Between 1989 and 2005, Doctor Who was, mostly, off the air. But it was still surprisingly big business and, if you were the kind of geek who wanted brand new stories about everyone's favourite Time Lord, then you could choose from a dizzying array of books, comics and audio plays.
I, I'm afraid to say, was exactly that kind of geek, and spent much of my adolescence reading the New Adventures: a series of books that, from 1991 to 1997, continued the story of Sylvester McCoy's manipulative Seventh Doctor. These did loads of innovative stuff (story arcs; characters with emotional lives), that’s been a major influence on the 21st-century series. But they also did some things you won't be seeing on TV any time soon.
One of the most radical of them was 1996's Damaged Goods, which has the distinction of being the first Doctor Who story to be written by a young TV writer by the name of Russell T Davies. It’s great; it’s also surprisingly post-watershed. And today, Big Finish, a company whose business is based largely on making Doctor Who audios, announced it was turning it into an audio play starring Sylvester McCoy himself.
(Much of the stuff in the rest of this article concerns plot twists and things you don’t find out until late in the novel. From here on in it’s one big spoiler, and if you have any interest in this story and want to come to it cold, stop reading now. You have been warned.)
Here are some interesting things about the original novel.
- It's set on a council estate in 1987, and concerns a family called Tyler.
- Its villain is the possessed corpse of a drug dealer called the Capper, who begins the novel by burning himself to death, then later bursts from the grave.
- One plotline involves a desperately poor single mother selling an unwanted baby to a rich family.
- Another involves a Gallifreyan super weapon, designed to kill giant vampires, that's somehow infected some cocaine. If you take the cocaine, eventually big bits of metal weaponry burst out of your skull.
- It has a scene in which the Doctor's companion Chris, a muscular blond policeman from the 30th century, experimentally tries gay sex in the back of a car. Because he's from the future, this act accidentally introduces HIV-resistant antibodies into the population, contributing to an eventual cure for Aids.
How much of this will make it into the audio adaptation remains to be seen.
On the whole, despite pre-dating both of them, Damaged Goods feels oddly like the bastard offspring of the new Doctor Who (2005) and Queer as Folk (1999). I’m not knocking it: it's Doctor Who as a real grown up sci-fi novel, about characters with inner lives and prejudices, all dealing with the economic and social pressure of Thatcher's Britain. If you're into this sort of thing, as my 16-year-old self was, it’s absolutely brilliant.
It just isn’t going to be turned into the Christmas special any time soon, that’s all.