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Doctor Who: The Next Generation

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There's strange new territory awaiting the Doctor's first voyage into unscreened fiction.


With the Doctor Who TV series currently experiencing a production hiatus, longtime U.K. publisher W.H. Allen (now Virgin Publishing) has embarked upon an indefinite range of new adult-fiction novels to fill the looming product void. "We had been lobbying the BBC to let us do original material for several years," says Virgin's Doctor Who-commissioning editor, Peter Darvill-Evans. "It's an obvious step on from novelizing the TV stories, which we've done pretty comprehensively."

Indeed, from the program's massive, 26-year, 158-story history, just six scripts currently remain unadapted. Author and Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy creator Douglas Adams still refuses permission for his two late-70s scripts—"The Pirate Planet" and "City of Death"—to see print, while negotiations over the proposed division of royalties generated from four possible Dalek books likewise denies their publication. The earliest of these, two encounters written for Patrick Troughton's Doctor by David Whitaker, aren't even held in the BBC archives (see STARLOG #163).

Remaining loyal to the program, how, ever, Virgin plans several large-format releases chronicling various aspects of the series' tenure. More importantly, and encouraged by the success of Pocket's Star Trek books, they have negotiated with the BBC to extend the existing license agreement to include new fiction. During producer John Nathan-Turner's mammoth reign of the TV series in the 1980s, he supported the view that such an avenue shouldn't be explored until all of the TV stories were novelized first. Toward the end, Nathan-Turner and Darvill-Evans had long discussions establishing the ground rules for this inevitable publishing development. Permission is now granted, but with Nathan-Turner long departed and despite BBC Books' giving Darvill-Evans a "fairly free" hand, it is by those guidelines that the new range abides.

Who's on First?

One of the first tasks was to commission this initial batch of authors and novels. Publicizing Virgin's go-ahead for this venture in various magazines, Darvill-Evans also made available a set of writers' guidelines. Everyone who had anything to do with Doctor Who was immediately interested, and hundreds of envelopes to established and potential scribes alike were dispatched.

"I simply let it be known that this was happening, and people approached me," the editor relates. "I didn't go out and pick people. I was very keen to get things moving quickly, having already decided that I wanted initial releases to arrive in sets of three or four. This way it feels slightly more Doctor Who-ish. On television, it's a matter of a season divided up into a number of stories and each story into episodes. Such an episodic feel has always been part of Doctor Who, and I wanted to maintain that. I also reasoned it would encourage people to buy more once they had bought one, therefore making the books altogether more successful as a series.

"They're not bound together very tightly," Darvill-Evans decides. "Each one stands alone as a story. You can safely pick up the third book in a series and not feel cheated. It'll be perfectly comprehensible. I'm trying to make sure each ending hints at something more, that everything is not quite so hunky-dory as it looks. The basic problem, though, is always solved within each book's plot."

The inspiration for this umbrella theme resulted from his first commission. American John Peel, already author of two works based on the television series, had suggested ideas to Darvill-Evans that were judged most suitable for turning into the initial four-book series.

"I chose John," Darvill-Evans explains, "because his Timewyrm concept was a very good idea. And since I was starting off a completely new series, it became essential that I had authors whom I could rely upon to deliver. I know that John knows a great deal about Doctor Who, and the work he has done for us previously shows he can be relied upon to produce the goods on schedule. Professional writers tend to get their act together more quickly. Also, when I know a writer has a track record, I can make a decision based on less text. I was able to say with a reasonable amount of confidence that he didn't have to provide me with as much as a complete beginner would."

Also commissioned for the first series, both Terrance Dicks and Nigel Robinson are familiar names to Who fans. Dicks (STARLOG #107), a former script editor for the TV series, was an occasional scriptwriter and can claim 64 of the 152 novelizations to his credit. Nigel Robinson, a onetime commissioning editor at W.H. Allen, has penned four books contributing to the Doctor Who library, as well as several other related trivia paperbacks. Both requested guidelines and very quickly returned with ideas and sample text.

For Paul Cornell, whose revelations tie up the first series, things were different. This will be his first book published. "Paul very quickly produced a large chunk of text," explains Darvill-Evans of his protégé. "From that, I was able to judge that he was a very talented writer. I then asked him for some more, and again, he produced very quickly. On the strength of what I thought was a very good story that fits well into the Timewyrm series, I commissioned him to do it. I have subsequently received a considerable number of good manuscripts, but in those early stages, he was among the first and the best."

