Friday, February 15, 2013

A Timehead or Something (Father Time)

I’ll Explain Later

Since we’re skipping an awful lot of books from now on, I’m not going to attempt to summarize those. Father Time is the penultimate book of the earthbound series, and tells the story of the Doctor and his adoptive daughter Miranda, a mysterious and, one might say, unearthly child with two hearts. Over the course of a decade the Doctor raises Miranda and eventually stopping some aliens who are sworn to kill her and helping her take over the universe to boot. Nobody has a poor word for it. Lars Pearson calls it “one of the most mature Who books,” and Doctor Who Magazine’s new-look review column proclaims that Parkin “nails the character” of the Doctor. Fitting for the seventh-best story in Shannon Sullivan’s rankings.

——
It’s January of 2001. Bob the Builder is at number one with “Can We Fix It,” which is holding off Eminem’s “Stan” in one of the most entertaining musical battles imaginable. Rui Da Silva takes over with “Touch Me” as week later, then Jennifer Lopez with “Love Don’t Cost a Thing,” and finally Limp Bizkit with “Rollin’.” S Club 7, Westlife, Destiny’s Child, Leann Rimes, Britney Spears, and the Baha Men also chart in what may be the worst month for music ever.

While we were out, Her Majesty’s Prison Maze, informally known as Long Kesh prison, closed in Northern Ireland. Slobodon Milošević left office. A local gang attempted to steal the Millennium Star from the Millennium Dome, but were foiled spectacularly. The dome also shut down to visitors after a year, now being part of The O2. And the 2000 US Presidential election played out, seeing the election, or, at least, Supreme Court appointment of George W. Bush. While this month, Bush is actually inaugurated President, Wikipedia launches, and the AOL/Time Warner merger is approved.

While in books, Lance Parkin is back with Father Time. Parkin’s books have an odd tendency to start from a position that can almost be described as trolling. He begins with a premise that is tailor-made to piss off and alarm fans, or, alternatively, one that seems self-evidently impossible. His books consistently feel as though they were written in response to dares - he takes ideas that sound like they cannot possibly work and tries to make them work. In this regard he is perhaps the most high concept writer of the Wilderness Years - more even than Lawrence Miles and Paul Cornell.

But there’s a cheek to Parkin’s iconoclasm. He writes unwritable stories not quite by formula, but at least by a simple and reliable method, which is to find an escape route from the premise itself. The Infinity Doctors is perhaps the definitive example of this: a story that reconciles all the disparate takes on Gallifrey through excessive fealty to all of them. In a similar spirit, Father Time takes on the “impossible” premise of “what if the Doctor had a daughter” and proceeds to carefully avoid the major reason the story is impossible, which is that it’s a premise that should completely alter how Doctor Who works, and that any failure to allow it to do so opens up another Problem of Susan, only a bigger one that can’t be hand-waved with the “well, the show drifted slightly from its original premise” argument that ultimately avoids, if not removes, the problem. I mean, yes, the Problem of Susan is huge, but ultimately it’s the same thing that means that Barney Google basically never appears in his own comic anymore. Repeating the problem in 2001 would be daft. So Parkin ends up spending a lot of Father Time avoiding painting himself into the obvious corner, to the point where the bok is as much about avoiding that corner as it is about its ostensible subject.

Nevertheless, it works. The first thing to say is that Parkin found the second story of the earthbound arc. This is the Silurians of that cycle - the book that finds something else you can do besides watching the Doctor from afar. This is the only one of the earthbound arc to meaningfully take advantage of the time allowed by it: despite having over a century to play with, most of the books of the earthbound arc take place over a day or two. Parkin is alone in realizing that he has all of the space from 1951 to 2001 to himself, and deciding to open the book up to take place over an entire decade. The earthbound arc is really one of the few places in all of Doctor Who where you can have the Doctor spend an entire decade in which he’s not constantly in search of the TARDIS, and yet Parkin is the only writer to tackle it.

