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Timewyrm Quartet

By Paul Scoones

With the publication of Paul Cornell's Revelation the first series of New Adventures novels is now complete, and this seems an opportune moment to cast a gaze back and examine how this new concept in Doctor Who fiction is shaping up.

I have a special interest in the New Adventures books - way back in early 1988 I wrote an article for TSV 7 which proposed that the future for the Doctor Who books was in original fiction novels along the lines of those published about Star Trek.

Two years later, the Doctor Who books editor Peter Darvill-Evans issued a writers guide for prospective authors of original Doctor Who fiction novels, to be called 'The New Adventures'. Established authors and unpublished writers alike were encouraged - and still are - to submit their ideas and examples of their writing in the hope of receiving a commission to write a New Adventures novel.

To help guarantee sales while the series became established, the first four books were linked by the concept of the Timewyrm, a creature devised by Darvill-Evans, and explained in his writers guide:

The inspiration for the Timewyrm is the computer virus: if the structure of space-time can be seen as a vast machine, then the Timewyrm is a virus that burrows within it and upsets its programming.

The Timewyrm is an abstraction - part sentient creature, part machine, and part mathematical modelling, it has a physical, tangible reality only in very specific circumstances. Manufactured and controlled by a technologically advanced alien race, it can slip through space-time and pop into existence at a pre-programmed location; and it wreaks havoc in the space-time continuum by randomising events. It does this automatically, as a by-product of its travelling: it is parasitic upon living, intelligent organisms, requiring their energy to maintain its own. But a being - a person, for instance, and perhaps a very influential person in Earth's history - who is host to the Timewyrm is no longer his own master, and begins to behave unpredictably...

The Timewyrm Concept, The New Adventures writers guide, by Peter Darvill- Evans, 6 April 1990.

The original proposal was to have the Timewyrm as a tool, used by some alien race intent on conquest, but at some point between the writers' guide and the books themselves, the Timewyrm became an independent creature serving ultimately only its own purposes.

By Darvill-Evans' own admittance the Timewyrm needed to be no more than a deus ex machina, and thus could "take up only the merest fraction of each book" - which in retrospect seems to have been a piece of advice seized upon by the authors; the creature only comes into being in the last pages of the first book, and thereafter makes only brief appearances, and could easily have been substituted for another entity in each case. Perhaps though, this was deliberate as although Darvill-Evans wanted writers to incorporate the Timewyrm into their submissions, he also advised that the authors had to be flexible enough to change their work to fit into another New Adventures series. This raises the intriguing thought that some of the upcoming novels will have started life as Timewyrm adventures. Indeed, it does not take too much imagination to see how the creature might have been originally incorporated into Marc Platt's Time's Crucible - the first of the post-Timewyrm novels.

TIMEWYRM: GENESYS BY JOHN PEEL

The first book in the series was titled, appropriately enough, Genesys, by American-based long time fan writer John Peel, who had previously produced a series of dreadful Files Magazines, The Official Doctor Who and the Daleks Book which wasn't much better, and three surprisingly rather good novelisations of William Hartnell Dalek serials - The Chase and The Daleks' Masterplan Parts I & II. It was no doubt on the strength of these Doctor Who novelisations rather than his other literary efforts that Peel was selected to be the one to launch the New Adventures and the Timewyrm concept.

In retrospect, this may have been a bad move as Peel's book was generally panned by the critics and fans alike. Despite this, the book sold very quickly in its first two print runs - which is why the book has yet to become available in New Zealand - and sales of the other Timewyrm books don't seem to have been affected by the poor reception - except perhaps in areas where Genesys is unavailable!

The book has the Doctor and Ace adventuring in Ancient Mesopotamia, and it is in Peel's depiction of the lifestyles of the Mesopotamians that most of the criticism lies. It would seem that in his efforts to produce an 'adult' Doctor Who novel, Peel saw violence and particularly sex as the vital ingredients. References to sexual promiscuity and female nudity abound - even Ace doesn't escape no less than two laboured descriptions of her nakedness in the course of the novel. Note however that these details are only ever given for the female characters - which would suggest the type of reader Peel was targeting.

Another quite separate criticism made of Genesys is the over-doing of references to past adventures - something that is not even always accurate in the novel despite Peel's fan background. Constant harkening back to past moments in Doctor Who history whenever the opportunity arises seems to be a hallmark of the fan writer - it's not surprising that neither Terrance Dicks or Nigel Robinson make much use of it at all in their New Adventures novels.

