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Who's Next (Starlog)

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The Doctor's New Adventures are just the prescription for novelist Kate Orman.

When Virgin Publishing put out a call for writers of New Adventures of Doctor Who fiction, virtually all of the people who replied were British men, fans who had grown up watching the exploits of the renegade Time Lord and his companions. Only one female author, Kate Orman of Sydney, Australia, has become a regular contributor to the Doctor's ongoing adventures in print.

"Like most Australians my age, I suppose I grew up with Doctor Who," Orman says. "It used to be shown here four days a week in the '70s, plus repeats all the time. I didn't become a fan until much later; it wasn't until 1987 that I went to my first-ever Doctor Who meeting. They showed the Second Doctor's last story, 'The War Games.' We sat through all 10 episodes and it was so exciting! I met other fans, discovered I wasn't abnormal and that a whole lot of other people shared the same interest. I always count the day I became a fan as being when Peter Davison's 'Arc of Infinity' was shown here in 1983, when I was about 14. I remember being so absolutely excited about what happened next I spent the whole next day thinking about it."

Inspired by that initial meeting in 1987, Orman delved deeper into Who fandom Down Under. "For a while, I helped run the Doctor Who Fan Club of Australia. I was eager to participate in some way because I had read all about Star Trek conventions and it sounded so exciting. For about a year, I was the President—the poor person who has to produce the newsletter—and I did a fanzine, The Question Mark, as well. From about 1988 onwards, I was writing tons of fan fiction and lots of articles for fanzines like Data Extract, Dark Circus, Pirate Planet and Sonic Screwdriver. These days, my main contact with fans is through the Internet. I'm all over the rec.arts.drwho forum like a rash!"

Her Evil Plan

Orman's career as a Doctor Who fiction author is the result of "extreme determination. I tried to become a geneticist and was doing my honors year, which turned into five months because I was terribly bad at it. All the time I was struggling in the laboratory, I was also writing and had a mad plan to write a Doctor Who novel. When I was unemployed for about six months and desperately trying to find work, writing Who fiction was one of the things that kept me sane."

Virgin's announcement of the New Adventures couldn't have come at a better time for her. "I knew all about the publishing industry and decided I would simply keep submitting stories until they accepted something; the idea was to fill their office completely with manuscripts by me! This was my evil plan, and it was remarkably successful. What they wanted in those days was about 15,000 words and the complete synopsis of the story, so I sent them The Milk of Paradise, which pitted the Seventh Doctor and Ace against evil drug dealers on an alien world. One reason it was kindly rejected was that it was far too preachy and anti-drug.

"Then, I sent An Undreaming World, which was about an Earth colony unknowingly built right over the top of a bunch of blobby aliens. My third try was The Left-Handed Hummingbird, and I think I was in the right place at the right time, because it fit into the Alternate Universe cycle they were doing then. This was good, because at that stage I was wondering what I was going to do with my life, and all I was doing was writing Doctor Who fiction in my spare time."

The Left-Handed Hummingbird originally featured the Sixth Doctor and his companion Peri Brown, but Orman expanded and rewrote it for the Seventh Doctor, Ace and Professor Bernice "Benny" Summerfield. In 1994, they meet Cristan Alvarez in Mexico City for the first time, but he has met the time travelers twice already in his past. Each meeting was marked by great violence and bloodshed, which fed an entity known alternately as Huitzlin or the Blue. Tracking the origins of this evil and defeating it takes the TARDIS crew to such locations as the Aztec civilization in 1487, the assassination of John Lennon in 1980 and finally the sinking of the Titanic.

"I have a terrible habit of simply throwing things together when I have to come up with a plot," Orman admits. One inspiration came from Purchase His Pilgrimes, the book which poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge read before dreaming up his poem "Kubla Khan." "After the page that describes Kubla Khan's treasure den, I found all this stuff about the Aztecs, and so I thought there could be a connection between Coleridge, the Aztecs and the various hallucinogens they used, John Lennon and LSD."

When the Doctor deliberately ingested mescaline to enter Huitzlin's psychic domain of existence, it caused a minor controversy. "A British newspaper published a big article with the headline 'Doctor Who trips on LSD!' and a huge photo of the book's cover," Orman explains. "I was like, 'Thank you! Thank you! I need the publicity!' They basically invented the story because they needed something exciting. I canvassed opinions from fans online because I wanted to write an article on peoples' reactions; to my surprise, many people were uncomfortable with the Doctor's taking drugs, but didn't think it was unjustified in the book. The Left-Handed Hummingbird was my first baby and so, despite its numerous flaws, I'll have a soft spot for it forever."

Orman's next effort, Set Piece, wrote out Ace as an ongoing companion. "I went over to the United Kingdom for a holiday in 1993, and was delighted to meet the folks at Virgin, and many of my fellow Who authors at a little soirée. Virgin was looking for ideas on how to get rid of Ace without killing her, and everyone was coming up with ways of killing her off. I mentioned my idea to Rebecca Levene [the series' editor], and she liked it. I also said to her, 'You must have had a lot of submissions centered around ancient Egypt,' and she said, 'No, I don't think we've had any.'"

