin's novels tend to be defined, if not in opposition to the current TV incarnation, as its ersatz version: they 'carried the torch' during the 'wilderness years', or produced points of continuity to cause trouble for the series now (such as the Doctor's family, or his ability to produce one). Until mentioned onscreen, Wikipedia stresses their 'relationship to the televised serials' to be, primly, 'open to interpretation' (adaptation, in the case of Human Nature, simultaneously acknowledges and elides the original). Amid a bewildering mass of new reference guides, Lars Pearson's I Who remains the sole perspective on these ninety-odd adventures.

And to some extent, it's not hard to see why. Those books are out of print and as tricky to get hold of, for new, interested fans, as TV episodes before VHS. More in-demand titles, such as Lance Parkin's 1996 Cold Fusion, are about as available as 1967's The Evil of the Daleks, without the luxury of a novelisation.

It can't last. Already, a couple of print-on-demand editions of original BBC novels have been made legitimately available. The full force of the ebook hasn't been felt yet. For now, at least, demand isn't high and the books have fallen from fan interest. But just as the Hartnell era was unjustly maligned by fans – and the entire series dismissed by mainstream media – the reputation of these 'TV tie-ins' will, I'm sure, see them as rather more than marginal or imitative.

I look forward to that, and to the NA and MAs' greater availability. I'd like to re-read them myself; I have a modest collection, my original copies having been given away in my late teens, when my perspective on Who was changing. I kept ones I knew I'd re-read, but many had odd associations I wanted to be free of. They reminded me of lonely lunchtimes at school, embarrassing conversations (with friends). I was a child when Timewyrm: Genesys was published, you see. I read most of its sequels during adolescence, when I might have discovered Camus or kissed a few boys.

I find I don't even like to dwell on these times too much. Most of my fan friends are slightly older than me, and these funny little distinguishing experiences feel like a separation from them, a split in community. There are far worse ones in the community of fandom, of course, and that's the point – underlying, there's a sense of belonging there, strengthened by stories rather than experience. Myths and folktales give cohesion to a community, and the NAs and MAs mark a transition. After 1990, Doctor Who ceased to be a story shared via UK popular culture. It was inherited by the smaller community of fandom, and continued – after a fashion – in these books.

At Goodrich primary school, in 1993, I somehow whipped up a small time-storm of belated Who fandom. Ben Miller and Douglas Myers waved imaginary sonic screwdrivers in the playground; Douglas and I wrote an adventure called Cry of the Bogaloids (set on an unfortunate planet inhabited by all the Doctor's adversaries to date). But secondary school was different. Doctor Who was part of my eccentric, out-of-time solitude there. Things like DWM, though, which reviewed and debated and Preluded the NAs, were my link (pre-internet, for me at least) to a sense of community. Vitally, the community was still built on an ongoing story. It was in the junkyard, but it was still humming away to itself. 'It's alive!'

Richard, in his (first) piece for Time's Champions, wonders if it's slightly perverse to turn a kids' TV show into a line of adult-oriented novels. It never seemed strange to me. My Doctor Who experience was mainly on the page: DWM and its back issues, Titan script-books, yellowed Targets, coffee-table books like Timeframe. I saw the TV show in odd instalments, and delighted in it: books weren't up or down the hierarchy, but were perhaps less obscured by the 'production codes' of another time, more immediate. They were also copious and immersive, and could be crammed in a school blazer pocket. And they took the place of YA novels in my reading. They were a peculiar window on what adult life might be like: sex, drugs and all.

And it was fascinating, the whole thing. As a teenage reader, I was both cursed and blessed with the New Adventures. I took in all the bad prose and ludicrous angst, the sequels and evocations before the originals. But there was also beauty and wit, there was a very '90s bohemianism, and a sort of nobility in domestic life. There were queer characters and quests for identity. There was absolute vaulting ambition (at times).

There was also real, testing exploration of what it meant to be the Doctor, or his fan. There was intensive working through of what anxiety he must feel, what the consequences of Doctor Who were. Embarrassing now, perhaps (and only perhaps), but it was necessary for the giddy, uninhibited TV Doctor to return.

