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Confessions of a Necrophiliac

By Kate Orman

Recent articles in DWM and TSV have grappled with the age-old quandry: what is Who, and what isn't? The problem, of course, is that there is not and never has been any simple guide to tell the canon from the apocrypha. I mean, Shada obviously happened, but we never saw it on screen, except for some of it, so... it's like trying to define science fiction. Or life. Is a virus alive?

There are fans such as Jeff Stone (Thoughts from the Kitchen, TSV 31) for whom Doctor Who has a very narrow definition indeed. Jeff tells us that after the '85 hiatus the show was "a pathetic shadow of its former self". Beyond being Jeff's opinion, this is a meaningless statement - how could you prove or disprove such a thing?

It's true that post-'85 ratings were consistently poor - or is it? Against Coronation Street, no other programme could have rated more than a million, and certainly not the 6.6 million achieved by The Greatest Show in the Galaxy.

It's true that post-'85 Who was unpopular with fans - or is it? Seasons 25 and 26 are amongst the most popular ever made, topping polls in DE and DWM. The Curse of Fenric video broke previous sales records.

Despite continuing shoddy treatment from the BBC, Doctor Who did very well after the hiatus. It can't be objectively proved that the show "staggered from season to season" or was a mere "shadow" of its past glory. Obviously Jeff's enjoyment of post-'85 Who was a shadow of his enjoyment of previous episodes; but just because one fan (or even a vocal minority of fans), doesn't like the series doesn't mean there's something wrong with it.

Jeff's definition of Doctor Who as "a B-grade science fiction series" is way too narrow. From time to time, Doctor Who has presented us with horror, action-adventure, cyberpunk, comedy, Shakespearian drama, political intrigue, social comment, space opera, fantasy, sword-and-sorcery, several westerns, and historical stories with no science fiction content whatsoever.

It is a cliché to point out that diversity has been the key to the series' success. No other SF series - no other series of any kind - has been able to internalise so much variety, so many different genres. Doctor Who has long since passed the point of being able to be defined as being one thing or another. It has become an archetype, the story of a traveller passing through any part of the human soul on a voyage that can never end.

The New Adventures are continuing this Doctor Who tradition of variety. The Timewyrm books had action-adventure, historical meddling, futuristic SF and outright acid psychodrama. Cat's Cradle brought us hard SF, cyberpunk and sword-and-sorcery. Future New Adventures will continue this trend, with everything from Cybermen to voodoo!

(Perhaps the success of Nightshade has been its ability to capture what Jeff and many other fans think of as the classic Doctor Who feel - small English village invaded by nasty aliens. It only needed UNIT to make it complete. It was self-reflexive, as the theorists say, warping Doctor Who back onto itself, complete with an SF series inside an SF series in the form of Edmund Trevithick's TV adventures.)

Break the clay tablets and burn the translations - and Gilgamesh will live on as the quest for immortality which we all share. Switch genres, switch styles, switch media from TV to books, and Doctor Who will still live on. The journey of the sorcerer never ends.

This item appeared in TSV 33 (April 1993).