On Target – Doctor Who in print

“In the nearly eight hundred years of his being, much of that time spent in travel, the Doctor had arrived at the working hypothesis that experience was no substitute for books. He had a healthy respect for anything his fellow creatures felt was worth committing to print, although the profuseness of their publications often made him wish that reading could be got through more quickly and writing be made less easy, perhaps with a universal rule that all books should be hand carved in granite with a pin.”

Castrovalva  Christopher H. Bidmead

As you meander through the pages of the Doctor Who Forum, you may come across references to the “Target Novelisations” of the BG years. They may be an alien concept to many, but they were of massive importance to me and many others as we grew up. It occurs to me that whenever I’ve mentioned the possibility of someone trying them, I automatically leap to the defensive.

“Don’t expect great literature”, I always say, as if someone who picked up a novelisation of a TV show or film is in danger of approaching them that way.

Well no defensiveness from me today. They were bloody marvellous. In the anniversary year for Doctor Who it would be criminal to neglect a medium that created fans, kept the light on in the wilderness years and, fundamentally, was a true reflection of the show we love. So – what was great about Target?

1. It was Doctor Who when you wanted it

Remember the excitement that greeted the discovery of new episodes including Enemy of the World a few weeks ago? That was the excitement of my young self when a new Target book of a story I was unfamiliar with was released. New stories to explore.

Before the download. Before the DVD. Before even home Video, things sucked. Big Time.

You missed an episode of Who, and that was it. Your chances of seeing how the story played out were gone, lost to the ether. Tell the young people of today what it was like, and they’ll stare at you in mute disbelief. You lived in the Stone Age , Dude. Through the medium of books, the Doctors past exploits came to life. The books gave me access to the rich history of the show, and revealed the adventures that the BBC’s short-sightedness had reduced to nothing. Even when VHS came along, the books were often the best option for the pocket money generation of fans.
The early releases

2. The Writers

When Star Trek had its stories novelised, they went to James Blish who knocked out very short stories of all the episodes. He had nothing to do the series. How I laughed, because Target seemed to have a cottage-industry approach of acquiring writers who were associated with the show itself, or so it seemed.

In truth it probably hadn’t occurred to them to do otherwise. The Target imprint had been launched by acquiring the rights to publish 3 earlier novels written by David Whittaker (original Script Editor and Writer, who novelised The Daleks and The Crusaders) and Bill Strutton (who novelised his own story, The Web Planet, as The Zarbi).

For the new range, they approached retiring Script Editor Terrance Dicks who jumped at the chance, and often helped bring in other writers to the range. His philosophy was simple – approach the original writer and, if they didn’t want to do it, either he or another Who related writer would. The fixed fee for writing was split 50:50 between the novel writer and the original writer (“I do all the work, you get half the money”, he joked to them).

Just some of the Who family
L-R: Malcolm Hulke, Barry Letts & Terrance Dicks, Philip Hinchcliffe, Ian Marter.

So you had legendary figures like Dick’s own mentor and Who scribe,  Malcolm Hulke, his own long time collaborator Barry Letts (Producer) and Letts eventual replacement as Producer, Philip Hinchcliffe. You had Script Editor and co-creator of the Cybermen Gerry Davis. You even had actor and writer Ian Marter (who played Harry Sullivan , companion to Tom Baker with Elisabeth Sladen). These, you automatically felt, should be the people you could trust with the story of The Doctor. They were family, with their own quirks in print.

Great Uncle Malcolm (a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain) produced his own stories which dealt thoughtfully with conflict of philosophies with plenty of shades of grey, and adapted a couple of others which dealt with the dangers of the corporate world. He also loved to use the format to introduce elements of back story to even minor characters – to flesh them out in a way that the old series rarely did. His novelisation of Colony in Space (released as The Doomsday Weapon) gave a hollow view of a dystopian Earth unseen in the TV show – the one the human colonists on a new world had escaped from, and that the corporate members of IMC (Interplanetary Mining Company) served.

