Hitting the Target. Doctor Who – The Mind of Evil

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Although most of the Pertwee stories were novelised during the seventies, four tales – The Ambassadors of Death, InfernoThe Mind of Evil and The Time Monster – were skipped.  It’s interesting that two of the titles were by Don Houghton, but presumably that’s just a coincidence as there’s never been any suggestion that he was actively blocking publication.

When Target eventually decided the time was right to mop up these stragglers, Houghton declined to tackle his stories – Inferno and Mind – so the task fell to that reliable old warhorse Terrance Dicks.  Published in 1985, The Mind of Evil is a very faithful transcript of the televised story (even keeping most of the original dialogue intact).  This had become Dicks’ style – something which was appreciated and mocked by different sections of fandom.

For some, in the days before VHS copies were widespread, having an almost verbatim novelisation of the television story was appreciated.  But others wanted books which went beyond the televised events and were less impressed with Dicks’ workmanlike style.  The printed word does had advantages over the television image in certain respects though – for example, the visual manifestations of the evil impulses generated by the Keller machine.  On screen we saw less than impressive superimposed images (water, fire) but there was no such limitations on the printed page.

Dicks also remembered that some readers might be unaware of the Doctor’s current status, so he helpfully sets the scene by informing them that, at present, the Doctor is exiled to Earth and working for UNIT.

The various criminal types are given very brief backstories.  We learn that Barnham had choked the life out of a security guard who had disturbed him whilst he was blowing a safe whilst Harry Mailer is painted as a Kray-like gangster (eventually caught because he was rash enough to kill somebody in public).

It’s notable throughout the television original that the Doctor’s in something of a bad mood, especially to begin with (his arrogance is very much on overdrive when attending the initial demonstration of the Keller process).  Dicks doesn’t attempt to soften this and, indeed, his condescending attitude to all around him – including Jo – is even added upon.  At one point, the Doctor despairs of having to leave the Keller machine in the hands of Jo (whom he regards as a feather-headed child).  But this was still early on in their relationship, so it’s maybe not as brutal a character assessment as it first seems.

Benton can always be relied upon for a comedy moment or two, and Dicks delightfully paints him as a wistful James Bond wannabe – dreaming of vodka martinis, shaken not stirred, Bentley sports cars and mysteriously beautiful international spies.  His actual assignment – keeping tabs on the suspicious Captain Chin Lee – is rather more down to earth though.  The Brigadier’s assessment of why Benton is fundamentally unsuitable for undercover work is also entertaining (Benton lurking in a doorway with his raincoat collar turned up, was about as inconspicuous as an elephant at a tea party).

Not the most essential Target then, unless you favour a very accurate reproduction of the events on screen, but it’s still one of those books which whetted my appetite for the television original.

Hitting the Target. Doctor Who – The Mind Robber

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I love the tranche of Hartnell and Troughton novelisations penned in the eighties.  Many were written by their original scriptwriters and it’s fascinating to see how they retooled the stories after a gap of several decades.  Peter Ling, like many of his fellow writers during the sixties, wasn’t steeped in Doctor Who lore.  He wrote a single story and then no doubt didn’t think about it or the series again until he was commissioned to write this novelisation in 1986.

This isn’t a problem though and in fact there’s something rather charming about the slight sideways feel that you get from many of these books.  There’s some odd moments to be sure (such as the sight of the Doctor pottering around the TARDIS engine room with a can of oil and a rag) whilst it’s hard to imagine Troughton’s Doctor ever uttering the line “ye gods. I need my brains taken out and buttered”.  But I’d sooner this approach than an obsessive fixation on continuity – where things are either “right” or “wrong”.

Ling sticks pretty closely to the original script, although there’s plenty of instances where he takes the opportunity to do things which would have been beyond the series’ budget.  When Jamie and Zoe are tempted out into the white void, they both see very personal images.  For Zoe, it’s the sight of her mother, looking down at her from the sky, whilst Jamie sees his cottage, complete with his family waiting for him and a spot of supper on the table.  These visitations upset Zoe especially (possibly this was a hint that her mother had died).

After the TARDIS has exploded, the image of Zoe slowly slipping off the console and descending into nothingness is an evocative and disturbing one.

I don’t know whether Ling’s script had originally intended for Zoe to briefly find herself dressed as Alice in Wonderland (encountering a white rabbit with a pocketwatch and falling down a rabbit hole) but if so, it’s a shame we didn’t get to see it.  Possibly the fact that the recording would have had to have been paused in order for Wendy Padbury to change clothes was the prosaic reason why it didn’t happen.

It’s slightly odd that Zoe has never heard of Alice (especially since she knows all about the Karkus – she’s aware of comic strips then, but not classic literature).  We’re told that this is because she comes from the twenty first century, which seems a fairly feeble rationale.  The Karkus is good fun – especially since he comes complete with Batman-style speech bubbles which accompany his every move and gesture.

