4 years, 10 months ago
We should begin with context. The Adventuress of Henrietta street was released in November of 2001. Songs to reach number one in the charts that month included Afroman’s “Because I Got High,” Westlife’s “Queen of My Heart,” and Blue’s “If You Come Back,” while other artists to chart included Kylie Minogue, Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, Alicia Keys, Jennifer Lopez, Cher, the Dandy Warhols, Destiny Child.
News stories over the few months before the book came out included the execution of Timothy McVeigh in the US, the sentencing of Jeffrey Archer, the launch of Windows XP, 9/11, and the introduction of the iPod. The month the book came out, on the other hand, the Police Service of Northern Ireland replaced the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and, actually, that’s about it - not a terribly exciting month.
The Adventuress of Henrietta Street is a uniquely problematic novel, and a proper understanding of it is only possible through consultation with the various drafts of it that exist. These drafts are at times obscure and difficult to find, but taken together present a considerably more complete portrait of the work. Some things, for instance, can be ruled out decisively. The rumors, for instance, that there exists a fully narrative draft that discards the novel’s conceit of being written as a historical study of surviving documents is wholly false. Although Miles did, as is popularly reported, fail to mention this detail to Justin Richards when pitching the book, it is clearly a part of his basic concept. Simply put, the occult goals of the book would not be possible without such a conceit.
Ah yes. The occult goals. This is, after all, a novel in which the Doctor literally finds a whore to be his Scarlet Woman, and uses her in a grand alchemical wedding to root himself in the Earth. To accomplish this without the ambiguities and gaps introduced by the pseudo-historical would be a challenge, whereas the structural conceit allows Miles considerable leeway to work his spell by giving him considerable ability to leave things unsaid and to create moments of potent ambiguity. The false history, as a format, allows for fundamental manipulation of the nature of things.
Within the magical context of 2001, of course, to conduct such dramatics without at least some consultation with the dominant magical figures of the age would be foolish in the extreme. The earliest surviving manuscript of The Adventuress of Henrietta Street, in fact, survives in Alan Moore’s papers. Moore, who was in the final stages of producing The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen when the manuscript crossed his desk, was none too pleased with aspects of the book, and wrote Miles a detailed account of his objections.
Moore’s letter to Miles, at a mere twenty-nine pages, is uncharacteristically perfunctory, betraying a deeper sense of frustration than his public comments, or lack thereof, would indicate. It is evident that Moore took Miles’s manuscript extremely personally, and that his reservations were substantial. A representative passage:
As you of all people must know, when someone writes about an incident after it’s happened, that is history. But when the writing comes first, that’s fiction. In my own League of Extraordinary Gentlemen project I have adhered carefully to one side of this, restricting myself entirely to pre-existing parcels of idea-space. Your novel, however, crosses this line dangerously. For the most part it stays on the other side of the line, asserting the pre-existence of events wholly of your own creation. To tie Sabbath so directly to the literary tradition, then, risks making the entire thing real, and thus bringing about the radical transformation of the very nature of time in 1782. This may be acceptable with the Scot, but it won’t wash with me.
The Scot, one assumes, is Grant Morrison, whose evaluation of the manuscript was entirely more succinct:
Evil time gorillas!
The missive was enough to at least partially alter Miles’s plans, as Sabbath was redesigned to be less obviously based on Captain Nemo and more independent as a character. More troubling, however, is the matter of the man with the rosette. He is, of course, intended to be the Master. But this, by its nature, begins to blur things. The published version of the book itself gives four separate accounts of the meeting between the Doctor and the man with the rosette, and the earlier manuscripts offer at least two more, although the one in which the character is named “Steve” and goes on about editing can probably be set aside as a joke. The other, however, is altogether more interesting, in that it features a much-expanded version of the conversation.
The expansion focuses primarily on the subject of the nature of the universe, and provides further details on the man’s claim that “our little duels would be utterly meaningless.” In the published text, of course, this line is fraught with ambiguity. After all, the very appearance of the man with the rosette shows the extent to which their little duels remain pregnant with meaning. The draft text allows the Doctor a reply to this observation: “And yet you’re here.” The man’s reply, “only the heart of me,” is double-edged. It alludes, of course, to the novel’s larger focus on the matter of the Doctor’s second heart as a diseased artifact of the novels’ previous continuity. But it also alludes to the way in which the man with the rosette is never named as such, even though his nature is obvious. In a real sense it is only the heart of the Master that appears here, as opposed to the character himself.
The subsequent conversation renders much of this explicit. The Doctor admits that he cannot actually remember the substance of their feud. The man comments that there are new feuds to be had, then trails off before, as in the original conversation, asking if the Doctor has met Sabbath. The tacit connection between Sabbath and “the substance” of their feud is more cutting than Miles should have been able to know, especially as this draft predates Richards’s request to use Sabbath in subsequent novels. And yet it is an almost perfect skewering of Sabbath’s role in the bulk of the subsequent Eighth Doctor Adventures, most particularly the way in which he steadily deflates into a cut-rate Master clone.