Ian Marter, belying his on screen image as sweet buffoonish Harry, became your slightly cool older cousin, with a passing interest in body horror and casual violence. He actually got into trouble in Australia with his adaption of Enemy of the World which dared to go into slightly more adult language and graphic horror. It should be pointed out to those concerned parents though that that was his style. My young self would have laughed in the face of any adult who passed judgment on what was suitable for my eyes.

And you had a parade of authors who took the opportunity to novelise their own work. This became more prevalent as time went on. With a couple of exceptions which I won’t dwell on, many seemed to have a good time, reintroducing elements that had to be ditched in producion, or enlivening a story with insights to their alien protagonists. The first novel David Aaranovitch wrote was Remembrance of the Daleks – notable for additional characterisation and presenting the Daleks point-of-view. Ian Briggs novelisation of The Curse of Fenric expands the story through new documents as you follow the trail of the Flask across Europe. You learn, through a lost tale of the Arabian Nights, how the clever “El Dok-tor” trapped the evil Djinn in the flask in the first place.

In a memorable translation of the screen Leisure Hive, David Fisher revelled in a Monty Python style to develop the back stories of his alien races, the Foamasi and the chivalry obsessed Argolin, whose particular philosophy, celebrated in ballads and song, was explained:

“The Saga of Herell the Hapless and Mako the Mighty was typical of the genre. Herell, a young knight newly initiated into the rituals of chivalry, was challenged to a duel by Mako, a one-legged giant. He had lost his leg several years before in a previous duel. Herrel decided the odds were unfair. Not only was Mako ten years his senior, but since the chosen weapons were to be huge two handed swords, Mako’s lack of mobility placed him at an immediate disadvantage.

Only the most agile could hope to succeed with such weapons. Before the moment of combat Herell therefore hewed off his own leg and, sword in both hands, hopped painfully towards his opponent. When Mako’s squire pointed out that his master was minus a right leg, and the advantage was still not equally balanced, Herell angrily struck off his other leg and prepared to fight on two bloody stumps. Mako, not to be outdone, cut off his own left leg. Both combatants died of shock and loss of blood without stricking a blow at each other.

This was regarded as one of the most glorious moments of Argolin chivalry.”

The Leisure Hive  David Fisher

L-R: Changing Styles, The Curse of Fenric, The Leisure Hive, Oh dear – the photo montage period, Don’t the Nestenes and Mara look scary?, Doctor Who and the (Wrong) Cybermen.

3. The Covers

The cover art of both Chris Achilleos and, later, Andrew Skilleter could beguile a young mind and entice you inside. There was genuine uproar, amongst the readership, when the publishers decided that screen shots would do at one point. Pressure from their vocal readership soon put paid to that.

You can still see the impact of Achilleos today if you own an AG DVD box set. Just open up the booklet, and each contains a tribute to his work, showing new Doctors and enemies in his style.

They could also give false impressions those covers, with depictions of Nestenes and The Mara that went beyond the practicalities of the technology available in their respective episodes. Or indeed, presented the wrong type of Cyberman for the episode in question.

We had it slightly easier than some foreign territories as the books migrated overseas though. People in the US must have been shocked to discover that the Doctor who fought the Zarbi on the Web Planet had white hair, instead of a brown and curly mane. Pity also any Japanese fan who went to watch the show based solely on the books that had been translated.

L-R: “The Zarbi, in an exciting adventure with Tom Baker”, “Doctor Who and the big bloody space-time battle”, “The Auton Army Invasion”, “Shuddering! Underground Monster” and “Be Fearful of the Ultimate Weapon!”

4. They made little rebels of us all

How we laughed at Targets attempts to indoctrinate us by numbering their books in alphabetical order. What kind of idiot would store their novelisations alphabetically?! No – you filed your books to reflect the order the stories were broadcast. That was the easiest way to find the book you wanted. We also knew that the numbering system, consisting of books to date in alphabetical order, and then subsequent numbers as they were released out of any chronological or alphabetical system made a nonsense of the whole thing anyway.

