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The Great Virgin New Adventures Review: Timewyrm – Genesys + Exodus

Recently I decided to read as many of the Virgin New Adventures novels as I possibly could, all in order. While some of the later novels you need to be a millionaire to buy, I thought it would be an interesting experiment to do, with these books confirmed at the time to be the continuation of the series at the end of Survival.

Virgin kicked the new series of books off with the opening set of four stories being linked by the titular Timewyrm, an alien being that hunts the Doctor and Ace throughout time and space. Here I’ll talk about the first two, Timewyrm: Genesys and Timewyrm: Exodus, written by John Peel and Terrance Dicks. Even just a glance at the covers will confirm that these books are far removed from the television series but they give us a good glimpse into the face of Doctor Who in the 1990s. And it is fair to remember that these books kept the show alive, so no matter on how you feel about them, their importance can never be understated…

TIMEWYRM: GENESYS

Kicking the series off in 1991 was Genesys, written by John Peel, a name that will be familiar to fans of the show towards the late 1980s and into the 1990s as he not only novelised Power and Evil of the Daleks for the Target range which coming to its natural end, but a number of novelizations of other stories and brand new contributions for both the New Adventures and Missing Adventures from Virgin Books but also the Past Doctor Adventures and The Eighth Doctor Adventures from BBC Books ranges, two ranges which ran right up until the end of 2005.

I brought this book years ago but having heard so much negative feedback about it online, I was hesitant to read it, believing them all to be full of bad-language and other adult themes. And some of them are, but Genesys isn’t really like that. In fact, the tone doesn’t feel all that different from the later McCoy era on screen. With Ghost Light, Curse of Fenric and Survival taking on a much more adult vibe, Peel rightly keeps that tone going here but never goes too far overboard, even if there are a couple of passages that might upset people. And perhaps the book does go a little too far into the world of sex and violence, with Peel entering The Epic of Gilgamesh in a Doctor Who story without constraints.

The Full Cover for Timewyrm: Genesys
The Full Cover for Timewyrm: Genesys

Where the book really succeeds though is in its characterisations, particularly the way that Peel handles Ace as throughout the novel he takes the time to give us insights into how she feels travelling in the TARDIS and the Doctor, the good and the bad things about it and it really works in making her a lot more relatable.

As I stated above, where the book doesn’t quite succeed is in how far it is allowed to go in other directions. We’ve got people having their entrails being cut out, a teenage prostitute who walks around topless most of the time and Ace even has a couple of nude scenes which feel entirely out of place and take you out of the story. While it is clear that Peel had gone to great strengths to set up the feel of that time-period these elements don’t have any place in a Doctor Who story, no matter how ‘adult’, the books were supposed to feel. I had similar feelings about the recent episode Rosa and the multiple usage of a terrible derogative word. Some things have no place in Doctor Who and unfortunately, this book has plenty of elements like this.

Peel’s interpretation of the Seventh Doctor is a little strange too. While on screen he was manipulative and put Ace in danger and used her as a pawn against his enemies, he always knew when he had gone too far and always apologised for his actions when she called him out. Here though, while it isn’t hard to imagine Sylvester McCoy delivering the lines, he just comes across as cold and uncaring, even calling Ace out for calling him out on pressuring her to spend time with a known rapist and murderer because it would just inconvenience him if she were around. It is a strange way to handle the Seventh Doctor and it just works as a way of keeping these novels out of the main continuity of the franchise.

The villain of the piece is interesting though. Ishtar as she is known here may come across as just another megalomaniac trying to conquer the Earth but she is honest about it. Peel doesn’t waste any time in trying to convince us she is anything other than that and as a result she comes across a lot better than some of the other baddies we’ve seen over the years.

It is also interesting that she doesn’t have any grand plans she just wants to cause pain to the people of Earth and she may be completely insane, she is methodical and intelligent and makes her more than a match for the Seventh Doctor. So much so it is a shame we never got a villain like her on the television series proper. As you might have guessed by now, the end of the book sees her becoming the titular Timewyrm but her transformation is unexpected and done rather well. She also manages to bring out a different side of the Doctor, one that is quite happy to sacrifice himself and Ace if it means Ishtar is stopped.

