The Wilderness Years: Doctor Who’s Ultimate Experiment


The Doctor and Ace walk off into the sunset
The Doctor and Ace walk off into the sunset

They were the last words many fans of Doctor Who ever thought they would hear. Cancelled by the BBC in 1989, Doctor Who came to a close with Survival which saw the Seventh Doctor and Ace return to Ace’s hometown of Perivale where her friends had begun to go missing. What followed was a story which featured alien worlds, Cheetah People, an evil street cat and the last appearance on screen of Anthony Ainley’s incarnation of the Master.

In many ways, it was the best way to close the series out. The Master had seemingly been defeated and whether they knew it or not, the production team had given all the Doctor’s biggest enemies a fitting conclusion. The Daleks got theirs in Remembrance of the Daleks and the Cybermen in Silver Nemesis. The Master vanished at the end of Survival and the Doctor and Ace walk off into the sunset together ready for more adventures.

What followed were years of uncertainty, was the show ever going to come back? Would Sylvester McCoy still be in the lead role, John Nathan-Turner still the showrunner? But alas, despite protests from fans, Doctor Who was relegated to the scrapheap with the heads of the BBC at the time, who couldn’t see a good thing when it was in front of them. Then in 1991, the show came back in a different format and things began to change…


Timewyrm: Genesis - Book Cover
Timewyrm: Genesis – Book Cover

June 1991 saw the continuation of the show come back in a brand new format, novels. Distributed by Virgin Publishing, the Seventh Doctor and Ace blasted back into fan’s lives with Timewrym: Genesis by John Peel. But fans weren’t prepared for just how adult these novels would be. With scenes of swearing, sex and gratuitous violence, these novels proved to be a little too much. Indeed, one scene featuring a topless teenage prostitute in Timewrym: Genesis made public headlines.

Timewrym: Genesis was the first story in a four-part arc that saw the Doctor and Ace travelling from Ancient Mesopotamia and meeting the legendary Gilgamesh to Nazi-occupied England and the planet Kirith. The fourth novel, Timewrym: Revelation is heralded by many as the book where the series entered truly adult territory.

Love and War, by future show-writer, Paul Cornell, saw the departure of Ace and the introduction of popular companion, Bernice Summerfield. What is even more shocking is that it introduced the idea that the Seventh Doctor had killed his previous incarnation, something that wouldn’t come to full-fruition till later in Head Games.

Bernice Summerfield on the cover of her debut story - Love and War
Bernice Summerfield on the cover of her debut story – Love and War

Over the course of the novels, the Seventh Doctor became darker and darker. He would purposely place his companions, Ace, Bernice, Chris and Roz in danger. Ace and Bernice were separated in time in a nasty scheme of the Doctor’s, Bernice was left to be tortured and brutally injured by the Nazi’s in Just War, Roz was killed in So Vile A Sin and Chris was faced with the idea he had killed millions of people in Eternity Weeps which also saw the death of past companion – Liz Shaw.

Eventually, the Virgin New Adventures came to a close with The Dying Days, which actually featured Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor. The adventures of the Seventh Doctor came to a close with the previous novel, Lungbarrow, which also brought to a close Andrew Cartmel’s master plan for the show.


Running almost concurrently with the New Adventures, Virgin Publishing also saw to it that it wasn’t just the Seventh Doctor who was given a revival. In July 1994, the Fifth Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa faced a horde of Vampires in Goth Opera.

The debut of Goth Opera wasn’t without its problems however as WHSmith wouldn’t publish the book with its original cover. Nyssa is bitten by a baby Vampire and the cover had her, in full Vampire getup with a blooded nightgown. The original cover had so much blood on the nightgown that bookstores wouldn’t stock it, leading to the cover needing to be altered.

The original blood-soaked cover for Goth Opera
The original blood-soaked cover for Goth Opera

Over the four years of publication, each previous incarnation of the Doctor got a number of brand new adventures, some fit perfectly in with the established continuity of the show and others were a little harder to place. The Sixth Doctor was given a new companion in the form of Grant Markham for the novels, Time of Your Life and Killing Ground and a number of books worked as either prequels or sequels to established and popular television serials: The Sands of Time – Pyramids of Mars, The Shadow of Weng-Chiang – The Talons of Weng-Chiang and Twilight of the Gods – The Web Planet.