The New Adventures follow on from the last TV story, "Survival," with both Genesys and Exodus containing references to the cheetah people and its planet setting. Doctor and Ace's encounter there is mentioned as a recent event. John Peel's work establishes a linking theme during the first series. His book, introduced by Sophie Aldred, describes a creature who spends most of this first exploit pretending to be the goddess Ishtar in a Mesopotamian temple on Earth at the dawn of human civilization.

"By the book's end, she has transformed into this Timewyrm, because she has managed to take over parts of the TARDIS," Darvill-Evans explains. "The Doctor is forced to eject her, along with pieces of his ship, but leaves her with a time-traveling capacity. She maintains some sort of link to the TARDIS, which effectively means that the Doctor really has no choice but to go after her and it, quite apart from the fact that he has to do something about such an evil creature rocketing around time and space. The remaining three stories are basically concerned with what happens during the Doctor's pursuit of the Timewyrm.

"She actually takes more of a back seat in the second and third stories." he continues. "In Dicks' Timewyrm: Exodus, although the Doctor tracks her down and lands on 20th-century Earth, she's trapped inside the paranoid, megalomanic, rabble-rousing mind of one Adolph Hitler. The Doctor finds that her presence is erratic. She can only break out of her prison every so often, and he sometimes loses track of her altogether. The main damage throughout the story is actually done by a completely different assemblage of people, old enemies of his who reappear in this book. Exodus ends with a confrontation involving the Time Lords. which results in the apparent dissipation of the Timewyrm creature. The Doctor knows she will reform, so he carries on his pursuit into the third volume in the series.

"Apocalypse, Nigel Robinson's book, finds the Doctor at the universe's limits, physically, and at the end of time. Again, he's dealing with the results of Timewyrm interference rather than with the creature herself. It is a very self-contained plot set on a planet far in the future. This is exactly what I wanted: The Timewyrm is a link between the books, but they're not all focused on her. That would be very boring.

"It's during the fourth novel that the Doctor has his final showdown with her," Darvill-Evans discloses. "Revelation is, I suppose, the strangest and least traditional in structure. Large parts of it are located inside the Doctor's mind, other bits on the Moon. It's an unusual story, very surreal in places, and the Timewyrm isn't revealed until quite a long way in. She has, in fact, laid a trap for the Doctor—though, I'm pleased to say, he wins in the end."

Although the Star Trek books (which he confesses he has yet to actually read) have not inspired Darvill-Evans in terms of content, he has taken certain cues from them in other ways. The New Adventures will be roughly the same format, and length, as the Trek books. They are also significant for proving there is a successful market for original series-based fiction. Darvill-Evans watched how Titan Books' Trek novels sold in the U.K. and looked at the covers for ideas about presentation. Alister Pearson, veteran cover artist for 21 Target Dr. Who novelizations, was originally scheduled to jacket The New Adventures. He pulled out, however, so the assignment went to Andrew Skilleter, another onetime regular who finished the last of 34 covers in 1986. Other Skilleter paintings also grace covers of TV episodes now released onto videocassette.

Who Goes There?

Darvill-Evans has high hopes for his series of New Adventures. Restrictions are few. "We have to seek the approval of BBC Books for what we put on the covers and tell them what we're generally doing. As far as the concepts are concerned, I have an almost completely free hand," he asserts. "That's a situation and responsibility I'm perfectly happy with. Having said that, if the BBC appointed an in-house or independent producer for another TV series, I would be more than happy for that person to vet everything I do. It will be necessary for the New Adventures and the TV series—if and when it returns—to be coordinated and for us to cooperate very closely.

"My overall guiding principle on authors' submissions is that it should be Doctor Who-like and within the spirit of the TV stories," he adds. "I'm not going to let anyone do anything too outrageous with the Doctor and Ace. A number of the authors have been referring to previous TV stories, which I think is a good thing to do. It ties the whole thing together. Fans of the 'program will like such references to familiarize things, and people who come to the books for the first time will feel reassured that they're dealing with a character who has depth and a great personal history.