This strangeness embodies a general case for the earthbound arc, however. There’s something that it’s difficult to explain why the earthbound arc never touches: UNIT. The Doctor’s time on earth coincides with the Third Doctor’s exile and a massive wave of alien invasions, and we never see so much as a hint of how the Eighth Doctor’s life through this period goes. Yes, there are obvious difficulties with this such as exposing the Eighth Doctor to answers about who he is before Escape Velocity, but it’s as massive a question as the interplay between Torchwood and the Pertwee era, and unlike that can’t be squared away by the impossibility of shooting a Pertwee/Captain Jack story and the fact that Torchwood is a spin-off with an oblique connection to Doctor Who. More than once over the course of this blog I’ve suggested that part of the value of a given story is that its era wouldn’t feel finished without attempting the story. Here we get that repurposed as a problem: a story whose absence does, in fact, make an arc feel unfinished and not thought through.

And a lot of that seems to be that the writers simply aren’t there. Of the six writers on the earthbound arc, only Parkin and Richards seem primarily interested in a story idea that could only work as part of that arc, instead of one that, with some light revisions, could function elsewhere. To some extent this just follows up on what we talked about with The Burning: that there’s no point in doing a big arc when you don’t have enough writers who want to work with the ideas of that arc. And with the earthbound arc, as with virtually everything else in the Eighth Doctor Adventures, they didn’t.

Another part of it, obviously, is that the line has a terribly anxious relationship with its past at this point. As I said, one of the major problems with the idea of a UNIT story in the earthbound arc is that the books are committed to throwing away the past and creating a new continuity for the Doctor. That this is a ludicrously overwrought way of accomplishing what could have been accomplished with an editorial directive to the effect of “no more Gallifrey” is neither here nor there. But Father Time demonstrates the futility of that as well. The book is shot through with with engagement with the past of Doctor Who, albeit engagement with it as an absent force. The fact that the Doctor exists in a universe that knows him even if he doesn’t know himself is crucial to the book’s plot, and Miranda’s origin is deliberately made such that she’s plausibly a Time Lord. It’s notable that the book uses the language of Factions and Houses to describe Miranda’s people. The chronology is just rough enough to make it tough to be definitive about intent. Father Time predates the first Faction Paradox spin-off book by twenty-one months, although it’s certainly plausible that Miles had begun reworking the mythology in time for Parkin to work in the reference. But why should we be slaves to authorial intent? Whether a deliberate reference or not, it deepens the novel’s already existent tendency towards making Miranda’s origins blur with the Doctor’s obscured ones.

But more to the point, the past of Doctor Who is inescapable. That dealing at all with the fact that Doctor Who has already done an earthbound arc that overlaps this one in time period is completely unthinkable demonstrates just how odd this period and arc really is. And there ends up feeling like a particular anxiety about the Pertwee era, especially with the earthbound arc, which is on the one hand indebted to it up to its eyeballs (note also that three of the stories involve the Doctor wrapped up in the military in some fashion) and on the other hand terrified of engaging with it. Which perfectly summarizes the situation that the novels in general find themselves in. They only exist because of the extensive legacy of Doctor Who, but they’re so petrified of engaging with it that they’ve gone out of their way to blow it up.



What’s odd about Father Time is the degree to which, for all that it took an idiosyncratic moment in the series’ history and did a story where the entire premise is self-consciously antithetical to how the show can possibly work, it is, more than anything in the entirety of the Eighth Doctor Adventures, and possibly more than anything in the Wilderness Years that wasn’t outright adapted for television, reminiscent of how the show works today. The iconic plot of the new series is “the Doctor experiences some aspect of ordinary human life,” and the most recent iteration of that has been exactly the material Parkin plays with here: marriage (not that the Doctor actually marries Debbie) and kids. Parkin has quietly hit on the future of Doctor Who here.

There are, of course, problems. Miranda is thin as a character. It’s too important that she be worthy of being the Doctor’s daughter for her to really be developed as a character in her own right. Everything about her in the book is really just  part and parcel of a conveyer belt designed to get her to the ending where she can suddenly become an intergalactic empress of peace. She’s not so much an interesting character as a character we’re told is interesting.

One of the things that hobbles her is instructive: she’s a character in a book. Although Father Time is superior to The Doctor’s Daughter in almost every way, it has a major comparative disadvantage simply because Miranda doesn’t have Georgia Moffett playing her. For all that Moffett’s character is an underwritten bore, it’s impossible to understate the utility of her being able to smile winsomely at the camera and say “hello, dad” in terms of getting an audience to like her. It’s a small thing, but it’s crucial to how film and television can get audiences to care about characters with a ruthless efficiency novels can’t: films and television have people and charisma involved, and those are key aspects of how we come to invest in other people. Putting a human face on Miranda would have made all the difference in the world.