In Set Piece, the Doctor's investigations of gaps in the space/time continuum go horribly wrong and he and his companions are scattered throughout time. The Doctor ends up in the French Revolution; Benny winds up in the company of a famous French Egyptologist; and Ace is sent back to ancient Egypt, where she becomes a nobleman's guard. While the Doctor battles the sentient, assimilating spacecraft Ship and its metallic servitors the Ants, he must also deal with another time traveler whose loyalties may lie elsewhere.

"At first, I had an evil Time Lady in the book, and Rebecca said, 'This character really doesn't have a reason to be doing this stuff. Why don't you put in Kadiatu Lethbridge-Stewart [the Brigadier's genetically engineered, time-traveling descendant, introduced in Ben Aaronovitch's Transit]?' I rewrote Set Piece including Kadiatu, and suddenly the whole story came together. Then, two-thirds of the way through the book, I got up my courage and rang up Ben; we had a very, very long chat about Kadiatu, her motives and background. I realized I had gotten her completely wrong and had her being much more villainous than she really was! Ben's input was helpful; Kadiatu would have been much more boring if I hadn't had that understanding of the character."

Her Pyramid Design

When it came to Ace's decision to remain in France, Orman says she was "delighted... and terrified! I remember sitting down to rewatch [Ace's debut story] 'Dragonfire' to take notes, and suddenly realizing the significance of what I was doing. The 'adult' version of Ace was difficult to get right; it was too easy for her to become a cardboard cutout woman with a big gun, so I can understand why some readers disliked her and why Virgin decided it was time for her to go. However, she keeps popping back for cameos, so some of the writers—including me—obviously still like her."

In her third New Adventure, Sleepy, Orman went for more of a science fiction feel. By this point in their travels, the Doctor and Benny had been joined by Roslyn Forrester and her squire, Christopher Cwej, two Judge Dredd-style Adjudicators (law enforcement officers) from the 30th century. Two weeks after they materialize on the colony world Yemaya Four in the year 2257, a strange virus begins manifesting the Kenyan colonists' latent psychic powers. With Chris suffering from the virus, the Doctor sends Benny and Roz 30 years back in time to discover its source, and they encounter a telepathic computer. "I work as a librarian at Macquarie University in Sydney, and I'm such a research junkie. I went berserk researching Africa to try to get some detail for the colonists. You see, in Transit, Ben Aaronovitch created a future where the West has not done so well and Africa has become the First World. Since everybody who was wealthy would be black, most everybody in Sleepy was black, and that was fun, trying to imagine looking through the eyes of a different culture. I'm not sure how successful I am at doing that."

By the time Sleepy came out, pyramids had become an inadvertent trademark of Orman's Doctor Who novels. "If you put the covers of The Left-Handed Hummingbird and Set Piece next to one another, you notice they're very similar: the pyramid in the background, a blue sky and the good guy on the left side looking at the bad guy on the right. The pyramid in Sleepy started as an in-joke, but it turned into a whole subplot which ended up working quite well."

Although Paul Cornell wrote Benny out of the New Adventures in his novel Happy Endings, he and Orman brought Benny and husband Jason Summerfield-Kane back in Return of the Living Dad. Admiral Isaac Summerfield's ship had disappeared during the Dalek Wars of the 26th century, and most assumed he had cravenly fled. Benny brings the Doctor back into her life so they can investigate. They witness the Admiral's ship entering a freak wormhole, which they follow to the English village of Little Caldwell in 1983. There, Isaac Summerfield has run a bookstore/coffeehouse, the Pyramid, for 20 years, and along with a motley crew, has been "tidying up the Doctor's messes"—helping defeated aliens and stranded time travelers get back to their proper niches in the space/time continuum. With its countless references and in-jokes, the novel is essentially a celebration of Doctor Who fandom.

"Paul and I co-wrote the plot for his book Human Nature, and it was the same thing with Return of the Living Dad. On one of his visits to Australia, Paul and I were sitting on trains, coming up with ideas, which I took away and wrote the prose based on our story. My bits are largely drawn from my memories of being absolutely terrified of being nuked out of existence in the '80s; I used to have terrible nightmares about that as a kid."

Her Torturous Ways

One scene in Return of the Living Dad acknowledged Orman's tendency to put the Doctor through physical and mental agony, and neatly turned this on its head by having the Time Lord literally overwhelmed by pleasure. Previously, the Doctor had endured laboratory testing and being stabbed through one heart by Ace in The Left-Handed Hummingbird; mental torture and nearly being organically consumed by Ship in Set Piece; and telepathic assault in Sleepy.

"There has been much speculation as to the psychological meaning of all this," she says, "but the Doctor and companion have to be absolutely central to the narrative. If they're in trouble or hurt, then the reader gets excited and wants to know if they'll be all right. Also, I used to read The X-Men when Chris Claremont was writing it; he used to do some appalling things to his characters, and I loved it! His influence shows. In my latest book, The Room With No Doors, I've been very restrained. There's no torture or anything; the Doctor just gets killed," she says slyly.

