The most exciting Doctor Who news of the past week for me and, I suspect, a fair number of other fans was not the unveiling of the new Doctor’s costume and TARDIS design, noteworthy though they undoubtedly were, but the surprise announcement that we’re to be treated to some Target-style novelisations of new series stories.
For fans of a certain vintage, Target books were pretty much as important as the programme itself. No videos, no DVDs, no downloads; my goodness me, no! If you missed Doctor Who in the 1970s, that was it. And even if you’d seen it, that was probably your one and only viewing with hardly any repeats in the days before catch-up TV and streaming. So the books were crucial if you wanted to relive your favourite adventures or, even better, discover ones you had never seen at all.
The news that a batch of 21st Century stories are to get the novelisation treatment in 2018 has set us thinking here at the DWC. Which other stories (besides those we know to be on their way) should get the adaptation treatment? And which writers should get the gig?
The TV Movie
This story has the distinction of being the last story to be novelised although it wasn’t by Target but BBC Books. This came in the form of a TV tie-in edition (now there’s a phrase you don’t see much these days), published to coincide with transmission of Doctor Who’s one-off return in 1996 and available in the shops well before the big night. The publication schedule meant writer, Gary Russell didn’t have much in the way of reference material to go on, resulting in several differences between book and transmitted story.
Perhaps now would be a good time to have another bash at what would presumably be the only Eighth Doctor novelisation (I’m secretly hoping for him to appear in a special prologue at the start of Steven Moffat’s novel take on The Day of The Doctor)? If nothing else it would be fun to see what title the publishers choose to settle on, Doctor Who And The TV Movie not being the most enticing name to see plastered over the front cover.
And how would all those quirks and contradictions (a half-human Doctor and an Eye of Harmony quite different from what we’d previously been shown, to name but two) be resolved?
Aliens of London/World War Three
How wonderful that Russell T Davies has made his return to the world of Doctor Who in book form, first with his lovely illustrations for James Goss’s volume of poetry and now with a novelisation of Rose, the story where it all began for him. When he looks back on the 2005 revival, I bet he secretly wishes he could journey back in time and have another go at this two-parter from that long ago Series One. Make the Slitheen truly threatening and scary, not that rather iffy mix of clumsy costumes and dodgy CGI. Rein in the performances to stop the guest cast acting like they were on CBBC. Sort out that shot of the spaceship crashing into the back-to-front clock face.
Lord knows, he could even get someone to teach Andrew Marr how to deliver a line. Well, now he can do all of this, only on the page as his next Target-style novelisation… Come on Russell; over to you.
Arguably the moment when the revived series really took off – I remember being in the pub that night where a bloke in a top hat and long leather coat (yes, really) told me it was ‘the greatest 45 minutes of television’ he’d ever seen – and packed with potential for expansion into a novel.
The scene where the Doctor faces off with the very last Dalek in the universe (ahem) is surely worthy of a book on its own. I, for one, would love to know more about the Doctor’s terrible torment – what must Rose have been thinking when she saw the spitting rage he displays? And Robert Shearman is a proper writer who’s done plays and books and everything…
Human Nature/ The Family of Blood
Okay, bear with me here.
I know Human Nature was a novel long before it was adapted for the series. But there’s just so much good stuff in the television version which is, for me, probably the richest, most elegant story since the series returned in 2005. So many people in so much pain, unable to say who they really are or what they really feel. Joan, obliged by the social conventions of the time to hide her feelings. Martha, forced to endure casual prejudice from ghastly born-to-rule posh types. And that ending, with the Doctor, deeply damaged, inflicting all manner of cruel and unusual punishments on the Family of Blood… I’m welling up already at the thought of reading this.
Despite a couple of valiant efforts, Target’s attempts to launch a spin-off range never really got off the ground, much like JN-T’s with K9 and Company. The modern day series had much more success, of course, with Captain Jack Harkness and Sarah Jane Smith enjoying lengthy runs of adventures away from the parent show. I think there’s room in the Target revival for a Torchwood range, and where better to start than with surely the most vividly memorable episode of that wildly hit-and-miss show? Chris Chibnall is in charge of showrunning Doctor Who Series 11 and beyond, so who could tackle this most full-on festival of high camp?
Gareth Roberts must have had a ball Douglas Adams’s witty, sophisticated Shada scripts but how about a tyre-shredding change of direction to attempt a prose version of this slice of jaw dropping, what-the-hell-were-they-thinking magnificence? What do you think, Gareth?
The Vampires of Venice
Target books seemed to be published at such a rate in the 1970s that a trip to WHSmith was pretty much bound to reveal a new title on the shelves. And many of the covers were so terrific they made the books worth buying for the artwork alone (even some of the more, shall we say, slender volumes). Have a look at Carnival of Monsters, with a striking black and white Pertwee about to get a sea monster munching on his bouffant hairdo. Or Jeff Cummins’s atmospheric Horror of Fang Rock with Tom Baker complete with bowler and seafarer’s rope (Tom’s favourite cover, Target trivia fans).
I reckon Chris Achilleos would be ideal for this overseas adventure from Matt Smith’s first season. Never would those beguiling sexy-fish-vampires and Venetian (okay, Croatian) canals have looked more alluring.
The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People
One of the great things about Target books was the way they could turn a so-so television story into a great one on the page. Think of Doctor Who and the Doomsday Weapon, where Malcolm Hulke managed to turn a plodding six-parter into a fascinatingly detailed exploration of his characters’ back-stories, complete with new introductions for the Master and Jo Grant (in the early days of the books, there was no expectation that all the stories would be adapted, meaning writers could be wonderfully unconstrained in making up new stuff).
Hulke is sadly no longer with us but perhaps another writer could follow his lead and have a bash at this one, where some strong Doctor Who ideas somehow amounted to less than the sum of their parts. And shake up that all-too-convenient resolution, where somehow only one of each human/ganger pairing survives.
Robot of Sherwood
This one would surely be a good bet to get young readers switched on to the new range just as they were back in the days when Target books sold by the bucket load, being a fun mix of adventure, mystery, and historical setting with two of British culture’s most enduring heroes at its heart.
One of my hopes for the new novelisations is that the page count may allow for some expansion of the stories they’re based on, with more time for us to explore the fictional worlds – something which a 45 minute episode just doesn’t allow for. So let’s find out more about how the Sheriff became a human-robot hybrid – a key plot point which was sadly lost when footage was excised from the climax of the transmitted episode due to grim real world events.
That’s what we think but what about you? Which stories do you think are ripe for the Target treatment? Let us know!