Because they were books, the Doctor Who experience changed, became more intimate, sometimes more reflective. Because they were novels, they had to follow lives beyond the immediate adventure. History, culture, and language became important, from the Ka Faraq Gatri via Xhosa to the People: cultural relativism, moral ambiguity, unreliable narrators. Ideas from beyond sci-fi – trickster figures, archetypes, psychology – were integral, and showed how unique Doctor Who is.

I was struck by Richard's description of them as perverse. More often than not, in many ways, they were – or would have seemed it, to the casual browser. The Man in the Velvet Mask, which I read last week, degrades its heroes with total, philosophical conviction. In isolation, it is bizarre – but as a Missing Adventure, it was part of a rigorous, intricate work of criticism and exploration. It was a project that saw the best in continuity. Continuity embellished our hero, who contained multitudes. (The BBC novels would later embrace ambiguity and multiplicity too). We often forget this – the inventing and the unifying – was done here for the first time.

It makes no sense, but before the TV series ended there were no original novel adventures for the Doctor. The closest ancestor is the DWM comic strip, especially under John Ridgway, but the resemblance isn't close. The editors of the NAs chose not to take the beloved, brilliantly successful Target books as their model. They made a TV institution the foundation of something done completely differently, and if what they ended up with was unpalatable to some (and in retrospect I find myself asking: where are the horror stories, the urban fantasy – why isn't Ace a lesbian – why are there so many trained killers about) it doesn't really matter. Doctor Who was proven to transcend format, medium, audience. It didn't survive sixteen years 'in the wilderness' through simply being produced. Without being reduced to formula, something essentially Whoish was searched for, tested, strengthened and celebrated.

Nowadays, Big Finish have their license to produce new stories from the BBC – but the 'license' to do it, confidently playing with the format, going where they like, comes from the New Adventures. We might see that license in some TV Who: TV stories that work like stageplays, movies, video diaries. Stories without the Doctor, or riffing on a good idea from three decades ago. These things are okay so long as it still 'feels like Doctor Who', and Rebecca Levene and Peter Darvill-Evans took risks to show that doesn't mean the furniture or format.

The era of the New and Missing Adventures of Doctor Who is now referred to as the wilderness years, and the image that conjures for me is desolation – emptiness. But in terms of invention and debate, the wilderness of Doctor Who was lush, verdant and full of exotic life. It was a wonderful place to be lost in for a few years. It didn't end with Virgin's books, but I think they opened the way into it...


Nick Campbell blogs at A Pile of Leaves.

Friday, 22 June 2012

What Doctor Who – The New Adventures Mean To Us: Simon

In my house, I have a room full of books.

I know, that’s a huge luxury. I certainly appreciate it after years of squeezing untidy piles of books into any space I could find in pokey flats. We’re lucky, the house we’ve rented has a small spare room, and we’ve turned it into a library.

The reason for me having so many books, the collection ebbing and flowing over the years, is Doctor Who. Oh sure, my parents taught me to read with books about anthropomorphised badgers, and self-important puffed-up steam trains. I enjoyed them. They were fun. But they never truly fired my imagination.

Then one day in the school library, aged about seven, I picked up a book based on a TV show I quite enjoyed – something called Doctor Who and the Daemons. I tore through it in hours, I reread it, and begged my cash-strapped mother to buy me more. She obliged, and thanks to the prose of Barry Letts, I developed a lifelong passion for reading. That one book probably shaped my literary tastes for life - science fiction; occultism; horror; humour. And most of all, that errant, Earth-loving Time Lord, the Doctor.

So what does this have to do with my room of books? Said room is, obviously, blessed with quite a preponderance of Who-related literature. But pride of place is given – as it always was even in the pokiest of flats – to my complete collection of Doctor Who: The New Adventures.

