This year has seen something of a Target revival with the republication of another batch of classic era novelisations and, even better, The Cartoon Museum’s covers exhibition which offers a rare chance to see the original artwork on display. Now comes a very welcome new edition of the much sought after history of the Target Doctor Who books by David J Howe.
First published in 2007, the book quickly attained classic status – as evidenced by the eye-watering prices copies were offered for on eBay after the first edition sold out. Telos Publishing had apparently wanted to reissue it for some time but the difficulties of finding a cost effective way to reprint a book containing so much colour material meant this had to be delayed until an affordable method could be found.
It was certainly worth the wait. Every cover that ever graced a Target novel is here (as well as quite a few that didn’t), presented in glorious full colour, allowing them to be admired in the way that the best coffee table books can be. If you bought this book and just looked at the pictures you’d have got value for money, such is the joy at having all these images collected in one place.
But to do that would be to miss out on the exhaustive research that has gone into this comprehensive history. The Target Book gives us chapter and verse on the entire range, from its beginnings when Brian Miles decided to take a chance on some out-of-print Hartnell era titles that had performed poorly on initial publication (‘They’ll sell!’ he insisted with considerable foresight), to the present day with the range enjoying a new lease of life thanks to BBC Books.
The covers were a big part of Target’s success and as well as offering us the images this book also provides sketches, unused alternative versions and interviews with those responsible for the artwork. We also get an insight into how those unpopular photographic 1980’s covers came about, and the thorny issue of image rights which led to a long spell of covers that didn’t feature the Doctor or any companions.
Among the lessons we learn are the staggering sales figures achieved by the Target books (an estimated two and a quarter million copies had been sold by September 1977, a mere four years into the range) and some other notable nuggets of trivia to store in your memory banks – did you know that Alison Bingeman, co-writer with Gerry Davis of The Celestial Toymaker, went on to be a successful writer and producer on American television?
Some of the other content is arguably less useful to know but is undeniably fun – there are some hilariously snooty reviews from contemporary fanzines (‘Basically it is not a good book. It is not a good story. It is not the book it should have been…’). Sidebars running throughout offer us the many and varied ways writers sought to convey to sound the TARDIS makes (‘a peculiar trumpeting noise like a wounded animal’ from The Masque of Mandragora being a favourite of mine).
The criticism some fans levelled at Terrance Dicks for his straightforward re-tellings of televised adventures is recorded but Doctor Who’s elder statesman is given the right of reply, arguing not unreasonably that translating a script into a book is not as easy as it may sound and that, in the pre-VHS era, what most readers wanted was a chance to experience the story again. And in fact this book serves as a wonderful tribute to Terrance Dicks, who provides the foreword and, with more that 60 titles to his name, is a constant presence in Target’s history. There can be few other authors who did so much to get so many kids reading in the 1970s and 1980s.