There were even a couple of books which were designed to be stories in which companions decided to leave. For Dodo, The Man in the Velvet Mask saw her contracting a disease in an alternate universe version of the French Revolution and The Dark Path saw Victoria Waterfield being so emotionally abused by the Master that she made her mind up concerning her departure in the following story, Fury of the Deep.

It wasn’t just the Doctor and his companions who came back though, a number of established villains put in appearances, The Cybermen, The Master, The Silurians, The Sontarans, The Rani and the Valyard, The Black Guardian and the Ogrons all got stories for themselves. Even the Seventh Doctor got an appearance in Cold Fusion when he met his previous Fifth incarnation and his companions Tegan, Nyssa and Adric.


When the BBC decided that Virgin Publishing was getting too much attention thanks to their license to publish new novels, the BBC took their permission back and began to publish novels of their own. June 1997 saw the Third Doctor, Liz Shaw and UNIT make a return in The Devil Goblins from Neptune by Martin Day and Keith Topping.

The range of PDAs continued until December 2005, after the first series of the Modern Series had come to a conclusion. Atom Bomb Blues featured the Seventh Doctor and Ace and was written by Andrew Cartmel.

Interference by Lawrence Miles proved two convoluted for some fans
Interference by Lawrence Miles proved two convoluted for some fans

The range of novels took different Doctors and Companions from Victorian Times to Ancient Japan, the Far Future, the English Civil War, the very edge of the known universe and Hollywood amongst other exotic locations. A number of novels featured returning villains including The Master, The Celestial Toymaker, Autons and Morbius.

The Eight Doctor's saw the introduction of the Doctor's new companion, Sam
The Eight Doctor’s saw the introduction of the Doctor’s new companion, Sam

The Eighth Doctor Adventures (EDAs) was much in the same vein as the Virgin New Adventures by giving the Eighth Doctor a set of adventures set after the Television Movie. Terrance Dicks penned the first novel – The Eight Doctors – which also introduced us to the new companion for the Eighth Doctor, Sam.

In the novel, The Taint, a brand new companion, Fitz joined the crew and the gang of the Eighth Doctor, Sam and Fitz continued until Interference: Book 2. New companions were then introduced in the form of Anji, Trix and Compassion, as well as the Eighth Doctor, getting a number of solo novels.

Old foes including the Daleks, Ancient Vampires, Krotons and Zygons put in appearances as did some allies in the form of Romana, The Brigadier, Jo Grant, UNIT, Iris Wildthyme, Sarah Jane, K-9 and the Third Doctor. The EDAs concluded in June 2005 with The Gallifrey Chronicles.


Founded by Bill Baggs in 1991, BBV was an enterprise to create new material using as many Doctor Who characters as the BBC would allow between Survival and Rose. BBV produced not only films but audio adventures as well.

1992 saw the first release, Summoned by Shadows from a series called The Stranger which saw Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant reunite as The Stranger and Miss Brown, basically The Doctor and Peri in a way the BBC would allow them. BBV cast many Doctor Who stars in title roles or their original ones throughout their years of production and The Stranger came to an end with Eye of the Beholder in 1995. The Stranger later returned in audio format running from The Last Mission to Force of Nature.

Following The Stranger was a standalone release, not really with anything to do with the father-show, The Airzone Solution, which featured many Doctor Who stars and was set in the near future during a conspiracy.

Caroline John as Liz Shaw in P.R.O.B.E
Caroline John as Liz Shaw in P.R.O.B.E

Next out from BBV was perhaps what the company is best known for – The P.R.O.B.E Series. P.R.O.B.E starring Caroline John as Liz Shaw as she worked for an organisation who delved into the paranormal and unusual. It also featured a number of Who stars including, Louise Jameson, Peter Davison, Jon Pertwee, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred, Terry Molloy, Geoffrey Beavers, Mark Gatiss and Reece Shearsmith.

All four releases in the P.R.O.B.E series were penned by Mark Gatiss who brought his love for horror and the paranormal to the fore with all four stories. I have a particular love for the P.R.O.B.E series and have to biasedly say they are absolutely wonderful!

Then we had the Auton Trilogy – Auton, Sentinel & Awakening. The series dealt with UNIT and their continuing battles with the plastic monsters.

BBV would later put out some more standalone movies, Soul’s Ark, Cyberon, Do You Have a Licence to Save this Planet? and the stupidly risqué, Zygon: When Being You Just Isn’t Enough.