I tend not to go back to reading the old Target novelisations of the TV Who stories – we now have the luxury, unimagined when I was a child, of being able to watch them at any time on shiny disc. That’s a shame in some ways, as Terrance Dicks’ clever, economical prose conjures up imaginary vistas in the mind that a 1970s BBC budget could never compete with. But the New Adventures? I still reread those even now, a whole fifteen years after the last one was published. These original stories never appeared on TV; never had BBC budget constraints; the monsters were real monsters, not men in rubber suits or badly scaled models with a flaring yellow chromakey outline. The New Adventures existed solely in the imagination. I loved them. And it’s fair to say, they played a huge part in making me the person I became.

Virgin started publishing them in 1991. It was the year after I left university, and I was starting to ask myself whether my love for a creaky old television show was something I really should have outgrown at the age of 21. Doctor Who on television had finished two years before, and despite some flickers of a growing sophistication with stories like The Curse of Fenric and Ghost Light, it was already feeling to me like a childish thing I should put away.

Then I happened on the first of the New AdventuresTimewyrm: Genesys – in the local WH Smith. “Stories too broad and too deep for the small screen”, it said on the back. Intrigued, I picked it up and read it within a day. And actually, on that first showing, I wasn’t too impressed. It was nice to continue the story of the Seventh Doctor and Ace, pretty much from where we’d left them, with ‘adult’ lashings of sex and violence. But I didn’t warm to John Peel’s prose style.

I might have stopped then and there. But I’m a sucker for sequels, and next month, Smiths had another one on the shelf. Timewyrm: Exodus. And it was by none other than the legendary Terrance Dicks, the man who’d held me spellbound, nose in a book, for most of my childhood. This one too I read in a day – but this time I was enthralled. Nazis! Time monsters! The Doctor actually having to help Adolf Hitler! All told in Terrance’s usual gripping, page-turning style, but free of Target’s constraints about violence, sexuality and drugs. So thanks – once again – to Uncle Terrance, I was hooked.

From then on, even though my employment then was patchy at best, I religiously picked up the New Adventures every month. And found Doctor Who maturing with me, into a complex universe of time and space that greatly expanded on the times, the places and the people I knew from the TV. The portrayal of the Doctor as a complex, sometimes dark and manipulative but still wise figure evolved; Ace grew from the not-entirely-realistic working class teenager I’d seen on TV to a character of real complexity, full of rage, bitterness but still capable of tenderness under her hard shell.

Along the way, I met a whole new gaggle of authors, many of them finding print for the first time. Obviously it was great to have old hands like Terrance on board, but even as early as the fourth book I fell completely in love with the work of Paul Cornell. Timewyrm: Revelation was full of pop culture references, philosophy, theology and downright surrealism, all mixed in with a depth of emotion unheard of in Doctor Who before. These felt like real people. I cared about them. I cared what happened to them – even the one-shot guest characters.

Paul it was, too, who invented the books’ first original companion, who was an instant role model for me – even if she was a woman. Sarcastic, hard-drinking fake archaeologist Professor Bernice Summerfield is one of the series’ lasting legacies; fan readers of all kinds fell instantly in love with her. Always ready to prick pomposity and pretention (even her own), Bernice’s adventures threaded through those of the Doctor’s for almost all of those magical six years. She continues even now, incarnated perfectly by Lisa Bowerman, in Big Finish’s audio range – in fact, the company started out with her adventures long before it had permission to actually feature the Doctor. That’s how good Paul Cornell is at creating a character.

More than anyone, Paul, for me, defined the flavour of the New Adventures. Depth; believable characters; emotion; beautiful prose. And he managed to establish that as early as book number four of the series. Thanks to Paul, I had my eyes opened to cyberspace, to paganism, to the mind-expanding (and responsible) use of recreational drugs. And most of all to alternative sexualities.

I’d always been a liberal – I think most Who fans find their politics shaped that way by the show’s hero. So I had no problem accepting the ‘other’. But in the asexual world of TV Who, there was no frame of reference for sexuality. I’d spent my entire teenage years managing to hide from my own sexuality, even while being accepting of others. It pains me to say it, but I must have, on some level, been ashamed of the fact that I was gay, and unwilling to acknowledge it even to myself, despite the mounting evidence.