"Several authors have used the idea of the Doctor's summoning the help—or the TARDIS providing the help—of his previous incarnations. There's an appearance by the Tom Baker Doctor—in hologram form—in Genesys, and several of the books in production now also use aspects of past Doctors. I wouldn't rule out a story where one of the other Doctors is transported forward in time to help the current one, or a plot which has, perhaps, the second Doctor and his companion, Jamie, working in one time zone while the current Doctor and Ace are doing something in another. They may never meet, but they interact and together have some greater effect. There are all kinds of mechanisms for bringing in others, but the stories all must start with the seventh Doctor and Ace."

Sometime early next year a second series of three books will be published together under the title Cat's Cradle. These portray the TARDIS going very badly wrong, with disastrous results. The title was lifted. From an idea that author Marc Platt employs in the first book. A longtime Who fan and scriptwriter of the "Ghost Light" episodes in 1989, Platt originally submitted the concept to the BBC; the script proved unworkable, due to the large amount of special and visual FX required. The plot revolves around the Doctor's machine, which comes under enormous attack and turns itself inside-out. Instead of being an enclosed space, it becomes an open one, a ravaged city through which savage creatures creep. The Doctor becomes separated from Ace and both are threatened by the contents of the TARDIS.

All that remains of its intelligence, of its will, is the final fail-safe mechanism, which manifests itself in the form of a small cat. The cat, the weakest battery-powered TARDIS projection, attempts to guide the Doctor and Ace to do the right things. This is linked with a secondary plot occurring on pre-Time Lords Gallifrey, when crude experiments in time were first undertaken. Their attempts to send people into the future connect with what happens to the TARDIS.

The tenuous, overarching plot of the other two stories deals with the idea that even after their resolution, the TARDIS remains structurally damaged and can barely limp along toward its destinations. The Doctor must allow the TARDIS to take him places where it thinks they can locate necessary materials for repairs. Andrew Cartmel, script editor (and guiding light, storywise) for the TV series' last three seasons, is currently writing the second book in the Cat's Cradle trilogy. Darvill-Evans hesitates to call Cartmel's offering "cyberpunk" but indicates that it will certainly approach that end of the style spectrum. Full of technological references, the book describes how the TARDIS performs a very short time jump forward to New York, or another American city, at some point in the near future,

Another first-time author rounds off the series with a narrative rooted much more inside the fantasy realm. Andrew Hunt sets the Doctor on a faraway planet that has a "spacio-temporal" link or tunnel to Earth. The place is replete with unicorns, little people and other such trappings. Thankfully, events later in the book reveal that all is not what it seems.

The New Adventures promise great things. Peter Darvill-Evans hopes that they'll prove "sufficiently acceptable" to the fans and that they may become almost as authoritative a part of the Doctor Who corpus as the television stories. As a final word of caution, he sums up their immediate direction: "John Nathan-Turner always took the view that what was shown on television defined Doctor Who. Things that hadn't been shown on TV weren't part of it. I might reintroduce themes and characters used in TV stories, but I'm reluctant to go back and tamper with what has already happened."


JOHN B. McLAY, a South London, England-based freelancer, contributes to the Doctor Who Magazine. This is his first article for STARLOG.


Captions

The seventh Doctor, Sylvester McCoy, and faithful assistant Ace (Sophie Aldred, who took the time to introduce John Peel's novel) will find the new adventures on U.S. shelves starting July, courtesy Carol Communications.

John Peel, whom Darvill-Evans hired based on the author's track record, created the Timewyrm concept that links the first four original Who novels.

Having authored more than a third of the series' novelizations, Terrance Dicks was a natural choice to help launch the new fictional adventures.

Disclaimer: These citations are created on-the-fly using primitive parsing techniques. You should double-check all citations. Send feedback to whovian@cuttingsarchive.org

  • APA 6th ed.: McLay, John B. (number 169 (August 1991)). Doctor Who: The Next Generation. Starlog p. 56.
  • MLA 7th ed.: McLay, John B.. "Doctor Who: The Next Generation." Starlog [add city] number 169 (August 1991), 56. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: McLay, John B.. "Doctor Who: The Next Generation." Starlog, edition, sec., number 169 (August 1991)
  • Turabian: McLay, John B.. "Doctor Who: The Next Generation." Starlog, number 169 (August 1991), section, 56 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Doctor Who: The Next Generation | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Doctor_Who:_The_Next_Generation | work=Starlog | pages=56 | date=number 169 (August 1991) | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=9 December 2019 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Doctor Who: The Next Generation | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Doctor_Who:_The_Next_Generation | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=9 December 2019}}</ref>