The Target novelisation, Doctor Who and the Wheel in Space, more than nearly any other, is semi-legendary. It’s the almost lost book, most of the copies destroyed in a fire. Copies circulate on eBay for crazy amounts of money for a short TV tie-in novel (between £50 and £100, last time I looked). The big question is though – is it actually worth the money? Is it a good book, for all its notoriety?
Well, erm… here’s the thing. There are three kinds of novelisation in the Target range. Ones that somewhat radically re-imagine the source material (The Romans is a great example of this); those that are fairly faithful to the source, but attempt to bring in more depth of character and world-building (Dicks himself was great at in his Jon Pertwee novelisations); and then there’s the other sort. Not much better than the original script with a few “said the Doctor”s thrown in to make it coherent. This is largely that third sort.
There are a few little bits of tidying and cleaning, the sort that Uncle Terrence just couldn’t help himself with (once a script editor, always a script editor). There are some extra lines of dialogue thrown in to better establish that the TARDIS is a model from a production line, rather than the Doctor’s own invention, as early TV stories tend to hint at. There’s some playing up of the strange results from the Doctor’s medical checkup, hinting at later continuity – i.e. the Doctor’s double heartbeat. That’s just about it, though. There aren’t even any significant removals, save perhaps Rudkin’s death in Episode Four, which is fairly striking on screen, but perhaps wouldn’t come over well on the page.
You’d think it would be a temptation to try and untangle the Cybermen’s ridiculously convoluted plot (destroy the laser, fix the laser, etc.) and there is a little of this. A few small clarifications as to why the Cybermen need the Wheel in the first place, but otherwise not really.
So, having established that this is a fairly literal rendering to page – is it worth reading? If this were like Dicks’ later novelisation of an existing (and not terribly good) story like Planet of the Giants, I’d say it absolutely isn’t. The Wheel in Space is missing, however. Despite its borderline incoherent plot, it still has a good atmosphere, especially in Episode One, before we reach the Wheel. In many ways, it feels like this story heralds later (and rather better) stories like The Ark in Space.
Aside from the fourth and sixth episodes, we simply can’t watch it ourselves. The novelisation is one of the only ways to experience the story from beginning to end without shifting between media. Is it possible that, given this, Dicks felt a responsibility to be as accurate as possible in this case? Maybe. I’d rather believe that than the easy assumption that it was just dashed off quickly to end the range and make a bit of easy money.
This book honestly isn’t worth what the scalpers on eBay are charging, so it’s wonderful that it’s back in print, and available again for those that would love to be able to read the whole range without breaking the bank.
Doctor Who and the Wheel in Space is available to read as part of the anthology title, The Essential Terrance Dicks: Volume One.