I’m not talking about the old Target novelisations. Nope. They were of an era, a brief slice of delicious nostalgia; a chunk of my childhood that has been irrevocably cast adrift, something that I could never recapture, no matter how hard I tried.
No, I’m talking about the New / Missing adventures; those wonderful monthly novels that lit the dark and lonely wilderness that was the 1990s - early 2000s with their ceaseless munificence.
Back then, in the wasteland that has now become known as the ‘sixteen year hiatus‘, my friends and I savoured each and every release. After we had read them we’d sit out on the little wooden bench in my friend’s front garden, listening to the steady trickle of the water in his goldfish pond, and discuss the book at great length. We’re talking ‘93 - ‘94 here, a time when we were all about to disappear off to university, so the time was precious to us and we met up at every available opportunity.
Thinking back it seems like it was always summer on those evenings in my friend's garden; the sun always seemed to be setting and bugs would always be buzzing lazily about their buggy business as we talked excitedly about the book we had just read - maybe comparing it to those that had gone before, perhaps anticipating what might be coming next.
To anyone too young to remember those times, or those people who only jumped onboard the Whovian Express with the new series in 2005, it’s hard to imagine that back then Doctor Who was considered a joke, a series that was past its prime, and to everyone involved it was dead and buried. BBC Worldwide was releasing stories sporadically on home video, but even this was little comfort to Who fandom (remember, this was a time when even Doctor Who Magazine was warning us not to get our hopes up, as it was highly unlikely that all the remaining episodes would be released on video!)
So, for me and my friends these monthly fixes of Who-relatedness were a God-send, a life-saver, twelve mini-events that lit the way through those dark and terrible times like flaming torches along a spider-webbed strewn, ancient stone corridor.
We delighted at the return of old favourites and thrilled in the introduction of new and exotic foes. An earlier incarnation of the Master appeared in David A. McIntee’s cold war thriller First Frontier, while the Cybermen returned to their snowy roots in David Banks’ Antarctic adventure Iceberg. Gareth Roberts introduced us to the reptilian Chelonians (twice) while Gary Russell and the late, great Craig Hinton kept us up to date with the evil machinations of everyone’s favourite Martians, the Ice Warriors. Unfortunately we also had Dave Stone, taking the piss and ruining it for everyone else with his ’I seem to be embarrassed to be involved in this so I’m not going to take anything seriously’ style of writing - so, every silver-lining.
Who can forget the sheer genius that was Ben Aaronovitch’s Transit? A novel so good that, not only was it the best book in the entire Virgin range, but it was a sure-fire contender for best Doctor Who book ever! It was at the time, you may recall, a book so controversial that it split the fan community straight down the middle into those that loved it and those that hated it. You might say it was the novel equivalent of Marmite!
When Virgin lost the rights to the Doctor Who range in 1997, there was much consternation within the fan community as to the continued quality of the novels. Surely, we all thought (seemingly as one giant hive-mind), BBC Books couldn’t continue the high standards that Virgin had maintained so diligently throughout their six year reign.
Ok, so we were wrong - every last one of us. You see, the BBC had a secret weapon up their sleeves…actually they had several. Most notably Lawrence Miles, Mark Morris and Paul Magrs.
You can say what you like about Mr Miles (actually, you probably could, and he wouldn’t bat an eyelid) but there is absolutely no doubt that he is the SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT WRITER ever to work on the Doctor Who novel range (sorry about the capital letters there, but they were necessary, dammit!). Each and every novel he has produced have been vital to the range as a whole - his War In Heaven arc was, arguably, the single most exciting, original and important addition to the Doctor Who mythos since Terry Nation and Raymond Cusick created the Daleks back in 1963.
So, not only were we getting 70% of the writers who’d contributed to the previous range, but editors Ben Dunn, Jac Rayner and Justin Richards were bringing in other immensely talented writers who were taking the series into new and exciting areas; The Bodysnatchers by Mark Morris, The Scarlet Empress by Paul Magrs, Matrix by Mike Tucker & Robert Perry and Relative Dementias by Mark Michalowski being amongst the best titles by new Who authors.
With marvellous story arcs, and a brand new direction we thought the range would run and run for ever and ever. But it didn’t.
They were good times. Golden times. And I miss them like crazy. Whether brand new adventures for the latest incarnation of the Doctor, or unseen stories with our favourite ‘past model’, the anticipation of a brand new full-length book was a thing of wonder, and probably something that we‘ll never see the like of again.
Sure, we have the New Series range that’s still being written by those talented chaps that contributed to the original ranges, but sadly the target audience has changed. Being neither aimed at the very young readers like the Target novelisation days, nor the adult fans that grew up with the programme in the 70s and 80s, this new set of books falls rather awkwardly somewhere between the two, and reading one always tends to leave me feeling both patronised and unfulfilled.
I miss those books and I miss those days. Truly great times, gone forever.