5. Terrance Dicks

Whenever someone asks me which author I own the most books of, I may say Pratchett, Banks, Heinlein or Dick, but I’m never entirely truthful. Because probably the most number of books I own by a single author is Terrance Dicks (over sixty).

Unfairly criticised by some adult fans, I think Dicks should be celebrated as one of the heroes of 70s childhood literacy. I don’t think he ever forgot who he had in mind when writing the books he did. He makes the publisher imposed page limit of much of his time (a mere 120 pages) work for him with a style and brevity that’s pretty much as inclusive as JK Rowlings early Harry Potter books.

His brief descriptions of his protagonists actually became understandable written caricatures of the incarnations, setting a house style adopted by other writers. He introduced the world to the words “chameleon circuit” through the books first.

He could also write well, with some spectacular openings. Can I ask you – as a young child, wouldn’t you read this and desperately want to continue?

“Through the ruin of a city stalked the ruin of a man. His clothes were tattered and grimy, his skin blotched and diseased over wasted flesh. On his head was a gleaming white helmet. He walked with the stiff, jerky movements of a robot-which was exactly what he had become.

The robot man moved through the shattered rubble of a once great city, a fitting inhabitant of a nightmare landscape.

In time he came to a river, a sluggish, debris-choked polluted stream which had once carried great ships. He quickened his pace, sensing that the water would provide the thing he sought-a way to end an existence of misery and pain.

When he came to a gap in the embankment wall, he marched stiffly though it and plunged into the water below. He fell, like a log or a stone, making no attempt to save himself. Dragged down by the weight of the helmet, his head sank beneath the grimy waters.

There was something inhuman about the manner of his death-but then, he had not been truly human for a very long time.”

Dalek Invasion of Earth Terrance Dicks

Dicks went through a period when he found himself, due to scheduling errors and other writers commitments, being contractually obliged to write a book a month for a year. This period did see a drop in quality as he raced through stories. It also includes what almost amounts to a written production error in Robots of Death when the character Cass is said to “loom over” the Doctor during an interrogation scene. It’s a remarkable achievement for a character who was discovered murdered in the previous chapter.

So the Target range. Brilliant, engaging, with occasional periods of disappointment and frustration. They were the perfect mirror for the little show that spawned them.

Other book ranges would come, and continue to this day, featuring untelevised stories of the Doctor. A Target book though – that was like an artefact, the holy writ.  It would be churlish to go through the anniversary year and not say a big thank you to Terrance and all the other writers who contributed to them and who gave this young reader, and I bet many others, an invaluable gift. The gift of reading for pleasure.


Additional bits and pieces

  • A few years ago Mark Gatiss narrated a lovely radio 4 documentary about the Target phenomenon in a one-off special On the outside it looked like an old fashioned Police Box. I hope it’s one of the archive shows that Radio 4 extra is going to repeat next month. If you can’t wait, or are overseas, then there is a YouTube rip in three parts. Part one, two and three (many thanks to @wolfweed for the link).
  • Over the last two years 12 of the Target novels have been republished with additional introductions by TV and prose writers like Russell, Stephen Moffat, Neil Gaiman, Michael Moorcock and Stephen Baxter. Old Who for a new generation. Some books also live on as audio books, as this feature will explain.

  • @WhoHar referred users on the Faces strand to this site, which has a couple of free e-books to download from the period, and other spin-off books. Well worth a trip.
  • The Target range benefited from very large print runs due to demand. They can often be spotted on markets, second hand book stalls and charity shops. Try your children with them. Try them yourself.


  1. @wolfweed

    He heh. I do have a soft spot for those Japanese covers. That one is quite eerie in itelf, I think, and the Big Bloody Space-Time Battle (the Daleks) is just bonkers. You can almost hear the thought process behind them though:

    “How are these books marketed elsewhere”
    “Oh they have a picture of some old guy on the cover, with monsters”
    “How the hell does that sell!?”
    “There is always a woman helping the old guy in the book.”
    “Make her sexy, and stick her on the cover!”

