The Deemphasis of Doctor Who Novels

A few days ago on Gallifrey Base, there was some discussion about the deemphasis of Doctor Who novels in the marketplace in the past two years.

Wait, I should qualify that. There has been a great deal of Doctor Who prose published in the past two years, but it’s been a different kind of prose than the six years previous. The New Series Adventures line, in which BBC Books had published between six and nine novels a year between 2005 and 2011, published zero books in 2012 and three books in a different format in 2013. Instead, we’ve had a series of higher profile hardcovers spanning multiple Doctors, spin-off eBooks, and a line of reprints of older books. Meanwhile, another publisher, Penguin, launched a line of eBook short stories spanning all eleven Doctors.

So, what happened? Here’s what I wrote:

Unlike other tie-ins lines, Doctor Who stays current so that the novels reflect the bleeding edge of the franchise. The Star Trek novels were usually a year to eighteen months behind the bleeding edge, and the same was true of Star Wars (with some rare exceptions). Given the tight plotting of Moffat’s Doctor Who and the changes he’s made to the series (some superficial, some not), BBC Books is basically aiming at a moving target. Pocket Books had this problem with Deep Space Nine in the latter years of its run, to the point where John Ordover, the editor, basically gave up and stopped commissioning DS9 novels. There are ways of dealing with the bleeding edge problem — commission generic adventures and try not to do anything character-based that the series could possibly contradict. (The Nine/Rose NSAs are like that.)

The question, then, is why didn’t that happen in 2012? For instance, in the first half of the year there could have been a series of companion-less or one-off companion NSAs, exactly like the 2009 batches, during the period when the eleventh Doctor was pretending to be dead. (And whatever happened to that plot point? It went away about ten minutes into "Asylum of the Daleks.") Dark Horizons was like that, but it wasn’t in the NSA format and it was the only one of its kind. The two possibilities are that BBC Books didn’t commission any (perhaps they wanted to try something new) or BBC Books tried but Cardiff said no and wouldn’t approve the outlines. Third possibility just occurred to me — Cardiff wouldn’t cooperate with BBC Books and tell them what their 2012 plans were, which would make hitting even a generic target, let alone the moving target, difficult if not impossible. It could be spoiler paranoia on the production team’s part. It could be that Cardiff didn’t want the eleventh Doctor appearing without Amy and Rory. (Which doesn’t explain Dark Horizons, though I believe that Caro Skinner had a lot to do with that book’s existence and likely championed it over any objections.)

The reason I lean toward placing the responsibility for the lack of books in 2012 and 2013 on Cardiff is that ceasing publication on a line of books that sold well doesn’t make any business sense for BBC Books. If the NSAs were poor sellers and they weren’t turning a profit on them, then canceling the line (functionally, if not officially) would be justifiable. But I can’t believe that they turned as much profit from Dark Horizons as they would have made from multiple NSAs in the year. If BBC Books knew they were dealing with a recalcitrant production team, the reprints in 2013 and 2014 make a great deal of sense as they would avoid the more difficult parts of the approvals process.

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