The literary TARDIS: The Target Doctor Who novelisations
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Some time ago, in a relative dimension of space...
On the outside it looked like an old-fashioned paperback book. The words 'Doctor Who' were emblazoned in huge white-bordered blue letters on the rose-red background above the bold black proclamation 'And The Pyramids Of Mars'. Underneath them, a floppy-hatted, curly haired time traveller with an impressively long scarf who I had recently discovered on a Saturday tea-time show adorned the cover, along with a menacing, barrel-chested Egyptian mummy and a rifle wielding young woman who I was pretty sure wasn't the same girl who accompanied him on the television.
[ I soon discovered that this was in fact previous - and future - companion Sarah Jane Smith, rather than the current Time Lady, Romana (mercifully short for Romanadvoratrelundar), originally played by Mary Tamm, and then by Lalla Ward after controversially 'trying on' several forms before settling on that of Princess Astra from The Armageddon Factor. ]
On the inside, however, this slim tome that I'd found lurking in the revolving metal rack in my local public library on a chilly autumn day in 1978 was every bit as magical as the blue police box that I was rapidly growing to love. Its relative dimensions promised me a journey through time and space using the power of words alone, which were fashioned into an exhilarating, fast-paced read by an author with the slightly posh sounding name of Terrance Dicks.
I excitedly removed the book from the rack and took it to the librarian, who stamped my card and told me it was due back in three weeks. Clutching my new prize tightly, I quickly walked the half mile home and sat down on my bed to read my very first Doctor Who Target book.
Back in the late 1970s, before there were DVD box sets, Sky Plus boxes, syndicated television, or downloads (legal or otherwise), we sat and watched each week's Doctor Who episode with a sense of wonder, lost in the warm, magical cathode glow for 25 minutes, drinking in every moment, because once the credits rolled it, would be gone, never to be seen again; or so we thought.
On discovering the Target novelisation of Tom Baker's eighth adventure, I felt like I'd been handed a key to my very own TARDIS, because when I returned to the silent, gloomy library room where I'd found the Pyramids Of Mars I found that there were seemingly dozens of Doctor Who books lurking on the shelves. Some of them featured my doctor on the cover, but others portrayed the time traveller as, variously, a tall, lean, white-haired man, a short, squat dark haired man, and a man who looked old enough to be my grandfather.
Though I wasn't familiar with these other three gentlemen at this point, I suddenly realised that I no longer had to wait patiently until Saturday rolled around for my BBC prescribed dose of the Doctor. Now I could begin to hungrily devour tales from the mysterious Gallifrean's fifteen year (at that point) history just as fast as I could turn the pages, and I was soon wolfing down three Target books a week, the maximum that I was allowed to borrow from the library in one go.
Though Doctor Who had been a mainstay of British television since quarter past five on November 23rd 1963, the day after America's original nightmare on Elm Street, the assassination of John F Kennedy (an event the Doctor was present at according to alleged photographic evidence mentioned in his tenth incarnation's debut episode Rose), and three novelisations had been published by Armada Paperbacks in 1965 (the snappily titled Doctor Who In An Exciting Adventure With The Daleks – later re-titled simply Doctor Who And The Daleks – and Doctor Who And The Crusaders, both by David Whittaker, and Doctor Who And The Zarbi by Bill Strutton), it wasn't until a chance acquisition of the rights to republish this trio of books in 1972 by Richard Henwood, a newly appointed editor at Universal-Tandem publishing, that the literary legacy we know and love today was born.
Having been hired to put together a new children's imprint, Henwood found himself at publishers Frederick Muller one morning looking for potential titles when he spotted the three books among the selection on offer. Unaware of the popularity of Doctor Who on television thanks to not owning a set himself, Henwood was sufficiently intrigued by the titles to take an option on them, the wisdom of his hunch being confirmed as sound the same afternoon by Brian Miles, who ran the sales side of Universal-Tandem, which in turn led Henwood to contact the BBC with a view to securing the rights to publish further adventures.
