Sunday, August 14, 2011

Of Trek and Who, continued

Diane Carey's Star Trek: New Earth and Challenger books set up a series premise that could easily exist outside the Star Trek universe. The colony of Belle Terre is original to the New Earth miniseries and its single follow-up; so are all the characters remaining after the crew of the Enterprise goes back about its business. There's no Starfleet, no familiar aliens; instead, the Blood and the Kauld, introduced in the series, are the nearest alien cultures. A book about Belle Terre and Challenger, if it left out any mention of phasers, tricorders, warp drive, and other familiar Star Trek terminology, would be recognizable as Star Trek only if those two words were on the cover.

In the UK, if Star Trek had been a BBC series, Carey would likely be able to continue the Belle Terre saga through a publisher without a licence for Star Trek fiction, as long as the books retained only their original elements. In the USA, with Star Trek the product of an American studio, Belle Terre is the property of Paramount -- well, CBS now. Carey can't take it anywhere else and do anything else with it. She owns no copyright in any of it.

Doctor Who, on the other hand, operates under a very different set of rules.

As I understand it, anything created for Doctor Who by a writer not actually on the show's staff remains that writer's property, whether that writer is writing for the TV series itself or for a tie-in line. Starting back in the 1960s, Terry Nation was able to produce tie-in material about the Daleks as long as there was no Doctor or Tardis involved. There were Dalek books, annuals, comic strips; Nation negotiated with an American company to produce a Daleks TV series, but that never came to pass.

Since then, several organizations have produced audio dramas, films, books, and comics that use elements created by other writers; as long as they approve, and nothing else from the show is used, the only problem is finding an audience. There's even a K9 TV series with no real links to the Who universe any more.

Could this work for Star Trek, if the rules were different? As much as I'd like to think so, I don't think it work nearly so well. Doctor Who has an exceptionally flexible format -- it can happen anywhere in space or time; it can vary widely in tone and subject matter. Star Trek has some flexibility as well, obviously, but virtually all of it fits into a shared universe over a period of a couple of centuries and featuring a number of common cultures, organizations, and technologies. Maybe Gene Coon's estate could oversee tie-ins set in the Klingon Empire with no Starfleet or Federation involvement, which could arguably work. But something like Carey's Challenger with the Star Trek elements mostly removed -- or likewise for Peter David's New Frontier -- would there be a point? Why not just do them as independent SF series?

A connection to the TV series wouldn't necessarily help sales all that much. It might even hurt them. One of the Doctor Who-related spinoffs ended when the TV series returned, because fans who wanted something however distantly related to Who during its time off TV lost interest when the real thing was back. Other spinoffs have tried to minimize discussing the connection in order to attract readers who don't read tie-in fiction, though I doubt that's worked very well yet (unfortunately).

But there's something about the Doctor Who spinoff series that trumps all of that: they're fun, and they make the Doctor Who universe just that much richer and more wonderful for being part of it. (No one has ever declared what exactly counts as canon in Doctor Who, unlike Star Trek, so if I want to count it as a legitimate part of the Whoverse, there's no one to say no.)

Here's a look at some of what's out there.

Bernice Summerfield is the queen of this realm. She features in a number of the Doctor Who New Adventures novels, first appearing in Paul Cornell's Love and War. When Virgin Books lost the Doctor Who licence to BBC Books, they carried on with a Benny-centered New Adventures series that lasted 22 books. Meanwhile, Big Finish had started a series of audio adventures starring Lisa Bowerman as Benny. When Virgin stopped publishing the line, Big Finish took over, making some changes to the series premise and publishing six books in paperback before switching to hardcovers -- a couple of dozen or so now. Benny's an archeologist from a few centuries in the future. Originally a hard-drinking, sarcastic young woman with fake credentials, she's been a Time Lord's traveling companion, a university professor, an employee of the Braxiatel Collection, and more. She's had relationships good and bad. I've read all of her New Adventures and the first Big Finish book. My one concern is that there comes a point in the series continuity where you have to be following both the books and the audios to make sense of everything that's going on, and I haven't bought any of the audios. Yet.

Faction Paradox is a very different proposition. Introduced in the Eighth Doctor Adventure Alien Bodies by Lawrence Miles, they're a strange organization -- a faction of time travelers playing a mysterious role in a future war between the Time Lords/Great Houses and the Enemy. They've appeared in several books published by Mad Norwegian, Random Static, and Obverse Books; a dozen audios from BBV and Magic Bullet; and, unfortunately, only two issues of a comic from Image. Where the Bernice Summerfield books are a continuing saga, Faction Paradox is a collection of very different things. There are recurring elements but the books are generally all standalones. The audios, on the other hand, tell continuing stories. There are also a lot fewer Faction Paradox stories, so, though the concept is much stranger, getting into them may be easier.

Time Hunter is a series of eleven trade paperback novellas. When Telos lost its licence to publish its series of hardcover Doctor Who novellas, a spinoff featuring the characters Honore Lechasseur and Emily Blandish from Daniel O'Mahony's Doctor Who novella The Cabinet of Light was developed. Time Hunter's home setting is England after World War II. Lechasseur is a fixer, Blandish a mystery woman from another time. They find they're able to travel through time together and have some mostly standalone adventures with occasional advances in the Blandish mystery arc. A few of the books use elements from Doctor Who, notably the Daemons and the Fendahl.

Iris Wildthyme is a character created by novelist Paul Magrs who appeared in a few very odd Eighth Doctor and Past Doctor Adventures. she's a mysterious woman who has regenrated a few times and who travels through time and space with her companions in a British red double decker bus that's slightly smaller on the inside. Though the character lends herself to comedy and satire, not least thanks to her prodigious drinking, Iris stories can be dark or affecting as well. Big Finish published one hardcover Iris anthology and a few audios. Obverse Books is publishing an ongoing series of Iris anthologies, also in hardcover, and her creator has published a full novel through snowbooks, possibly the first in a series.

And I haven't even mentioned Miranda or Senor 105 yet, but this post is already generating too many tl;dr responses...


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