The New Adventures were a major factor in changing all that, in particular Paul Cornell’s. The future worlds he painted, where sexuality was fluid and gender never an issue, seemed revolutionary to me then. Love and War in particular, with its omnisexual pagans and liberal attitudes, was the beginning of me thinking that my sexuality might be nothing to be ashamed of. Might, in fact, be a little bit cool. It was published in 1992. That was the year I came out of the closet, first to myself, then to my friends, and finally to my family. So, belatedly – thanks, New Adventures.

The books continued to open my eyes, and plenty more were as good as Paul’s. Kate Orman’s The Left Handed Hummingbird hit me hard with its mixture of misanthropy and hope. Mark Gatiss’ Nightshade was a forerunner of all his work since, with its blend of gothic horror, humour and nostalgia. Andy Lane’s All Consuming Fire set me on a lifelong love affair with Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. The ever-unpredictable Lawrence Miles baffled my brain with Christmas on a Rational Planet, which felt like TS Eliot had taken to writing Who novels. And some chap called Russell T Davies wrote one – Damaged Goods – set on a grimy London council estate, mixing working class characters, several of them gay, with a twisted alien menace. The characters and dialogue were first rate, but the ending didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Imagine that…

In the mid-90s, I finally moved to London, and like any fan at the time, I started going to the Fitzroy Tavern. And it was there that I started to meet these mystical, godlike people who were ‘authors’. And guess what? They turned out to be just like anyone else. Not in a bad way; some were wonderful people, some not, some neither. I was surprised to find that Paul Cornell wasn’t a dreadlocked hippy pagan; he was actually a quite dapper young Christian. And a really friendly, welcoming chap too. The late Craig Hinton was the sort of guy who makes you feel so at ease with him that we were telling each other dirty jokes within five minutes of meeting. And Lawrence Miles was exactly as you’d expect – determinedly eccentric and provocative, but with a wicked sense of humour.

The New Adventures have pride of place in my room of books. I still reread them. Some, with their hip, up to the minute pop culture references to the Stone Roses or the Happy Mondays, seem a bit dated now. But never less than enjoyable. Look down the spines, yellowing a little now after years of being in smoky rooms, and you can tell which ones I liked best; their spines are creased and a little cracked from all the re-reading. They made Doctor Who grow up right alongside me, and shaped my personality and my philosophy along the way. Into, I hope, a better person than the one I was.


Simon Fernandes blogs at Simon’s incoherent blog.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Happy -528th Birthday, Professor Bernice Summerfield!

A fabulous character in the New Adventures and beyond, Professor Bernice Summerfield will be born on 21st July, 2540 – or will be twenty years old this October, according to choice.

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To celebrate, here are the complete New Adventures.

Though Benny did have another twenty-odd of her own.

And more books from Big Finish.

And many, many more audio adventures.

But as I realised when setting these out, the New Adventures already cover rather more ground than I thought they did.

We’re going to need a bigger photo…

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

What Doctor Who – The New Adventures Mean To Us: Richard

Doctor Who: The New Adventures (not, as Wikipedia disparagingly lists them, "Virgin New Adventures"), for six years from 1991 to 1997 were Doctor Who.

At the time, everyone was on board with this. The general public may have drifted away, but fans, DWAS, Doctor Who Magazine (and their rivals) all bought into this unifying idea: the series was – temporarily – off air, but that was okay, because the line remained unbroken. People who were recognisably Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred, joined by someone who would eventually turn out to be Lisa Bowerman, continued to play the Doctor and Ace (and their new friend Benny) albeit in paperback form.

With the exception of the four "Timewyrm" novels which are hard to place (although "at the beginning" seems obvious), The New Adventures form a continuous narrative of sixty adventures for the seventh Doctor in between his last two televised appearances. "Cat's Cradle" follows on directly from "Survival" (even the title is thematically consistent). "Lungbarrow" segues directly into the "Time Waits for No Man" TV movie. And "The Dying Days" is a bonus.