Orman describes the just-published The Room With No Doors as "a big action-adventure story, with deeper meaning, set in 16th-century Japan, around the same time as all those Kurosawa films. I was actually a Zen Buddhist for a year—obviously not a very good one, as I gave it up—and I'm still fascinated by Zen. I remember thinking, 'They've never done a Doctor Who story in Japan; I must do it.' This alien object falls into a Japanese village, and then an enormous war ends up breaking out. An alien wants it, the local warlord wants it, and the peasants want to keep it because it has been helping them out; they think of it as a god. Also, some time travelers 'coincidentally' show up, so everybody's racing around after this wretched thing, and all the Doctor wants to do is to get it out of the way before a real war erupts and everybody gets wiped out."

And the moments of deeper meaning? "Chris Cwej, having had a very rough time in the previous book [Jim Mortimore's Eternity Weeps], is starting to have second thoughts about being a galactic hero. He's ready to chuck it all in, and then when the Doctor gets knocked off partway through the book, Chris has to be a hero and he doesn't want to. Chris has a terrible time, the poor sausage, but he's all right by the end. The Doctor is also in a bit of a sweat because he knows he's going to regenerate; this is the penultimate Seventh Doctor story, and he knows that the events of the Fox TV movie will descend on him."

Although Virgin Publishing loses its Doctor Who license to BBC Books in May, Orman is one of the regular authors who will continue writing New Adventures for the Eighth Doctor. She and her fiancé, American fan and video director Jonathan Blum ("we're one of these terribly '90s Internet romances") recently completed a novel tentatively titled Vampire Science, due for publication in July. Their original premise had

Dr. Grace Holloway, the Doctor's companion in the 1996 TV movie, uncovering vampires in San Francisco and summoning the Time Lord back into her life, but "26,000 words into the book, we were told that we couldn't use Grace. We're coming up with a new and quite different character to replace her, 17-year-old student Samantha 'Sam' Jones."

Although introduced in Terrance Dicks' The Eight Doctors, Sam will get a larger role in Vampire Science. "The Doctor is trying to prevent outright warfare between vampires and humans in 1997 San Francisco. To do so, he enters into a dangerous bargain, and Sam must decide if she really wants to live in his exciting but frightening world.

"Jon and I are having a fabulous time writing this thing. I really, really like the Eighth Doctor; to my surprise, he's very easy to write for. I've realized I tend to like best whoever's playing the Doctor at the time—it's very capricious of me. I know the Sixth Doctor [Colin Baker] was my favorite when he was doing it, then I fell in love with the Seventh Doctor [Sylvester McCoy], and now I'm hugely keen on the Eighth Doctor [Paul McGann]. As for my favorite Doctor, because I've written so much for the Seventh Doctor, he'll always secretly be my favorite."

Currently, Orman is busy helping Ben Aaronovitch complete his delayed New Adventure, So Vile a Sin, so Virgin can publish the book before its license expires. Originally slated for a November 1996 publication date, the novel fell victim to a hard drive crash which "gobbled up tens of thousands of words of text. Ben and I are both writing the remaining material based on his outline and very thorough background notes. It's set about 20 years after [Roz and Cwej's debut novel] Original Sin in and around the crumbling Earth empire. It features galactic intrigue and big technology in the great Ben Aaronovitch tradition, and ties up all the Psi Powers storylines from books like Warchild, Sleepy and Christmas on a Rational Planet. Despite numerous setbacks, I'm determined to get the thing done."

Of the future of her writing career, Kate Orman says, "I would like to keep writing Doctor Who novels, but I will also continue sending manuscripts to Virgin for their original SF books and also for their upcoming range of 'Benny books ' —Benny 's further adventures after she left the Doctor. She's marvelous and really my favorite companion. I want to do something wholly original, and it will happen in due course. In the meantime, I'll just keep writing Doctor Who novels because I love it so much."


The Doctor, Ace and Bernice travel to the Aztec empire, London in the swinging '60s and to the sinking of the Titanic in Orman's The Left-Handed Hummingbird.

"I really, really like the Eighth Doctor; to my surprise, he's very easy to write for," says New Adventures of Doctor Who novelist Kate Orman.

Set Piece marks the departure of Ace as an ongoing companion for the Doctor.

The plot of Return of the Living Dad was co-written with fellow Who writer Paul Cornell and deals with Orman's childhood fears of "being nuked out of existence."

"Most everybody in Sleepy was black, and that was fun, trying to imagine looking through the eyes of a different culture," Orman notes.

"A big action-adventure with deeper meaning," according to Orman, The Room With No Doors sends the Doctor to 16th-century Japan.

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  • APA 6th ed.: Hall, John S. (number 238 (May 1997)). Who's Next (Starlog). Starlog p. 72.
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