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Unexplored Realms - Celebrating 50 New Adventures

By Paul Scoones

In 1988 I wrote an article for TSV that postulated that the future of the novelisations lay in a range of original novels written by experienced professional writers and fans. "I am sure there is a market for the expansion of the range into original stories," I wrote in conclusion. In June 1991 that belief became reality with the publication of the first book in The New Adventures series; five years and fifty novels later, the range is firmly established, the series is read by many fans and is a highly successful line for Virgin Publishing.

In late 1989, even before Season 26 had finished airing on BBC1, plans were under way to produce an original series of novels featuring the Doctor and Ace. At this time it still looked as if there might be a new season in 1990. By the time the first book was published, hopes were very much diminished, and so the prospect of a continuation of the series in print if not on screen was welcomed by fandom.

At first the series was bi-monthly, but in response to unanticipated high sales (most of the first few novels quickly sold out and were reprinted), the series moved to a monthly schedule from early 1993. In response to reader demand, a second series, The Missing Adventures, featuring earlier Doctors, began publishing in July 1994.

Now that Doctor Who has returned to production after nearly seven years, the very series that kept interest in the series alive during the long hiatus is under threat. It was undoubtedly coincidental bad timing that saw Virgin's publication of the celebratory 50th New Adventure take place in May 1996 in the UK when everyone's attention seemed to be turned towards the movie, which had its debut that same month. The impact of the movie on the New Adventures continues in that in the wake of the production's success, the BBC are set refuse Virgin the rights to publish Doctor Who fiction as of May 1997. As we mark 50 novels and five years of the New Adventures success story, a premature and unwanted end to this exciting and ground breaking series sadly appears to be just around the corner.

The following brief capsule reviews of the first fifty novels contain my own opinions - which, as illustrated in my article about Transit last issue, are subject to change on rereading a novel.

Genesys suffers from a slightly poorer reputation than it perhaps deserves. As the first book in what many regarded even in 1991 to be the possible future of the series, it came under intense scrutiny and incurred considerable criticism. The sexuality and the high level of violence, were apparently just part of Ancient Mesopotamian everyday life, but given the author's several lapses of Doctor Who continuity (especially regarding Ace's background), the accuracy of his historical research is probably questionable. Peel's bland and uninvolved style was better suited to his Dalek novelisations.

2. TIMEWYRM: EXODUS by Terrance Dicks
The most prolific and experienced of all Doctor Who novelists, Dicks ably captured the characters of the Doctor and Ace and wove a gripping tale of Nazi Germany infiltrated by not one but two separate alien menaces. There's a real enthusiasm for the subject matter evident in the writing and the point at which Dicks pokes fun at one of his own TV stories is clever and amusing.

3. TIMEWYRM: APOCALYPSE by Nigel Robinson
Containing some intriguing concepts about genetic engineering and links with the Doctor's past, this remarkably slim book ultimately failed to deliver much more than what might expected from a standard Target novelisation.

The first New Adventure to truly break with the limitations of the television series, set for the most part within a surrealistic metaphorical mindscape. The popularity of Cornell's stylish and highly imaginative novel was undoubtedly a key factor in the publishers' decision to commission many more Doctor Who fan writers' first novels, and Cornell himself has returned to write many more. A brilliant book that can be read in isolation from the first three.

In part based on an unsuccessful television script submission, Platt's novel contained a great deal of detail about ancient Gallifrey from the history he had helped develop with Ben Aaronovitch and Andrew Cartmel. Involving three overlapping time zones, the story was every bit as confusing as one might expect from the writer of Ghost Light, and just as rewarding for those who persist. It definitely requires a second reading to appreciate the complexity.

6. CAT'S CRADLE: WARHEAD by Andrew Cartmel
A controversial contribution from the television series' last script editor. Cartmel's Doctor is a rarely-seen character scheming from behind the scenes. Warhead launched what has become a trilogy of novels, all set in a near-future dystopian society on Earth in which sex, drugs and violence are commonplace. The first of the three is very 'Cyberpunk' in style.

