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.

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

Twenty-one years old today, the New Adventures were, and are, one of the greatest eras of Doctor Who. There are, I think, three crucial reasons. At the time for the series, they were a lifeline for Doctor Who after the TV show was cancelled, continuing, innovating, reaching into the future with authors like Paul Cornell, Mark Gatiss and Russell T Davies; at the time for me, I was going through a period of explosive change and they act as milestones for me along the way; and, more importantly still, they were brilliant at the time – and they still are.

Doctor Who’s Lifeline

The first New Adventure was published on June 20th, 1991. A year and a half earlier, Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor and Sophie Aldred’s Ace had walked off into the sunset at the end of Survival, the last Doctor Who TV story of the original run. And then Virgin Publishing saw them walk back into the TARDIS for what turned out to be sixty-one New Adventures (fewer with Ace, more without the Doctor).

I was probably the perfect audience for the New Adventures; part of probably the second generation of Doctor Who fans, I’d always followed both the TV series and the Target novelisations – since I was three and five respectively, a decade and a half by then – and with both versions of Doctor Who equally important to me, with no new TV stories what could be more natural than to continue the Doctor’s travels on the page?
“When is a lightning bolt not a lightning bolt?”
The first three books were all written by established novelisers for the Target range (which had itself by the end been taken over by Virgin, establishing a continuing thread from 1973 into the new books): John Peel, Nigel Robinson and, most importantly, Terrance Dicks. For the more conservative fans – and I started off more towards that direction – it was reassuring that the second novel was written by Terrance Dicks (then the grand middle-aged man of Who, writing for the seventh of seven Doctors), giving his blessing. It was also a help that Terrance’s Timewyrm: Exodus was clearly the best of the three, as well as notably experimental in its time-hopping. Within the next few books published, outstanding TV authors from the Sylvester McCoy era had joined the range – Marc Platt, Andrew Cartmel, Ben Aaronovitch (with a new book out today that’s set to be another bestseller) – to make it clear that this was taking up where the TV series had left off with the BBC’s official stamp, all three not just providing continuity but driving on with the books’ original tagline of “Full-length, original novels, too broad and too deep for the small screen”.

But what really kept these Doctor Who stories exciting and made them the most brilliant, influential and coherent continuation of Doctor Who between 1989 and 2005 was the extraordinary influx of eager new writers, most writing their first novels, full of ideas, determined to make an impression. Kate Orman, Andy Lane, Jim Mortimore – and people who have worked on the TV series since its return in 2005 like Paul Cornell, Mark Gatiss, Gareth Roberts, Gary Russell and Simon Winstone. Even, towards the end, a book each from the two biggest creative forces behind the next two big waves of Doctor Who – Lawrence Miles and Russell T Davies.
“Everything is history, if you look at it from the right perspective.”
Nothing dates like “New”, and it’s a bit startling to think that when they began I was a few months away from turning twenty, and now they’ve just turned twenty-one. I remember Paul Cornell at a signing about five years ago exclaiming with a shock that they’ve yellowed and started to smell like old books. But though it seems odd to look back from more than half my life ago at “New”, they still justify the title for always keeping the series going forward, rather than just dwelling comfortably on Doctor Who ‘as it used to be’ – because it never used to be just unoriginal, repetitive and comforting. The New Adventures opened up new vistas; I didn’t always like them, but I realised that when Doctor Who can go anywhere and do anything, it can’t sit still. Fans talked about Doctor Who’s own version of the Political Compass, with “Rads” vs “Trads”, “Frocks” vs “Guns”, and I found myself opening up with the NAs from Trad-Gun tastes to preferring Rad-Frocks. From the start, the New Adventures favoured story arcs before Babylon 5 made them fashionable, and as they increased in breadth and confidence they told cyberpunk future histories, turned the series inside-out with a new, old mythology and introduced the series’ defining companion, archaeologist Professor Bernice Summerfield, then later the Thirtieth Century police officers blond, heroic Chris Cwej and grumpy Xhosa aristocrat Roz Forrester, all with the Daleks seeming more powerful than ever by never appearing but always casting their shadow across the stories. And, yes, the books came to define their own clichés (Ace shooting and shagging, Benny drinking, Sylv’s angst and killer eyes, and lots of Kate Bush), yet they remain one of the series’ most creative ever periods. And traditionalists and radicals, Target-lovers and experimenters were all part of the same run, all playing in the same sandbox, and that made the series so much stronger striking out into the future.