To what extent was Miles aware of the irony involved in this exchange, however? The Adventuress of Henrietta Street was, after all, touted as his great return from retirement. Ostensibly this was just a cynical grab for money, but Miles readily admitted in interviews that having decided to do a Doctor Who book for the money he was going to try for the best Doctor Who book ever. But Miles’s retirement was always an odd thing, given that he spent it writing the Faction Paradox audio series for BBV and, subsequently, starting work on the series for Mad Norwegian. To say that Lawrence Miles ever left Doctor Who is fundamentally misleading. And in this regard the strange persistence of the Master within his thought is revealing.
Tacit in this omitted discussion about the heart of the Master is the fact that were the character to appear under his own name it would have put the lie to his basic premise of a universe that has moved on from the underlying principles of pre-Ancestor Cell Doctor Who. Even in the published version, as “the man with the rosette” it’s clear from the book’s reception that his appearance sucked the oxygen from the rest of the book. The revelation of four surviving Time Lords proved, in the book’s reception, to be the bit everyone paid attention to. Which is to say that the book, in that scene, proved the inadequacy of its own efforts. But how much is this, like the anticipating of Sabbath’s later role, Miles admitting to the extent to which he cannot do the work he wants apart from Doctor Who.
The language Miles uses to describe Doctor Who is in this regard revealing. He has referred several times to Doctor Who as his “native mythology.” The idea of a mythology as a homeland suggests a sort of narrative Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. That Doctor Who can’t escape the narrative gravity of the Doctor/Master conflict is unsurprising. More telling is that Miles can’t escape it - that his storytelling, no matter how experimental it attempts to be, is not only stuck in Doctor Who’s orbit, it’s forced to constantly reinforce the underlying tenets of that mythology. For all that he is feted as a visionary writer, and for all that he enjoys questioning the mythology of Doctor Who, he cannot push his mythos outside the constitutive terms of its native homeland.
Nowhere is this clearer than in terms of Miles’s difficulties with the notion of time, and particularly his continual obsession with the possibility of a new form of time or history. The idea that the non-existence of the Time Lords has altered the nature of time is a basic premise of The Adventuress of Henrietta Street, and this hues close to his depiction of the Enemy in his writings on the War. That said, he has always remained problematically coy about the nature of the Enemy. In The Book of the War he describes them only as “a process” and “a new kind of history,” and essentially no entries of the book focus on their nature or what they do. Much like the alternate concept of time in The Adventuress of Henrietta Street, he never manages to expand on what this new sort of history actually is. It is tempting, in fact, to suggest that he doesn’t actually know, and that “new kind of history” is just a terribly attractive phrase that he’s embraced more for its conceptual heft than for any actual idea based on it.
Miles elaborates somewhat on the issue in his reply to Alan Moore’s objections. As is characteristic of Miles the reply is over the top in its willful petulance, and, for at least some tastes, hilariously funny. After several paragraphs of extremely suggestive jokes about his beard, Miles gets down to business:
I am not at all certain why you are so hung up on the idea that 1782 happened, however. Unless, of course, you’ve been there? But this seems unlikely. Surely 1782 is notable in a large part because of the decline of the Whigs and their view of history. If ever there is a period in which rejecting the established line of history in favor of the possibilty of new futures it is surely the period to go for. If anything I’m surprised to see a supposed anarchist adhering so slavishly to the idea of a fixed timeline. Surely the overthrow of the idea that there’s a authoritarian order to history is worth pursuing.
Despite his adamance, however, we should note that he did, in fact, tone down the Captain Nemo aspects of Sabbath as per Moore’s requests. This is in some ways typical of Miles, whose performative offensiveness has always had a complex relationship with his actual art. That he did, in fact, back down on the implicit linking of Sabbath with the fictional tradition suggests that, for all his bluster, he was sensitive to the potential complexities of an overly entangled engagement. Simply put, there’s a clear limit to how much he wanted to destabilize the basic order of history and imagination.
It should be stated clearly that the draft sent to Moore is not particularly invested in this approach. None of the drafts are, in fact. This makes sense: Miles was, in all of his correspondence and writings about the book, intensely conscious of the fact that his was the first book to really return to the question of the pre-Ancestor Cell continuity as something to be engaged with instead of run from in a variety of ways. Which is to say that the underlying stability of the universe is, for Miles, a central concern. In fact, it is to a large extent the point of the book as Miles saw it: seeing the Doctor restore some amount of balance to the nature of time. For all that the book, in any of its drafts, stresses the possibility of altering, to quote the published draft, “the human psyche’s relationship to time, space, and the environment of mankind,” it is important to note that in every version it reaffirms the original structure of the universe.