7. CAT'S CRADLE: WITCH MARK by Andrew Hunt
The series' first foray into fantasy, complete with unicorns and other mythical beasts, though as always with Doctor Who there had to be a scientific basis behind it all. An unremarkable story that is best remembered for its blatant borrowing of plot and dialogue from An American Werewolf in London. There are also loose plot threads which have still yet to be resolved. Hunt stands out as one of only a handful of authors who have not returned to write another New or Missing Adventure.

8. NIGHTSHADE by Mark Gatiss
The first true stand-alone novel in the series and for many readers was the first of the New Adventures to come close to evoking the style of the television show. Fans of Quatermass will enjoy this book for the many similarities between that series and the fictitious TV series Nightshade. An atmospheric horror story that deserved to be been done for television.

9. LOVE AND WAR by Paul Cornell
Perhaps the seminal New Adventures novel. An important milestone in the series, it wrote out Ace (albeit temporarily) and introduced the first non-television companion, Bernice 'Benny' Summerfield. This book cements Cornell's conception of the seventh Doctor as 'Time's Champion', a role which many other authors have upheld. Above all else, this book is simply beautifully written.

10. TRANSIT by Ben Aaronovitch
A controversial New Adventure which perhaps more so than any other has polarised readers' opinions. The story is not easily understood on a first reading and as with Cartmel's Warhead the novel paints a picture of a future Earth in a depressingly dystopian state of decay. Although very different to Aaronovitch's Remembrance of the Daleks novelisation, there is much in Transit which rewards persevering readers. It introduces the character of Kadiatu Lethbridge-Stewart who has so far appeared in three further New Adventures.

11. THE HIGHEST SCIENCE by Gareth Roberts
Humour hits the New Adventures with great style. Roberts' first New Adventures entry is probably still his best, notably for the creation of the tortoise-like alien Chelonians who were an instant hit with readers due to their somewhat comical customs and memorable characters. The novel is riddled with inspired one-liners and Roberts succeeds in capturing Benny's character admirably given that she had only recently joined the series.

12. THE PIT by Neil Penswick
A confused rambling epic, involving dimensional portals, the poet William Blake, an ancient Gallifreyan terror and the destruction of the Seven Planets. In light of its widely regarded status as the worst New Adventure yet, its title is a little unfortunate, yet not entirely undeserved. The ending is almost incoherent.

13. DECEIT by Peter Darvill-Evans
This was the result of the editor responsible for establishing the New Adventures trying his hand at following the guidelines he'd set down for his writers. The style is bland and uninvolving; the book is notable only for reintroducing the older, battle-hardened version of Ace and suggesting a tie-in to the Doctor Who comics canon with the inclusion of the Dalek Killer, Absolm Daak.

14. LUCIFER RISING by Andy Lane and Jim Mortimore
A grand space opera in the same vein as works by Arthur C. Clarke and Greg Bear. A truly collaborative effort, Lane and Mortimore wrote alternate chapters but the result is an impressive claustrophobic tale of a small human colony struggling to survive in a truly alien environment.

15. WHITE DARKNESS by David A. McIntee
An HP Lovecraft-inspired novel of zombies and voodoo in Haiti. Mclntee's richly textured plot is almost but not quite a purely historical Doctor Who story, but much of what the book contains is based on the author's research and is all the more fascinating for it.

16. SHADOWMIND by Christopher Bulis
Another space opera, and unfortunately one all too forgettable. Bulis tells a competent story but he's too concerned with details such as how spaceships really should look to involve the reader in the plot.

17. BIRTHRIGHT by Nigel Robinson
Taking the behind the scenes manipulator image of the seventh Doctor to its logical extreme, this novel hardly features the Doctor at all. Instead the story revolves mainly around Bernice's exploits in early twentieth century London, where an alien presence is seeking a gateway. A popular book with readers, illustrating the potential for a Doctor-less series of continuing New Adventures.

18. ICEBERG by David Banks
The first returning monster novel, and who better to write for the Cybermen than David Banks, the Cyberleader actor who penned the highly acclaimed reference book Cybermen. The adventure is deeply entrenched in the continuity of televised Cyberman stories, but surprisingly focuses rather more on Banks' character Ruby Duvall than either the silver giants or the Doctor. Iceberg is a great read which keeps you hooked from beginning to end - it's a great pity that Banks hasn't been persuaded to write another.

