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10 Things You Need to Know About the Virgin New Adventures

To round off Virgin New Adventures Week here at the DWC, we thought we’d give newer readers an introduction to the range that soothed the nerves of so many fans during the so-called Wilderness Years (some also call it the 1990s).
Here are 10 things every true Doctor Who fans need to know…

1. Keepers of the Flame

Doctor Who may not have been dead back in 1991 but it was certainly lost, abandoned, and unloved. As fans bemoaned the absence of the programme from their screens, Virgin editor Peter Darvill-Evans seized his chance to approach the BBC for permission to publish new Doctor Who novels. With no realistic prospect of a new series going into production, a licence was granted and the four Timewyrm books launched the New Adventures. Over the next six years the range essentially kept Doctor Who alive as a thriving, creative fictional entity; one which looked to future possibilities rather than to past glories. The programme’s eventual return may not have been down to the New Adventures, but the books were undoubtedly crucial in keeping the interest and enthusiasm of those who loved Doctor Who alive.

2. Taking Over the Asylum…

Doctor Who’s fans had become increasingly vocal and influential during the 1980s, but the New Adventures took fan involvement to a whole new level. People who had grown up loving the programme now had the opportunity to realise their ideas for how the series should progress, albeit on the printed page rather than the screen. The special-interest appeal of the books (and the accompanying modest expectations for sales) meant the publisher was willing to take a chance on new talent, and the likes of Gareth Roberts, Kate Orman, and Justin Richards were able to get their work into print and kick-start what would become successful writing careers. It’s notable that when Doctor Who did finally return to production a good number of those involved, both on and off screen, were lifelong fans. They perhaps owe a debt of thanks to those who cut their teeth on the New Adventures and proved that the show’s devoted followers could be trusted with it.
New Adventyres Zamper Gareth Roberts

3. New Blood

It’s an impressive roster of writers: Russell T Davies, Paul Cornell, Mark Gatiss, and Paul Magrs to name just a few… Some of them were already active in professional writing; others were given their first break by Virgin. The New Adventures certainly punched above their weight when it came to finding and nurturing creative talent – not bad for a range of TV tie-in books linked to a programme that wasn’t even on at the time…

4. Sex and Violence

John Nathan-Turner famously said there was no room for hanky-panky in the TARDIS, but like an unruly teenager the New Adventures stuck two fingers up at this long-held belief. The range’s reputation for adults-only content has probably been overplayed but it certainly caused a stir in fan circles at the time. Attention grabbing stunt or welcome new demonstration of maturity? You decide…

5. Amazing Stories

Some novels have lived longer in the collective fan memory than others, but the New Adventures have an impressive hit rate when it comes to tales which fans hold dear. Human Nature was a strong enough story to sustain a two-parter which formed one of the highlights of David Tennant’s time as the Tenth Doctor and it remains a fascinating book – both because of what the televised version changed and what it left unaltered. But there were others: Love and War, Damaged Goods, The Highest Scienceeveryone has their favourites

6.  For Your Listening Pleasure

What a smart move by Big Finish to adapt New Adventures titles for audio, thus giving a new lease of life to the most fondly remembered books. One of the side-benefits of the novel adaptations range has been to give fans a new and enjoyable game to play by speculating which title should be next up. At the moment there’s a considerable amount of interest in which book will be the basis for December’s as-yet unnamed release – it has to be Lungbarrow (Mark Platt’s controversial take on the Doctor’s origins), right? Would they dare…?
Big Finish All Consuming Fire

7. You Mean So Much To Me…

It’s fair to say that the New Adventures may not have been to everyone’s taste but those who loved them really loved them. To this day you’ll find fans who have been left unmoved by, say, the Doctor and Rose getting all dewy-eyed with each other or that business with the crack in time but will enthuse for hours about the arc which saw Ace’s departure and later return. Check out this blog for a nice example of the lengths some people’s devotion will go to…

8. They Could Be Fun Too

If the New Adventures’ reputation for hard SF, swearing and brutality leaves you cold, don’t make the mistake of thinking there was no room for lighter fare. Like the idea of a Doctor Who/Sherlock mash-up? It happened years before Cumberbatch came along, in Andy Lane’s All Consuming Fire. How about an adaptation of fan-produced video Shakedown which manages to do what the original couldn’t and include the Doctor? We got it, thanks to the great Terrance Dicks. Nazis in Jersey? Look no further than Just War (actually, ‘fun’ is probably a poor choice of word there…).

9. Companion Chronicle

It may well be that the New Adventures’ single most enduring legacy to the world of Doctor Who is Professor Bernice Summerfield, the archaeologist from the future introduced in Love and War who went on to become hugely popular and star in her own ranges both in print and on audio. And it’s thanks to Bernice that the wonderful Lisa Bowerman is still involved in Doctor Who. Hurrah!

10. Fictional Future

The New Adventures were successful enough to spawn the Missing Adventures range featuring previous incarnations of the Doctor. BBC Books knew a good thing when they saw it so wasted no time in clawing back the rights to publish original Doctor Who novels when Virgin’s licence expired, and their Eighth Doctor and Past Doctor ranges would run right up until the series returned to TV screens in 2005. They do say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery…
What else do you think fans need to know? Have you any favourite Virgin New Adventure novels? Let us know below!

Jonathan Appleton

A regular Doctor Who viewer since Pertwee fought maggots and spiders, Jonathan isn't about to stop now. He considers himself lucky to have grown up in an era when Doctor Who, Star Trek and Blakes 7 could all be seen on primetime BBC1. As well as writing regularly for The Doctor Who Companion he's had chapters included in a couple of Blakes 7 books.

10 Things You Need to Know About the Virgin New Adventures

by Jonathan Appleton time to read: 4 min
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