The Doctor, the TARDIS, Time Lords, the Master, Cybermen, Daleks … of course we’re talking about television’s most popular science fiction adventure show Doctor Who. The series premiered on BBC television back in November 1963 and ran for 155 stories and twenty six years before being cancelled in 1989. Since then there has been only one serious attempt to revive the show, when the BBC co-funded a 1996 production with Universal in America. This television movie starred Paul McGann as the Doctor and found an unprecidented UK audience of around 9.2 million viewers. Since then, however, the Doctor has been back in limbo, with only the occasional mention in the media to remind everyone that he was still around.
Although Paul McGann played the official eighth Doctor, the latest outing for the show introduced a series of possible future Doctors in the earthly forms of Rowan Atkinson, Hugh Grant, Jim Broadbent and Joanna Lumley. This was during a four part Doctor Who spoof made for the 1999 Comic Relief evening of fundraising.
Although Doctor Who may not be on terrestrial television any more – repeats can often be found on the satellite channels – his adventures have been kept alive through a series of popular and well received original novels, originally published by Virgin Publishing, and, since 1997, by the BBC themselves.
The first book to be released to tie in with the show was back in June 1964, when Souvenir Press published the first of a number of hardback special books celebrating the Doctor’s greatest enemies, the Daleks. Since then there have been numerous novelisations published of the television adventures, script books, model making and activity books, children’s story books, filofax insert books and anthologies.
The original novels were started by Virgin in 1991 following the series’ cancellation on television. ‘The New Adventures’, as the range was called, featured the seventh Doctor along with his companion Ace, and the books were serious and adult in both intent and execution. No flimsy plots here, but real novel-length adventures full of excitement, action, pain, love and loss. From a bimonthly schedule the books swiftly moved to monthly publication. Between 1991 and 1997, Virgin kept the Doctor alive in over sixty original novels and his seventh incarnation enjoyed more of these licensed adventures in print than he ever did on screen. Realising the success of the format, Virgin started publishing original novels featuring earlier Doctors in 1994 and these too enjoyed enormous popularity.
In 1996, during the lead-up to the Paul McGann TV Movie, the BBC decided to take over the license to publish original Doctor Who fiction themselves, and so Virgin, having kept the Doctor going for five years in the face of the BBC’s apparent disinterest in the series, found themselves with a successful range of books, but no Doctor. They therefore relaunched the range, still with the umbrella title of ‘The New Adventures’, but featuring the exploits of Bernice Summerfield – an ex-companion of the Doctor’s introduced in an earlier Doctor Who novel, who left him to strike out alone. These novels continue to be published on a bi-monthly basis and are firmly in the style of Virgin’s Doctor Who novels, despite there being no mention of any BBC copyright characters.
Over at the BBC, two series of original novels were launched in 1997: one featuring the eighth Doctor and a new companion called Sam, while the other showcased adventures for the earlier Doctors. The books are currently being published at the rate of two a month, and so far over 42 titles have been released.
If full length novels are not your cup of tea, then why not try something shorter? The BBC have published two collections: Short Trips and More Short Trips, edited by the BBC’s range editor Stephen Cole, both of which feature short stories involving all the Doctors and numerous companions.
With a thirty-plus year history to draw on, there is also a wealth of factual behind the scenes books to seek out. Virgin set the ball rolling with a series of three large format lavishly illustrated books which explored the making of the show. Doctor Who The Sixties, The Seventies and The Eighties, all by David J Howe, Mark Stammers and Stephen James Walker were published from 1992 onwards and give a detailed and comprehensive overview of each of Doctor Who’s different decades. Also from Virgin, and from the same writing team, came a series of paperback Handbooks, one for each Doctor. Some of these are now out of print, but most are still available. They cover the history of the show from a different perspective to the ‘decades’ books and the two series are designed to complement each other.
If it’s a basic guide to the TV series that you’re after, then in 1998, the BBC published a weighty paperback called Doctor Who: The Television Companion by David J Howe and Stephen James Walker. This official guide to the series reveals plots, cast, crew, facts and figures about the show, and also includes a critical commentary of every one of the Doctor’s televised adventures, as well as a checklist to their availability as novelisations, audio or video releases.
In the same year, the BBC also published Doctor Who From A to Z by Gary Gillatt, the current editor of Marvel Comics’ Doctor Who magazine. Not an A-Z of Doctor Who subjects as the title may suggest, instead it is a series of twenty six insightful essays each looking at different aspects of the show and exploring how and why the series came to enjoy the levels of popularity that it did. Gillatt’s work is informative and thought provoking and is as much about the impact of popular culture on our lives as it is about Doctor Who.