    That cover for the Zarbi is just a horrible thing full stop isn’t it?

  2. I’m going to reprint this because it’s informative. When the books were released in the US in 79, they had a written introduction by writer Harlan Ellison, who’d written for Star Trek and his own books. It was considered pretty incendiary:

    Introducing Doctor Who
    amenities performed by Harlan Ellison

    They could not have been more offended, confused, enraged and startled….There was a moment of stunned silence…and then an eruption of angry voices from all over the fifteen-hundred-person audience. The kids in their Luke Skywalker pajamas (cobbled up from older brother’s castoff karate *gi*) and the retarded adults spot-welded into their Darth Vader freight-masks howled with fury. But I stood my ground, there on the lecture platform at the World Science Fiction Convention, and I repeated the heretical words that had sent them into animal hysterics:

    “Star Wars is adolescent nonsense; Close Encounters is obscurist drivel; Star Trek can turn your brains into puree of bat guano; and the greatest science fiction series of all time is Doctor Who! And I’ll take you all on, one-by-one or all in a bunch to back it up!”

    Auditorium monitors moved in, truncheons ready to club down anyone foolish enough to try jumping the lecture platform, and finally there was relative silence. And I head scattered voices screaming from the back of the room,”Who?” And I said, “Yes. Who!”(It was like that old Abbott and Costello routine: Who’s on first? No, Who’s on third; What’s on first.)

    After a while we got it all sorted out and they understood that when I said Who I didn’t mean *whom*, I meant Who….Doctor Who…the most famous science fiction character on British television. The renegade Time Lord, the far traveler through Time and Space, the sword of justice from the planet Gallifrey, the scourge of villians and monsters the galaxy over. The one and only, the incomparable, the bemusing and bewildering Doctor Who, the humanistic defender of Good and Truth, whose exploits put to shame those of Kimball Kinnison, Captain Future and pantywaist nerds like Han Solo and Luke Skywalker.

    My hero! Doctor Who!

    For the American reading (and television-viewing) audience (and in this sole, isolated case I hope they’re one and the same) Doctor Who is a new factor in the equation of fantastic literature. Since 1963 the Doctor and his exploits have been a consistent element of British culture. But we’re only now being treated to the wonderful universes of Who here in the States. For those of us who were exposed to both the TV series on BBC and the long series of Doctor Who novels published in Great Britian, the time of solitary proselytizing is at an end. All we need to do now is thrust a Who novel into the hands of the unknowlegable, or drag the unwary to a TV set and turn it on as the good Doctor goes through his paces. That’s all it takes. Try this book and you’ll understand.

    I envy you your first exposure to this amazing conceit. And I wish you the same delight I felt when Michael Moorcock, the finest fantasist in the English-speaking world, sat me down in front of his set in London, turned on the telly, and said, “Now be quiet and just watch.”

    That was in 1975. And I’ve been hooked on “Doctor Who” ever since. Understand: I despise television (having written it for sixteen years) and I spend much of my time urging people to bash in their picture tubes with Louisville Sluggers, to free themselves of the monster of coaxial cable. And so, you must perceive that I speak of something utterly extraordinary and marvelous when I suggest you watch the “Doctor Who” series in whatever syndicated slot your local station has scheduled it.
    You must recognize that I risk all credibility for furture exhortations by telling you *this* TV viewing will not harm you…will, in fact, delight and uplift you, stretch your imagination, tickle your risibilities, flense your intellect of all lesser visual sf affectations, improve your disposition and clean up your zits. What I’m saying here, case you’re a *yotz* who needs things codified simply and directly, is that “Doctor Who” is the apex, the pinnacle, the tops, the Louvre Museum, the tops, the Colisuem, and other etcetera.

    Now to give you a few basic facts about the Doctor, to brighten your path through this nifty series of lunatic novels.