Part of My Lifetime

The New Adventures are a far more evocative memory for me than any other non-TV Doctor Who line, in part because for me they were so much better than any other, and in part because of the time they spanned, a uniquely transitional few years in my life. From Tom through to Sylv on TV, the stories are powerful memories but the setting usually at my parents’ in Stockport; from Chris to Matt so far on TV, the stories are powerful memories but the setting almost without exception with Richard in our Isle of Dogs flat. But the NAs summon up memories of the bookshops where I bought them (Colchester where I studied, or didn’t, London for politics or partners, strangely often the WH Smiths at Liverpool Street Station as I travelled in between), of starting to mix with fans, and much more so of university, people or politics. And as I spent a lot of my time at uni hitch-hiking up and down the country to help out the Liberal Democrats at by-elections back when I still had the health to do it, many NAs for me crystallise into reading them late at night while crashing on people’s floors in between days of leafleting and canvassing in different campaigns.
“You mean I’m dead?”
“…Oxygen starvation, brought about from finding yourself on the moon having believed the place to be Norfolk. I do believe that’s unique.”
So amongst the most vivid memories for me – among many others – are Timewyrm: Revelation in Lancaster for a few days with a brief fling; being frightened by Doctor Who for the first time since 1977 by Nightshade in a very tall, very dark room at friends’ in Portsmouth; Deceit at the Newbury by-election; Lucifer Rising in my physical office and at the end of my term of office as a students’ union President, sometimes surreptitiously, under the desk, because I’d much rather be reading a brilliant Who book than organising a handover; White Darkness at the Christchurch by-election; Shadowmind in East London, as my then relationship was breaking up; Conundrum at a local by-election in rural St Neot’s; Theatre of War at the Eastleigh by-election; a god-awful hitch-hike to Bradford South with only All-Consuming Fire to keep me warm in long, lonely hours stuck outside service stations along the way; St Anthony’s Fire being a very disappointing book but still a vividly exciting memory of finding my way on bus round the Isle of Dogs as I started going out with Richard (or, as I’m sure he’d prefer me to remember, reading the far better The Also People in what was by then our flat); Christmas on a Rational Planet in a coach back from giving a speech in Utrecht, having forced myself to put it to one side and write the speech on the way there; Damaged Goods at the Wirral South by-election and around Merseyrail; The Dying Days in short breaks as I was being driven from place to place as the candidate myself, strangely appropriate as a finale, in Stevenage on General Election day, then late at night when I should have been getting a nap in before the count…