19. BLOOD HEAT by Jim Mortimore
Hard on the heels of the Cybermen comes the Silurians and the Sea Devils in the New Adventures' first UNIT story of sorts. Taking as its precept the notion that the Doctor died in Doctor Who and the Silurians and the reptile men emerged to rule the world, Mortimore's story is both thrilling and thought-provoking. The sequences set in and around a deserted and overgrown London are particularly memorable.

20. THE DIMENSION RIDERS by Daniel Blythe
Set in two very different and for the most part unconnected locations, the plot is rather intricate but never clearly resolved. Worth reading mainly for the scenes involving Bernice's exploits at Cambridge University which are strongly reminiscent of Shada.

An epic chase through time and a shockingly torturous experience for the Doctor help to make this one of the finest New Adventures ever. A stunning debut from the New Adventures' only female author, whose vivid and experimental style of writing is unmatched throughout the series. A novel guaranteed to leave you stunned and wanting more.

22. CONUNDRUM by Steve Lyons
A post-modernist approach to Doctor Who, parodying genres such as superheroes, the Famous Five and the New Adventures themselves, through the utilisation of the surrealist environment of the Land of Fiction. The narrative directly addresses the reader and discusses the direction of the plot. This unusual approach succeeds, but the plot is noticeably padded in places.

23. NO FUTURE by Paul Cornell
Cornell tries his hand at humour. The Meddling Monk is active in London in the mid Seventies, causing problems for a UNIT which has been infiltrated by aliens. The book contains a multitude of one-liners, groan-inducing puns and obscure pieces of continuity referencing. Unfortunately the plot gets in the way and the result is an uneasy blend of comic touches and the serious character-driven drama that Cornell does so well.

24. TRAGEDY DAY by Gareth Roberts
A disappointingly bland effort by Roberts after the wit and style of The Highest Science. Roberts has a knack for creating amusing and thoughtful characters yet the plot is too slight to warrant the book's length. Reminiscent of The Happiness Patrol and Paradise Towers in its depiction of a society run on what are to us slightly absurd and tragic principles, this adventure would have fitted right in with television Doctor Who's Season 24.

25. LEGACY by Gary Russell
Embracing the continuity established by the two television Peladon stories, Russell brings the Ice Warriors to the New Adventures with style and weaves an elaborate murder mystery surrounding an ancient alien artifact. One of the New Adventures' finest examples of a direct spin-off from a television story.

26. THEATRE OF WAR by Justin Richards
A richly textured novel introducing the enigmatic character of Irving Braxiatel and his collection, built up from a single line reference in City of Death. An elaborate political plot involving a lost play and an exploration of theatre performance are combined to great effect. A complex adventure worthy of being read twice to appreciate its depth.

A fully-fledged crossover story, a genre usually only reserved for amateur fan fiction, as the great detective Sherlock Holmes and his faithful sidekick Doctor Watson team up with the Doctor and his companions to solve one of their greatest cases. The book's greatest triumph is the fact that it is presented entirely as a collection of firsthand accounts, mostly 'written' by Watson or Bernice. The Shelock Holmes content does tend to overshadow the Doctor's involvement, so an interest in the great detective is essential.

28. BLOOD HARVEST by Terrance Dicks
Dicks returns to the subject of vampires for what is in part a sequel to his own television story State of Decay. The plot switches between two locations, one being Bernice's exploits on the vampire planet with Romana, and the other being the Doctor and Ace's adventures in prohibition era Chicago. Dicks is clearly more at ease writing the latter sections, and the book might have been stronger if this had been the sole focus. The novel benefits from being read in conjunction with the Missing Adventure Goth Opera.

29. STRANGE ENGLAND by Simon Messingham
At first promisingly appearing to be a Gothic dark fantasy involving sinister forces present in a Victorian English countryside setting, this adventure later develops into something more conventional for a New Adventure, which is to its detriment. The result is a confusion of themes and an internal inconsistency regarding the Doctor's influence on events.

30. FIRST FRONTIER by David A. McIntee
Aliens attempt to invade America in 1957, thus explaining the prevalence of UFO sightings around that time. There's a lot of action and double-crossing, but the characters are on the whole unmemorable and it is too easy to lose the thread of the plot. The reappearance of the Master halfway through the novel and his subsequent regeneration tends to overshadow the plot after that point.

