THE CONTINUING STORY
In these days of mass marketing, when every new film and television concept comes neatly packaged and complete with merchandise deals, it is rare to find something which continues to grow in new directions. A great many tie-in books and magazines have an in-built directive that those people writing and publishing the material are not allowed to change or alter the status quo. They cannot develop the established characters. At the end of each story, everything must be put back to the way it was before. Unfortunately this can also apply to the characters’ emotional state, leading to a general lack of progression and a kind of stagnation.
There is however one notable exception. The BBC’s science fiction series Doctor Who. Doctor Who as a television series started on BBC-1 in November 1963 and then ran for an unprecedented 26 years, finally being cancelled as a regular series in 1989. With just one major outing on television since - a 1996 television movie starring Paul McGann as the Doctor - the show could be considered as something from the halcyon days of television, with no place in today’s schedules. However this would be to do the concept a great disservice, and also somewhat untrue, as since 1989, the Doctor has enjoyed a great many further adventures both through various ranges of original novels, and also on audio in a series of stories starring the same actors and actresses that played the Doctor and companions on television. Indeed, as of writing, the eighth Doctor, as played by Paul McGann, has enjoyed over 50 adventures in novel form, and around 12 original audio adventures - which is more than any Doctor enjoyed on television.
With there being such a wealth of Doctor Who fiction available, one might feel that there was no room for any more. That there was nothing more to say about the Doctor and his many adventures in time and space.
However when I started my own publishing company, Telos Publishing Ltd, in 2001, one of the first things I wanted to do was to publish books involving the Doctor. The commercial reason was simple: there is a large and loyal market for good Doctor Who products, and as a new publisher, it helps immensely if there are people out there who will buy what you publish. But there was also another, more important reason. As a fan of Doctor Who myself, I wanted to see the ideas and concepts that embodied the character and the way the series operated pushed even further than they had been. I wanted to publish some great fiction that also happened to be Doctor Who fiction.
The Doctor Who books and audios being published at the time were generally speaking being written for fans by fans - and with fans, just like myself, in charge of the ranges too. This is no bad thing: there is a kind of unspoken continuity at work, and with everyone involved having perhaps a deeper than general interest and knowledge in the subject, the final product tends to stick closely to what had gone before. However this approach also has its problems. In my opinion, the ranges were starting to become a little too bogged down in the weight of their own continuity - such that if you had missed a book or an audio CD, or came into the range later on, you might have little idea why certain things were happening. I felt that this unnerved the casual reader and could make them give up there and then. For me, Doctor Who, was always about individual adventures in time and space, and yet some of the ranges treated the show more like an ongoing soap opera, where the lives of the Doctor and his companions were more interesting than the adventures around them. Detailed explorations of the Doctor’s past, his companions’ lives and loves, his biology, and of the nature of TARDISes is all very well, but every step down that road taken, is a step that some reader somewhere may not have taken with you.
My solution: return Doctor Who to the world of stand-alone adventures. Publish shorter stories which can be told in a variety of different styles and narratives (Novellas), and, most importantly, bring in some new voices to tell those stories. These new voices being a mixture of both established writers of science fiction, fantasy and horror, and also completely new writers, having perhaps their first written work published.
This concept appealed to the BBC, and they were happy to grant Telos Publishing the required license to do the books, and since November 2001 we have been publishing, to great success and acclaim, our range of original novellas.
We are able to do things that the other ranges either cannot, or are unwilling to do. As a publisher we’re looking for stories which move us, which have an impact. As they are short, the Novella format cannot sustain lots of padding, the tales we’re telling are pointed and focused, they hopefully stand repeated reading, and are complete in themselves, not being part of any wider arc. Where we do touch upon aspects of the wider Doctor Who world, we try to ensure that they are explained in context so that general readers won’t feel left out. There may of course be aspects of the Novellas which can be better appreciated if you do have a knowledge of the subject, but the overriding objective is that the books can be read and enjoyed by anyone.
What is most exciting from my point of view as both the publisher and a fan, is that we can tell stories which broaden out and play with the concepts and background of Doctor Who. For example, in our debut title, Time and Relative by Kim Newman, we visit the Doctor before any of the TV adventures began and uncover a slightly different character to that which more knowledgeable readers may know, and yet still be able to tell a story which draws in all readers, regardless of whether they know anything about Doctor Who or not.
We have continued playing with expectations with Dave Stone’s Citadel of Dreams which presents a complex time-split adventure, and Tom Arden’s Nightdreamers which is a fantasy romp featuring Jon Pertwee’s flamboyant third Doctor. Keith Topping’s Ghost Ship is a more horrific tale of a haunted ocean liner, while Andrew Cartmel’s Foreign Devils presents the second Doctor solving mysteries in the past in the company of another fictional detective, Carnacki, as created by William Hope Hodgson.
This mix of styles and authors is, for me at least, what makes the range work. No two titles are alike, and yet they all tell vastly entertaining stories. Different styles, approaches and adventures, and yet all contained within the Doctor Who universe. This is a universe which we are hoping to push and pull at to try and see what we can do, to see what other authors make of the Doctor and his travels.
Despite his absence from the television screens, Doctor Who is alive and well and can be found in all good bookshops.
David J Howe