Monday, 20 June 2016

Happy Quarter-Century To Doctor Who – The New Adventures

It may seem like we’ve forgotten about the New Adventures, but we never do. It’s just that life has increasingly got in the way of blogging for both of us. Alex’s health has ever-more complications; Richard is ever-busier, not just with work but with the politics that Alex isn’t able to do so much of any more. This week Richard is out all spare hours and Alex as much as he’s able campaigning for the sort of Britain both of us learned to believe in from Doctor Who – outward-looking, embracing the other, facing the future and above all championing times of love over hate.

If you’re reading this before Thursday, please vote, and please vote Remain. If you want facts, Richard can persuade you. If you want feelings, Alex will implore you.

But today is also the twenty-fifth anniversary of the publication of the first of the Doctor Who – New Adventures.

If you’ve come here wondering what’s so special about the New Adventures, that we have written. We started Time’s Champions with not so much statements of intent as declarations of love. What the New Adventures mean to Alex. What the New Adventures mean to Richard. We may not have made terribly much progress since, but we still believe every word.

First published on 20th June 1991, Timewyrm: Genesys is as far as we got on starting this blog. Or rather, as far as Richard got, and somewhat further than Alex managed. This month, though, Alex has just read the book all over again, and made notes that may just turn into his own review, once the referendum stops consuming too much of our thoughts.

The New Adventures still run through us like a stick of rock. We’ve never stopped talking about them to each other – if not to a blogging audience. When Alex was hospitalised a couple of years ago it was New Adventures that kept going through his mind, two in particular that have since been made New all over again by Big Finish. When we got married, our wedding reading was awash with New Adventures quotations in our own idiosyncratic arrangement (as you may have seen – hello, reader!). And just a week and a half ago, when Alex went along to a signing for a new Doctor Who-related book of short stories, it was the New Adventures he enthused about to the two authors there. Both of them were still delighted by the range that gave them their big breaks.
“It’s how we both started. The easy thing to do would have been to take established authors and try and teach them about Doctor Who. The brilliant thing about the New Adventures is they took Doctor Who fans and taught them how to be writers.”
So happy quarter-century, Doctor Who – The New Adventures. We both still love you, and hope to be paying you more of the attention you deserve before too long.

And before we sign off again…

If you, dear reader, should have the Photoshop (sort of thing) or Blogger design skills to be able to create a masthead or a template for us based on the New Adventures front and back cover designs, please get in touch.

There is one thing that we’ve managed to do for Time’s Champions. Way back when, we published a very jumbled photo of the complete New Adventures and realised that they were never all going to fit on the Happy Endings poster: “We’re going to need a bigger photo…”

Well, we took a bigger photo. Two sets on two different days, in fact. One tottering on the edge of the bed and one tottering on the edge of a wall.

If you step back from your screen and screw your eyes tight, you might even be able to work out what we were trying to do.

Both shoots were, at least, far better-quality than the old one. But rather than a bigger photo, what we could really do with is a studio, a more dependable light source than our good old British sun, and a bigger ‘prop’ to cast a shadow over the range (can you tell what it is yet?). So, again, if you feel like getting in touch…

And if you’re wondering why we’re labelling these with a variety of searchable terms, it’s because no-one seems to have a decent photo of the complete New Adventures online, so while these photos could still be better, so far they seem to be the best.

Which means that if whoever nicked the last one for TV Tropes ever looks for a New Adventures assembly again, or anyone else who wants a shot of the collected range, we don’t mind our photo being nicked in the least – but please nick one of the photos that look a bit better this time.

As one famous author nearly put it, happy twenty-five years of the New Adventures getting it off the back of a lorry!

We hope you still love them as much as we do.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

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


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.


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.
  • 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!').



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…