Target UK have decided to release novelisations of new Doctor who stories. This may be excellent news for you or meh news or just news. For me I don’t really know how I feel about it but I do know how I feel about the original line of Target novelizations.
I was a precocious child; I could read from an early age something that was encouraged by my parents. But my parents forced me to read poetry and the works of English authors that I had little to no interest in. I did find some value in the HG Wells and Jules Verne but wasn’t at all interested in other stories that featured picnics, groups of unlikely children who solve mysteries, lashings of Ginger Beer or an animated bear.
When I went to school I was amazed to discover that there was this big building on the grounds that was only there to house books, books that I was allowed to borrow and read solely with the condition that I would bring them back. It wasn’t long after browsing through the stacks that I discovered there were Doctor Who books. Doctor Who was the most important thing in my life at the time. I have no idea why, I as an Australian child, fixated on a cheap British sci-fi show. But I did. More than one actually. I was a big Blake’s 7 fan too. It’s actually easier to understand now, it’s popular. It wasn’t popular in the early 80’s. It seems weird to say that a show that ran for 30 years in its initial run wasn’t popular but that was the deep sense you got when talking to other kids about it.
So I’m in the library I must be 7 years old? Wanting to check out a copy of Doctor Who and the Daleks. An adventure with villains I’d never seen and a Doctor I hadn’t even heard of, who was this old white-haired guy? But these “Dalek” things seemed very exciting. So I took it to the counter. “Are you sure you can even read this?” a sceptical Liberian asked. “Yes” I said. “Are you sure your parents will LET you read this?” it’s these kinds of questions that makes a young boy salivate. Why? What is in these pages? What illicit delights will I encounter? I literally could not imagine but I was super keen to find out. “Yes, absolutely” I possibly lied.
The story unfolded as satisfyingly as I could have wanted. A mysterious girl, travellers in a time and space machine finding a dead forest. (Whitaker leaves out the visit to the tribe of Gum in the novelisation because…well…he wants to tell an exciting tale) The Doctor lying about broken mercury fluid links to state his curiosity and then the encounter with the deadly and alien Daleks. And a philosophical discussion about pacifism. That…um maybe didn’t go how most pacifists would have wanted it to. But none the less it was exciting, engaging and strange. And it even had illustrations.
Note: I just picked this up at random, I didn’t know it was the first Doctor who book printed nor that it was close to the first Doctor Who Adventure in-fact it was confusingly numbered “16” on the spine when some of the others didn’t have numbers and this was some years before “1” came out which was “The Abominal Snowman” by that time I had learned to keep my novelisations in story order rather than number order even though that annoyed me no end. Everyone knew they were playing funny buggers but Target didn’t seem to care. They insisted that they were going in “Alphabetical order” but that made no sense because they were producing books when new stories were being made that they would eventually have to novelise. So “Arc of Infinity” is “80” even though it should be “4”. And “The Chase” is “140” for reasons that no-one can satisfactorily explain. So, it is somewhat annoying that the new novels continue this tradition of being wrong. I suppose they think it’s “cute”.
And thus began my love of the Target Doctor who novelizations. These were not the greatest pieces of literature that had ever been printed. The quality was …. variable…. many of them were barely serviceable retellings of average stories. Some of them however were really quite good. I’ll always remember the start of “The 10th Planet” where the history of the Cybermen is summed up. And..it’s REALLY good. Rather than taking away from the reveal of the creatures it builds the anticipation. How could anyone fight anything so strong and so alien? As many people have noted in the days when Doctor who wasn’t on TV and stories were not coming out on DVD each month the books were a way to relive stories that you had loved or read stories you had never seen and there was no possibility of seeing. Some of the books transcend the stories that they novelise. The book of the Two Doctors novelised by Robert Holmes himself (The only novelisation he ever did) reveals that not only was Holmes a talented script writer and editor but also a fantastic writer of prose. When he writes “The smell of fruit soft flesh rotting off exposed bleached white bones was pervasive” as the Doctor and Peri explore the space station it’s as evocative as anything you could want and takes what is a mediocre televised story and elevates it to something wonderful.
Stories that didn’t work on screen like “The Invasion of Time” is suddenly revealed to be an interesting story, full of fantastic ideas let down by an indifferent director and the budget only stretching to silver foil and pipe cleaners rather than the script.
Similarly, The Stones of Blood wasn’t an instant classic on the TV in fact it’s one of those “It happened but no-one talks about it stories”, but the novelisation reveals itself to be an innovative and imaginative piece that grows the mythos around the characters rather than relying on a feathered mask and glowing fiberglass “stones” while the lead character dances in a supposedly terrifying way.
The only place I knew where I could actually buy Target Doctor Who’s was at Safeway (a supermarket chain here in Australia) where they regularly sold for $5-$9 but at some point Safeway decided to just dump the line and they sold them out for as little as 50c. This was a golden time for me as a collector as I could go in with pocket money and come out with fat stacks of books.
These were important books for me, I’m a huge proponent of reading everything you can get your hands on, not just things that people regard as “great literature” yes these are fairly bubble gum but as a young person they taught me that sometimes great phrases and setups appear in not so great books and sometimes reading a book that’s not so great teaches you what not to do. So, they were important to me as a reader and as a writer.
What became of my nearly complete collection?
When I turned 30 I decided that I didn’t need it anymore. I thought that maybe it was a little childish to carry around such well-worn symbols of my childhood and maybe it could go to a better place. So the collection was put in a box and donated. I don’t regret it. It’s not like I’m going to sit down and read “Harry Sullivan’s War” now. But the shadow of these books still looms large. They were important to me and deserved to be honoured as such.