29 May, 2007
I adore the Doctor Who New Adventures novels, published by Virgin between 1991 and 1997. These books picked up where Survival left off, as Sylvester McCoy's Doctor wandered off screen arm-in-arm with Ace, and took off in new and interesting directions. Like the TV series itself the quality varied wildly from book to book, but at their best the New Adventures easily surpassed the TV series.
Paul Cornell was one of the leading lights of the New Adventures; the first of many fan writers to break into series with the ground-breaking Timewyrm: Revelation. Cornell's fourth New Adventure, Human Nature, is widely considered to be the absolute pinnacle of the New Adventures. The novel sees the Doctor transform himself into the human John Smith, who unaware of his Time Lord origins, become a teacher at a English boy's school just prior to the First World War and fall in love with Joan Redfern until a hostile family of aliens disrupts his peaceful existence. Such is the power of this book that when I first read it I was actually desperate for the Doctor to stay with Joan at the end even though I knew that this couldn't happen.
I regarded the news that Cornell was adapting his novel for television with some trepidation. I wasn't too bothered about the implications for the series continuity as I'd long regarded the New Adventures as a separate branch from the TV episodes, rather I was worried that the TV story wouldn't do the novel justice and that the changes required to make this fit the new Doctor and companion would be to its detriment.
Last night I saw the first episode of this two-part story, and I was astonished at just how amazingly good it was. I've been rather disappointed by a few of the episodes this year but Human Nature rises head and shoulders above the rest. I was concerned that the Tenth Doctor was already too light and accessible to convincingly make the transition to a truly human character (one of the strengths of the novel had been that the Seventh Doctor had become increasing dark, manipulative and alien in the New Adventures so his 'humanisation' was a stark and wholly effective contrast), but David Tennant pulls off a nuanced performance as John Smith with consumate ease. The TV version also looks exactly right - it is as if the story I'd imagined back in 1995 when I read the novel has been lifted from my mind and plonked on the TV screen. It's a very uncanny experience but hugely satisfying all the same!
If this is what the new series can do with a classic New Adventures novel as its source, then perhaps more of these books should be brought to screen? What could the new series do with an adaptation of The Also People, The Dying Days, or even Russell T Davies' own Damaged Goods...?
Meanwhile I am really, really looking forward to next week's episode!
09 May, 2007
TSV 46 was - in magazine marketing parlance- a 'new look issue'. The logo was redrawn from scratch by Alistair Hughes (at first glance it might appear unchanged, but look closer to see the improvements). Nicholas Withers created the entire issue on computer, with only the artwork needing to be pasted up after the pages came off his printer. This revolutionised the whole process of designing and assembling TSV - no longer did it take at least a week to put it all together column by column using a glue stick and lightbox; now it was computer composited and could be transformed from a bunch of Word documents into a finished publication in the space of a day spent at Nick's place. I wasn't very computer-savvy at the time, but I gradually learned how to use the then very new Microsoft Publisher 95 by watching over Nick's shoulder as he worked his magic.
The issue was meant to have been out in mid-December 1995, and the Christmas-themed A Seasonal Tale story would have therefore fitted the festive feel rather well.
There were as I recall a number of reasons for that month-long delay between when the issue should have been out and when it finally appeared. Nick had his his end of year exams to focus on, and I was experiencing my first Christmas in frontline shop floor retail in the Queen Street branch of Whitcoulls, one of the busiest stores in Queen Street.
In addition, a major review of the new Time and the Rani video failed to arrive. By the time the writer (who should perhaps remain nameless), passed the last of many deadline extensions, Nick and I had the whole of the rest of the issue all ready to go and there was no time left to review the story ourselves or ask anyone else to do it, and three blank pages to fill. I did however have a fair bit of Time and the Rani artwork that had been submitted to accompany the review - including three different artists' Tetrap head-and-shoulders portraits - so the pages were hastily filled with reprints of the reviews published in TSV issue 5. I didn't like resorting to reprinting old material like this, but I made an exception on this ocasion out of necessity.
The main feature was a long-promised follow-up interview with Andrew Cartmel about his books and comics. My ex-wife, Felicity, had by this time moved to the UK and collaborated with David Bishop on this feature. Prior to this interview Felicity had had submitted a proposal for a Missing Adventures novel to Virgin, and her interest in the process of writing a Doctor Who novel is evident from her line of questioning.
The comic strip, Monkeyhouse, was an impressive 14-page effort by Peter Adamson and Paul Potiki, primarily featuring the Third Doctor and Jo, but with a guest appearance by another Doctor and companion. The comic strip stories became a fairly regular fixture in TSV around this time, thanks mainly to the drive and enthusiasm of Peter Adamson, who gathered a small team of reliable contributors around him to work on these strips.
1996 had arrived and half a world away in Vancouver, Doctor Who was about to make a comeback...
Read TSV 46 here.
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