As novels that I couldn’t possibly avoid go, this one ranks pretty highly. I’ve noted several times that, within the classic series, McCoy is “my Doctor,” so to speak. As the only Doctor (after my first three episodes) I didn’t originally know existed he was the one I got to discover without episode guides. But even still, when I got into Doctor Who it had been off the air for three years. The McCoy years may have been the televised Doctor Who that I came to freshest, but until the dark days of 1996 the only Doctor Who that I got to follow as it came out were the Virgin books.
I’m going to cover much of the Virgin and BBC books lines as if they were new episodes when the time comes. (I haven’t gotten a firm list together, but on a quick scan of titles I think I’m going to do about 30 Virgin books and about 15 each of the BBC Books and Big Finish Eighth Doctor stuff.) But my relationship with them was... interesting. I was reading them roughly from the ages of 11-13, which is just a bit too young for them. But this is in some ways the perfect way to relate to the Virgin books. Their darkness, complexity, and occasional jaunts into overt sexuality are as perfect for that age. The mixture of scandalous and salacious content with the fundamental safety of Doctor Who is as gentle a gradient to tackle emerging sexuality as they come - like having a copy of Timeframe with its Katy Manning/Dalek photo as your sole piece of pornography (which, for years, I did).
This book, in other words, merges two of my favorite eras. As Doctor crossovers go, this one is, for me, as good as it gets. Not just because it’s two of my favorite Doctors, but because there’s such an intrinsic contrast between them. The relative gentleness of Davison’s Doctor combined with the dangerous and manipulative nature of the Virgin Books version of McCoy’s are an inspired pairing that offers no shortage of drama.
All of which said, any multi-Doctor story is less about the particulars of a man meeting himself at a different point in his life and more about the comparison of two eras of the show. Doubly so in a book, where we do not get Davison’s Doctor or McCoy’s Doctor but rather their textual ghosts. The Doctors themselves are televisual performances - things created by actors, directors, and writers in a collaborative environment. These are purely literary characters, responding almost entirely to the whims of a singular creator. They are echoes. That does not diminish the validity of their stories, but this book belongs to neither the Davison nor the McCoy eras.
This gets at another issue with the Virgin books (and for that matter the BBC ones) that I’ve largely danced around. I poke at it a little bit in both the Man in the Velvet Mask entry and the Empire of Glass essay in the Hartnell book, and deal with it more extensively in the Scales of Injustice entry, but it’s been a while and it’s high time we tackled the issue of fanwank again. Because Lance Parkin is a master of it.
In the Scales of Injustice entry I distinguished between two types of fanwank. The first is what we might call explanatory fanwank - the sort of thing that tries to stitch together an extended explanation that resolves a host of alleged continuity problems over multiple stories. The second is what we might call value-added fanwank - the sort of thing that happens when, for instance, the minotaur at the end of The God Complex is referred to as being a relative of the Nimon. But this book introduces a third sort of fanwank - one that is not nearly subtle enough to be called value-added, but is not the sort of sprawlingly doctrinal mess that characterizes fanwank for the sake of explanations.
Take, for instance, the fact that the novel spends over a hundred words describing a bunch of people singing a drinking song consisting only of the line “we’re in a chronic hysteresis” repeated over and over again. It’s a deft little joke for fans, yes, but at 100 words it’s considerably more substantial than the Nimon reference or even the use of the Macra as the primary monster in Gridlock. Similarly, the near exact replay of the Third Doctor’s meeting with Sarah Jane in The Five Doctors as the dialogue between Roz and the Doctor after Roz mistakenly believes him to have regenerated into the Fifth Doctor is just a bit too large to be off-hand.
But this gets at something important to realize about continuity, particularly before we take our careening nosedive into the televised fanwankathon that is the stretch of episodes from Earthshock to Warriors of the Deep - a stretch of 38 episodes (counting the Five Doctors as if it were a four-parter) in which every single story features a villain who has appeared before. A lot of the nature of fanwank is dependent on what assumptions can be made about the audience for a given story. Fanwank is a different problem in a television series expected to go out to a general audience than it is in a book series that is overtly catering to die-hard fans.
In truth this is one of the appeals of the books. There are things you can do when you have access to the full and mad breadth of Doctor Who continuity that you just can’t do when writing for a general audience. Not things merely in the sense of a wealth of nods and winks, nor in the sense of broad explanations, but in the sense of genuinely clever and interesting commentary. Since we’ve been referencing Alan Moore a lot lately, it’s perhaps worth comparing to his League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series, a storyline that creates considerable sparks and depth out of literary history and that works only because of the extreme referentiality of the work. Doctor Who’s history is, at this point, deep enough to permit similar (though to date nowhere near as good) explorations - stories that work in part because of the sheer depth of history that Doctor Who can call upon.