Ling didn’t make any attempt to differentiate the Master in his story from the Doctor’s identically named arch nemesis, which no doubt would have confused some people.  Early reference books did make a distinction – The Making of Doctor Who called him the Mind Master, for example.  Mind you (sorry), that was confusing too – when I finally saw the story, I was surprised he wasn’t referred to as the Mind Master.

It’s characteristic that Jamie is disappointed when Rapunzel disappears (he was looking forward to getting to know her a little better).  Jamie – like Frazer Hines – always had an eye for an attractive female …

It’s a pity that Ling didn’t come up with an alternative ending as it seems to contradict everything we’ve previously been told.  Earlier, the Doctor realised that if he attempted to create fiction then he’d be trapped in the Land of Fiction forever.  But when he and the Master meet for their climatic battle, he does precisely this with no consequences.

But that apart, The Mind Robber is a cracking read.  There’s plenty of bonus material not seen in the original television production, but not so much as to make it unrecognisable.  Certainy a book that’s worth tracking down.

Hitting the Target.  Doctor Who and the Day of the Daleks 

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My New Year’s resolution is to re-read all the Target novelisations.  And from time to time I’ll blog about the more interesting ones.

In the pre-VHS era they were incredibly important to me – every paperback was a window into the inaccessible past – but once it became possible to actually view the stories, the Targets were relegated to an increasingly dusty bookshelf.

Some I’ve re-read during the last few decades, but many have remained untouched since the early nineties. So, my non-chronological journey begins with an all-time favourite …. The Day of the Daleks.

Day is packed with extra value – the whole of chapter one (Moni’s flight through the workcamp and his tussle with the Ogrons) for example. I also love the many incidental touches added by Dicks which don’t alter the narrative, but help to broaden characters or generate more atmosphere. Jo’s dummy making skills (preparing an object for the Doctor to test the ray gun on) is a lovely example. It was very disappointing to later learn that on television the Doctor simply used a basic cardboard cut out (I wanted to see Jo’s lipstick smeared mannequin!).

The Doctor’s first encounter with the Daleks – in the railway tunnel – is another of those moments which works terribly well in print, but turned out to be something of a damp squib on screen. In the book, the Doctor is horrified to see the slowly advancing Dalek. On television, he hot-foots it the other way as soon as he claps eyes on it!

When the Doctor and Jo are rescued from the clutches of the Controller by Anat and the others, Dicks cleverly names the various characters who were anonymous extras on screen. By giving them identities and very brief back-stories, their deaths resonate just a little bit more.

Dicks also took the opportunity to restore a “deleted scene” (a second encounter between the present Doctor and Jo and their future selves). On television, the loss of this scene wasn’t really a problem (the story concludes very effectively with a close-up of the Doctor) but it’s a nice book-ending moment that enhances the print version.

Doctor Who – Target Books. A personal appreciation

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With a new edition of David J. Howe’s history of the Doctor Who Target books just released, the rather nice feature on Target artwork in the current Doctor Who Magazine (DWM 499) as well as the latest wave of reprints, it seems like the ideal time to take a brief look at Target’s Doctor Who imprint.

In the pre-video age, the tv tie-in novelisation was one of the best ways (along with off-air audio recordings of course) to relive memories of your favourite series.  I’ve plenty of books of this type in my collection, but for sheer volume the Target Doctor Who range is well out in front.

From receiving my first (The Day of the Daleks) as a birthday present in 1979 to finally plugging those remaining gaps in my collection in 1987 (The Monster of Peladon and The Ribos Operation) following a visit to Forbidden Planet in London, part of the pleasure of the Target range was the time and effort it took to track every last book down.

Back in the olden days, you couldn’t simply buy a book online with a few clicks, you had to go out and locate them – one by one.  So every Saturday morning I’d head off to my local WH Smiths and peruse their Who titles.  They tended to have a selection of the more recent books as well as a handful of older reprints – but many remained tantalisingly out of reach.  For example, for some reason I found it very hard to track down The Android Invasion (I was told it was out of print) until suddenly a single copy appeared on the WH Smiths shelves.  Naturally enough I snapped it up!  But many weeks would end in disappointment as the books I required never seemed to make it to my neck of the woods.  This meant I had to venture further afield or try my luck with second-hand bookshops (also handy for tracking down first editions with the original covers).

But although the thrill of the chase was part of the fun, the books themselves were also quite important.  For me, there’s three clear ages of Target – the first is the Golden Age, with Terrance Dicks, Malcolm Hulke, Brian Hayles and Gerry Davis all crafting some of the best novelisations in the range.  The late 70’s and early 80’s is the Bronze Age alas, as Terrance ended up as pretty much the last man standing, churning out some fairly nondescript books month after month.  The Silver Age runs from the mid 80’s onwards and is particularly enjoyable thanks to the contribution of many Hartnell and Troughton era scriptwriters who, some two decades on, returned to pen novelisations of their original scripts.