So even though Father Time, unlike The Doctor’s Daughter, has interesting details and deals with the concept of the Doctor as a parent in a real, lived way instead of as a vapid sketch, there’s a necessary sterility to it. It’s just not possible to do the story of the Doctor becoming a parent in a 288 page novel, simply because that’s not enough pages to earn that kind of relationship. The book has too much to do in getting us to invest in both Miranda and Debbie, moving through a decade of Miranda’s life, telling us how the Doctor feels about all of this, and sorting out its actual alien invasion plot. And so the novel leaves the reader in the strange position of wanting all the annoying bits about space ships and intergalactic war to go away so we can get back to Miranda at a party having her heart broken, simply because those are the bits where the book actually earns its premise. It’s doing what the entire earthbound arc should have done - dealing with the amount of space that the premise gives and allowing the idea of the Doctor simply living his life to be explored. And instead, because it’s crammed between Endgame and Escape Velocity, it has to rush itself and fail to quite earn its premise.

I recognize that this is counter-intuitive - we do, after all, usually think of novels as the medium better suited to extended character studies and the like. But this is too simple. Novels can accomplish this in part because of their length and in part because there are a lot of things a novel can do efficiently. But a good actor can communicate internal emotional states with an efficiency and skill that prose is simply poorly suited to. Lengthy descriptions of internal emotional states are banal, while a skillful actor working in close-up can convey subtleties that are nearly impossible to make come alive in prose. A novel in which there are no aliens and the Doctor just raises a daughter would be a tough sell within Doctor Who - the sci-fi plot has to be there. But that means that the book is in many ways unable to do what it needs to do. It can only tell us that the Doctor loves his daughter, whereas Paul McGann himself could show it to us in five seconds.

So the book simultaneously ends up calling the future direction of Doctor Who and illustrating a fundamental shortcoming of it in its current form. It’s a phenomenal idea for a Doctor Who story - one that is rightly hailed as one of the highlights of the Eighth Doctor Adventures. But a novel series in which it’s one story in a larger plot arc is the wrong medium for it. It’s not where this approach can thrive. Which is ironic, as it’s specifically the oddities of that plot arc that allowed the story to make its first appearance. But in practice, even if The Ancestor Cell hadn’t done grievous damage to the Eighth Doctor Adventures as a line, this book reveals a basic problem, which is that television is just a better medium for multi-author long-term serialization than novels are.

But interestingly, the same month this came out there was a major development with Doctor Who in a different medium. Which brings us around to the other Eighth Doctor line.

39 comments:

  1. "television is just a better medium for long-term serialization than novels are"

    Or is it just that television/radio dramas are often subject to tighter editorial control than were the EDAs? Compare the tightly edited RTD years with the flabby "soap opera" aspect of the Davison era.

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    1. Doctor Who is a weird one. It's an 'authored' TV show in a way that very few shows, even with 'showrunners' are. It's not just fan OCDness that allows us to spot when Saward's writing it one week, Robert Holmes the next, Philip Martin the one before.

      And that goes double for the novels, which lack the semiotic thickness of actors, designers and directors adding their contributions.

      The Doctor's Daughter is a great example of a good lead and winsome young guest star managing to distract from a, um, shit script. A script that doesn't really support the 'tightly edited' theory.

      It's not *really* a series, is it? It's an anthology with the same lead characters which occasionally pretends that a one line mention of a previous story makes it a 'soap opera'.

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    2. Honestly, I enjoyed The Doctor's Daughter. It had some weak points, but the big twist threw all of those in a different light for me.

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    3. I too like The Doctor's Daughter, right in the wheelhouse of the season's eschatological concerns.

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    4. The Doctor's Daughter is a complex issue for me. A very interesting idea, and a solid, if intense and sometimes too-fast, episode for the Doctor and Donna. I think what dragged it down from this level of a very strong B was that Martha ended up in the episode and the writer didn't know what to do with her. It failed the test of adapting an extra character.

      And because we all had Girl in the Fireplace on dvd, we could refer to the episode that adapted to the unplanned extra character best. Mickey's comedy moments on the spaceship rivalled the main plot of the Doctor and Reinette in entertainment value, while also doing a really good job of exploring Mickey as a person.

