One of the things I miss is the regular stream of Doctor Who fiction that I enjoyed during the 90s up until 2005. It was a way to keep the torch burning during the long wilderness years and what they did was quite remarkable.
The Virgin New Adventures and especially the BBC 8th Doctor novels weren’t just content to emulate the television series but to push the format and develop the character. Indeed, this was the mission statement of the New Adventures.
This meant that each novel felt important. Characters grew, changed and even died. Victories were remembered in subsequent novels but so to were recriminations and regrets.
Those who collected each books could enjoy the serialised drama but others could enjoy the individual stories which were mostly self-contained. Missing part of the story even became unavoidable when ‘So Vile of Sin’ was delayed, even though subsequent books had to deal with the fallout of the death of one of the Doctor’s companions in that missing adventure.
Personally I read many of the novels out of order. You were always given just enough information to get an idea of what happened before without spoiling the story should you wish to go back and read what you missed.
Some times these over-arcing plot developments were huge. It is here where the BBC range exceeded the New Adventures run by being the first to feature a Time War, the Time Lords being wiped from the existence and the Doctor losing his memory, his amnesia virtually making him a different person.
The format of the books allowed for much more depth than other mediums allowed. An hour of Doctor Who can provide a wealth of trivia and interesting ideas to exploit (which I hope I’ve demonstrated) but there is so much more that can be obtained from the several hundred pages a novel contains.
This helped the 7th and 8th Doctor live on, gaining the development and fan following that they deserved despite the relative lack of screen time. It also means that original companions such as Bernice Summerfield, Chris Cwej, Roz Forrester, Sam Jones, Fitz Kreiner, Anji Kapoor, Compassion and Trix still have a place in Doctor Who fandom.
The novels were one of the highlights of reading Doctor Who magazine, whether it be the preview page, the gossip about the latest writers and proposals or the behind the scene articles.
During my teenage years I’d frequently search through second-hand bookshops either locally or where ever I happened to be in the hopes of finding the crisp white spines of Virgin New Adventure novels or the more colourful but distinctive BBC range , picking up stacks of them for a few pounds each.
New fans will need to resort to collector sites and Ebay to find these treasures. The search is well worth it as it is no coincidence that several of the writers now work on the show itself and that novels have been adapted for television (some more loosely than others).
With the original books becoming increasingly rare there are fortunately several websites that provide a wealth of information that can be useful for any one running a Doctor Who game. My favourite is The Discontinuity Guide. The ‘I, Who’ range of books by Mad Norwegian Press are also invaluable.
New Who has removed the need for another medium of continuing stories of the ‘Current’ Doctor and Big Finish are providing lots of new material for past Doctors but these fiction ranges are sorely missed.
The books have definitely influenced me when it comes to designing Doctor Who adventures. I want to have that same level of depth and character development. I try to give the scenarios a similar level of consistency that ties them into the Doctor Who mythos.
Much of what I consider canon comes from the books, whether it be Times Champion, 8th Man Bound, the Shadow Directory, the Faction Paradox or The House of Lungbarrow. I think they hold so much resonance for me because reading is not a passive experience. You do not merely see the words, you must interpret them and visualise what the writer is communicating in your mind.
Which is probably why I feel there is a strong bond between the books and the roleplaying game. Both require participants to use their imagination to create the story being told. The sheer wealth of the information that the books provide can only help give the roleplaying game a greater sense of realism.
I always intended that this blog would cover the books as well as the television series. It turned out that finding time to re-read an entire novel was more work that simply watching 50 to 120 minutes of a Doctor Who television adventure.
I still feel that the books have a lot to offer and hope that I can share this with others who might not have read them. To this end I won’t be reading each book again but I will share my memories of them, along with information that I think can most benefit a roleplaying campaign.
With a long wait until the next season begins I think this is the perfect time to get nostalgic about a period when it felt we’d never see Doctor Who on the television again. Maybe it didn’t even matter if he did. The Doctor had grown too big for the confines of that little box.