In hindsight, it was a miracle that everyone could play together nicely in the same shared universe sandbox.

So the first thing that the New Adventures mean is a shared community.

After Virgin lost the licence to print new Doctor Who there was what we might melodramatically call the great schism, partly caused by rival book continuities as Virgin's ongoing line of Benny-led NAs vied with the BBC's in-house Eighth Doctor Adventures, partly by the rise of the deservedly-popular Big Finish audios, partly just because fandom had decided to fall apart. The possibility that Doctor Who was a single ongoing narrative, one "continuity", was shattered at that point and there's no going back.

I'm not saying that these later stories are bad, or wrong. (Although I admit I'm no fan of the BBC's Past Doctor Adventures of the seventh Doctor and Ace, a strand that seemingly went out of its way to rewrite continuity as though the NAs hadn't got there first.) But Big Finish have produced an excellent series of audio adventures for the seventh Doctor, Ace and latterly Hex. There's also a darker, more contemplative range of solo seventh Doctor adventures, purportedly towards the end of his life, leading up to the lonely Doctor we see at the start of "Time Waits for No Man". But there is no gap for these stories to go in, any more than there is a gap for the equally-good fifth Doctor Peri and Eremim stories that allegedly go between "Planet of Fire" and "The Caves of Androzani". If you think that one continuity bulldozes another aside, that's up to you. If you want to think that they're a different time track, or an unreliable narrator, or a parallel universe away, or that time can be rewritten, or if you want to retcon that a gap can be there after all, then that's perfectly acceptable too. The dimensions of time are stranger than we know and any and all of these things can be true or false all at once.

But there's an extent to which this has led to a revisionist "they never happened" attitude towards the New Adventures. (Or the 8DAs or the audio adventures or all the above.) It's a tendency that says that since, by television audience standards, very few people read them they somehow don't "count", that because the general Joe in the street is not remotely likely to remember them that they didn't really happen (as though the average Joe in the street stands a chance of remembering "Enlightenment" or "Inferno" or even really "City of Death" either). People refer to them dismissively as spin-offs, non-canonical, or the derisive "fanfiction". (Though by that definition "Rose", "Blink" and "Human Nature (TV reprise)" should count as "fanfiction" too. Meaning: what's wrong with fans writing fiction?)

One particular way of disbarring the New Adventures is to say: "but people had to pay to read them".

Yet, for me, this is actually a strength. As fans we're all a bit Obsessive Compulsive to a greater or lesser extent. The urge to "collect the set".

So, the second thing about the New Adventures is their collectability.

In a way, I came to Doctor Who backwards. I remember watching, as a child, because those cliffhangers do stick in the head. I remember seeing Scaroth's face from behind a door at my gran's; I recall that I didn't see what the Foamasi did to Mr Brock because I hid my face; and I remember Tom regenerating into Peter. And Peter into Colin. But somehow I didn't remember the stories.

It wasn't until the advent of the video age, which coincided with both my going to university and my parents moving to Belgium (meaning I inherited a video recorder that would not work on the continent) that I got into Doctor Who. Which meant that Sylv could be my Doctor all over again.

With the series off the air, Doctor Who became treasure. Video was a source of stories that I didn't remember seeing. And of stories that I could never remember seeing, because they were older than I was. To me, the Hartnell era was a gold mine of new Doctor Who. And then came the New Adventures.

The inclusion of "story arcs", present from the very beginning in the "Timewyrm" and "Cat's Cradle" series, the recurring supporting cast, the ability to revisit and greatly expand the mythos of the Earth Empire or Ancient Gallifrey... all this adds to the addictive jigsaw that keeps you coming back for more.

The "Cartmel Master Plan", derided or affectionately remembered, was never a setting in stone of the book series' overarching story. But instead was a metaphor, the idea not just that this secret document was kept in the vault at Virgin Publishing, but that these secrets would be revealed. It adds another dimension to the series' collectability: the desire to keep coming back to see what they will tell you this week, to see if you can puzzle it all out.

