Home : Archive : TSV 31-40 : TSV 38 : Feature

Beyond Survival

The New Adventures

By Morgan Davie

Doctor Who has gone from our television screens, perhaps forever, but it is far from dead. The series lives on in the increasingly popular New Adventures series of books. Doctor Who has changed: the nature of this change is explored below.

A New Medium

The written word is a substantially different medium to the moving image, with its own boundaries and limitations. For the most part the limitations are fewer. This means we are seeing things in the novels that we would never have seen on television. Notable is the topic of sex, always taboo on television, but seemingly an obligatory part of every entry in the New Adventures to some extent. How long will it be until we see an openly gay character in a New Adventure? Not long, I'll warrant.

Books are also free from budget restraints that hamper television. Novelists are free to use images and scales that would be impossible to achieve on screen.

The pacing of a novel is very different to a four-part television story - events generally are able to unfold at a much slower speed than would be tolerated on screen. There is no need to place cliff-hangers in the story at certain times; a great bonus given the number of pathetic climaxes forced on viewers throughout the show's history.

Novels by their nature give a much deeper and clearer insight into the motivation and personality of their characters - compare how much we know about the Doctor and Ace now to what we knew at the conclusion of Survival.

Of course two staples of Doctor Who need not appear at all - goodbye to endless corridor running and to companions' annoying penchant for asking stupid questions just in case the viewer doesn't quite know what is happening.

A Change of Schedule

The television series appeared in a burst of stories every year. Its history can easily be broken up into seasons, and each season can be looked upon as an entity unto itself, marked with the distinctive touches of its creative team. The New Adventures, on the other hand, appear regularly and continuously every month. This means a much greater number of stories appears each year (if each book is counted as equivalent to a multi-part television story, 1993 produced twelve stories to 1989's four) and the continual, season-less routine means an important form of fan identification has gone.

Lack of Change

One of the merits of Doctor Who on television is that it is continually changing, to the extent that every few years the lead character would change completely. But the books cannot do this; getting rid of Ace and introducing Benny was a brilliant move, but the Doctor is at the heart of it all and there are only so many ways to explore the Seventh Doctor's character. Much as I loved McCoy's reign, his Doctor is long overdue for a trade-in, especially given the relentless schedule of twelve mind-delving books every year. We should have seen a regeneration after Revelation; unfortunately because of the need to keep ties with the possibility of a television revival it isn't going to happen.

One Person's Vision

The television series was the work of many people. This was both a blessing and a curse. Actors knew their characters, and every person involved knew what worked and what didn't, so uncharacteristic behaviour or stupid scenes were (supposedly) rare. Continuity from story to story was-well orchestrated. There were plenty of people to make sure nothing went wrong. Conversely, because the making of a television programme is dependent on so many people, there is always the capacity for disaster, such as the circumstances which befell Shada.

A novel is the work of one person (two if you count the editor), which has its own pros and cons. The vision of that one person can usually be transferred to a finished product without the compromises, changes and dilutions inherent in television productions. But, conversely, if that central vision is flawed, only the editor can step in and set things right. Sometimes this may be impossible; Ben Aaronovitch delivered Transit in first draft form at the last minute; short of dropping it altogether, little could be done. In addition, it appears books are on occasion prone to the same kind of disputes that cause television stories to be pulled; John Peel's War of the Daleks was at one stage scheduled for October this year.

Continuity suffers because each novel is prepared in isolation; the editor is the only tangible link from book to book. This leads to such inexcusable lapses as a major development in character being ignored by the author of the next book, because he wasn't aware of the change until it was far too late to include it.

What all this comes down to is that the merit of a book depends on the efforts of one person, rather than dozens. Is this good or bad? Who can say?

Access

Televisions are found in most homes. Thus most people have ready access to televised Doctor Who. Acquiring new fans and retaining old ones - in fact the very process of fandom - is simple; make sure the telly's on at the right time.

The books are different. First, they're not beamed free into every home - to keep up with the Doctor's adventures now takes a lot more work than flicking a channel control. They cost a fair bit of money, immediately discriminating against the many young fans who simply don't have the income to fork out $15 every month. University students - usually the lifeblood of SF fandom - are in the same predicament.

Furthermore, the books are innately geared towards the 'smarter' (for want of a better word) of us. The New Adventures are definitely increasing in complexity, and while this in itself is not a bad thing, it can create problems. Sure, Ghost Light was confusing, but anyone could watch it and be entertained regardless of whether or not they knew what was going on. The same is not true of books; I know of several people who just don't appreciate the often deliberately confusing narratives that have cropped up since Revelation and one gave up on the New Adventures in disgust, thanks to that book! I and many others of all ages relish the new complexity found in the books, but many people don't. Their faith in Doctor Who is gradually being eroded.

Effects on Fandom

A dozen new stories are produced every year, not including the impending Missing Adventures/short story collections et al. Confusion reigns over whether or not to regard these new stories as official or not - the old canon debate. At present it seems the consensus is 'no'; at least judging by the relative amount of coverage given to the books in fanzines compared to that given to the television material.

The technical behind-the-scenes information that fanzines thrive on is severely limited, largely due to the fact that each new story has a production team of one (or two in the case of Lucifer Rising). Of the first 24 stories published only 20 interviews could be had, including the editor!

It becomes necessary to assume that anyone you speak to has not read a particular book because of their relatively limited access. Essentially this means that one cannot discuss the conclusion of a book in a public forum without running the risk of spoiling it for someone.

Finally, fandom now sees being involved in the development of the Doctor Who mythos not as an elaborate and fanciful dream, but as a concrete possibility thanks to the active encouragement and occasional publication of fan manuscripts - even from down under (congratulations, Kate!).

There have been many striking changes in the nature of Who fandom. However many are reluctant to acknowledge this, preferring to cling to the televised material and that alone. But the books are, in all likelihood, the way of the future. We'd all best get used to that fact.

This item appeared in TSV 38 (March 1994).