31. ST ANTHONY'S FIRE by Mark Gatiss
A finely crafted novel consisting of two distinct plot strands which come together for a satisfying resolution. Gatiss's lizard-like aliens are finely realised with very human-like qualities which make them easy to relate to. The Church of Saint Anthony with its barbarous practices is equally well depicted, and the absence of much in the way of referencing to previous New Adventures makes this an ideal novel for readers new to the series.

32. FALLS THE SHADOW by Daniel O'Mahony
An impressive horror story which benefits greatly from having a very small cast of characters trapped in a restrictive and claustrophobic environment. Containing very harrowing scenes of psychological terror and graphic descriptions of torture and death, this novel is not for the faint-hearted. Although slow at first, once the action begins the book becomes unputdownable.

33. PARASITE by Jim Mortimore
Mortimore returns to the 'humans coping with an alien environment' theme of Lucifer Rising, but although parts of the adventure are highly imaginative the overall effect is of a poorly constructed and hastily written novel. The final resolution is particularly badly handled. A disappointing entry from a talented writer.

34. WARLOCK by Andrew Cartmel
An compelling gritty thriller set in the same vision of a decaying future as Cartmel's earlier novel Warhead, and featuring some of the same characters. Immensely enjoyable though the book is, the Doctor and his companions appear infrequently as Cartmel concentrates instead on telling the story using characters of his own creation. In short, a very impressive novel but a poor Doctor Who story.

35. SET PIECE by Kate Orman
This book bears the heavy weight of responsibility for providing Ace with a worthy exit. Orman employs the standard New Adventures strategy of splitting up the TARDIS crew across time and space and then juggles the three strands simultaneously. Kadiatu makes a welcome return and the Doctor goes through a great deal of physical and mental anguish (again). Not quite up to the standard of Hummingbird but still a highly enjoyable and well structured epic adventure.

36. INFINITE REQUIEM by Daniel Blythe
A straight-forward adventure which pales into obscurity alongside works with greater complexity. The most memorable feature is the introduction of the Phractons, which bear a passing resemblance in certain aspects to Doctor Who's most famous adversaries.

37. SANCTUARY by David A. McIntee
The series first purely historical adventure, and set in medieval France. Although competently written, the subject matter fails to enthrall and the main source of inspiration (Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose) is all too obvious. Its most worthy feature is the touching romance between Bernice and Guy de Camac.

38. HUMAN NATURE by Paul Cornell
A strong candidate for the series' finest novel. The Doctor has undergone a voluntary transformation into human form with human memories. In this guise he settles into life in a small English village and becomes involved with a female school teacher. A truly charming romance ensues and the whole thing is structured with such conviction that it is difficult for the first-time reader to see how the Doctor could come to give up his newly-found idyllic life. A book worthy of considerable praise.

39. ORIGINAL SIN by Andy Lane
Notable for its introduction of the two new companions, Roslyn Forrester and Christopher Cwej, this story of high-level corruption in the thirtieth century contains a cast of memorable characters and a well rounded depiction of future Earth society. An old enemy of the Doctor's makes a completely unexpected appearance. Lane's novel is a fast paced action story packed with space travel and gun battles, but he still finds time to include an intense and thought- provoking discussion on the morality of killing.

40. SKY PIRATES! by Dave Stone
The wackiest New Adventure of all and definitely not suitable fare for readers new to the series, Dave Stone's debut novel stretches the format of the series as far as it will go - and then some. A densely packed rollicking adventure set in a semi-fictitious dimension, Sky Pirates! has both desperately violent situations and some of the most absurd creatures imaginable. A mish-mash of the horrible, the extraordinary and the side-splittingly funny, this is one very unique and clever book.

41. ZAMPER by Gareth Roberts
The long awaited return of Roberts' popular aliens, the Chelonians from The Highest Science. As with Tragedy Day, however, the book suffers from a simplistic plot. The characters, although well rounded, are not enough to save this novel from mediocrity.

42. TOY SOLDIERS by Paul Leonard
The book has a great eye-catching cover and starts promisingly with a mystery involving kidnapped children during the First World War. Leonard's depiction of wartime Europe is the novel's highlight; once the action moves to the alien world of teddy bears and steam-driven war machines it is difficult to sustain interest in the plot. Ultimately the novel fails to deliver a satisfactory resolution.

