Friday, June 28, 2013

A Thematic Chronology of the New Adventures

(Originally posted to the Doctor Who Ratings Guide on April 23, 2003)

I've been going on about this on Jade Pagoda for a while, so I do think it's time to set down my personal ideas of how the NAs wound up working in terms of their structure -- that is to say, even though it wasn't intended to have a unified, 61-book arc, it does seem that you can pin down various phases of characterization, theme, and so forth that exist in addition to and superseding the various different "story arcs" we see. There are, no doubt, a number of sub-phases this could be broken down into further, but I feel that simplicity is a virtue, so three it is.

Phase One: Birth Pangs
Timewyrm: Genesys-No Future

This first arc dealt with the baggage left behind by the TV series, with its new and radically different portrayal both of the Doctor (a more manipulative, "darker" Doctor who played bigger games with higher stakes) and of the relationship between the Doctor and his companion (trust and friendship, as with previous companions, but an undercurrent of manipulation and resentment that was entirely new.) Ace underwent significant change, turning from an angsty teenager to a violent and angsty adult, and we saw a new companion introduced in Bernice, who entered the series aware of the Doctor's manipulative nature, but very wary of it. As the series progressed through several "false resolutions" of the issue (Timewyrm: Revelation, Love and War, Lucifer Rising), tension levels rose among the TARDIS crew, finally culminating in the Alternate Universe Cycle, where an outside opponent used these tensions as a weapon against the Doctor. Defeating the enemy meant reconciling with his friends, and breaking the tension once and for all.

Phase Two: Smelling the Roses Tragedy Day-Happy Endings

After No Future, the Doctor and his companions finally and definitively reconciled with each other. The Doctor became somewhat less manipulative, but just as importantly, his companions grew to understand the pressures he was under, and come to accept their roles as occasional pawns. It even became something of a running joke (lines like "needs must when the Doctor drives" in SLEEPY, or the wonderful interchange between Chris and Roz in Death and Diplomacy). Every once in a while, hints of that tension rose up again (as in Head Games, where Melanie compares the Doctor she sees quite unfavorably with the Doctor she knew), but for the most part, the danger and tension came from outside of the TARDIS here, rather than inside. Even when Ace left, it was to take up the Doctor's role as protector of time, not because she hated him -- symbolically, at least, she'd become his daughter taking on the family profession. Her later appearances confirm and heighten this impression; witness Happy Endings, where she and the Doctor talk about the impending death of Danny Pain like two true professionals. Two new companions replace her, Chris and Roz, but they get assimilated into the TARDIS crew quickly, easily, and with the barest minimum of angst. All of this joy, happiness, and more straightforward adventures culminates in Happy Endings, Bernice's wedding and essentially a celebration and summation of the 49 previous New Adventures. It ends with the Doctor trying to leave his friends behind, only to be told, "Nobody should be alone."

Phase Three: Grave Reservations GodEngine-The Dying Days

By this point in real life, the television movie had already come out -- the Seventh Doctor, after gaining an extension to his life in print, suddenly found himself obsolete. From this point on, the New Adventures begin concentrating on connecting their stories to the FOX movie, and that meant preparing the Doctor for his own impending demise. Suitably for Time's Champion, the Doctor knew of his regeneration, and books like The Room With No Doors and Lungbarrow focused on his decision to face his future, and his own possible death, head-on. (It's important to note that the Doctor only knew of his future existence up through his seventh self -- as he puts it, he's the original Eighth Man Bound.) The Doctor wasn't the only person to face death, though; with So Vile A Sin, the series gave us the first companion death since Kamelion's in Planet of Fire, and the first meaningful companion death since Adric's in Earthshock. Like the Doctor, Roz knew that she faced death; her wonderful line, "This isn't history, it's family," could almost foreshadow the Doctor's trip to Lungbarrow. Ultimately, the books suggested that they were culminating this mortality trip the only way they could, as The Dying Days killed off the Eighth Doctor mid-way through the novel -- however, Lance Parkin saved the Doctor and ended the final phase of the New Adventures, an exploration of death, with a celebration of life. Regenerated and renewed, the Doctor continued on to a new series of adventures, if not to a series of New Adventures.

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