In Which the Author Wears a Different Hat
This is not, I repeat not, just a case of insider dealing. OK? Sure, I'm my own commissioning editor: But hey — it's not what you think.
Thing is, see, as editor of the New Adventures, I got responsibilities. And I got authority. Rookie authors from all over, they come to me begging on their knees to write a Doctor Who story. They come crawling across broken glass. OK, so I exaggerate. You get the picture, anyhow.
I'm the guy has to tell them what to do. And I'm telling you, it's a lonely job. And I ain't easy on those guys. Uncle Joe Stalin's gulag maintenance programme got nothing on the guidelines I send out to writers.
So what I say is —
Hmm. Yes, well. That's quite enough hard-boiled monologue. Goodness only knows how Mickey Spillane kept it up for novel after novel.
What I'm trying to say is that as the series editor of the New Adventures I have to inflict rigorous guidelines on prospective authors, and it seemed both sensible and fair to subject myself to the same discipline.
It was, it turns out, a very worthwhile exercise. So much so that I now think that any editor of a genre of fiction who hasn't written a standard work in that genre shouldn't be in the job.
Writing Deceit has given me new insights into the New Adventures, particularly in practical matters: how many major characters can a New Adventure accommodate? How many plot strands are ideal? How many companions should the Doctor have?
I was relieved that in writing a story according to my own guidelines I found that most of the advice and strictures I gave myself were to the point. I now know, however, that in a few areas I've been too rigid: it isn't strictly necessary to introduce all the main characters within the first quarter of the book, for instance; and it doesn't destroy all the drama and tension if you allow the reader occasional glimpses into the Doctor's private thoughts.
So it was useful for me. How was it for you? I ask in innocence. I really don't know how to evaluate Deceit. One's own writing is the most difficult to assess. Every other New Adventures author has had his work monitored by an editor. Not me.
So I hope the story's enjoyable. I'm aware that I've tried to cram a lot into it. Perhaps too much. I wanted it to be an action packed adventure; but with character development and interpersonal conflict; and leaving room for the reintroduction of Ace; while featuring Abslom Daak as guest star; nonetheless adhering to my own guidelines in the matter of interweaving of plotlines and use of several viewpoint characters; at the same time linking backward and forward to other New Adventures; and acting as a vehicle for explanations of the New Adventures versions of Doctor Who chronology and time travel theory.
That's a lot of functions for one medium-length novel to perform. I hope you didn't notice it creaking under the weight of so many burdens.
Not many authors get the chance to write an Afterword, and I must resist the temptation to use this space as a critique, or worse still a justification, of my own novel. If you didn't like it, I'm sorry. Not much I can do about it now. There'll be another one along in a minute, as we used to be able to say about London buses.
Instead, I'd like to use these last few pages to talk — in my editor's voice — about the New Adventures as a series. And as I'm writing these words six months before the publication of the book in which they'll appear, there's no point in me spilling the latest beans — by the time you're reading this they'll be cold potatoes (that chap Spillane's been in here again, messing with my metaphors).
There are, however, a number of questions about long-term policy that I am often asked, and that I can usefully answer here.
I've just been reading issue 187 of Celestial Toyroom, the magazine of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society. Well, someone's got to do it. It contains the results of a readership survey, some questions of which related to the New Adventures.
Six hundred readers responded — a high rate of return — and I think it's safe to assume that they represent the opinions of the hardest of hard-core Doctor Who fans.
Encouragingly, two-thirds had read at least one of the New Adventures, and almost half appeared to be reading them all.
But when asked if they would like to see New Adventures novels featuring Doctors other than the seventh, over two- thirds — more respondents than had actually read the novels — said yes. When asked an open-ended question (‘What single thing would most improve the New Adventures?’) less than a tenth replied ‘other Doctors’; however, this was still the most popular single improvement.
It seems that, at least among die-hard fans, there is demand for novels that feature other Doctors. And therefore I feel obliged to explain why the New Adventures won't do so.
It's simple, really. It's because they're the New Adventures. With the emphasis on New.