    He is a Time Lord: one of that immensely wise and powerful super-race of alien beings who, for centuries unnumbered, have watched and studied all of Time and Space with intellects (as H.G. Wells put it) vast and cool and unsympathetic. Their philosophy was never to interfere in the affairs of alien races, merely to watch and wait. But one of their number, known only as the Doctor, found such
    inaction anathema. As he studied the interplay of great forces in the cosmos, the endless wars and invasions, the entropic conflict between Good and Evil, the rights and lives of a thousand alien life-forms debased and brutalized, the wrongs left unrighted…he was overcome by the compulsion *to act*! He was a renegade, a misfit in the name of justice.

    And so he stole a TARDIS and fled.

    Ah, yes. The TARDIS. That most marvelous device for spanning the Time-lines and traversing all of known/unknown Space. The name is an acronym for Time And Relative Dimensions In Space. Marvelous! An amazing machine that can change shape to fit in with any locale in which it materializes. But the TARDIS stolen from his fellow Time Lords by the Doctor was in for repairs. And so it was frozen in the shape of its first appearance: a British police call box. Those of you who have been to England may have seen such call boxes. (There are very few of them currently, because the London “bobbies” now have two-way radio in their patrol cars; but before the advent of that communications system the tall, dark blue street call box–something like our old fashioned wooden phone booth–was a familiar sight in the streets of London. If a police officer needed assistance he could call in directly from such a box, and if the station house wanted to get in touch with a copper they could turn on the big blue light atop the box and its flashing would attract a “bobby.”)

    Further wonder: the outward size of the TARDIS does not reveal its relative size *inside*. The size of a phone booth outwardly, it is enormous within, holding many sections filled with the Doctor’s
    super-scientific equipment.

    Unfortunately, the stolen TARDIS needed more repairs than just the fixing of its shape-changing capabilities. Its steering mechanisim was also wonky, and so the Doctor could never be certain that the coordinates he set for time and place of materializing would be correct. He might set a course for the planet Karn…and wind up in Victoria London. He migh wish to relax at an intergalactic pleasure resort…and pop into existence in Antarctica. He might lay a course for the deadly
    gold mines of Voga…and appear in Renaissance Italy.

    It makes for a chancy existence, but the Doctor takes it all unflinchingly. As do his attractive female traveling companions, whose liasons with the Doctor are never sufficiently explicated for those of us with a nasty, suspicious turn of mind.

    The Doctor *looks* human and, apart from his quirky way of thinking, even *acts* human most of the time. But he is a Time Lord, not a mere mortal. He has two hearts, a stable body temperature of 60
    [degrees], and–not to stun you too much–he’s approximately 750 years old. Or at least he was that age when the first of he 43 Doctor Who novels was written. God (or Time Lords) only know how old he is now!

    Only slightly less popular than the good Doctor himself are his arch-foes and the distressing alien monsters he battles through the pages of these wild books and in phosphor-dot reality on your TV screens. They seem endless in their variety: the Vardans, the Oracle, Fendahl, the virus swarm of the Purpose, The Master, the Tong of the Black Scorpion, the evil brain of Morbius, the mysterious energy force known as the Mandragora Helix, the android clone Kraals, the Zygons, the Cybermen, the Ice Warriors, the Autons, the spore beast called the Krynoid and–most deadly and menacing of them all–the robot threat of the Daleks.

    Created by mad Davros, the great Kaled scientist, the pepper-pot-shaped Daleks made such an impression in England when they were first introduced into the series that they became a cultural artifact almost immediately. Movies have been made about them, toys have been manufactured of Daleks, coloring books, Dalek candies, soaps, slippers, Easter eggs and even special Dalek fireworks. They rival the Doctor for the attention of a fascinated audience and they have been brought back again and again during the fourteen years the series has perpetuated itself on BBC television; and their shiveringly pleasurable manifestations have not been confined just to England and America.

    Doctor Who and the Daleks have millions of rabid fans in over thirty countries around the world. Like the three ficitional characters *every* nation knows–Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan and Superman–Doctor Who seems to have a universal appeal.

