It’s March of 2002. Westlife are at number one with “World of Our Own,” which goes a week before Will Young takes over with “Anything is Possible/Evergreen.” This lasts almost to the end of the month, but Gareth Gates’s “Unchained Melody” ends up playing us out. Kylie Minogue, R Kelly, Shakira, Nickelback, Ali G and Shaggy, Celine Dion, Marilyn Manson, and Natalie Imbruglia also chart. In news, the US war in Afghanistan goes on, though really, it’s not like I’m going to write that for every entry for the remainder of the blog. Milly Dowler goes missing, which will turn out to have impressive effects on the British newspaper industry. And the Queen Mother dies, it being another bad year for the monarchy.
And in specialty shops, Seasons of Fear. There is a problem that plagues writers. It manifests in one of the most depressing comments imaginable from readers: I liked your old stuff better. Nobody likes being told this. And understandably so, given that its distinct implication is that you’re washed up and past your prime. It applies to all forms of art, really. But there’s a real problem underlying the complaint: people early on in their careers have a hunger and an ambition that often fades with critical and financial success. Even a very good writer like Neil Gaiman suffers from it: once he hit mainstream American success with American Gods he entered a decade-long fallow period in which he did virtually nothing that wasn’t predictable and catered to his existing fanbase, and it was only when he was put in the position of writing for an audience that hadn’t heard of him, and with an editor who was as accomplished a writer as he was that he turned out The Doctor’s Wife. (And notably, this, along with marriage, seems to have given him a late career spring in his step.
But there’s another and somewhat bleaker reason this happens, which is that some artists fuel their best work with anger or depression and, as they mature, grow to be altogether stabler and happier people. And in terms of his Doctor Who work, Paul Cornell largely has that problem. His first four New Adventures are all brilliant, but they’re animated in a large part by Cornell’s tangible anger in the period. When, later in the New Adventures, he settled down and wrote his comedy books like Happy Endings and Oh No It Isn’t!, both of which are terribly fun, but neither of which have anything like the impactful heft of Love and War, little yet Human Nature.
Cornell has said that he wrote The Shadow of the Scourge and The Shadows of Avalon from a very dark place, and it shows. Both are flawed works, but they very much rekindle the crackling passion of his early New Adventures. But by Seasons of Fear Cornell had gotten his head screwed back on, was working with his girlfriend and soon-to-be fiancee Caroline Symcox, and was largely back to the more comedy-adventure mode of his latter New Adventures.…