He ended up talking to producer Barry Letts about novelising the Doctor Who stories; Letts was very much in favour of the idea, and script editor Terrance Dicks had previously contacted Frederick Muller with a view to doing just that and was therefore more than happy to offer his services as an author. Dicks chose the series seven opener Spearhead From Space (notable in Who lore as the first story to be produced in colour, the first Jon Pertwee adventure and the first, but not last, time the Nestene Consciousness was used to introduce a new Doctor) as his debut project, though the title was changed to The Auton Invasion at Henwood's suggestion, and the classic Target range was up and running.
As well as becoming the unofficial editor of the Target range, Dicks went on to become the most prolific of the Doctor Who authors, notching up an impressive 64 titles to his name, which was even more noteworthy when you consider that his two closest competitors in these stakes were Ian Marter and Malcolm Hulke with nine and seven titles respectively.
Dicks was responsible for many of my favourite Who books when I was a child, among them The Abominable Snowmen and The Web Of Fear, featuring the cuddly Yeti (or deadly robotic pawns of the Great Intelligence depending on your point of view), Day, Planet and Genesis Of The Daleks (I could never get enough of the menacing pepper pots), The Loch Ness Monster, The Cybermen, The Revenge Of The Cybermen and the aforementioned Auton Invasion.
Aside from all being authored by Dicks, the other common thread of these books was the illustrations by Cypriot artist Chris Achilleos, whose striking pictures adorned 28 of the book's covers, including the one for The Pyramids Of Mars that had originally drawn me in, and become a style that my Who radar became finely attuned to when browsing the racks of my local library or the shelves of our local supermarket while my parents did the weekly shop.
Between May 1973 and April 1994, all but five of the classic (pre 2005 reboot) Doctor Who stories were novelised by Target, the only exceptions being the Douglas Adams scripted Tom Baker tales The Pirate Planet, City Of Death and Shada, and Resurrection Of The Daleks and Revelation Of The Daleks by Eric Saward. The Adams stories never appeared due to his reticence for anyone else to adapt his material and the lack of a large enough fee being offered to do so himself (although elements of City Of Death and Shada later appeared in his Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency novel), and the Saward stories due to Target being unable to come to an agreement with the author and Dalek creator Terry Nation for Saward or anyone else to adapt his work. (All five were later unofficially novelised by the New Zealand Doctor Who Fan Club under the TSV [Time Space Visualiser] imprint.)
In addition to the classic Who stories, the Target range also produced a number of original adventures, born from the fact that at the height of the range's success they were producing books at such a rate that they were rapidly reaching the point where the well of previously transmitted tales was running dry. In fact the rate became so frantic at one point that Who fans were faced with a huge 'to read or not to read' dilemma when the novelisation of 20th anniversary story The Five Doctors hit book shops and supermarket shelves a fortnight earlier than its November 1983 transmission date.
In 1994, having exhausted all of the available televised Doctor Who stories, the Target imprint was retired by its ultimate owners Virgin, who were keen to release all future, original Who novels under their own name as they did with all of their many other ventures. And so, with the publication on 21st April 1994 of the 156th Doctor Who novelisation, an adaptation of the previous year's radio play The Paradise Of Death written, fittingly, by Barry Letts, the Target range that had been a hugely important influence on the early reading habits of myself and many other Who fans dematerialised, I'd like to think with a faint wheezing and groaning sound.
Today, of course, we can just pop in a DVD or Blu-ray to revisit many, but by no means all, of our favourite Doctor Who episodes from the last half century, for there remain some that, thanks to the short sightedness of certain BBC recycling policies back in the day, are forever lost to us (though audio copies do exist of every single episode thanks largely to Who fans taping them from their televisions at the time). Of Patrick Troughton's first two seasons, only one of the fourteen stories is complete (The Tomb Of The Cybermen, and only then due to a copy being returned from Hong Kong some 24 years after the original September 1967 transmission date), so the only way we can enjoy them is through the Target incarnation of that most ancient of time machines, the paperback book, which has become our very own, wonderful literary TARDIS.
For more information on the history of Target's Doctor Who books, check out the brilliant The Target Book – A History Of The Target Doctor Who Books (2007) by David J Howe, which was one of the main reference sources for this article.)
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