The cover artwork was often another memorable part of the package. Chris Achelleos’ work remains iconic, but it’s nice to see in the DWM article that other artists, such as Jeff Cummins, are also highlighted.  It’s remarkable to me that Cummins only painted nine covers, as I’d assumed he’d done many more, but every one was a winner.  His personal favourite is The Horror of Fang Rock and it’s hard to disagree with him.

I’m going to finish off with my top ten favourite books (apologies if some of the choices are crushingly obvious).

10. Doctor Who and the War Games by Malcolm Hulke (1979)

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I think a little love for Malcolm Hulke’s novelisation of The War Games is in order.  Although Hulke is correctly lauded as one of Target’s key writers, his final book for the range is often rather unfairly dismissed.  This seems to be because he had to compress ten episodes down to a 120 page count, although I confess that I can find little of note omitted.  Whilst I love the tv version of The War Games dearly, it did have a fair amount of running on the spot, so Hulke’s leaner book version is fine by me.  There’s also a pleasingly darker tone at times, noticeably right at the start – when it’s made clear that the 1917 zone is one of the worst places in the universe you could ever hope to find yourself.

9. Doctor Who – The King’s Demons by Terence Dudley (1986)

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If the television original is rather insubstantial (although I still rather like it, see here) then Dudley’s book is able to flesh out the story very successfully.  Many loose ends are tied up and it’s very pleasing that the Doctor is given a proper leaving scene (much better than the tx version where he just nips off without a word to anyone).

8. Doctor Who and the Cybermen by Gerry Davis (1975)

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Gerry Davis’ novelisations were always worth reading (well apart from The Celestial Toymaker, but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and assume his co-writer was chiefly responsible for that one) and it’s the Cyberman’s debut Troughton tale that’s made my top ten.  Although some of the logic of the story has always irked me (the business with the sugar seems rather risible) there’s an eerie claustrophobia to this classic base under siege tale which comes over very well in print.

7. Doctor Who and the Ark in Space by Ian Marter (1977)

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Ian Marter’s another of those writers who delivered some excellent books and his debut – The Ark in Space – has long been a favourite.  Although it sticks very closely to Robert Holmes’ original, it feels somewhat bleaker (probably because it lacks the bright visuals of the tx version).  The Doctor seems slightly off at times, but it’s no surprise that Marter has an excellent handle on what makes Harry tick.

6. Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion by Terrance Dicks (1974)

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Classic early Terrance, adding considerable extra value to Holmes’ original.  Particularly noteworthy is the way that Sam Seeley becomes a three-dimensional character with strong motivations (meaning that the “oo-arr” yokel in the tx version was later something of a disappointment to me).  The Auton attack on Unit HQ is another of those “missing scenes” that also disappointed me when it didn’t show up on the VHS.

5. Doctor Who and the Crusaders by David Whitaker (1966. Target Edition 1973)

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Whitaker’s novelisation makes few concessions to his young audience, as it’s wordy, dense and atmospheric.  As a young child this meant I found it somewhat difficult to get to grips with (much preferring Terrance Dicks’ efforts) but when I returned to it a few years later I was amply rewarded with a memorable tale.

4. Doctor Who and the Dinosaur Invasion by Malcolm Hulke (1976)

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All of Hulke’s Target books are a joy, but I’ve always had a soft spot for this one.  From the hapless Shughie McPherson to the camp-as-a-row-of-tents Whitaker, Hulke provides plenty of incidental moments not to be found in the original teleplay.  And, of course, on the printed page the dinosaurs are very impressive!

3. Doctor Who – The Myth Makers by Donald Cotton (1985)

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Cotton’s novelisation is another book which made few concessions to his target (no pun intended) audience – with plenty of jokes which would have no doubt sailed right over their heads (but this is the reason why The Myth Makers is an excellent book to revisit).  Wonderful stuff and the audiobook (read by Stephen Thorne) is also warmly recommended.

2. Doctor Who and the Daleks by David Whitaker (1964. Target Edition 1973)

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For a generation, Barnes Common was just as much a part of Doctor Who lore as Totters Lane was.  Writing it from Ian’s viewpoint was a masterstoke – it gives the book a very 1950’s John Wyndham-ish feel, which I find terribly appealing.  If you only want a handful of Doctor Who novelisations, then this should certainly be one of them.  And the audiobook, read by William Russell, should also be in your collection.

1. Doctor Who and the Day of the Daleks by Terrance Dicks (1974)

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Well, it was my first, so it obviously holds a special place in my heart – but it’s undeniably an excellent book.  It made such an impression that when I finally got to see the tv original (in 1986) I found it paled by comparison.  Time is a great healer though and I’m able to love the television version for what it is, but Terrance’s novel is always the way I prefer to picture the story.