At the moment, with the television series off the air, apparently for ever, and with the feature film still no more than a draft script and a marketing plan, novels and comic strips are the only professionally produced, widely distributed, media for which new Doctor Who material is being written. As the publisher in charge of just about all books relating to Doctor Who , I'd be failing in my duty to Doctor Who if I didn't make every effort to forge ahead, to keep the flame burning, to press on into the future. It is crucial to demonstrate that Doctor Who still has the potential and the adaptability to support new stories; that it's a concept at least as fresh today as it was in 1963; that its supporters, are more than a dwindling band of trainspotter types who are content to pore over old video-tape.
I believe that the novel is at least as suitable a vehicle as television for Doctor Who stories. I can't claim that I dreamt up the idea of original Doctor Who novels; I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. But having caught the ball as it dropped out of the sky, I'm determined to run with it.
So: 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.
And that's why the New Adventures won't feature old Doctors.
Having said all of which, I won't rule out publishing novels with old Doctors, but they would have to be produced in a different series — the Missing Adventures, perhaps. And I won't do it until in at least one medium, in the New Adventures or in a new television series, the forward direction of Doctor Who is assured. Personally, I still don't like the idea: I take the view that the past is the past; that if the BBC have chosen to show us only a partial record of the Doctor's life story, then that is the body of historical data with which we have to work; that if we spend time looking into the past of our favourite television series, we can hardly blame the BBC for failing to look to its future. But don't worry: I won't let my opinions stand in the way of commercial interests or the best interests of Doctor Who as a whole.
Phew. I hope that's dealt with that one.
Next, I'd like to explain some of the basic premises of the New Adventures. In particular, there are two cosmological foundations that underpin all the stories.
The first premise is that there is only one main Universe — which is, capitalized to differentiate it from the, various smaller universes which have been created from time to time, such as E-space and TARDISes.
Secondly, time travels in one direction, and the Past is immutable (except in very exceptional circumstances). The Present is Gallifrey's present, and that is the same as the Doctor's: he is a contemporary Time Lord, in Gallifreyan terms. However, the Present — Gallifrey's present — is eons ago, from the perspective of Earth, from our perspective. We, and the whole of mankind, are in the Doctor's future. Earth, thanks largely to the Doctor's frequent visits, is a strip of near- certainty stretching futurewards in an otherwise largely undecided mass of future probabilities.
I would be the first to admit that neither of these two principles is explicitly stated in the Doctor Who TV series, and that there are a few stories that expressly contradict them. On the other hand, they fit well with the majority of the stories — and in any case they are essential to the creation of a coherent series of novels.
Novels are more subject to close examination than are stories on TV or film. Until the invention of video players, you could only sit and watch a television story, and you had to watch at a pace determined by the programme's maker. Even in the video age, it's easier to gloss over inconsistencies on TV than in a book.
Although there are exceptions, Doctor Who TV stories appear to be set almost exclusively in one universe. There are very few stories in which it turns out that ‘time has branched’ or ‘we're in another possible universe, Jo.’ Whether this was policy or accident on the part of successive script editors, the effect is dramatically powerful: all the events take place in our Universe, and therefore they matter to us. Who cares what goes on in someone else's universe? Therefore, from Doctor Who precedent and as an essential measure to build drama, there is only one Universe in the New Adventures.
Another thing that the Doctor rarely does in the TV stories: get into the TARDIS, pop back in time an hour or so, and nip in the bud the present looming disaster. Why doesn't he do that? From the point of view of an editor or writer, the answer's obvious; if the Doctor can use time travel to sort out every problem, there are no adventures to write about. But what's the fictional reason?
I like Occam's Razor: if there's, a simple, elegant theory that fits the bill, use it. And the obvious reason why the Doctor doesn't attempt to alter events that have already occurred is: he can't. The Past — Gallifrey's past, the Doctor's personal past — is immutable anyway. And the islands of certainty that time- travellers such as the Doctor have created in the future are equally unchangeable. Having found himself in a sticky situation, the Doctor has no easy options — and that makes for highly dramatic stories.
Those, then, are the two main cosmological planks of the New Adventures. Like all rules, they exist to be twisted.
Before I leave cosmology, here are a few basic facts. The Universe is at most 20,000,000,000 years old, and will exist for another 60,000,000,000 years. Our Galaxy, the Milky Way, in which Gallifrey is also supposed to be, is at least 10,000,000,000 years old. Our sun was a late developer, and Earth has existed for a mere 5,000,000,000 years at most. For nine-tenths of that time the planet was barren: multicellular life came into existence about 500,000,000 years ago, or to put it another way, the most recent 2.5% of, the Universe's life so far.