Lance Parkin is particularly good at this (and it’s perhaps worth noting that Parkin has written a book on Alan Moore). And this is very much what Cold Fusion is about. Not in the references we’ve talked about so far - those are just cute little jokes that are the size they are because the book can safely expect an audience who will get them - but in the sections dealing with Patience.
Ah, yes. Patience. A character sufficiently massive in her implications that she largely overshadows the multidoctor nature of this story. See, Patience is an ancient Gallifreyan - explicitly not a Time Lord - who is strongly implied to be the Doctor’s wife. This may attract eyebrows from those who are not familiar with the Virgin era. Central to the Virgin era is the idea that along with Rassilon and Omega (who are, following from Alan Moore [who is easily the biggest influence on the Virgin era], contemporaries) there is a third major figure in Time Lord history: the Other. The nature of the Other is left mysterious for most of the run, but it is strongly hinted that it is, in fact, the Doctor. (I will not be the one to spoil the outcome of this, but we’ll cover it when we get to the book Lungbarrow, and again when we get to Parkin’s The Infinity Doctors.)
In a fundamental way, this makes sense. It’s an inevitable consequence of the narrative structure of the series. The more that the series, over time, flits about the nature of the Time Lords while focusing on the Doctor as the main character the more it becomes inevitable that the Doctor plays some central role in the history of the Time Lords. The fact that in the narrative world of Doctor Who the Doctor is always by far the most important of the Time Lords affects the nature of the Time Lords. No matter how much one loves the image of the Doctor as just a small little man who wanders the universe and does good things the fact that he is narratively at the center of Doctor Who means that the universe of Doctor Who will always revolve around him. Anything that doesn’t give the Doctor an implicit role in the nature of the Time Lords is simply fighting against the fundamental gravity of Doctor Who as a series.
Different writers handle the shape and implications of this differently. Parkin, however, is always one of the ones that fights most thoroughly against the idea of a singular Doctor Who. As the great and defunct Teatime Brutality points out, it’s Parkin in The Gallifrey Chronicles who most overtly sets up the “it’s all true” theory of Doctor Who continuity, having the Doctor declare that “every word of every novel is real, every frame of every film, every panel of every comic strip,” and then being uninterested when someone points out that this implies all sorts of contradictions. (Parkin also, of course, wrote AHistory, an attempt to create a fixed chronology of all events in the Doctor Who universe. The correct term for this project is “hilarious.”)
For Parkin, in other words, while it’s inevitable that the Doctor is in some sense at the heart of Gallifreyan history, it’s in no way necessary that this take any particular shape. (This culminates, for Parkin, with The Infinity Doctors, which is based on taking everything said about Gallifrey over the course of 35 years seriously while not bothering to try to come up with a way to reconcile it with the present state of Doctor Who at the time.) Hence the lengthy sequence in which the Doctor and Patience do a sort of mind meld and we get a bevy of accounts where we’re explicitly told that the Doctor can’t tell which ones are his memories and which ones are Patience’s.
What we get in this section is a mad smattering of references to past stories mixed in with allusions to a history that may or may not be the Doctor’s. The Brain of Morbius, An Unearthly Child, Creature From the Pit, The War Games, and The Mind of Evil are explicitly referenced, along with the existence of the missing episodes. It’s wonderfully bizarre. And at one point, it’s noted that “These accounts contradict one another,” but this is immediately followed by the observation that “memories often do.”
I have occasionally made half-joking reference to the fact that one of the basic premises of this blog is that Doctor Who is a quasi-sentient metafiction authored by an anarchic spirit within British culture. Some commenters have, very sensibly, suggested that I might want to explain this, a viewpoint that, while utterly reasonable, I have generally avoided catering to. Still, having now inflicted the Logopolis post on the world - a post that, like Logopolis itself, seems very much like it approaches some sort of limit point in that particular method of thinking about Doctor Who - and as we now make our step out of Bidmead’s neo-Whittakerian take on Doctor Who and towards something altogether less magical it is perhaps worth finally unpacking it.
The root idea is, for once, borrowed from Grant Morrison instead of Alan Moore. Morrison has several times suggested that the DC Universe line of superheroes is sentient and has an animating consciousness. My disagreement with Morrison is not on this point, but rather on the implications of it - Morrison seems rather to like this fact, whereas I think that the DC Universe is, while sentient, a dangerous sociopath (albeit one capable of moments of staggering beauty). But the underlying idea, obviously, appeals.