My favourite eras of Doctor Who have long been Robert Holmes and Philip Hinchcliffe’s, my first and still the best, then discovering William Hartnell’s early days… And the New Adventures, most of all as they really get into their stride from about 1994-96. There’s much more Who that I love – 1978, 1980-81, 1989, 2005, 2007 all spring to mind; oh, really, the whole lot of it – but those are the benchmarks for quality I keep returning to. With the New Adventures in particular, I can simply think of more terrific books from that range than I can from all the Doctor’s other ‘original novel’ ranges put together. Every set of books has its ups and downs, but the NAs were both unambiguously the Doctor’s continuing adventures and fortuitously had more consistent depth and inspiration than any other non-TV line of Who.
“‘In that case,’ said Bernice, ‘I’ll have an exaggerated sexual innuendo with a dash of patriot’s spirit and extra mushrooms. Roz?’
“‘I’ll have the same,’ said Roz. ‘But with an umbrella in it.’
“‘Coming right up,’ said the table.”
A few years ago, I wrote a series of short pieces on Why Is Doctor Who Brilliant? Several New Adventures featured prominently. We hope to be reviewing the whole range in time – that’s the plan – but in lieu of you reading every NA to discover for yourself how brilliant they are (though you should), here are a few of the standouts, should you happen across them in your local second-hand bookshop:
  • The cream of the crop for me are Andy Lane and Jim Mortimore’s Lucifer Rising, in which the TARDIS crew get a fair bit of character development, oodles of future history is explored, there are huge sci-fi ideas and it’s a murder mystery that’s sometimes very funny into the bargain;
  • …And Ben Aaronovitch’s The Also People, for which I could write a similar précis – more confident character exploration than development, but with other huge sci-fi ideas, another murder mystery and much funnier – but which is a very different book, a small-scale film noir at heart amidst the epic setting and with arguably the most gorgeous prose in the series;
  • The most influential novel was the fourth NA published, Paul Cornell’s Timewyrm: Revelation, which exploded the boundaries and showed that you could write something very different to the TV series; like the following book, Marc Platt’s equally brilliant Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible, it’s a journey of sorts to the Doctor’s heart, one metaphysical, one technological, both in their own ways mythological. With the NAs’ penchant for pop culture references, I think of them as Blue Monday and West End Girls, the one that luckily came out first setting the standard for a new wave;
  • Then there’s Andrew Cartmel’s intense ‘War’ trilogy, with its dystopian near future and übermanipulative Doctor;
  • Paul Cornell’s Love and War, just as political and striking out boldly with the introduction of Professor Bernice Summerfield, who celebrates her -528th birthday tomorrow and is still going strong in her own series;
  • Mark Gatiss’ scary Nightshade, where nostalgia kills;
  • Gareth Roberts’ The Highest Science and Andy Lane’s Sherlock Holmes crossover All-Consuming Fire (he now writes his own bestselling Holmes series), both of which are enormous fun;
  • Jim Mortimore’s Blood Heat and Kate Orman’s The Left-Handed Hummingbird, both of which put everyone through the wringer;
  • Paul Cornell, again’s, Human Nature, which tells an intimate, compelling story that was successfully made part of the TV series over a decade later;
  • Andy Lane’s Original Sin, introducing Adjudicators Roz and Chris;
  • Lance Parkin’s Just War, with appalling real-world horrors but one pricelessly funny moment;
  • Lawrence Miles’ Christmas on a Rational Planet, which overturns much of the NAs’ own mythology with an alternate look at the History of the Universe;
  • Russell T Davies’ urban, gripping Damaged Goods that finally makes the NAs as gay as their detractors complain;
  • Ben Aaronovitch and Kate Orman’s So Vile a Sin, a big climax, followed by Matt Jones’ moving Bad Therapy;
  • And the ultimate New Adventure, Marc Platt’s Lungbarrow, in which the seventh Doctor goes back home for his swansong and many questions are answered (with just as many new ones posed).

Loved or hated, the New Adventures were massively important; neither the BBC Books Doctor Who line that took over from them nor Big Finish’s Doctor Who audios would be around without them, and the TV series that returned, had it returned at all, would probably look very different. I loved these groundbreaking adventures that dragged Doctor Who into the ’90s and cast the Doctor as “Time’s Champion”, the books becoming his own champions striding into an exciting future.
“At the far end of the street, hostile armed men came to the party, and twenty minutes passed.”
Richard and I were both in the middle of following and loving the New Adventures when we met and fell in love with each other, so the NAs have an even more special place in our hearts. We started re-reading them this time last year, starting each New Adventure all over again on its twentieth birthday; for the series’ twenty-first today, we’re starting this new blog to look at them all in turn. Cross-posted to my main blog, Love and Liberty. Incidentally, this new blog’s still very much a work in progress as we decide what to make of it, so should anyone have a Blogger template that looks like the New Adventures front and back cover designs, could you get in touch?