The mass extinction of the dinosaurs and other species took place 65,000,000 years ago; the earliest primate progenitors of mankind existed less than 20,000,000 years ago; and modern man evolved only 40,000 years ago — that's less than 0.01% of the history of life on the planet, and, for what it's worth, a statistically negligible 0.00002% of the history of the Universe,
Having established our species as the merest blip in the history of our own planet, let alone the history of the Universe, I have more bad news: we're negligible in terms of space as well as time.
There are at least 100,000,000,000 stars in our Galaxy alone; our Galaxy is part of a cluster of about twenty galaxies, all within a radius of a piffling 2,500,000 light years. But there are thousands of other galactic clusters, some of them containing thousands of galaxies. The Universe isn't infinite, but it might as well be.
The relevance of all this to Doctor Who is simply that it provides a context: it reminds us just how much scope the Doctor has for his travels. Is it surprising that the Time Lords degenerated into introspective inaction, faced with the prospect of monitoring the next 70,000,000,000 years of 100,000,000,000 star systems — and that's just in their own Galaxy.
One question above all others intrigues me: why are the Time Lords, and the Doctor in particular, so interested in the fate of one species on one planet? The writer's and editor's answer is, of course, that the stories are designed to appeal to twentieth century humans, so it makes sense to set them on Earth and round about that time. But no-one's yet come up with the fictional reason why the Doctor (and the Master and the Rani) can't seem to leave Earth alone.
The New Adventures cosmology offers a hint of an answer: having become accidentally embroiled in humanity's affairs in his earlier incarnations, the Doctor now finds that he has created a time-line that he has to protect — particularly as it is an obvious target for his enemies — and so he's on a tread-mill.
I suspect that there needs to be a more fundamental answer: one that addresses the remarkable similarity in appearance between Time Lords and humans. But I'm not sure that the world is ready for it yet.
Finally, I'd like to expand on a point I mentioned above. The main reason for confining the Doctor to the immediate area of Earth and its colonies, and to the few millennia on each side of our own time, is that other settings would be too alien. A novel has to engage the interest of its readers; and therefore the novel's central characters, their problems, and the places in which the events occur have to be at least recognizable.
This is, in itself, a severe limitation, akin to showing Michaelangelo the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and telling him to paint a miniature on it, and I'm sure that not all New Adventures authors will want to stay within it. But there are problems, even within these boundaries, and they are to do with the pace of technological change.
Astute readers will already have spotted that the puter-space technology featured in Love and War differs hardly at all from that in Warhead and Transit, both of which are set three to four hundred years earlier in Earth's future history. Andrew Cartmel and Ben Aaronovitch can't be faulted: they are right to indicate that the lives of our immediate descendents will be transformed by new technology — artificial intelligences, man-machine interfaces, virtual realities, genetic engineering, smart viruses, sub-atomic circuitry. All of these are developments from present-day research.
The problem is that if we continue to extrapolate future developments at the same rate the world(s) man lives on, his work, leisure, and even his appearance and his mental processes all become completely alien to us within the space of a few generations. Therefore, for the purposes of providing a few more centuries of believable settings for novels, I've decided to slow down the rate of technological change. The New Adventures rationale for this is that the breakout to the stars will soak up mankind's innovative energies — and so in the twenty-fifth century it is still possible for characters to fight-skirmishes with handguns.
This process — flurries of technological change followed by centuries of interstellar expansion — can be extended indefinitely into the future history. And as mankind expands across the Galaxy, it becomes possible to envisage backwater worlds on which newer technologies have been lost or abandoned, thus creating far future settings which nonetheless contain elements that are familiar to us.
That's more than enough afterwords. I hope that, wearing my editor's hat, I've been able to explain some of the basic premises of Deceit and of the rest of the New Adventures.
It only, remains to say thank you for your continuing support of the series: thanks to the demand, we have now increased the rate of publishing to one new novel every month. We intend to maintain the New Adventures; perhaps not for the 60,000,000,000 years to the end of the Universe, but certainly for the foreseeable future.