BooksDoctor Who

The Who Adventures: The Art And History Of Virgin Publishing’s Doctor Who Fiction by David J Howe (book review).

This elegantly large, designed to be displayed on your TARDIS coffee table, hardback is reminiscent of the children’s annual we all coveted in the 1970s. It’s a design choice presumably because ‘The Who Adventures’ would be too thick as a smaller format and the art work benefits from this larger format, too.

This book acknowledges that the Virgin Publishing adventure novels kept a love the story of the Doctor. First, it took the character and gave them a future and, then, when it was allowed it took hold of the gaps in their story and gave us ‘The Missing Adventures’. Virgin kept going with this until the BBC took the licence back in 1996, after the TV movie, to continue its’ own publication of the range.

The researcher David J Howe sets out how the Virgin Publishing books came about with lots of background details and attempts to cover the whole of the period and all of the books along with editor, writers and artists who contributed to it.

Gorgeously rendered and nicely whiffing of ink, love that smell, it has 12 chapters and 6 appendices. The latter have checklists of ‘The New Adventures’, ‘The Missing Adventures’ and the Big Finish Audios of some of the books. There is also a covers gallery which shows off the artwork. This book is extravagantly sized at 22 x 29cm. The illustrations feature not only the covers but lots of in progress and completed artwork and mostly quite old pictures of the writers and artists.

It was in 1989 that the then producer of TV Doctor, John Nathan-Turner, who was able to agree a deal for the continuing adventures of the Doctor following the cancellation of the series. Originally, the idea was that the new books would follow on from ‘Survival’. Typically, this all took rather a long time to agree.

Luckily for the range, Andrew Cartmel also outgoing from the series, had a plan. It was thought moving forward from the TV series was the best idea. Peter Darvill-Evans, the books editor, took on board a bigger vision and the first few novels had their own arcs which meant increased collaboration between writers and editors giving it a more homogenous feel.

One of the most interesting aspects the collaboration actually set a pattern for the future, including when Big Finish came into the picture and the collection of writers set a standard that helped pave the way for a much more intense experience when the Doctor came back from the dead on the TV.

Reading this book helps place the part the novels played including bringing on new writers like Paul Cornell who’s book ‘Human Nature’ was adapted for the Tenth Doctor as ‘Family Of Blood’. Lots of names that are now so familiar pop out of this book. The more adult nature of the Virgin books meant themes addressed in some that had never been seen in a family show but would seem to have lead directly to the more mature approach in the revival.

This is tales from a long gone world, a world of faxes, no Internet or very little on dial-up, landlines and payphones. Communication between writers and editors and each other is so much simpler now but, despite living in the dark ages of the 90s, they managed. Above all, it feels like they enjoyed doing it, creating sorties for the character they loved and going to brave new worlds. It must have been quite upsetting for Virgin to lose the access in 1996.

Overall, ‘The Who Adventures’ is a nice glossy book to have to hand on your coffee table or extra-strength shelf. It’s a good history that gives credit to as many involved as is possible-as far as I can tell. The book has obviously been a labour of love and some sweat and tears for David Howe and I’m sure lots of readers have already purchased this. Treat yourself if you haven’t already and then seek out those books. It might be a bit of a delve in the second-hand if you don’t have them neatly lined up on that extra-strength shelf.

Sue Davies

January 2022

(pub: Telos Publishing, 2021. 334 page large hardback. Price: £34.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84583-185-1)

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