Genesys is a great way to kick the series off, even if it was a little controversial upon its release and even it sounds like I didn’t enjoy it! I thought it was quite a good book when all things are said and done. It is certainly going to feel strange if you are heading into it believing it to be something akin to the television series, with its mature themes and language which will no doubt put some readers off.

But we can forgive it if it feels like it’s trying too hard, this was the book that not only had to kick off a new series of novels but restart the Doctor Who franchise. And in that respect, it succeeds. If you can find it for a cheap price online it is definitely worth picking up, even if it just for curiosity value.

TIMEWYRM: EXODUS

The second book under the title of Timewyrm was Exodus, written by Doctor Who legend, Terrance Dicks, who takes us back to World War 2, just not the way we might remember…

Right off the bat, this book will challenge your knowledge of World War 2 and have your brain rushing to try and remember what you learnt at school. But Dicks seems to know that and the whole thing is written in a way that means you don’t have to research the events that unfold here. What did surprise me here though was how readily the book was to have us meet the big players in WW2, including Hitler and Goering and Himmler. With the Classic Series seemingly avoiding the conflict altogether, even stories like Curse of Fenric felt far removed from the conflict it was set in, even the modern series has only just started to really show the horrors of the conflict so it might take some by surprise to see the Doctor and Ace have to pretend to be friends to the Nazi party.

But Dicks never once slips up, keeping the Nazi’s as an evil force that almost conquered the world. Ace is disgusted by the whole thing, even if the Seventh Doctor here still feels a little strange and cold. But he doesn’t tell her to shut up about the shocks of this time period. Instead, he works at manipulating Hitler and his posse into making sure the correct history is played out.

Textless cover for Timewyrm: Exodus
Textless cover for Timewyrm: Exodus

Ishtar, or the Timewyrm as she goes by now has taken over Hitler’s mind, going for the maddest person in the room. Her plan is still causing the most pain and misery to the planet as she can and with WW2 being the worst of the worst, she comes very close, especially when the real villains of the piece turn up. The War Lords.

Originally created by Dicks and Malcolm Hulke in the 1969 adventure, The War Games, the War Lords, once more lead by the War Chief, were defeated by The Doctor, Jamie, Zoe and the Time Lords and they headed back to this time to make sure that the history of planet Earth was radically changed. Whereas in the last story they wanted to create a massive army of the best soldiers, this time they use the Nazi army in their plans.

They are a brilliant inclusion and Dicks gets their characterisation just right and they really come into their own in the last part of the book with the War Chief coming across brilliantly. One wonders why they never turned up again in Doctor Who proper as this book proves how great they could have been as a proper invading force.

Ace would leave in a few books time with Love and War proving to be her last solo adventure with the Doctor, though she would travel with him once again with Bernice Summerfield later in the range. But the seeds of her departure are sown here with some of the Doctor’s treatment of her, though he does apologise about it and Ace takes it in her stride. But the Doctor must have known the danger she was in, especially when they are in Nazi-Germany. But Ace is her usual brilliant self, throwing herself around and beating people up, even if she does break character once when does a traditional companion scream. But she was going to be sacrificed so I suppose we can forgive her for it!

Dicks also goes to some lengths to make Hitler, Himmler and Goering feel like characters and not just terrible historical figures and he once again shows us how deft his writing is as he doesn’t humanize them, rightly keeping them as the horrible people they were but giving us some interesting takes on the reasons behind their actions. It might take some readers by surprise to see these three historical figures get such inclusion in a book, I did me, but overall it works reminding us that these events should never be forgotten so that nothing like that can happen ever again.

Timewyrm Exodus is another fine book, a lot stronger than its predecessor, mainly thanks to it being written by a Doctor Who legend like Terrance Dicks. But it is just a cracking book and one of the range’s earliest successes.

And unlike its predecessor, Dicks manages to pull off the horrors of the time without it ever becoming lurid and truly nasty. He handles the subject of WW2 like a pro and for what was really the Classic Era’s first proper foray into the period, it was a success with Dicks proving once again why he is held in such high regard by the Doctor Who community!

NEXT TIME: APOCALYPSE’S AND REVELATION’S: ALIEN PLANETS AND A VILLAGE ON THE MOON…