❉ A guide to Virgin territory for New Adventures novices and hardcore NAstalgics alike.
Talk to Doctor Who fanboys and fangirls of a certain age and you’ll be guaranteed a reaction when they talk about the New Adventures. One faction is likely to go misty-eyed and nostalgic and rhapsodise about how the first major series of Doctor Who’s ‘Wilderness Years’ changed the series forever, setting up the things the new series did so well. The others will probably reply with fire, fury and four-letter invective at how it irrevocably desecrated their favourite series. You can probably tell the nature of fandom hasn’t changed much in nearly thirty years.
“It’s one of the great delights of Bookwyrm that co-authors Robert Smith? and Anthony Wilson manage to capture the thrill of seeing a new white-spined adventure on the shelves of the local bookshops. Billed as Volume 1, hopefully the first of a full guide to the novels of the Wilderness Years, it’s the first guide to the books to be published since the series returned to television.”
To those of us who’d grown up on the Target novelisations the New Adventures were an impossibly exciting idea: the first officially approved novels featuring the Doctor. And even better they’d take up just where the show had left off. Doctor Who’s 1989 cancelation may have cruelly cut off one of the show’s golden eras in its prime but it could have left few better springboards for a novel range: an incarnation of the Doctor about whom we’d had mysterious hints but no explanations, and one of the strongest characterisations for a companion in the show’s history but still with much potential to explore. Added to that, Ben Aaronovitch’s novelisation of Remembrance of the Daleks was so rich in detail beyond what was seen on screen that it was practically a foundation stone for the new range. Even if the New Adventures had been stillborn, it still proved that Doctor Who could work as literature.
Enthused by the later Target books, and Aaronovitch’s in particular, I can well remember the excitement of finding the first of the New Adventures, Timewyrm: Genesys, when we were supposed to be carrying out some notional survey work in Abergavenny town centre for our geography field trip. I kept sneaking away from the actual work we were supposed to be doing to read it. And then reread it. From a mature perspective I can only blush at what everyone else must have thought I was doing. If they’d had a glance at Genesys they might only have had suspicions confirmed. It might have been too broad for the small screen in the fairly sleazy world it portrayed, but it certainly wasn’t too deep. Genesys was followed by the thrill of Uncle Terrance getting to tell a Who story unshackled by BBC budgets or the need to chop and change things for a 25-minute timeslot. And then, in December, there was the aptly titled Revelation, where Paul Cornell blew up everything we thought we knew about Doctor Who and opened a lot of doors to possibilities the Doctor’s been exploring in print, audio and television ever since. They were there through university and into my first job: taking me from adolescence to, for want of a better word, maturity. As for so many fans, they’re a cultural touchstone of one of life’s most exciting times.
It’s one of the great delights of Bookwyrm that co-authors Robert Smith? and Anthony Wilson manage to capture the thrill of seeing a new white-spined adventure on the shelves of the local bookshops. Billed as Volume 1, hopefully the first of a full guide to the novels of the Wilderness Years, it’s the first guide to the books to be published since the series returned to television. Lars Pearson’s I, Who trilogy, the previous guide to the Who fiction, ended in 2004 and therefore missed the last few BBC Books novels and a chance to assess the impact of the books on the series so a book which can bring that perspective is sorely overdue and most welcome. Some links they find may be tenuous but for the most part the case of influence is well-stated.
“Much of the joy of these books comes from the authorial verdicts, and inevitably you’ll disagree with the authors on several occasions but more often you’ll find yourself nodding in agreement. In that, it’s very much in the spirit of the fanzine culture and early internet discussion boards which were an integral part of what made the books so thrilling.”
The book itself largely takes the critical approach pioneered with 1990s fan bible The Discontinuity Guide, breaking the information and analysis down into easily digestible chunks and providing a feast of trivia. If you’re a New Adventures novice, or a hardcore NAstalgic, this approach will serve you well where you might otherwise find yourself mired in the range’s often dense continuity. For the battle-hardened veterans of the rec.arts.drwho wars of the Nineties, there are still some surprising nuggets, including why you’ve been pronouncing a certain alien race’s name wrong for nearly thirty years.
Where it perhaps breaks slightly from other guidebooks is in the ability to chart the evolution of the New Adventures in a critical manner. While this is clearly and obviously a celebration of the range, the authors are far from blind to the flaws of a range written by so many novice authors. Timewyrm: Revelation, for instance, is rightly celebrated as the game-changing book it was but the authors are lucid in detailing the flaws of a first-time author. While Cornell may never write another book with the same impact it’s fascinating watching the authors chart his progress as a writer, including his learning from missteps. It also allows them the chance to assess the impact of the range editors, and here their assessment is clear-eyed: for example, Peter Darvill-Evans’s vision for the range contrasted with some poor editing and uneven continuity. Perhaps the only significant flaw is the lack of acknowledgement of Doctor Who Magazine’s Preludes, the short stories which acted as a teaser for a significant chunk of the range’s history. If the exchange is to bring in important texts such as Remembrance of the Daleks or Steven Moffat’s short story Continuity Errors (essentially, his vision of Doctor Who in miniature), it’s an exchange worth making.
Much of the joy of these books comes from the authorial verdicts, and as in Smith?’s other co-authored Who guides, the interplay between the authors and occasional excursion into unusual forms is one of the great strengths of the book. Inevitably you’ll disagree with the authors on several occasions but more often you’ll find yourself nodding in agreement (for the record, Smith? is entirely correct about Shadowmind), or occasionally even persuaded of a case. In that, it’s very much in the spirit of the fanzine culture and early internet discussion boards which were an integral part of what made the books so thrilling. The book’s great triumph is to not only simultaneously celebrate and dissect the range but also to capture the joy of the first time when fans seized control and made Doctor Who our own. Virginity, as this book proves, was nothing to be ashamed of.
❉ ‘Bookwyrm: : An Unauthorised & Unconventional Guide to the Doctor Who Novels, Volume 1’ by Anthony Wilson & Robert Smith? is published March 18, 2019 by ATB Publishing, RRP $24.95 USD. Available for pre-ordering: https://www.atbpublishing.com/product/bookwyrm-an-unauthorised-unconventional-guide-to-the-doctor-who-novels-volume-1/
❉ A regular contributor to We Are Cult, Jon Arnold is the author of three volumes of the Black Archive series and the forthcoming Silver Archive ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Surprise/Innocence’. He is also currently working on ‘Seasons of War: Corsair’.