Peel also incorporated a couple of past incarnations of the Doctor - the Third and Fourth - in his book, a trend seen in all but Terrance Dicks' Timewyrm novel.

In his writers' guide, Peter Darvill-Evans gave a suggested synopsis for each of the four books, and it is interesting to see just how different these are to the finished product. Here's the synopsis he proposed for Book One:

A race of aliens want to colonise Earth - they are technologically advanced, and have some limited ability to see into the past. They arrive in the Solar System in about 150 AD and decide that the Roman Empire will make an excellent basis for global conquest. They therefore decide to use their secret weapon - the Timewyrm - to burrow backwards through time to 27 AD, when the Roman Republic was collapsing, Julius Caesar was fighting Pompey, Anthony was dallying with Cleopatra, and the whole edifice could easily be subverted. The Timewyrm latches on to Anthony and the Egyptian Queen; while, 125 years later, the aliens gather in the pyramids and wait for the time-line to change...

The Doctor arrives and has the usual complicated adventure. It all ends successfully with the aliens defeated and the Timewyrm trapped in an Egyptian tomb; but, in the final pages of the book, the Doctor finds, in the TARDIS data banks, references to the ill-fated Egyptian excavations of Professor von Thurling...

TIMEWYRM: EXODUS BY TERRANCE DICKS

[Timewyrm: Exodus artwork]

Whilst John Peel's Doctor Who novelisations had probably led fans to expect better from him than what he delivered, the notoriety surrounding Terrance Dicks' sizeable number of adaptations no doubt had most people expecting the worst from his contribution to the Timewyrm saga. What Dicks delivered, however, has even inspired revisionist opinion regarding his previously derided work. In terms of writing a truly adult Doctor Who novel, Exodus hit considerably closer to the mark than Genesys had.

The premise of Exodus is very straight-forward; the Timewyrm invades Adolf Hitler's mind and changes history through him in such a way that Germany wins World War Two, thus creating a parallel world in which Britain is ruled by the Third Reich. It sounds exactly like a very clichéd SF plot, but Terrance Dicks instead makes it a richly textured, carefully structured story which defies easy comparison with anything we've previously seen on Doctor Who.

Dicks is the only author to have brought back a villain from the television episodes - but then he is the only one of the four authors to have actually scripted Doctor Who stories, and the villain was his co-creation, with fellow writer Malcolm Hulke. The War Chief, the Time Lord who previously appeared in the 1969 story The War Games, is very satisfyingly developed in Exodus, with Dicks even filling in some on the unanswered questions regarding the character's involvement in that earlier story. In this way, Exodus can almost be seen in part as a sequel of sorts to The War Games.

The novel also introduces the character of Lieutenant Hemmings, who would resurface in Revelation, although unfortunately having undergone a change of name from Anthony to Rupert Hemmings. The character was Paul Cornell's creation - he'd finished writing Revelation before Dicks had barely begun Exodus.

In fact, Dicks was unable to deliver his manuscript by the deadline, and rumour has it that when it did arrive, his novel severely under-ran the word count required, and Dicks had to write another section at very short notice; if this is true, then the additional material sits so well with the rest of the book that it is difficult to even guess at where it might be.

Once again the finished book differs totally from what Darvill-Evans suggested in his writers' guide. The only similarities are the twentieth century Earth setting and the completely Earth-bound adventure:

A late nineteenth or early twentieth century setting. Egyptology, the Mummy's Curse, ancient buried evil being disturbed - all that sort of thing. The Doctor arrives because he's worried that the Timewyrm will be discovered; but the actual plot can be anything at all - more aliens, perhaps, or a completely Earth-bound adventure. At some point - almost incidentally if the author wants to do it this way - the Doctor discovers the Timewyrm, and reprogrammes it to burrow through space-time right to the very end of the Universe, and thus safely out of everyone' s way. But, after sorting out the main plot, the Doctor discovers - in the book's final few pages - that the tracer he planted inside the Timewyrm is showing that it has been diverted from its course.

TIMEWYRM: APOCALYPSE BY NIGEL ROBINSON

Nigel Robinson began his Doctor Who career by writing quiz and crossword books, moved up to being editor of the Doctor Who novelisations, and then wrote four of them himself: The Sensorites, The Time Meddler, The Underwater Menace and The Edge Of Destruction. Based on this previous experience, Darvill-Evans actually approached him to put forward an idea for a novel. As Robinson says, "I put together a synopsis, about twenty detailed pages but I didn't do any sample chapters because he knew what I was like as a writer."