43. HEAD GAMES by Steve Lyons
Picking up on the theme of the Doctor as Time's Champion developed by Paul Cornell, Lyons examines the deeper implications of this role. The problem with this book is that it is crammed too full of different ideas and scenarios with only the barest of a linking plot. That said, many of these segments are imaginative and memorable. Mel's return, providing via her reaction to the Doctor an indication of just how much the Time Lord has changed over the course of his seventh persona, is one of the definite highlights.

44. THE ALSO PEOPLE by Ben Aaronovitch
An enthralling character-driven story rich in detail and sumptuous in style, Aaronovitch's second New Adventure is a highly polished tale of corruption in a truly alien paradise apparently closely based on Iain M. Banks' brilliant 'Culture' novels. Kadiatu returns in a plot strand which picks up on a loose end from Set Piece. Aaronovitch provides perhaps the strongest and most definitive characterisation of the Doctor and his companions yet seen in this series. A classic in every sense of the word and possibly the best New Adventure.

45. SHAKEDOWN by Terrance Dicks
Dicks' weakest novel to date is a loosely structured adventure in three acts, the middle section being a straightforward adaptation of his script for the Sontaran spin-off video adventure of the same name. The involvement of the Doctor and his companions is gratuitous and the overall result is unsatisfying. Fans of the Sontarans should enjoy it though, and there are connections with the Missing Adventure Lords of the Storm.

46. JUST WAR by Lance Parkin
An impressively well researched and gripping historical novel based around the Blitz and the Nazi occupation of Guernsey during the Second World War. Notable for its vivid depiction of Bernice's torture at the hands of the Germans and the unusual yet appealing device of a Seventh Doctor Missing Adventure inserted within the main narrative. The portrayal of the Nazis as real people with understandable motivations is chillingly seductive.

47. WARCHILD by Andrew Cartmel
Touted as the third part of Cartmel's 'War' trilogy, this novel picks up the loose ends from the end of Warlock some years later. Once again, the book's use of the Doctor and his companions is too slight to really justify marketing this as a Doctor Who novel, but unlike Warlock the plot isn't nearly as interesting to redeem things. Cartmel proves he can write a good science fiction thriller novel but is clearly uncomfortable working within the Doctor Who genre. The book really needs to be read as a sequel to Warlock, and probably also Warhead.

48. SLEEPY by Kate Orman
Although Orman defeats reader expectation by delivering a relatively uncomplicated story set for the most part in a single location - a fledgling Earth colony - the Doctor still gets to suffer the pain and angst that the author seems to be developing as a trademark of her style. The plot is easier to follow than Set Piece but on the whole the adventure is just a bit too lacking in complexity for someone of Orman's calibre.

The wildly anarchic comedy of Stone's previous novel is all but absent from this mostly unmemorable tale of the Doctor's involvement in a mediation between alien races. The novel might be completely forgettable were it not for the amusing sections scattered throughout the narrative which deal with the ups and downs of Bernice's meeting and subsequent romantic involvement with Jason Kane.

50. HAPPY ENDINGS by Paul Cornell
A no-holds-barred comedy novel similar in style to Cornell's earlier No Future. There's very little plot to speak of and most of the book is taken up with relating various encounters between characters from previous New Adventures novels. The book is hugely entertaining if you don't attempt to take it seriously. The key to enjoying and indeed understanding Happy Endings is to have read most if not all of the previous forty-nine New Adventures.

Eleven further Doctor Who New Adventures novels were published before the series ended. There were:

51. GODENGINE by Craig Hinton
54. THE DEATH OF ART by Simon Bucher-Jones
55. DAMAGED GOODS by Russell T. Davies
56. SO VILE A SIN by Ben Aaronovitch and Kate Orman
57. BAD THERAPY by Matthew Jones
58. ETERNITY WEEPS by Jim Mortimore
59. THE ROOM WITH NO DOORS by Kate Orman
60. LUNGBARROW by Marc Platt
61. THE DYING DAYS by Lance Parkin

This item appeared in TSV 48 (August 1996).