For a show that's been around longer than Star Trek (1963 vs 1966), with 32 seasons and 777 episodes to date, Doctor Who has never seemed to garner the respect it deserves. Just about anybody with even the faintest interested in science fiction seems to have favourite Doctor (there are 11 of them), or at least a significant memory of the series. For what it's worth, I'll always be a Tom Baker fan (he's the curly haired fellow with the lovely scarf to the right).
Despite all of that, it seems like the good Doctor has always been relegated to cult status, remembered as much for cheesy costumes and special effects as for strong story-telling and great character actors. After a nearly 10 year absence, however, Christopher Eccleston provided a triumphant return for Doctor Who, putting a famous face to the infamous Doctor, and paving the way for David Tennant and Matt Smith to follow in his footsteps. Suddenly, Doctor Who isn't just popular again, it's cool.
More importantly, the BBC has loosened its grip on the franchise, allowing 'celebrity' authors to provide their own take on the legend. No longer afraid of having their creation overshadowed by the creators, the BBC first stepped up in 2009 by allowing Michael Moorock to take the reigns for a novel. Almost as quirky and eccentric as the good Doctor himself, the author of the eternal champion saga (and it's most famous incarnation, Elric (The Last Emperor of Melniboné), numerous science fiction classics (such as Behold the Man), and fantastic histories (such as Gloriana) provided us with a tale of the current Doctor, as played by Matt Smith, in Coming of the Terraphiles.
While the book has had a decidedly mixed reaction from fans (who seem to either love it or hate it, with no in-between), the BBC continued to push ahead, allowing Neil Gaiman to write an episode of the TV series. Another quirky celebrity with a cult following, Gaiman has brought us beautifully surreal graphic novels (Sandman), gorgeous urban fantasies (Stardust, American Gods, and Neverwhere), and even some young-adult fiction (Coraline and The Graveyard Book). His entry into the series, entitled The Doctor's Wife, aired in May of this year and was very well received. While not quite as dark as fans may have expected, the episode still ranks as one of the best of the Matt Smith era.
The next celebrity author to be invited into the Doctor Who universe was an odd one, but a clear indicator of just how far the series has come. Naomi Alderman, a serious literary novelist, published her Doctor Who book earlier this summer. Her literary debut, Disobedience, was a controversial novel about the lesbian daughter of a rabbi, whole her second novel, The Lessons, was a story of sex and drugs, set at Oxford. Her Doctor Who novel, Borrowed Time, has been well-received as a satirical take on the financial banking industry, and the excesses to which the common man falls prey.
What's next for the good Doctor? Well, that's where the story gets really interesting. The BBC is leaning on some hard science-fiction heavyweights to reach back into history and provide new tales for older Doctors. Stephen Baxter, author of Flood, Ark, and Evolution, is going all the way back to the days of the Second Doctor, Patrick Troughton, who graced TV screens from 1966-1969. Meanwhile, it has just been announced that Alastair Reynolds, author of the Revelation Space saga as well as the stand-alone novels House of Suns and Terminal World, is reaching back to the days of the Third Doctor, Jon Pertwee, who was the face of Doctor Who from 1970–1974.
Allowing these authors to dabble in the Whoniverse is a great idea, and giving them the liberty to write about the Doctors who matter to them is even better. I really hope this is the start of a new era for the BBC and Doctor Who, with more literary crossovers to come. Not that I'd wish to see the regular run of Doctor Who novels come to an end - there are some great authors involved there - but if these celebrity authors can bring even a fraction of their readership with them, not even the Daleks can stop Doctor Who's revival.