It is not as though there are not writers from the Wilderness Years who carried on writing tie-in material for the new series. Several have, from both the Virgin and BBC Books eras. And, of course, there are the handful of Wilderness Years contributors who have contributed the odd television story or two like Mark Gatiss, Paul Cornell, and Russell T Davies. Nevertheless, to anyone who’s been with the series for the long haul so to speak, the return of Lance Parkin seems significant. Parkin was a middle-to-late comer to the Virgin line, but ended up writing one of the novels that dealt most heavily with the Virgin line’s Gallifreyan mythology, and also ended up wrapping up the line with their one Eighth Doctor novel. And then for BBC Books he wrote a bevy of major books, including the single biggest piece of “let’s play with Gallifreyan mythology” ever, The Infinity Doctors, and, once again, the final book of the line, The Gallifrey Chronicles.
It’s not that Parkin is the defining author of the Wilderness Years or anything so much as that he’s one who is deeply associated not just with them, but with playing with their implications. His novels repeatedly play games with continuity and mythology, and, more broadly, with the importance and centrality of the tie-in media, carefully laying out the rules for his “it’s all true, and that’s the game” vision of what Doctor Who allows. He is not the defining writer of the Wilderness Years so much as the writer most defined by them and their possibilities – the one whose work is most bound up in the Wilderness Years.
Interestingly, he’s also the piece of the Wilderness Years that bled into the new series. As we observed at the time, the final novel of the Eighth Doctor Adventures, The Gallifrey Chronicles, came out around the same time as Boom Town aired, which is to say, well after the new series had established itself as a massive cultural object. Lance Parkin’s end to the Wilderness Years, in other words, is not actually a part of them, but a postscript – a letter from a point where the future was ensured, even if that is not quite the point from which it was written.
On a more basic level, of course, Parkin’s books tend to be games of structure. In several of them, he adopts a seemingly impossible premise just to demonstrate how it can be accomplished – a sort of Doctor Who novel as Mort Weisinger-era Superman comic, only with fewer malevolent toads. His books are ruthlessly high concept, though with the focus often as much on exploring the nature of the concept as on delivering it as such. This, at least, provides something of a contrast with the New Series Adventures, which are carefully and consciously positioned as secondary to the new series itself. The New Series Adventures are not there to rock the fundamental premises of Doctor Who. That’s not to say that they are unambitious, but they are expressly and by design not where major issues about the nature of the series get worked out.
Of course, in its own way this is just another structural challenge for Parkin, and his lengthy discussion of the book in the first volume of Time Unincorporated suggests that in many ways he approached it that way. And, of course, he added other interesting constraints for himself. The Eyeless features no companion, and, unlike the other novels from around the same time, does not even introduce a temporary companion. The Doctor is in almost every scene of the book, and is alone for a great number of them. The supporting cast is largely free both of straightforward allies and straightforward enemies. The result is a book that focuses on the Doctor as a character in a way a lot of books, and indeed a lot of episodes don’t.
Central to this is the portrayal of Tennant’s Doctor as an at times dangerous figure. The fact that the Doctor destroyed the Daleks and Time Lords both, and that ultimate weapons of the sort he’s trying to shut down are things that are no longer foreign to him matters tremendously to the novel. This is, of course, ultimately an invention of the Wilderness Years. The Virgin era was obsessed with the ways in which the Seventh Doctor was a figure of menace, and this served, in a key way, as the backdrop for the new series Doctor, who was shown very early on to be a character who was capable of doing terrible things. Not because he did them, but because we knew he had done them. The fact that Tennant’s Doctor was clearly capable of crossing the line has always been a part of him, from the chilling “no second chances, I’m that kind of a man” to his killing of the Racnoss. And Parkin’s book hinges on exactly that fact, positively reveling in the uncertainty implied by the Doctor being on his own.
And, of course, the prospect that the Doctor could do a thing so horrible as destroy Gallifrey was created by the Eighth Doctor books, and was the major focus of Parkin’s finale to the series. A finale, notably, that Parkin actually quotes in The Eyeless, having the Doctor briefly flash back to the destruction of Gallifrey. The flashback reads, “There was a flash as bright as the sun for the merest moment, annihilation so profound it stretched deep into the past and far into the future. Then Gallifrey was gone.” This is, word for word, taken from The Gallifrey Chronicles, specifically a flashback within it that ended Chapter Five.
That destruction of Gallifrey, of course, is the one the Doctor enacted to save Gallifrey from Faction Paradox in The Ancestor Cell, a novel that manages the impressive feat of being dubiously canonical for both Doctor Who and Faction Paradox. But this raises an interesting question in its own right. It is, after all, not the destruction of Gallifrey that one would expect the Doctor to be flashing back to, given that he’s destroyed the planet again more recently. There are, of course, explanations available – Richard Dominic Flowers and Alex Wilcock’s “A Fractal History of the Origins of the Time War” makes this sort of thing trivial to square away by saying that the vast and terrible time war in the Eighth Doctor Adventures and the Last Great Time War of the new series are in fact echoes of the same event.
Indeed, that’s probably the simplest explanation. Though far from the only usable one. All of the antagonists of this story, from the creatures that built the vast and awful superweapon to the precise nature of the Eyeless, whose status as cultural scavengers who absorb the thoughts and experiences of others makes them a sort of conceptual cousin to Faction Paradox’s idea of the Remote, are of mysterious origins – the Doctor has pointedly not heard of the Eyeless, in fact. Any number of explanations that range from hardcore continuity porn to a sort of Swedish continuity art film are, of course available for this.
But even if we don’t actually try to link The Eyeless in with the Wilderness Years continuity and conclude that the superweapon is a Feratu invention ferried in from one of the bottle universes and then pursued by the Eyeless, who are the Remote of that universe, and screw it, who even cares, there’s a thematic link underneath this that is worth highlighting. The Eyeless is clearly positioned amidst the conceptual rubble of the Wilderness Years. Which is fitting in a period in which the program is quietly haunted by them and the fear that the Davies era was simply an aberration – an extended blip in the wilderness.
Instead we have The Eyeless, a book which shows that the concepts of the Wilderness Years fit perfectly smoothly into the new series. In time, of course, this will probably become self-evident. Someone will eventually pen an officially licensed novel in which Benny and the War Doctor team up to fight Zagreus, or some other suitably and madly dumb idea. Doctor Who is an accretive process, and nothing is ever lost from it. But while the observation that there are clear links from the Wilderness Years to the new series is one we’ve made over and over again on this blog, it’s still comforting to see it demonstrated – to see a book that seems to exist in a slightly hazy space between the two, but that remains comfortable in either one. Certainly it’s nice to see that the Wilderness Years have the potential to be something other than a source of anxiety for the series, but can instead just be an era whose tone can be captured as well as any other. Of course Lance Parkin is the one who ended up demonstrating that. Who else possibly could have, really.