1993: Deceit

Ace!-119April 1993: the 30th Anniversary year of Doctor Who. Although the show has been off the air for three and a half years, it is still fresh in people’s minds thanks to an ongoing series of BBC2 repeats (which have just reached Battlefield), and regular press speculation about a comeback on the big or small screens. Pertwee, Davison, Colin Baker and McCoy have just promoted a significant package of BBC Video and Audio releases for the anniversary, and BBC Enterprises confirm a script has been prepared for a special episode. The speculation will reach fruition in November, when a 3D anniversary story, Dimensions in Time, airs as part of Children In Need (with the show’s first Radio Times cover since 1983). In 1993, Doctor Who is therefore by no means a ‘niche’ or ‘cult’ show.

Meanwhile, since Love and War was published in October, there have been three further New Adventures featuring the new team of the seventh Doctor and Bernice, and the series has moved from bi-monthly to monthly publication in time for the anniversary celebrations. The second most notable thing about the April release, Deceit, is that it brings back Ace – several years older – as a battle-hardened space marine and Dalek hunter. While Tegan left and came back in consecutive episodes, and we visited the Brigadier at various points after the 1970s, this is the first time a companion has re-joined after their leaving story. New Adventures editor (and the writer of Deceit) Peter Darvill-Evans has taken the opportunity to reformat the character as an actively unwilling participant in the Doctor’s schemes: an unpredictable third wheel in the TARDIS crew to shake up the potentially too-cosy new pairing. Fans imaginatively nicknamed this version of Ace ‘new Ace’, but in a kiss to the future I’m going to call her ‘the War Ace’

In theory, the War Ace adds an interesting new dynamic for the books to explore – and it’s notable that both the New Adventures and the later Eighth Doctor Adventures prefer having two companions rather than one to provide more opportunities for drama. In practice, it takes several, slightly brutal, months of ‘future history cycle’ novels for the War Ace to really work. There aren’t many readers who’d pick the 12-month run between Love and War and Blood Heat as the highlight of the New Adventures. And given I suggested in the last entry that Darvill-Evan’s courage in writing out one of the TV regulars gave the books additional freedom and legitimacy, you might very well wonder why he brought Ace back so soon, and why he made her so unlike (and, initially, unlikeable) the screen version.

I think the answer comes at the end of Deceit, in the most notable thing about the book. It features a relatively lengthy essay that lays out Darvill-Evans views of the New Adventures, his scepticism about doing (still unannounced) ‘Missing Adventures’, the nature of time travel in the Doctor Who universe and the state of Doctor Who in general. And it’s an extraordinary, ambitious manifesto. In it, Darvill-Evans states that:

‘The New Adventures are not intended to be a support for the TV series, or a temporary substitute for it: we may never see Doctor Who on network television again, and in that case the New Adventures have to be ready to take most of the strain of pulling Doctor Who forwards.’

Given the introduction to this post, and the context of 1993, that’s an unusually pessimistic view. A significant chunk of people expected Doctor Who to be back on television within a few years – and as it happens, they were right. But Darvill-Evans has set out his stall: the New Adventures are unambiguously the continuation of Doctor Who in the 1990s. That view gained support when Doctor Who Magazine began to preview upcoming New Adventures in the same way it previews new TV episodes today, and its comic strip explicitly tied in to Virgin continuity. In a very real sense, Darvill-Evans was right: the New Adventures matter in a way no other Doctor Who spin-offs (with the exception of the Big Finish Paul McGann audios) matter. Russell T Davies, Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss, Paul Cornell and Gareth Roberts all began their professional Doctor Who writing careers with work for Virgin’s seventh Doctor. But it’s not only because of the calibre of writers Darvill-Evans cultivated. It’s because, in the early 1990s, he publicly stated that he was the de facto producer of Doctor Who, and by taking the mandate he pretty much made it happen.

But Darvill-Evans was also very conscious that Virgin merely held the licence, and he had a second aim with the New Adventures: to create a shared SF universe that could endure even if he lost the Doctor Who mandate. This is explicitly the purpose behind the ‘future history cycle’ – an attempt to sketch out a vision of the galaxy in the middle of the third millennium, of an expanding Earth Empire beholden to massive corporations and threatened by powerful forces, many of which lurked in cyberspace. This is the time period that’s home to Bernice and later companions Roz and Chris. In some respects it presages Russell T Davies’ Satellite 5 or Year Five Billion eras – a familiar but non-contemporary backdrop.

So the point in introducing the War Ace is that the New Adventures now have a character that slots perfectly into the kind of Aliens-style space adventures Darvill-Evans wants to tell, picking up the action sequences and freeing up the Doctor to flit, mysteriously, at the edges while Bernice fulfils the more traditional companion role, while also, often via diary entries, offering a sardonic commentary for the readers. In theory, Darvill-Evans believed this ‘future history’ could endure beyond the Doctor. And in fact it did: Virgin’s New Adventures continued, with Bernice as the lead, for two and a half years beyond the loss of the Doctor Who licence. And by the time the books ended, Big Finish had already started their own run of Bernice Summerfield stories, set in the same era. Of course, these plays begat the Big Finish Doctor Who audios, and a house style that even, in 2015, owes a heavy debt to Darvill-Evans’ future history cycle – plays like Nick Briggs’ Fourth Doctor Adventures or the Dark Eyes boxsets have more than a hint of the New Adventures about them.

And so Deceit, while only partly successful as a novel, remains an enduringly influential Doctor Who story. As Darvill-Evans’ most overt attempt at a manifesto for the series, a ‘house style’ every bit as distinctive as Letts’ Yeti-on-the-loo or Moffat’s dark fairytales, it’s perhaps the seminal New Adventure.

 

Next Time: ‘It’s a very dangerous book and I have been very careless. It is the key to Shada’ – Tragedy Day

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