    Let me conclude this paean of praise with these thoughts: hating Star Wars and “Star Trek” is not a difficult chore for me. I recoil from that sophomoric species of creation that excuses its simplistic cliche structure and homage to the transitory (as does does Star Wars) as violently as I do from that which sententiously purports to be deep and intellectual when it is, in fact, superficial self-conscious twaddle (as does “Star Trek”). This not to say that I am an ivory tower intellect whose doubledome can only support Proust or Descartes. When I was a little kid, and was reading everything I could lay hands on, I read the classics with joy, but enjoyed equally those works I’ve come to think of as “elegant trash”: the Edgar Rice Burroughs novels, The Shadow, Doc Savage, Conan, comic books and Uncle Wiggly. They taught me a great deal of what I know about courage and truth and ethic in the world.

    To that list I add Doctor Who. His adventures are sunk to the hips in humanisim, decency, solid adventures and simple good reading. They are not classics, make no mistake. They can never touch the illuminative level of Dickens or Mark Twain or Kafka. But they are solid entertainment based on an understanding of Good and Evil in the world. They say to us, “You, too, can be Doctor Who. You, like the Doctor, can stand up for that which is bright and bold and true. You can shape the world, if you’ll only go and try.”

    And they do it in the form of *all* great literature…the cracking good, well-plotted adventure yarn. They are direct lineal heirs to the adventures of Rider Haggard and Talbot Mundy, of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, of Mary Shelley and Ray Bradbury. They are worth your time. And if you give yourself up to the Doctor’s winsome ways, he will take substance and reality in your imagination. For that reason, for the inestimable goodness and delight in every Doctor Who adventure, for the benefits he proffers, I lend my name and my urging to read and watch him.

    I don’t think you’ll do less than thank me for shoving you down with this book in your hands and telling you…here’s Who. Meet the Doctor.

    The pleasure is all mine. And all yours, kiddo.
    Harlan Ellison
    Los Angeles

  3. Great post. Pretty much sums up how I feel about the books, which, as I’ve said before, were always my primary Who source and introduction to the show over the TV show itself. In fact, I’m pretty sure that my preference would always be to read the novelisation over the watching the show, at least until the Davison years.

    A few thoughts:

    with depictions of Nestenes and The Mara that went beyond the practicalities of the technology available in their respective episode

    Very true, as we’ve said before in the Autons thread. (And I personally love the Achilleos covers. They have a timeless brilliance to them and gave the early Who books a unifying look. I’m not as crazy about the Andrew Skilleter covers but they are still infinitely preferable to the ghastly cover montages that we got Davison onwards and which heralded a general drop in the quality of the novelisations anyway.)

    Dr Who and the Zarbi is a case in point. I loved that book when I was a kid and rate it above The Daleks as the best of the early Who’s. Strutton captures the First Doctor really well and portrays Vortis in a way that owes much (I think) to Burroughs and Wells. It really lived as a place in my imagination (although as an adult I have some nit-picky reservations that I think I’ll save for another blog) and it was inevitable that the TV series was never going to meet (and instead resorted to smearing the camera lens in Vaseline in order to cover up.) But it is, I’d argue, one of the key Who stories and one which has reverberated through the years of the show. Not just in terms of its lofty ambition but also in themes. It’s the first instance of that strangely persistent Who perennial, the disembodied malevolent intelligence, for a start. In many ways, you could argue that The Web of Fear is essentially a remake of the Web Planet with the Animus as the Great Intelligence and the Zarbi as the Yeti. They even both end with the Doctor with his head under hairdryer-like contraptions. (Is there a case to be made that Who has ‘futility’ as a consistent theme — the struggle against formless, essentially indestructible foes, fights that will never, ever ultimately be won?)

    But regardless of its TV source material, I’d argue that Strutton creates a bona fide classic of children’s literature here. Too much?