      The 2005 and 2006 seasons are the ones in the new series I wish had actually lasted two years. Not in the sense of dragged out seasons we have now, but as producing 26 episodes. 2005 has an embarrassment of riches that could have used expansion: More Christopher, of course, but also the prospect of a half-season travelling with Adam (a groundbreaking character if he'd stuck around through the end of the season, the companion whose trust we gradually lose until the breaking point), and a whole second Eccleston season with a Chris/Rose/Jack team.

      And I would have liked an expansion of the 2006 season so we could have a whole season of Mickey. Join in School Reunion as happened, then stay until the end of the season. The season finale of imagined-2006-season-two would have had Mickey coming back from the parallel universe and Rose leaving as we saw. But that would have been a whole season of duo David/Rose adventures.

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    5. "I think what dragged it down from this level of a very strong B was that Martha ended up in the episode and the writer didn't know what to do with her. It failed the test of adapting an extra character. "

      I was thinking about this a while back, and realized that her role in this story was quite central to making it work. It's through Martha that we come to know the Hath, so we can see them as people rather than as monsters; otherwise it would have to be Donna, but I don't think it would work as well since Martha's a "doctor" in her own right at this point.

      I think what it is is that Martha's story in here isn't "fun." While the Doctor, Martha and Jenny get plenty of time to play off each other and form an interesting dynamic, Martha's by herself and being stoically heroic, suffering in her trip across the Wasteland, and while it's clever she can understand the burbling Fish-speak, it's not emotionally satisfying. And yeah, I think that's the whole point of this side-trip, to show the utter darkness of life out there, and it kind of has to be to repel Martha away from more traveling with the Doctor, but it's not an easy thing to watch.



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    6. @Jane: I hadn't spotted it, but I think you are right that Martha's journey is important to The Doctor's Daughter. Unfortunately, for me this is one of the main things that lets it down, because we don't see enough of it to care about the Hath she is with, or really understand why she is so devastated by his death. And this is one reason why I think the story needed to be a two-parter to fulfill its potential.

      @Adam: I like your plan for expanded 2005-2006 seasons! Though I think you could get away with only one extra set of 13 episodes if you split Autumn-Spring so that the regeneration comes halfway through the middle season...

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    7. "but also the prospect of a half-season travelling with Adam (a groundbreaking character if he'd stuck around through the end of the season, the companion whose trust we gradually lose until the breaking point)"

      Dunno if I'd be able to take a half-season's worth of Bruno Langley, though. Plus in practice he serves more as a prelude to Rose's actions in Father's Day- his initial irresponsibility helps set up what Rose does and why the Doctor reacts so strongly against it.

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    8. I don't know if I could take a half-season's worth of Adam, a theoretically potentially interesting character but also yet another flawed male companion in a disappointingly biased line: Adric and his sympathies for the villains, Turlough and his mission to kill the Doctor, Mickey and his pouty second fiddle status. Somehow from the 80s onward it's crucial that female companions be perfect and that male companions be at best slightly dim and at worst duplicitous and corruptible. I loved Mickey, liked Turlough, and at least wanted to like Adric, but starting with JNT the (televised) show has been determined to tell me that the only really honorable male on the TARDIS crew has to be the Doctor. I REALLY dislike that.

      That said, I could take way more than a half-season's worth of Bruno Langley. Delish.

      As for The Doctor's Daughter: I've only watched it once, and am dreading its return when I get to that season in my rewatch. Not a fan.

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  2. It’s been a long time since I read this one, but my memory of it is that it was the best of the earthbound arc, an arc which, on the whole was pretty strong, though probably one (and possibly two) books too long. Certainly I remember feeling it was such a shame that after such a strong book as this that the arc finished with the appalling mess that was Escape Velocity (as well as the decision to keep the Doctor’s amnesia in place, which never made any sense to me once he had left earth). As I recall the book finishes with the big confrontation with the aliens who had come to kill Miranda, don’t remember the exact details but it always felt a bit weird that after all the events of this book, and a great ending, the Doctor had to go back to earth and spend the next 15 years waiting to go and meet Fitz in some nightclub to collect the Tardis.

    I have to say Lance Parkin is probably my favourite of the authors who wrote novels in the wilderness years (certainly up there with Paul Cornell and Steve Lyons), I like the description of him given in this article. He does seem to start from a different place than most of his contemporaries but he always has the writing chops to deliver on whatever weird premise he starts with (what if the Doctor had never left Gallifrey, what if the Doctor had a daughter, what if Davros and the Doctor worked together for a corporation). He is, for me the one author from the book range who hasn’t written for the TV series that I would have loved to see commissioned.