But equally the long running themes and arcs of comic book storytelling which underlay Andrew Cartmel's conception of the series in the last television years translate directly into the so-called soap opera aspects that Russell Davies brought to the series in the 2000s. The ongoing emotional developments (and occasional breathtaking resets thereof) of the lead characters were a main feature of the range. Indeed "angst" is easily the word most associated with the range. Yet the very fact that these characters could have relationships was revelatory, even revolutionary.

So the third and final thing that the New Adventures mean is transgression.

Doctor Who has always managed to present as startlingly genderqueer thanks, ironically, to its massively conservative "no hanky panky in the TARDIS" rule (mixed in with actors such as Patrick Troughton, Katy Manning or Tom Baker all liking to play it a bit "naughty").

As often observed, those time-space bromides in the tea (clearly enforced by the TARDIS telepathic circuits until they burn out trying it on with Captain Jack, leading to Doctor ten being Mr Smoochy, Doctor eleven getting married, and Amy and Rory Pond doing the deed while in the Vortex faster than you can say "bunkbeds") meant that we had a male lead who was intelligent, witty, heroic and totally uninterested in girls (Russell retcons about Sarah Jane notwithstanding). At the same time we saw a succession of strong female characters from Barbara Wright to Ace – taking in the likes of Liz Shaw, Jo Grant, Leela, Romana and Tegan along the way, not to mention best-friend Sarah – who were more than capable of holding their own against Daleks, Sontarans and Cybermen and usually more devoted to their hair care than any man. Toss in gay icons from Kate O'Mara to Bonnie Langford – and that's in the same show! – and you can start to see how this was looking to a certain section of the audience.

And yet it was all left unsaid.

The New Adventures could come out (as it were) and say it. How we thrilled – as boy readers identifying with a girl character – to experience Ace's emotional roller-coasters. How we swooned at every hint of Benny's bisexuality (yes, the time-travelling archaeologist who's very much the fiftieth century girl years ahead of River Song. In so many ways). And then actual gay characters (from "Tragedy Day" on). In those years before the word "squee" had been found, we didn't know what to do with ourselves.

And, yes, a lot of the sexualising of the characters was hetero. We'll no doubt discuss the "het-ing up" of Ace later. But we didn't care. The world is mostly straight but not all of it. And so were the New Adventures.

Arguably, taking a television kids' series and turning it into grown-up novels is a pretty perverse thing to do in and of itself. Answering questions you'd never think to ask – can the Doctor get drunk (yes), does he have a navel (yes), do the Time Lords fu- (apparently they used to but gave it all up until very recently) – are all very risqué.

But if that isn't already transgressive enough, the novel as a form lends itself to transgression, playing with time and point of view and unreliable narrator. Perhaps the most playful NAs are "Conundrum" (almost to the point of meta-textuality) and "Christmas on a Rational Planet" (deconstructing the established myths of the New Adventures while playing a game of spot the Doctor Who story reference – can you find them all?) while "The Highest Science" and "Tragedy Day" toy with satire and "Parasite" does the Joseph Campbell monomyth thoroughly to death.

(And in the related Missing Adventures, "The Romance of Crime", "The English Way of Death" and "The Well-Mannered War" develop pastiche to high art in rediscovering the Douglas Adams era.)

In conclusion, then:

Chelonians, Pakhars, Legion, Hoothi, Phractons, Sensopaths, Sloathes, Slaags, Quoth, N-Forms, Toys – never heard of them? You should have. Toss in generous helpings of Ice Warriors and Earth Reptiles and everywhere the shadow of the Daleks and you've got the most interesting range of monsters in Doctor Who's history. Yet two of the best, "Sanctuary" and "Just War", have no alien monsters at all.

From Earth to Io to the edge of Empire. From Gallifrey in the Dark Times to the Worldsphere of the People to the End of the Universe. From Dalek opera to the etiquette of the Ice Lords to Time Lord finger-biscuits. From Ace to Benny to Chris and Ros. Time's Champion, Ka'Faraq'Gatri, The Doctor.

These are the New Adventures.

These are my Doctor Who.

This is how much they mean to me.