On Whovian Ruminations

Yes, I do have a number of the BBC Doctor Who novels, mostly in the Eighth Doctor range, rather than the Past Doctor range, and there’s a reason for what I own and why. That will take some explaining, though. What follows is entirely my opinion on the subject. I could be off-base, I might be spot-on-target. I really have no idea. This is just how I view matters Whovian.

Doctor Who fandom today is where Star Trek fandom was circa 1976. For the most part; it just occured to me I should qualify that statement. What I mean is this: the show has been gone for a number of years, work is afoot behind the scenes in the halls of The Powers That Be to bring the show back in some form. In a lot of ways, I think that’s the parallel between the two fandoms, albeit with two differences, both major.

The principle difference between being a Star Trek fan in 1976 and a Doctor Who fan today is that it was far easier to be a casual Trek fan in 1976 since the show was widely syndicated, but to be a Doctor Who fan takes work since the show is damned near impossible to find. Unless you have Doctor Who videos around the house, you probably aren’t going to be watching the show.

The other difference is this: there was no official Trek product coming out in 1976 beyond three or four novels from Bantam, while there’s more Doctor Who product being released each year now than the show had ever produced between the Big Finish audios and the novels from the BBC, a grand total of 34 stories a year. However, those products are reaching a very small portion of the audience, the hard-core fan population of Who, just as Star Trek novels might touch ten percent (at best) of the Star Trek fanbase.

And then there’s the odd nature of Who fandom. No fandom is a monolithic bloc, Trek least of all, but Who fandom can be downright vicious, especially on the question of where Doctor Who should go from here. It’s described as a struggle between the “rad” and the “trad,” those favoring modern and post-modern storytelling approaches versus those who would prefer Doctor Who rehash past glories in endless pastiche.

If I had to peg myself in Who fandom, I’d label myself a “rad,” but that’s an uncomfortable label because it doesn’t quite describe my feelings. The Doctor Who of twenty years ago isn’t going to come back, nor should anyone expend their energies trying; The Phantom Menace shows all too well what happens when you try to revisit the past by redoing the past. Just as Deep Space Nine played around with what Star Trek was, so do I think the next Doctor Who series (which will happen sooner or later) should play around with what Who is.

This is why I don’t find DWM particularly interesting. The Time Team, who cares? What’s so important about four people watching ’60s-era Who stories? What’s so important about reading the Target novelizations in publication order? Why does this matter, and how does this take Who fandom into the 21st century? In Trek terms, it would be like reading the Blish novelizations and saying that Trek has never been better.

So, the novels. Because I don’t want a rehash of the past, I generally steer clear of the Past Doctor novels. If it’s an historical, I’ll pick it up. If it’s by an author I like, I’ll pick it up. But mostly I stick with the eighth Doctor novels.

I don’t know that the Eighth Doctor books are going particularly anywhere. I am, I admit, a few books behind–Endgame and Father Time are in the pile to read. I thought for a while that the novels were going somewhere–the Doctor encountering his own future, the destruction of the TARDIS, Compassion’s transformation, the attempt of the Time Lords to influence the course of the future War. That all ended (and badly, I think) with The Ancestor Cell. Since then the direction of the novels has been interesting, with the Doctor abandoned on Earth, to live out a hundred years, and what’s a hundred years when you’re virtually immortal?

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