    On the subject to the audios though, I can’t wait for next week, I love the Big Finish Eighth Doctor Audios with a passion that even outstrips my love for the EDAs

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    1. My sense of the amnesia arc is that for some of the writers some of the time, it wasn't simply "the Doctor has forgotten his past", but rather "The Doctor's past doesn't exist any more, so there's nothing for him _to_ remember," this being part and parcel of the whole "Everything's different now" angle they were going for (Indeed, I always sort of suspected that part of the reason for the conspicuous absense of UNIT was that they did not want to commit to the UNIT era still having "really happened". The view that "wins out" is "Nah, it really is just amnesia," but that really only happens at the very last minute -- in the mean time, my feel is that some of the people involved felt that as long as the Doctor didn't remember his past, his past wasn't nailed down, and they liked it that way -- it's not going to be too long before they go so far as to say "Yeah, screw everything that's happened so far, let's give the Doctor a new origin story"

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    2. "He is, for me the one author from the book range who hasn’t written for the TV series that I would have loved to see commissioned."

      While individual ideas from other books have been nicked for the new TV series - 'the Doctor goes weird without a companion', the TARDIS translation stuff, the Doctor's body having genetic treasure in it - Parkin's the one who (1) is lock stock and barrel just ripped off by the new series over and over and (2) he did it better.

      I don't really understand why he's not been commissioned. The best Doctor Who story of 2008 was The Eyeless, by light years.

      I think the word I'd use to describe his stuff is 'sly'. He sneaks in all sorts of things. It was a re-read (and some online comments) before I clocked that Father Time is a Dalek novel.

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    3. The books (including Father Time IIRC) explain that the Doctor's in Asia in the seventies, so that's why he skips the UNIT era.

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    4. You're forgetting that at the time, there was a certain vocal section of the readership of the opinion that if the Doctor got his memories back then 'obviously' the first thing he would do is find a way to restore Gallifrey from never-having-existed to its rightful place. To have him remember destroying Gallifrey and not immediately 'fix' continuity would be, to this lot, intolerable.

      Most of those who had a problem with the amnesia (which was, frankly, 'TV amnesia' anyway, where the character would remember and forget whatever it was convenient for the plot to have them remember or forget) were of this school, or so it seemed, so given that a Gallifrey-less universe was what was desired, ending the amnesia early would have achieved precisely nothing. The same people would still have complained and the stories would not, for the most part, have been materially affected (few of them from this point even mention the amnesia, certainly far fewer than base their premise on some aspect of 'the world is a wilder place now the Time Lords aren't keeping it straight any more).

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    5. Parkin isn't my very favourite of the novelists, but he's right up there. I assume that the only reason he's not been commissioned is that he's never written for TV before (though he has worked in TV, but as a production assistant rather than script-writer).

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    6. "(which was, frankly, 'TV amnesia' anyway, where the character would remember and forget whatever it was convenient for the plot to have them remember or forget) "

      God, this is the frustrating part of the whole thing to me. I'm fine with them wanting to explore an amnesiac Doctor. It was necessary after the first half of the range, where spouting off a couple of continuity references every 30 pages constituted a character for the Doctor. But almost none of the authors actually wanted to write about an amnesiac Doctor! Raynor simply has the Doctor "not think" about using the sonic screwdriver and it works in EarthWorld, rather than, you know, exploring a Doctor that doesn't have these sorts of tricks. The Doctor doesn't get surprised by things, he just pretends to know about them, so that authors don't have to deal with a Doctor that might act at all differently. The worst part was that authors didn't even drop continuity references: They'd have the Doctor do the same thing he always did, saying "oh yeah, I remember when the Zogs attacked the Zog planet..." but then follow it up with the obligatory "But then as soon as he remembered it, it was gone." This frustrates me to no end. The whole point of the amnesia was so that authors stop doing these lazy continuity references, but they can't be bothered, so they do them anyway.

      I really like the idea of the line exploring an 8th Doctor that has no memory of the past. I just wish any of the authors past Father Time actually cared enough to explore ANY of the implications of this.

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    7. I really like the idea of the line exploring an 8th Doctor that has no memory of the past. I just wish any of the authors past Father Time actually cared enough to explore ANY of the implications of this.