I don’t want to go too far into the comparison of Morrison’s Final Crisis with the nearly identical Season 4 finale of Doctor Who that was airing at nearly the exact same time, mostly because I intend for a Pop Between Realities on that point when we get there, but suffice it to say that the plot of that comic is a narrative collapse a la the Chase. And Morrison’s suggestion is that the DC Universe is able to, by its own intrinsic nature, repair the damage caused by the narrative collapse. I make a similar argument about the Chase, and I’ll repeat the phenomenon in Trial of a Time Lord, then again in the Davies and Moffat eras where narrative collapse becomes the default mode of storytelling for season finales.
But the point remains. Doctor Who has an odd ability to tend to itself both in an internal narrative sense and in an external social one. Internally, Doctor Who is capable of endless adjustment to its premise that allows it to adapt to what, at this point, seems safely describable as an infinite set of narrative circumstances. Doctor Who is one of the handful of fictional characters that it appears genuinely impossible to exhaust the stories about. Bad writers can still write bad Doctor Who stories, but good writers seem capable of redrafting the character into any format. Or, put another way, any narrative collapse you attempt to impose on Doctor Who will have some resolution possible within the world of Doctor Who. There is no way to write yourself irredeemably into a corner. (As evidenced by Davies successfully writing the series out of a seemingly intractable corner following its being not only cancelled but already the subject of a failed reboot)
Externally, Doctor Who shows a genuine ability to adapt to changing social circumstances. Though it does not always find an immediate response to the social conditions around it, in time it always manages to reinvent itself to be relevant to its present. It always maintains some connection with the larger culture.
I use the term quasi-sentient to describe this tendency because it appears to manifest itself absent any author. No single animating presence has kept Doctor Who relevant to culture for nearly fifty years now. Certainly no one, in 1963, designed a show to be able to narratively track the course of social history. And yet here it is. Much as the Time Lords appear to be keepers of a model of history that is based on a sort of historical gravity, Doctor Who appears to be created so that it organically shifts around to respond to history. It’s possible to tell a continual narrative - as I have been for over a year now - that treats Doctor Who as a continually evolving and linear thing even though it is pragmatically impossible for it to be so.
This is why there are Pop Between Realities posts - in order to firmly show the way in which Doctor Who fits into a historical narrative that is, of course, equally lacking in (or suffering from an excess of) authors. In order to occasionally come up for air from the story of Doctor Who and show that, no, the same story is playing out across the real world.
Likewise, this is why there are Time Can Be Rewritten posts. Because if Doctor Who is, in fact, a singular consciousness that is capable of responding to history as opposed to simply being an old thing that has tracked history just by virtue of being around for most of it then it must be possible to track backwards. It must be possible for the series’ future to intrude into its past in a way that is sensible. And so these entries are in many ways the checksums - the points where we see how the future interacts with the past and make sure that there is a coherent scope to this imaginary landmass we are mapping.
Cold Fusion, then, is a perfect instance - a book that is quite literally about the intrusion of the future onto the past. The whole Other theory of the Virgin books has nothing to do with the Davison era, which has its own rewriting of the Time Lords looming. And yet this book works. The Virgin Books version of the Doctor and a reasonably fair portrayal of early Davison interact. And the book is able to portray the Seventh Doctor as an extension of the Fifth. The book is full of lovely touches - the handling of Adric, and the hints at his tragic role in the Doctor’s later psyche are deft, and further set up the looming death of Roz in the New Adventures line.
But what is most interesting is the fact that the two Doctors never quite clash. The Fifth is horrified by the Seventh’s manipulativeness and willingness to destroy and punish his enemies, but is also made to tacitly accept that this is genuinely his future. He protests that other futures exist, but when the Feratu (the book’s main villains) suggest otherwise he accepts it. The Feratu themselves, defined by the inversion of Clarke’s law and the line between magic and science, are similarly the clear heirs of the play between the two concepts that has been going on in the just-concluded Bidmead era, and yet they are unmistakably the Seventh Doctor’s antagonists in this story, not the Fifth’s. After setting up a pair of Doctors that seem uniquely destined for a clash Parkin manages to write a story that reminds the reader that these two apparently different characters are, in fact, the same man. And in doing so gestures at the darkness that does lie ahead for the Fifth Doctor - not just in Adric’s death, but in his own relationship with violence and destruction.
The future, in other words, fits functionally into the past. Time can be rewritten without having to rewrite one line of history. All of the contradictions and absurdities of Doctor Who’s narrative fit into some larger, ephemeral whole.
And the story is damn good to boot.