Too broad and too deep – Why I love the Virgin New Adventures

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Image Credit: Stephen Brennan (All Rights Reserved)

Image Description: Timewyrm books in a TARDIS-shaped bookcase

By James Ashworth

Some of the best things happen by accident. Penicillin. The microwave. And in my case, the New Adventures. While doing some research for this very publication, I ended up buying a copy of Blood Heat, which turned out to be the first of a series arc. Of course, I had to see how it ended. Before I knew it, I was on a slippery slope, borrowing and buying copies of long out of print novels from wherever I could find them. They may have been difficult to source, but to me, that was part of the appeal. And having read many of them, I firmly believe that every Doctor Who fan should be able to read at least one. Or two. Or sixty-one.

The New Adventures were advertised, at least in their early days, as having “stories too broad and deep for the small screen.” And I’ll be honest, this wasn’t always true. Novels such as Timewyrm: Genesys and The Pit have reputations which precede them, containing levels of sex, violence and nudity that aren’t just unsuitable for television – they’re just childish. But when the New Adventures hit their stride, you’ll be hard pressed to top them. The truly alien worlds of Conundrum and The Also People. The oh so personal, yet galactic, storytelling of Timewyrm: Revelation and Damaged Goods. And the journeys into lore and metaphor in So Vile a Sin, and, yes, Lungbarrow. When at it’s best, these novels aren’t just great Doctor Who stories. They’re masterpieces of science fiction in their own right. Even when they’re not, there’s still plenty of fun to be had. If you watched The Talons of Weng-Chiang and thought it wasn’t Conan Doyle enough for you, don’t worry – All-Consuming Fire gives the Seventh Doctor an outing with Holmes and Watson. Think Season Twenty-Four didn’t have enough humour? That’s fine, Sky Pirates! will kick the comedy up a notch. Whatever you’re looking for, the New Adventures have you covered.

But the series wasn’t, and isn’t, just something to keep fans entertained after the end of the TV series. The New Adventures helped to keep the flame of Who alive during the wilderness years, and in particular, at its start. It would have been quite easy for the series to have popped up, put out a few novels to explain the Cartmel Masterplan, and then faded out into obscurity. With a debut like Timewyrm: Genesys, that would hardly have been a surprise. But the novels kept up the momentum, and not only that, increased it, going from a bimonthly publishing schedule to a monthly one. This increase in publishing also opened up opportunities for new writers to enter the scene. Yes, some didn’t write for the series again, and some shouldn’t have written for it in the first place, but for every miss, there were many successes. Kate Orman. Lance Parkin. Paul Cornell. Mark Gatiss. Russell T Davies. When the New Adventures ended in 1997, after Virgin Publishing lost the Doctor Who licence, it’s not surprising that many of their authors stayed on to continue for BBC Books’ Eighth Doctor Adventures. Later, when the TV series returned, it was natural that some made the leap to TV, along with colleagues from Big Finish and elsewhere. The New Adventures, along with other projects, ensured that the wilderness years didn’t just see Doctor Who surviving, but instead, the laying of groundwork for its rebirth.

The contributions the series made to Doctor Who still have impacts to this day. If you have your favourite obscure character from a Classic-era serial, chances are they made an appearance in the New Adventures, in one form or another. The backstories of a number of creatures are expanded – the Ice Warriors in particular. And, though Chris Chibnall says that he hasn’t read it, there is more than a passing resemblance between Lungbarrow and The Timeless Children – not bad for a novel almost twenty-five years old! But this lore isn’t just something to put aside for a quiz, but something to be enjoyed. There are New Adventures memes, regular citations in chats and forums, and, in a particularly on brand moment for me, I’ve even used references from the series to flirt! Happy Endings, for all its fanwank, has got nothing on me.

So yes, some of the finest New Adventures are expensive, and absent from many a library. Yes, you need to have read quite a few of the novels to make sense of what’s going on. And even then, not every novel is a masterpiece. But what is being a Who fan about if not entertaining your friends, family, neighbours, colleagues, and random members of the general public with increasingly obscure trivia about a series of books from the 1990s? I hope I’ve convinced you to read at least one book in the series (Love and War is a good place to start), or maybe check out one of Big Finish’s audio adaptations. With luck, you’ll be off on some New Adventures of your own in the near future.

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