      Again, you miss the point. The main reason for giving the Doctor amnesia was not to explore the implications of a Doctor with no memories, it was to answer the question, 'Why doesn't he bring back Gallifrey?'

      The amnesia should be seen in the same way as the Blinovitch Limitation Effect. It's a handwave to stop the question, 'But why doesn't...?' and then get on with the story.

      I was there. I have the scars.

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    8. The main reason for giving the Doctor amnesia was not to explore the implications of a Doctor with no memories, it was to answer the question, 'Why doesn't he bring back Gallifrey?'

      The new series has gotten on perfectly fine without that, though.

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    9. You obviously weren't there.

      These people were firmly convinced that the Doctor would never stop trying until he got Gallifrey back. 'He can't' was not a good enough answer. If he had his memory back, every single book would have had them saying, 'Why is he off having adventures instead of trying to get Gallifrey back? The Doctor NEVER admits defeat. Could you just go gallivanting around the universe if Earth had been erased or would you be trying to bring back all your family and friends?'

      Every.

      Single.

      Book.

      The new series got away with it because it began with 'Gallifrey gone' as the status quo, so there was no one clamouring to bring Gallifrey 'back' as it had never been there to start off with.

      I mean, maybe the same people still complain, but nobody listens any more. Back then, people had to listen, because the room was smaller.

      And there weren't all these damn kids.

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    10. "I can't. It would be changing my own past. And there's a reason I destroyed it."

      I mean, there would still be some people who complain, I'm sure, but the strange division you have whereby the old guard of Doctor Who fans insisted the Doctor would bring back Gallifrey no matter what whereas new fans who didn't grow up with Gallifrey didn't care seems... difficult to credit.

      I mean, were there fans who wanted Gallifrey back? Sure. Still are. And I'm sure as t approaches infinity eventually someone will restore Gallifrey. But the insistence that the Doctor would start altering his own personal history to undo something he did in the first place seems a strange consensus, to say the least.

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    11. You obviously weren't there.

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  3. "It’s notable that the book uses the language of Factions and Houses to describe Miranda’s people. The chronology is just rough enough to make it tough to be definitive about intent."

    As you say, intent is easily the less interesting way to approach this (and, indeed, most things), but if it helps the first two Faction Paradox audio scripts are dated April 2000, and they've got Houses all over them. So I've no idea if Parkin would have known that terminology yet, but Miles had definitely come up with it by then.

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    1. Isn't it just as likely that Miles read a draft of Father Time and took it from there?

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    2. There's no mystery here. This idea of 'Houses' comes from Lungbarrow. If you want to refer to Time Lords without using the name, it's an obvious choice (next most obvious would be 'Chapter', but the impression is that there are a very limited number of chapters (three, five or six) but scope for many many different houses).

      Parkin's use of 'Faction' is definitely to tie in to Faction Paradox, but 'Houses' is two authors, either independently or not, coming up with the same, fairly obvious, way to talk about Time Lords without ever using the words 'Time Lord'.

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    3. I wouldn't be terribly shocked if it was intentional. Parkin and Miles get along alright, from what I understand. Parkin contributed to the Book of the War, but his entry was cut for space considerations, and he also wrote the (absolutely fantastic) Warlords of Utipoa for the Faction Paradox line.

      From Miles' Last Interview: "Why are we talking about Lance Parkin, though? Change the subject, quick. He's one of the few other writers who's still talking to me."

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  4. Fully agree with what you say regarding continuity here; the 'ignore it and maybe it'll go away' approach that the EDAs tended to display around this period was ultimately just a bit counter-intuitive. By desperately trying to pretend it wasn't there and going to such ostentatious lengths to try and get rid of it, often they just ended up called more and more attention to it and it became a bigger and bigger elephant in the room. Contrast (again) with RTD's approach, which was to just quietly do it's thing and every so often nod to something from the past and say "Hey -- remember that?"

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    1. Agree about RTD's approach to continuity, concentrate on making good stories, occasionally make nods to the past to show it’s the same character with the same memories, beyond that don’t get too caught up with what has gone before. It’s the approach that was taken for the first 18 or so years of the classic series and worked well and yet it seemed (to me at least) completely radical when nu-Who started in 2005. Indeed, I remember people on the internet in the run up to the first series fretting about how the events of the EDAs would; play into the series. It seemed weird when the series started that it didn’t keep going on about things from the past, but of course it is by far the best way to make a series like this and keep appealing to new audiences. I have confirmed this to myself this by trying to get my young nephews interested in the classic series (they are 8 ad 11), they love Doctor Who but just don’t care about stuff that happened on TV 20 years before they were born or in books 10 years before and of course, why should they.

