Like many fans, the Seventh Doctor and Ace hold a special place in my heart.
Unlike many fans, this isn’t because books featuring Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred saw me through the Wilderness Years. I wasn’t a fan during the 1990s. I was just about aware of Doctor Who and watched a few repeats when I was a nipper, but I only became a fan in 2005.
No, I love the Seventh Doctor because… Well, because he and Ace are fantastic. They are. Even in tales not very highly regarded, they make them better. I rewatched Dragonfire recently, and it’s a joy. We all know how painful it is that the series was cancelled when the show was back in its prime.
The Virgin New Adventures seem an obvious next step. They’re a continuation of the Doctor and Ace’s story (with the Eight Doctor also cropping up once).
And yet I’ve never read a single one.
Sure, I picked up one or two – left unread, so far – but I’ve never felt the same draw as BBC Books’ Past Doctor Adventures: Byzantium!, The Time Travellers, and Corpse Marker all appealed to me, and my collection is steadily growing. (Spiral Scratch is proving elusive.)
Why have I steered clear of the Virgin New Adventures? Sadly, it’s something I don’t often take any notice of: reputation.
They’re not supposed to be particularly bad, and you’d think their reputation would entice me more. These are the novels that were a stepping stone for talent like Russell T. Davies, Mark Gatiss, and Gareth Roberts. Human Nature spawned the Series 3 serial. These should be great novels.
Here’s the thing that’s really putting me off, encapsulated in one word: “Adult.”
The Virgin New Adventures have a reputation for bad language, sex, and violence. There’s obviously a lot of the latter in Doctor Who anyway (pull up a chair, Attack of the Cybermen), but the former has no place in the show – or at least how I view the series.
I’m no prude, whatever the medium – I enjoy Die Hard just as much as the next guy, and love the absolute filth of Deadpool MAX – but this is about how we see Doctor Who. And that’s as a family show, not as something Adult. It deals with adult themes, of course (all the time, in fact), but there’s nothing to exclude people of any age. It’s like watching a finely-tuned comedy: there’s some things kids will like, and other things adults can acknowledge.
Doctor Who is the show that knows you don’t need to have sex, swearing, and violence to be truly “Adult.” It frequently mulls over the tragedies of life, death, and immortality; obsession and addiction; the futility of war; politics and the media; immigration; the nature of love; faith; and even sadism. The Virgin New Adventures don’t seem to understand that at all.
It’s why I accept Big Finish and the Lethrbridge-Stewart range with open arms; they capture the same feeling as the TV series.
This is partly why I consider The Sarah Jane Adventures a better spin-off than Torchwood. The latter never quite settled with me. I applaud it as its own show, but as an echo of Doctor Who, there was something distinctly off. The Doctor appeared in the SJA, but never in Torchwood, and there’s a reason for that.
The Virgin New Adventures were detached from the Who ethos, not only concerning the occasional use of sex and swearing but also in exploring the Doctor’s origins. I am, of course, referring to Lungbarrow, a highly-controversial tome by Marc Platt. This drawing back of the curtain troubles me, as I’m sure it does many other fans. The story has been contradicted in numerous ways, so perhaps we should consider this a separate canon. Nonetheless, it goes against what the show stands for: a mysterious figure, whose past remains largely unknown, helping out anyone he can.
The Doctor’s history has to be teased, but it can never stand fully revealed.
Then again, this might be all down to misconceptions. Maybe the books weren’t filled with unnecessary content. I see Human Nature has been reprinted, so that surely can’t be full of gratuitous sex or swearing. I may read it – in time. As a Good Man once said, time will tell. It always does.
Am I unfairly judging the Virgin New Adventures? Am I missing out on any particularly great tales? Or am I best to avoid them in general? And is there a part of Doctor Who history you’d prefer to ignore?