Apocalypse, the shortest novel in the series, is not exactly original in its premise of an outwardly perfect society harbouring dark secrets, and is undoubtedly the most 'traditional' Doctor Who story of the four, similar in a way to The Krotons. Apocalypse is the only Timewyrm book not set at least partly on Earth, although it would have been according to Robinson's original intention: "It was going to be set on Earth, a couple of million years in the future when the human race had apparently evolved beyond all recognition and someone had apparently tampered with evolution and taken the human race along a different path."

The book features Patrick Troughton's incarnation of the Doctor in a small but crucial role - Robinson had previously written for the Second Doctor by novelising The Underwater Menace, and his familiarity with Troughton's portrayal is evident from his writing.

Nigel Robinson actually quite closely followed the plot suggested by Darvill-Evans by setting the novel in the far future with an alien race and the idea of the Universe ending. Even the description of how the book should end is very close to how Robinson wrote it:

The Doctor travels into the far future to investigate the diversion of the Timewyrm. He becomes involved in a complicated adventure concerning the alien (?) race that has hijacked the Timewyrm because they want to use it to avert the end of the Universe, which is comparatively imminent. And, after rip-roaring exploits among these futuristic peoples, the Doctor destroys the Timewyrm - and, again, this need not be anything more than a minor incident in the plot. Then, in the final pages of the book, the TARDIS picks up strange energy readings - or something - the upshot of which is that the Timewyrm, rather than being destroyed, has been cast into some sort of anti-matter universe (? - or E-Space? or something similar?) and is disrupting its structure.

TIMEWYRM: REVELATION BY PAUL CORNELL

"I knew they were after a weird story so I sent in a deliberately weird manuscript." That's how Paul Cornell describes the genesis of Revelation, the final instalment in the Timewyrm series.

Cornell is a fan writer, with radio comedy and television drama script writing experience, as well as having written articles and fiction for Doctor Who Magazine. Cornell had used the basic plot of his novel before in a fanzine called Queen Bat, with Davison's Doctor and, obviously, without the Timewyrm.

The creature actually appears throughout most of this book - unlike its predecessors - but in different guises and its presence is not always obvious at first. Revelation is a complex novel with references to literally dozens of past adventures - even the past Timewyrm stories - but each and every one has a place in the context of the story, unlike those thrown into Genesys for no good reason.

In terms of bringing back the Doctor's past incarnations Cornell is the worst offender with the First, Third, Fourth and Fifth all cropping up, but each and every one is justified within the context of the story.

Much of the book is set within a surreal and bizarre mindscape, and centres on a journey of self-discovery for the Doctor and Ace.

Revelation has been entered by Virgin Publishing in the Arthur C. Clarke award for science fiction which tends to suggest that they consider it to be the best of the four books, and I'm inclined to agree. However, although Cornell tidies up a few loose ends from Genesys and Exodus, he makes a glaring error in misattributing the quote "We are such stuff that dreams are made on" - which comes from The Tempest, and not A Midsummer Night's Dream!

All Darvill-Evans suggested for the plot of the final book was that the Doctor take the TARDIS into the alternative universe mentioned at the end of his third book synopsis, and at the end of it the Doctor finds a way to control the Timewyrm.

Looking at the series as a whole, I think there was never really enough use made of the Timewyrm - after Genesys all it did was to manipulate other characters, the result I feel, of too little consultation between the authors; they were not to know, for instance, how each had treated the Timewyrm, and sometimes the result jarred.

It is thus perhaps fortunate then that the New Adventures novels are to be more loosely connected, giving each author the freedom to take their story in the direction they want without being committed to include a certain concept devised by another writer.

If I were to rank the Timewyrm novels, Genesys would have to be at the bottom; I've heard the argument that it suffers for being the first book - taking the brunt of the inevitable criticisms of any new concept, but I disagree - place it anywhere in the series and it's still just as bad. Apocalypse is next; a solid Doctor Who adventure but not particularly deep or memorable, whilst Exodus and Revelation are definitely the best of the four - both very well written and extremely enjoyable books - with Cornell just edging out Dicks.

Despite a few minor hiccups, the Timewyrm novels got the New Adventures off to a great start, and I am confident that these books will go a long way to keeping Doctor Who alive for the fans in the absence of new television stories.

Bring on Cat's Cradle!

This item appeared in TSV 27 (February 1992).

Index nodes: Timewyrm: Genesys, Timewyrm: Exodus, Timewyrm: Apocalyse, Timewyrm: Revelation