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Five Reasons to be Thankful for the New Adventures

(and five reasons why you were wise to save your cash!)

By Morgan Davie


1: Paul Cornell

Look at this back-list: Revelation, Love and War, No Future, Human Nature, Happy Endings. His other work aside, the books Paul wrote for the New Adventures range were astounding in the way they established the boundaries and set the tone for the rest. These five books all find a place in my New Adventures top ten, which is an extraordinary feat for a single author. Paul has a gift for capturing his enthusiasm and affection for a setting, and for its characters, in what he writes. Each entry was distinctly different, the psychodrama of Revelation being followed a short time later by the high farce (with an edge) of No Future, itself being followed by the gentle and revealing character study of Human Nature. Cornell has shown with each book that he is a talented visionary, and without him the New Adventures would not have been nearly as engaging.

2: Bernice Summerfield

Without the New Adventures, we would never have had Bernice Summerfield. Created by the above-mentioned Paul Cornell, Bernice is without doubt one of the best realised companions throughout Doctor Who's 35-year history, regardless of medium. She is sharp and sassy, sexy and sarcastic. Freed from the constraints of needing to be the viewer' s surrogate and explanatory tool, she was able to become a character in her own right, and a character whose relationship with the Doctor was everything that Sarah Jane's and Romana's were never able to be convincingly. Bernice is now also carrying a whole series pretty much on her own back. How many other companions could have managed that?

3: Kate Orman

Quite a classy back-list too: The Left-Handed Hummingbird, Set Piece, Sleepy, Return of the Living Dad, The Room with No Doors and So Vile a Sin. Enthusiastic and challenging, Kate's work pushed similar buttons to Paul's but in an altogether different way. My favourite of her books is without doubt Sleepy, a surprisingly low-key story told with remarkable economy and occasionally breathtaking leaps of creativity. Whereas Paul was best at challenging the readers and their expectations, Kate directed her challenges at the characters, fearlessly exploring the depths of their personalities and allowing them to take on greater life. Plus she's Antipodean, which makes her one of ours - ‘yay’ the home team.

4: Sex and the Single Doctor

Happy Endings and its companion piece, Return of the Living Dad, summed up what had been bubbling throughout the whole New Adventure series - the fact that the Doctor really doesn't understand sex, romance, and all the stuff that entails. It was there in his on-screen relationship with Ace (Remembrance of the Daleks, Curse of Fenric), and the character arc began in earnest in Love and War. Bernice was a well-suited companion precisely because she, like him, wasn't about falling in love or anything silly like that; but when the inevitable did happen the Doctor was again shown to be fundamentally different. In a sense, the whole New Adventures line can be read as the story of the Doctor coming to terms with the twin ideas of love and sex; approached this way, the Eighth Doctor's kiss takes on an entirely new meaning, a natural endpoint to the character arc, not a devastating break with tradition but a (perhaps accidental, but still valid) recognition of the Doctor's experiences in the New Adventures.

5: Keeping Doctor Who alive!

When the television show aired its last, Doctor Who could have slipped into the kind of oblivion any number of other great shows from the past have entered. But it didn't, instead surviving by switching medium, taking to print with an enthusiasm and daring that other such ventures have entirely failed to catch. There is, in my experience, no other series of spin-off novels which truly develop their source in new directions and with such great success. The stories told are at least as entertaining and valid as their televisual source would have been, had it continued, and although I doubt anyone would disagree that Who is best seen rather than read, the New Adventures are a worthy continuation of the old.


1: Timewyrm: Genesys

Talk about your bad starts. This book was just plain ugly from start to finish. The characters were uninvolving, the characterisation of the regulars poor, the plot contrived, the nudity a gimmick, and the launching of the Timewyrm series forced. It is surprising that so many people bought the next three books in the series when this was the first book they shelled out for.

2: Kadiatu Lethbridge-Stewart

What was she on about, really? The character of Kadiatu made no sense. She was utterly incoherent as a character. Her nature changed from book to book as author after author frantically tried to fix her, but the truth was she was unfixable from the start. Good authors tried; Kate Orman and Paul Cornell made valiant but ultimately failed attempts to salvage her. Only in Ben Aaronovitch's The Also People was she at all passable, but catatonia will do that to a characterisation.

3: The Alternate Universe Series

Didn't these people learn a lesson from Cat's Cradle? Linked storylines are not the way to go unless they are worked out far, far in advance with all the writers involved acting together. This sextet showed up the worst kind of series-within-series, linking a bunch of stories, which were otherwise unremarkable, by some throwaway business about alternate realities, and then trusting in Cornell to make it all worthwhile at the end. Sure, some of the entries were good, but as a series - why bother? The story wasn't worth spreading over six books. It was barely worth six chapters. To Virgin's credit, they did learn from this mistake. There is room for series-within-series, but they need to be better conceived than this mess.

4: Deadly serious angst about dark fates and such

Yet another scene of the Doctor brooding over the damage he has caused. Yet another scene of Ace silently raging about how she has been treated. Yet another scene of Bernice wondering just how far she can trust the Doctor. Yet another set of tragic deaths that the Doctor was in some way responsible for. Yet another sequence of terrible pain, dislocation and horror for one of the principals. Blah, blah, blah.

5: Squeezing the fans for every buck they had!

A book a month and selling strong! Add Missing Adventures, and short story collections, and tie it all up into one unnecessary continuity so people who like one line of books will want to buy all the other guff too to get the whole picture. Great! I'm not cynical enough to believe they were only in it for the money, but it was clear that someone at Virgin realised they were sitting on an oil well. Fewer books of better quality might have been nice.

A final comment

The New Adventures did a wonderful job of turning limitations into assets. They couldn't regenerate the Doctor, so they wove into the story the fact that he was staving off regeneration for as long as possible. They had to keep ensuring that he ended up in troublesome situations, so they emphasised his ‘lightning rod’ nature. They had to ensure he made it through each adventure so the next book could continue the story, so they made much of the fact that the Doctor was unbeatable, and neatly shifted the drama to the costs at which his victory comes.

However, the more subtle limitations could not be reworked. These included having to make sure great ideas linked into established continuity, not being able to make characterisations utterly consistent from book to book because they were being churned out at such a rate, and the limitations of a fundamental lack of imagination (this last, greatest sin kept on happening - see for a start Genesys, Deceit, Original Sin and Shakedown).

I got most of my New Adventures books cheap, and they look nice on my shelf. I am happy, but I expect in a few years time there'll be a fair few people wondering why on earth they have so many books they never intend to pick up again. Maybe then the ‘For Sale’ column in this 'zine will come to life again...

Speaking of which, I still want The Room with No Doors, Lungbarrow and The Dying Days...

This item appeared in TSV 56 (October 1998).