Is Miles, in the final analysis, actually this conservative? Is the larger point of his work really the immutability of time? Does he really view the Doctor as primarily a force pursuing the stasis of the universe? Well, yes, at least in part. Miles has long complained about his own decision to render the Doctor as a fetish object in Alien Bodies. And virtually all of his Doctor Who work since that has been struggling against that. Not, notably rejecting it. Miles may have, in later interviews, professed his intensive dislike of the legacy of Alien Bodies, but one must read between the lines of his comments, in which he frames his regret as an apology for the ways in which Steven Moffat has expanded on his ideas.
Is it overly deconstructive to note the anxiety implicit in this complaint? As much vitriol as Miles hurls at Moffat’s work, his complaint is ultimately that he deserves credit for large swaths of it. Miles layers this with a savvy self-deprecation, which is typical of his style. But the result is still puzzling - ultimately Miles argues that one should dislike his work because of how bad Moffat’s work, which he takes credit for, is. But this isn’t quite disowning his own work. It never has been - all of his subsequent books reiterate the basic point he takes himself (via Moffat) to task for. In Interference the Doctor, or at least the past continuity of Doctor Who, becomes the fetish object on which a vast upheaval of the cosmic balance is predicated. In The Adventuress of Henrietta Street, the Doctor almost single-handedly rescues a vision of history.
Despite Miles backing down from the most extreme vision of the novel, we must not understate the novel’s ambition, conservative as it may be. Miles is engaging in an explicit act of magic with this novel - a point he sets up within it through a lengthy passage reflecting on the equivalence of magic and fiction. Yes, Miles ultimately acceded to Moore’s decree and declined to target the real world with his ritual. But he still targets Doctor Who, and the effects are profound. The Adventuress of Henrietta Street is, it appears, a consciously constructed magical working intended to repair Doctor Who’s lurch into conceptual ambiguity. Miles wills that the nature of Doctor Who should be fixed, not just as a cultural phenomenon but internally. He reshapes the Doctor Who universe so that there is a limit on the degree to which it can be transformed.
But, of course, as with any magical working there is the danger of unintended consequences. Miles did fix the nature of Doctor Who, yes. He intended this as an exorcism - a delineation of where Doctor Who gave out so that he could take his own alternative further. But he failed. By charting a firm border for his native mythology he ended up charting the point beyond which he could not go. The central metaphor of his book ended up piercing himself. He asserts that the ability to travel in time requires a firm anchoring in a home, hence the Doctor’s elaborate ritual to tie himself to Earth. But Miles could not see the consequences of the ritual he was weaving for himself. He failed to realize that he was tying himself immutably to his native mythology. Like the vision of vampires that dictate that they cannot sleep without the presence of their native soil, Miles made himself a prisoner of Doctor Who, unable to stray too far from it. And so The Book of the War, for instance, is notable in part because of the extent to which it simply cannot carve a space far enough from Doctor who to present an alternative.
But worse, Miles saves Doctor Who from itself. By fixing its core concept he sets the stage for its return. The damage done to the core concept by the shenanigans of The Ancestor Cell is, symbolically at least, healed. Miles, in effect, has put the central principles of Doctor Who outside the reach of the Time War, creating a space in which it can return. In this regard Miles’s claim of credit for large parts of the new series is more true than he realizes. It is not that the central iconography of his stories is actively nicked as such. (This book, for instance, uses the same TARDIS/wedding line out of which Moffat crafts the ending of The Big Bang.) It is that Miles has symbolically fixed Doctor Who’s concepts, and thus his work and doing are strewn throughout it, reincarnated and distorted. Even this concept is stored within Doctor Who - what, after all, are the Remote if not a metaphor for Miles’s own relationship with Doctor Who?
There is, however, one puzzling footnote to the matter of The Adventuress of Henrietta Street that we ought resolve - a line seemingly without author. In the published version of the book the Doctor requests as a wedding present “six glass phials containing liquid mercury, of the type which might be used to forge the link between the worlds.” This may seem a small matter, but given that it concerns the material components of the Doctor’s mystical ritual, and thus, by extension, the details of what is written as the essential core concept of Doctor Who the oddity of its appearance seems worth commenting on. The line appears in none of Miles’s drafts, including the final copy he sent to Justin Richards. Furthermore, none of the records of copyediting or editorial revisions show it being added. Even the final camera-ready copy does not contain the line. And yet in the final book it appears, a strange ghost event.
This is, of course, bizarre. Indeed, the entire camera-ready copy ends up with subtly different pagination than the published book, due purely to the addition of these extra twenty words, which in turn alter the remaining pages of Chapter Five. The only possible clue is a hand-written note found in a filing cabinet containing the instruction to “use alternate proofs” for Chapter Five. The note is signed “Editor DW,” presumably a reference to Justin Richards’s title as editorial consultant for the line. And yet the note is not in Richards’s handwriting, and he, in interviews, has insisted that he has no memory of any such substitution.
The identity of this “Editor DW” remains impossible to determine.
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