One final reference book to watch out for is Doctor Who: Regeneration by Philip Segal with Gary Russell, which tells the behind the scenes story of the making of the 1996 Paul McGann movie. Segal was Executive Producer on that project, and this is the definitive account of how it all came to be. Regeneration is another large format glossy hardcover from Virgin and is published in June 1999.
If it’s the actors you’re interested in, then there are several biographical works available. Jessica Carney wrote in 1996, Who’s There?, a detailed biography of her grandfather, the very first Doctor, William Hartnell, and actor Jon Pertwee had just completed work on his Doctor Who autobiography a week before he tragically died from a heart attack in May of the same year. I Am The Doctor, co-written with David J Howe, was published posthumously later the same year by Virgin. The same publishers also picked up Five Rounds Rapid!, the 1998 autobiography of actor Nicholas Courtney, who played the Brigadier in the series. Frazer Hines’ story of his life, Films, Farms and Fillies was published by Boxtree in 1996 and includes anecdotes about the time the actor spent playing the Doctor’s companion Jamie in the late sixties. Finally, in 1997, actor Tom Baker wrote his ribald and uncompromising autobiography Who On Earth Is Tom Baker? which was published by HarperCollins.
As of writing there is no let up in the number of books being published featuring the good Doctor, his adventures, and the background to the series. Indeed, Doctor Who is the only television series no longer in production in any form for which there is an ongoing and successful range of original novels and factual books, not to mention the plethora of other merchandise.
The latest news is that Doctor Who is about to be relaunched as a new series of original audio dramas on cassette and CD. Big Finish productions have obtained the rights to this format, and the first adventure, The Sirens of Time, should be hitting the shops around June. It’s a four part adventure starring Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy and following this, the company hopes to release a new adventure every two months.
David J Howe is a well known researcher, collector and writer of all things Doctor Who. He is currently working on a complete guide to all Doctor Who merchandise for publication some time in 2000.
Current New Adventures (Virgin Publishing):
Dead Romance by Lawrence Miles
Tears of the Oracle by Justin Richards
Current Novels (BBC Books):
Revolution Man by Paul Leonard
Players by Terrance Dicks
Dominion by Nick Walters
Divided Loyalties by Gary Russell
Short Story Collections (BBC Books):
Short Trips ed. Steve Cole
More Short Trips ed. Steve Cole
Factual Books (Virgin Publishing):
Doctor Who The Sixties by David J Howe, Mark Stammers and Stephen James Walker
Doctor Who The Seventies by David J Howe, Mark Stammers and Stephen James Walker
Doctor Who The Eighties by David J Howe, Mark Stammers and Stephen James Walker
Doctor Who The Handbook The First Doctor by David J Howe, Mark Stammers and Stephen James Walker
Doctor Who The Handbook The Second Doctor by David J Howe, Mark Stammers and Stephen James Walker
Doctor Who The Handbook The Third Doctor by David J Howe, Mark Stammers and Stephen James Walker
Doctor Who The Handbook The Fourth Doctor by David J Howe, Mark Stammers and Stephen James Walker
Doctor Who The Handbook The Fifth Doctor by David J Howe and Stephen James Walker
Doctor Who The Handbook The Sixth Doctor by David J Howe, Mark Stammers and Stephen James Walker
Doctor Who The Handbook The Seventh Doctor by David J Howe and Stephen James Walker
Doctor Who Regeneration by Philip Segal with Gary Russell
Factual Books (BBC Books):
Doctor Who The Television Companion by David J Howe and Stephen James Walker
Doctor Who From A to Z by Gary Gillatt
Who’s There by Jessica Carney (Virgin)
I Am The Doctor by Jon Pertwee and David J Howe (Virgin)
Films, Farms and Fillies by Frazer Hines (Boxtree)
Five Rounds Rapid by Nicholas Courtney (Virgin)
Who On Earth Is Tom Baker by Tom Baker (HarperCollins)
NOTE: PLEASE CHECK THE AVAILABILITY OF THE BOOKS BEFORE SUPPLYING PURCHASING LINKS. SOME MAY BE SOLD OUT AND UNAVAILABLE. SOME OF THE ‘DECADES’ HARDBACKS MAY ONLY BE AVAILABLE IN PAPERBACK.
David J Howe