Sure, some fans of Doctor Who consider themselves crazy fans because they have seen all the new series. Some others think you have to have seen all of the original series too. I think those people are missing out on a whole world of fandom. There are zillions of books, audios, and comics out there that explore the universe that the TV show created. Personally, as great as the TV show has been, I think that the audios and books outclass the TV show by a considerable margin. I have listened to the vast majority of the Doctor Who audios and love them. The hit rate on them is quite a bit higher than the new series, and miles above the original. I have read 40 something novels and also found them to be more engrossing than the TV show. SO fans of the TV show have a lot of exploring to do in order to get a more comprehensive view of Doctor Who.
So, as a fan I think the Doctor Who books and audios are where it’s at. But I’m going one step further, this post is about the spinoffs of Doctor Who. How far into the red can my nerd-meter go?
First off, the TV spinoffs. As far as I can tell, the TV spinoffs amount to a pilot episode of a Sarah Jane investigates show, the proper Sarah Jane Adventures, Torchwood, and a K-9 show that I can’t remember the name of. Th Sarah Jane Adventures are easily the most consistently good of the shows. Torchwood had its moments, especially the Children of Earth series, but was really inconsistent. The two shows are very different from each other. The SJA is quite clearly a kid’s show. Great writing, good acting, they are a lot of fun, but the are definitely for the younger crowd. Torchwood went the opposite direction. They wanted to be an “adult” show so badly. Per usual, this usually means violence and sex. Children of Earth was the only one I can think of that was properly adult (as opposed to being gimmicky) in that it involved real horror, despair, heartbreaking decisions and regret so real you can’t sleep. I’ve only seen one episode of the K-9 series, I think it’s made in Austrailia and it really didn’t seem to be very interesting let alone good.
When the show was cancelled in 1989, fans were cut adrift. Some people convinced the BBC to allow them to write Doctor Who novels with the 7th Doctor and his companions. The Virgin New Adventures picked up where the TV show left off. Overall, they were quite a bit darker, with more violence, sexual situations, and generally adult themes. The 7th doctor continued with Ace for a while. He eventually picked up an archeologist in the Paul Cornell book Love and War. No, not that archeologist, Bernice Summerfield! Bernice (Benny to her friends) has been going strong for 20 years now. I’ll have to count, but she may have been with the Doctor for more books than Ace was. Benny stayed on with the Doctor until Virgin lost the license to write about the Doctor. So they spun her off into her own books. Like all good spinoffs, they were limited by copyright issues. The books certainly exist in the Doctor Who universe, but they can’t mention The Doctor, the TARDIS, Cybermen, or anything else owned by the BBC. It isn’t as limiting as you might think. Benny is still going strong. Big Finish is celebrating her 20th anniversary this year with new books and continuing the audio series. I’ve been talking to the folks at Big Finish and they would like to make ebook versions of their out of print Benny books but worry about the difficulty of getting digital distribution rights. The New Adventures seem to be stuck in copyright hell. Most of them are long out of print and it doesn’t look good for them being re-released.
When the BBC worked with FOX to make the 8th Doctor TV movie, it was the end of the Virgin Doctor Who franchise. Since the movie actually showed the 7th Doctor turn into the 8th, it also spelled the end of the 7th Doctor. When nothing became of the hoped for 8th Doctor series, they started making books with him in them. The BBC also started to publish past doctor adventures featuring previous Doctors and companions.
Iris Wildthyme came out of the Past Doctor Adventures, we first see her with the 4th Doctor. She is an older, boozy time traveller that exists as a warped parallel to the Doctor. Her stories are really about having fun. Her “TARDIS” is a Routmaster double decker bus (the no. 22 to Putney Common) that is curiously smaller on the inside than the outside. Her favorite gin is Bombay Saphire, and she typically travels with a stuffed panda (don’t call him a toy!) named Panda. Reading her stories is frequently a trip into Doctor Who fandom and mythology. She has alluded to her knowing that she is fictional several times, it can get a bit meta at times. Iris books and stories are all about having fun. For example, my favorite line of hers is from the Big Finish audio “The Wormery.” She has been communing with the villains behind the scenes in a drunken stupor and the 6th Doctor is giving her a hard time about it. Her retort? “What we need is less thinking, MORE DRINKING!” Katy Manning (who played Jo Grant on the TV show) plays Iris brilliantly in the audios. Another example, Obverse Books is coming out with a short story collection featuring her being trapped in realities based on David Bowie songs. You get the idea, a more frivolous take on Doctor Who. If you don’t like Iris, you’re too serious. Iris audios are being made and sold by Big Finish and the books are mostly being put out by Obverse Books.
Lawrence Miles introduced us to Faction Paradox in the 8th Doctor Adventures. The Faction is a splinter group of Time Lords that embraces paradox, something that is anathema to the Time Lords. They are your typical criminal, time traveling cult that uses ritual to disrupt time lines and screw with the TIme Lords. Lawrence spun off Faction Paradox in a series of novels, audios, and a short lived comic series. Since he was writing outside of BBC blessing, he had to change a few things. First off, there was no mention of The Doctor and the Time Lords were referred to as “The Great Houses.” The Faction Paradox world reviles around The War between the Great Houses and The Enemy. We never do get an explicit explanation of who the enemy is. Fans have speculated on everything from future versions of the Time Lords, The Doctor, or even the concept of Fiction. Yes, concepts can be an enemy in the world of Faction Paradox. The novels from Mad Norwegian Press spend quite a bit of time with the idea that information, meaning, and the connections we make between them are the real reality. Whoever can control that and adjust it have the real power. I have really enjoyed the Faction Paradox books so far because they have really widened my view of the Doctor Who universe. I have a better understanding of what is at stake with the altering of time lines, paradox, and time travel in general. Plus, they manage to bring in a little magic too. Well, it looks like magic, but it is just a different way of altering information, so it looks like magic. There have been two audio series of Faction Paradox. One was put out by a company called BBV and now are only available from the owner via eBay. Haven’t heard them yet but they have a great reputation. The other, more recent series was put out by Magic Bullet Productions and is excellent. Still available too.
This has gone on long enough, I’ll tackle the Doctor Who Spinoffs created solely by Big Finish in another post.