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  5. "the novel leaves the reader in the strange position of wanting all the annoying bits about space ships and intergalactic war to go away so we can get back to Miranda at a party having her heart broken"

    Yes! I really enjoyed this book - and I'm thankful to Dr Sandifer that the blog has encouraged me to read some more of the EDAs - but I had exactly this reaction. It could have done with having twice the space to expand on the mundane aspects of the story.

    Good points about the advantages of a dramatic medium, too - though ironically a Doctor Who budget at that time would have struggled with transformer cars and buildings made of flowers and giant spaceships, so the book probably has better visuals for the SF elements!

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  6. "this book reveals a basic problem, which is that television is just a better medium for long-term serialization than novels are."

    I disagree. There have been a lot of successful serialized novel series, including both ones that work much like a TV show, with multiple authors coming out every month, such as Animorphs or Warriors, and ones that are just done by one author and come out over longer periods but show similar levels of serialization, such as The Dresden Files or the Stephanie Plum novels. The former model seems to only be really big in the kids' market, but there's no reason why it couldn't work for adult novels.

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    1. Yeah. I think it's more accurate to say that long-term serialization doesn't work the same way in prose as it does in television, and that the people making the BBC books never worked out how to account for that. (Though in my recollection it does seem like this kind of serialization in novels is invariably the work of a single author, rather than the "many writers with one showrunner working to bring everyone together into a coherent narrative voice" model that seems to work well in TV, so perhaps you really can't get tight enough control in prose when you're a franchise of many writers. All that said, my impression is that the Star Trek Universe's recentish novel series relaunch is also an attempt to bring everyone together in a more coherent serial narrative than they'd done previously, and I have no idea how well that's going)

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    2. Yeah, I should have specified multi-author serialization. I'll fix it when I'm at my computer.

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  7. It does have an air about it of Parkin having done his own personal set of Pop Between Realities for the Eighties, and fitted them all in. The transformer works, partly because of course a story set in the eighties is the right place for one to crop up, and partly, because it's a villain and there's no point in having robots in disguise if they aren't going to be villains.
    The other idea that Parkin takes on that is a risk is the Doctor as Eighties management consultant. I think he pulls it off, probably by wedging his tongue in his cheek.

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    1. At the time parkin said that he wrote the sections as the kinda books that Miranda might have been reading. Perhaps that's where that feeling comes from?

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  8. I think what impresses me most about Father Time is that it's about the Doctor. A lesser author might have, by accident or design, have ended up with a book where Debbie Castle or - more likely - Miranda are the central characters. Father Time keeps it on the Doctor, even when he's not in the room.

    Parkin's basically the architect of New Who isn't he? Doctor Who wasn't like The Dying Days, Davros and Father Time when those stories came out. They'd fit right in now.

    The other thing he does: TV and film rely on punch-the-air moments. Novels usually don't. But Father Time's just full of them. It's not so much that he steals a space shuttle, it's the next bit, where it flies up to Ferran's giant ship (Worldsphere technology, I believe, so basically a Culture GSV) in that space shuttle and *wins*. And I don't think that's even in the top ten.

    I don't want them to adapt it for TV. They'd fuck it up. It's way too good.

    It's a novel where the Doctor blows up a Transformer by driving a Ford Cortina into it. Nuff said.

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  9. "His books consistently feel as though they were written in response to dares - he takes ideas that sound like they cannot possibly work and tries to make them work."

    This is how I've always imagined Agatha Christie to have written her books too. "A murder where every suspect is guilty? Challenge accepted!"

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  10. I really like this entry, but especially the part where you talk about the differences in how emotions are conveyed on the page vs. on the screen. I love novels, always have and will, but it's frustrating when people don't understand that they aren't The Ultimate Way to tell a story. As you point out, there are some things that work best in a visual medium and/or done by actors, and those aren't trivial.

    I also have to credit you, Dr. S, with getting me interested in tracking down and reading these novels after having given up on them when they were in print. At Gallifrey One this past weekend there were a couple of tables selling tons of them and I was like a kid in a candy store. There was also a terrific panel discussion of the novels that I would have ignored if not for this blog. Cheers.

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