The New Adventures (Virgin Publishing 1991-99)
A Brief History
Phase Zero: Doctor Who (1963-89)
A family TV adventure series that had careered between the sublime and the ridiculous for twenty-six years before finally being cancelled. It should perhaps have been cut short five years previous but the remnants of a dangerously loyal fan following still remained. Unsatisfied.
Phase One: 'Timewyrm' to 'Nightshade' (1991-92)
No more Doctor on TV? Here's a cheaper alternative to keep fans occupied: books. A mixed blessing at first, with 'Timewyrm: Apocalypse' and the 'Cat's Cradle' Trilogy being especially poor but balanced by three out-and-out classics: 'Timewyrm: Exodus', 'Timewyrm: Revelation' and, best of all, Mark Gatiss' 'Nightshade', all offering great hope for a future in print.
Phase Two: 'Love and War' to 'Death and Diplomacy' (1992-96)
A handful of trusted authors gradually emerged, moonlighting in the Missing Adventures range (and later the BBC Past- and Eighth-Doctor books) and a new companion: tipsy archaeologist Bernice Summerfield, a less cartoonish character who seemed to give writers more to work with than the trigger-happy Ace. Just like the TV show that started it all, there are times when the books might make one question one's loyalty but pick out anything by Paul Cornell, Steve Lyons, Kate Orman or Gareth Roberts and you won't feel let down.
Transition: 'Happy Endings' (1996)
With the TV movie looming, 'Happy Endings' left us with not one Seventh Doctor, but two. One to go off to get shot in San Francisco in 1999 and the other to carry on in his own little book world. This neat arrangement could not last.
Phase Three: 'GodEngine' to 'The Dying Days' (1996-97)
Wretched though the 1996 TV movie undoubtedly was, hopes still remained that televisual Who would emerge from its fetid ashes. Though we were now officially in Eighth Doctor territory, some of the post movie Seventh Doctor books are among the best of the bunch (track down 'Return of the Living Dad', 'Damaged Goods' and 'Bad Therapy'). Yet all was not well in the corridors of Chancery.
Phase Four: 'Oh No It Isn't' to 'Twilight of the Gods' (1997-99)
Copyright wrangling ensued and one casualty was the New Adventures, forbidden to carry on under the Doctor Who banner or to use the central character. The NAs had a loyal fan base of their own so what to do? Bernice - child of the New Adventures - having been the range's brightest star, was the perfect choice to carry the whole thing forward. Of these later 'Benny' New Adventures, the standard is generally high, better on average than the Doctor Who books which preceded them. There are a few rather poor books ('Where Angels Fear', 'Twilight of the Gods', 'Another Girl, Another Planet') and Dave Stone, though occasionally brilliant, could try the patience ('The Mary-Sue Extrusion'). Justin Richards, on the other hand, author of 'The Medusa Effect' and three other titles, hardly ever seems to drop below "very good indeed".
With a few reasonably good New and Missing Adventures under his belt, when it came to the Benny-NAs, Mr Richards suddenly hit a mightily impressive vein of form. His four post-Doctor New Adventures are, alongside Kate Orman's 'Walking to Babylon', the best of the lot. Suffice to say that if you've enjoyed any of his Doctor Who work (in truth, much more of a mixed bag) or even if you haven't, you will really enjoy all of his Benny New Adventures, 'The Medusa Effect' being no exception. (Note: if you're going to read all four - and you should - start with 'Dragon's Wrath', for the simple reason that it appears first. Then make your way to 'The Medusa Effect', moving on to 'Tears of the Oracle' and finally the truly wonderful 'The Joy Device'. Should you get a taste for Mr Richards' contributions to the world of Doctor Who as well, 'The Sands of Time', 'Dreams of Empire', 'Option Lock', 'The Burning' and 'Time Zero' are all excellent.)