    And David Whittaker I’ve always felt deserves a much more central place in Who lore than he seems to have. Quite aside from being the show’s first script editor (which means that he probably had more of a direct creative control over the early direction of the show than possibly Verity Lambert herself), he contributed greatly to the early success of the Target books with his excellent novelisations which really fleshed out (and in Terry Nation’s case made sensible) the scripts of the shows. And he was a significant Who writer for the show right up to Pertwee’s era. It seems a shame that he’s glossed over a lot these days — it doesn’t seem that he’s been included in the forthcoming docudrama (although I do notice that some wag on IMDB has added Steven Moffatt’s name to the cast list as playing Tom Baker!)

    Whenever someone asks me which author I own the most books of, I may say Pratchett, Banks, Heinlein or Dick, but I’m never entirely truthful. Because probably the most number of books I own by a single author is Terrance Dicks (over sixty).

    Same here. And it makes me slightly sheepish to admit that possibly the writer that has the greatest influence on my own personal development has been Terrance Dicks. And not just his Who stuff either. I remember voraciously going through his Baker Street Irregular books too. Dan, the Holmes-fixated sleuth of those books, struck me as a pretty good role model. Sort of like a Pertwee-era schoolboy version of the Doctor, admittedly.

    But Dicks also brought a real sense of cohesion to the books too. Alright, sometimes he was just knocking them out and there was an element of repetition to some of his descriptions (pleasant, open face? And why was Chapter Seven almost always entitled The Doctor’s Dilemma?) But a lot of the now-established Who lore was consolidated by the books, I feel. To me, Dicks is the voice of authority with regards to Who.

    And he cared about the character of the Doctor, which is something that isn’t apparent in later novelisations. From Davison onwards, it seems that story writers would write their own novelisations, which I suppose is fair enough — bit of easy, extra money, after all. And some good Who books came out of it. But they tended to be more enamoured of the ins and outs of their own story (again fair enough) but it did mean, I felt, that the Doctor become more and more sidelined from his own story. The Doctor becomes more and more indistinct, I feel. The fact that Dicks had that (script editor-like?) sense of remove from the stories meant that he could focus on it as ‘just another thing that happened to the Doctor’ and maintain that sense of cohesion that the books had until the 1980s.

  4. Childhood memories. I was a Doctor Who fan already well before I came across the first Target novelisation on holiday in 1974 or 75 aged 8 or 9 at primary school, when five or six at least had already been published. From then on they became something of an obsession, becoming a monthly purchase and a regular monthly event much anticipated.

    As @Phaseshift states, its impossible to over-state the importance of these novelisations and Terrance Dicks in particular both in terms of keeping previous Who stories alive, opening up the world of past Who (for me of Hartnell and Troughton stories – cursing the long delay for some of these stories to come into print many of which were in what was a then a pre-guide book era only names and pictures from the Radio Times 10th anniversary magazine) and from a personal point of view, encouraging reading in a way that nothing had before then.

    My only regret is that all of these are not available as e-books or books proper anymore. I certainly enjoyed regressing into childhood re-reading the books re-released recently and no matter what is available on DVD or the internet these days there is no better way into BG Who. 


  5. @JimTheFish

    Many thanks – yes, I’m glad you mentioned Whittaker and Strutton, because I wondered how much to put in about them. They originally wrote their books before Target itself was created, but the rights to republish them founded the new line.

    They are bloody good reads though. Strutton you can see relishing the canvass of the book, without the compromises of production, got more of the end I think he wanted. Whittaker was a fantastic writer really. I actually like his introduction to Ian and Barbara (which for anyone who hasn’t read it, rewrites Unearthly Child) and him taking a different approach to two strangers having to try to understand each other in the most bizarre of circumstances. You can obviously tell he went back to some of the original ideas Nation had presented to him as well (the Glass encased Dalek Leader being the obvious one). Having it first person from Ian’s perspective as well is great. It really emphasises how sinister the Doctor was presented in the early days.

