Re-reading old #DrWho target books is a strangely addictive experience.
It’s hard to understand that for many fans at the time, the Target novelizations were the only way to experience the classic series. Starting with the first Dalek adventure in 1964, the BBC began a range of books published by Target. Designed to capitalize on the program’s success in 1973, the book range functioned as a way for fans to experience their favorite TV series. While the books often were scene-for-scene and line-for-line duplicates of what was seen on screen there are a few that took risks and deviated from the actual script. In David Whittaker’s Daleks novelization (printed simply as ‘Doctor Who’), the entire story is told through the eyes of Ian Chesteron, a hard-smoking out of work scientist. Increased violence and a glass Dalek (decades before we’d see one on-screen in Revelation of the Daleks) are amongst the startling differences.
Back in the day before video cassette recorders or re-runs on TV, this was the only way for young fans to see what a story such as the Web of Fear could have been like. In the 1980′s, Target greatly expanded the range with a bulk of the writing coming from one time script editor Terrance Dicks. This was how I had encountered the vast history of Doctor Who when I was starting my journey in Who fandom that later turned into mania. I remember attending a sci-fi convention in Boston where tables were covered in colorful novels, posters, buttons and lead figurines (the Harlequin ones for any who recall). I had no idea where to start. In 1983, An Unearthly Child hit the stands and I snatched it up excitedly. In the late 80′s, John Nathan Turner’s attempts to raise public awareness of the series had succeeded and there were devoted fans of the Target book line. I recall being particularly excited when the Dalek Master Plan was printed in two parts, the long lost 12 part adventure of specific interest to my young mind.Eventually, I had amassed a collection of every novelization printed. I sold the lot in the mid-1990′s after hauling my collection cross-country and realizing it was too costly to travel back home with it. This was around the time that the incredibly rare Power of the Daleks and Evil of the Daleks stories were finally released by Virgin Press so I missed out on that.
The books varied greatly in covers, with Chris Achilleos, Alister Pearson and Andrew Skilleter all providing eye-catching variations on the classic characters and monsters. I prefer the classic printings, but they are quite hard to find these days. After Doctor Who finished on screen in 1989, the book line soon followed with only a few gaps (the aforementioned Power and Evil of the Daleks, Pirate Planet, City of Death, Resurrection of the Daleks, and Revelation of the Daleks) due to various reasons.
Toward the end of the Target line, script writers were allowed to write the adaptations of their TV work, often elaborating on the pieces and adding details that were too costly to realize on screen due to effects, casting or time. The McCoy era benefited greatly by this practice and several of his adventures were made all the more interesting by the efforts of new series writers such as Ben Aaronovitch and Marc Platt.
These days anyone remotely interested in Doctor Who can just turn on the TV, computer or CD player to experience high quality videos or audio representations of the classic series. Back in the 80′s, as popularity rose for Doctor Who, fans realized that they were severely limited in material. Tales abound of young Whovian doling out holiday money for a scratchy VHS copy of the Krotons while today we wait patiently for the DVD to be released with digitally remastered picture and sound, extra production subtitles and documentaries. But once upon a time, members of my generation quietly huddled down with a dog-eared copy of the Web Planet, quietly reading to ourselves in abject wonder.
Imagine what a world full of vintage-style Doctor Who novelizations in 2005 would have looked like…
For more information on the Target line, I highly recommend Tim Neal’s outstanding site On Target which contains copious amounts of information including rare facts, trivia and various cover illustrations.
Now back to my copy of the Abominable Snowmen…