BBV also made a number of audio adventures. K-9 and Romana returned in K-9 and his Mistress, the Zygons in a trilogy, Krynoids, Sontarans, Rutan’s, The I, Guy de Carnac, The Rani, Wirrn and The Faction Paradox all got the audio treatment too.

The Professor and Ace was BBV’s own continuation of the parent show which ran from Rebulica to Punchline.


Much in the same vein as BBV, Reeltime put out a number of independent dramas throughout the Wilderness Years. In 1988, Jon Benton got his own thirty-minute film, Wartime which dealt with his history and the ghosts haunting his present.

Sarah Jane meets Victoria Waterfield in Downtime
Sarah Jane meets Victoria Waterfield in Downtime

1995 saw Downtime hit our home-systems and featured the return of many popular Doctor Who companions including Victoria Waterfield, Sarah Jane Smith and the Brigadier as well as Professor Travers, the Great Intelligence and the Yeti. Downtime was also novelised as part of the Missing Adventures range and was expanded to include a couple of incarnations of the Doctor, K-9 and Brigadier Bambara. Downtime was also notable for being the first time fans of the show were introduced to Kate Stewart, the daughter of the Brigadier who would go on to lead UNIT alongside the Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors. She will return in the upcoming Anamoly – featuring the return of the Kronovores.

Sarah Jane and Kate Stewart
Sarah Jane and Kate Stewart

Other releases include the Mindgame Trilogy featuring Draconians, Sontarans, Rutans and Sophie Aldred and Daemos Rising which featured a return to Devils’ End and the Daemons.

Reeltime recently released a new film, The White Witch of Devils End, featuring the return of Damaris Hayman as Olive Hawthorne who had originally featured in The Daemons.


And who could forget Big Finish? Their back catalogue is massive but it first came into being in 1996, they weren’t allowed to make any Doctor Who audio adventures. So they went to Paul Cornell and got his permission to use Bernice Summerfield who has gone on to enjoy a lot of fame in Doctor Who circles thanks to Big Finish and the fantastic performance from Lisa Bowerman.

It takes three Doctors to save the universe in The Sirens of Time
It takes three Doctors to save the universe in The Sirens of Time

Because of the success of the Bernice Summerfield range, in 1999, The Sirens of Time featured Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy and the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Doctors. From then, the company has gone from strength to strength producing a plethora of ranges, not just Doctor Who.

What Big Finish has also done is give a number of Doctor Who characters a renaissance, the Sixth Doctor, Mel, Peri, Tegan, Nyssa, Turlough, the Seventh Doctor, The Eighth Doctor, Susan, Victoria, Polly and Zoe are all characters who Big Finish have worked their magic over and have become some of the most popular characters in their output.

The stunning stain-glassed Dalek from Big Finish's Order of the Daleks
The stunning stain-glassed Dalek from Big Finish’s Order of the Daleks

Big Finish also gave the definitive canon adventures for the Eighth Doctor starting from Storm Warning and still going today. And we’ve had a lot of excellent original companions: Evelyn, Charley, Hex, C’Rizz, Erimem, Bev, Frobisher, Elizabeth Klein, Thomas Brewster, Amy & Zara, Mary Shelly, Flip, Liv Chenka, Sally, Will, Hannah Bartholomew and Constance Clarke, not to mention all those in the spinoff ranges!

Big Finish really is the place to be for fans of Doctor Who!


While many fans thought that Survival would be the final episode of Doctor Who to ever be produced on television, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Of course, all this comes down to what you count as canon, personally, I count all of this as canon, including things like The TV Movie and to a certain extent, Dimensions in Time, (please don’t kill me!).

Doctor Who might have been off the air but thanks to the novels, audios, independent productions, comics, independent fiction, video releases and the final Target Novels, Doctor Who was just undergoing an experimentation like never before.

When the show returned in 2005, the show felt like that of the later years of the Seventh Doctor’s tenure and novels, Rose clearly had elements of Ace and thanks to these Wilderness Years, the show came back in a way it had never done before.

People think of The Wilderness Years as a time when Doctor Who didn’t exist. But they would be wrong as the show was going on as strong as ever in many different formats, Doctor Who hadn’t been away, it had undergone a change. And things would never be the same again.

It isn’t like nowadays when we get a handful of action figures and three tie-in novels if we’re lucky…


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