    I’m not sure I’d fully agree with the “bit of easy, extra money, after all” line, because I don’t think it really paid all that well. Douglas Adams wouldn’t novelise his own (and refused to let others write them) because he had a fundamental problem with Target deals not being royalty based (he wasn’t alone or unique in that). Saward (and he offered other writers the opportunity to do them, and got no takers) refused to novelise his two Dalek stories because the demands of the Nation estate meant he’d get nothing out of it.

    I always found it interesting that Robert Holmes refused because he compared writing a book to “digging trenches”. It’s sad, because the short untelevised intro he wrote for The Time Warrior is actually pretty gripping, as you follow Linx being pursued by his Rutan foes. I suspect he would have been a good call.

    I think many of the younger writers (and I think David Aaranovitch nails it in his new intro) just wanted to be published writers. He had no idea how much difficulty he’d have writing 10,000 words. So he, Briggs (Curse of Fenric), Rona Monroe (Survival) and others just wanted the profile and experience. In that way, I suppose it was a fertile ground for when we had to rely on books like the New Adventures series.

  6. @nick

    Thanks – I actually picked up a couple from a market earlier this year which I seem to have misplaced on my travels since childhood from between 50p to £1.50 (bargain!). I discovered them on holiday when I was a kid in a story I put on the memories strand. Probably one of the most important things that happened to me, as I’m told it changed my attitude to reading at a fairly critical age.

    It also led to all sorts of other stuff, because I was so desperate for new books I used to go on a monthly quest to “Nostalgia and Comics” in Birmingham, which was guaranteed to have the latest, and that was a revelation, opening my eyes to all kinds of other influences.

  7. A nicely evocative post and well worth the read.  Those covers!

    eBay – I had a look once and someone was selling the full set, at the equivalent price of around GBP1 (blooming Aussie keyboard) per book. I was very tempted but I had nowhere to put them. Regret it a bit now.

  8. @phaseshift — you’re probably right about poor reward aspect putting a lot of people off. I had heard before that the Target deal was a flat fee and no royalties and also that Adams had refused to do his. But then again Adams was really in a different league to the other Who writers by then so its no surprise that he wasn’t prepared to do it unless there was decent money on the table. Didn’t know about Saward though and this very much sounds like the Nation estate we know and, er, love.

    Can also well believe that the younger writers like Ben Aaranovich and Munro that the impetus was to get the credit rather than the money. And most writers tend to jump at the chance of any work, I think. Any writing gig means being saved from the ‘Other Job’ for a bit longer. Surprised at Aaranovich having trouble with it though. 10,000 words is not much — a week’s work basically, especially if you’ve already blocked and broken the story and sorted out characterisation etc…

  9. @JimTheFish

    Apologies for that, I think I sold Ben Aaronovitch a bit short on word count with a typo. 🙂 It was more like 40,000.

    His new intro to the book is actually available to view on the Amazon site in the “click here” previews of the book. He points out he “lucked out” by getting to write for the Daleks and getting automatic first rights to be paid to learn how to write a book. It does briefly highlight some difficulties he had in transition. Perhaps they were the bits that Holmes compared to “digging trenches”.

    It’s interesting to see that after Gareth Roberts novelisation of Adams Shada was released, he announced he’s writing City of Death. Perhaps there is hope that the novels of the Key to Time series will eventually be completed with Pirate Planet. It’ll only have taken 30-odd years!

  10. I mentioned Ben Aaranovitch’s novelisation of Remembrance of the Daleks had been re-released, and after the 50th, it’s on sale with most of the other books in the range from high street retailer “The Works”. They’re £1.99 each or 6 for £10 (I think “in-store” it’s 3 for a fiver), which is a bargain if you want to have a look at them.

    It includes writers like Terrance Dicks, Mark Gatiss, Gareth Robers, Jacqueline Raynor and more. With the exception of Remembrance (which was a Target novel) they are from the BBC “Past Adventures” series and can give a good insight to the spin-off world at a low cost. The only exception is the eleventh Doctor novel “The Silent Stars Go By” which may be a bit recent, and has a link on the Dear Santa choices.

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