Target Books & Me

I started watching Doctor Who in the mid-70s as an impressionable and imaginative 5 year old. As a result the Target novelizations were absolutely central, not only to my love of the show, but to reading in general. In the days before video not only could I watch Tom Baker on the telly but could read about the adventures of Hartnell, Troughton and Pertwee whenever I liked. Indeed, like many people my age, I first experienced those early stories through the books – and in many cases my love of those surpasses the TV originals!

My school and town libraries had loads of them in the 70s and 80s and I read them all. I have every single one and could never contemplate not having them on my shelf. When I’m having a nostalgic moment, its not always the DVDs I reach for, its Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion or Doctor Who and the Cybermen. Great stuff, particularly the 70s titles that had internal illustrations.

A Short History:

Target Books was a British publishing imprint, established in 1973 by Universal-Tandem Publishing Co Ltd as a childrens imprint to complement the adult Tandem range. They became most well known for their highly successful range of novelizations and other assorted books based on the popular science-fiction TV series Doctor Who.

In 1975 Universal-Tandem was sold to the British conglomerate Howard and Wyndham; and merged with the paperback imprints of Howard and Wyndham’s general publishing house, WH Allen, to become Wyndham Publications Ltd in 1976; however, during 1977 and 1978 the Wyndham identity was phased out and until 1991 Target books were published by ‘the paperback division of WH Allen & Co.’

The first three Doctor Who’s to be novelized were the William Hartnell stories The Daleks (as Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks) by David Whitaker, The Web Planet (as Doctor Who and the Zarbi) by Bill Strutton and The Crusade (as Doctor Who and the Crusaders), also by Whitaker. These three books were first published in 1964 and 1965 by Frederick Muller Ltd and re-published to launch the Target range in 1973.

Virtually every story from the original Doctor Who series was novelized, with the exceptions of Douglas Adams’ three scripts (Shada, The Pirate Planet and City of Death) and two by Eric Saward (Resurrection of the Daleks and Revelation of the Daleks). Saward was reluctant to novelize these scripts himself due to the large percentage of the author’s royalties demanded by the agents of Dalek creator Terry Nation for the inclusion of the creatures.

In addition to the television episodes, three scripts from the cancelled Season 23 were novelized, The Nightmare Fair, The Ultimate Evil and Mission to Magnus and a short series entitled The Companions of Doctor Who, comprising the novelization of the TV pilot of K-9 and Company, and the original novels Turlough and the Earthlink Dilemma and Harry Sullivan’s War. Besides The Paradise of Death, Target also novelized two other non-televised stories: the radio play Slipback and the audio story The Pescatons.

Although Target always attempted get the original scriptwriters to novelize their own stories, this was not always possible. As a result, many books in the Target line were written by Terrance Dicks, while actor-turned-writer Ian Marter, Malcolm Hulke, Philip Hinchcliffe and Nigel Robinson (who was for a time the editor of the range) were also contributors. During the late 1970s-early 1980s Target, which classified the novelizations as children’s fiction, imposed a page limit of 128 pages on the novelisations. By the late Eighties, however, the page cap had been lifted, although John Peel was still required to split his novelization of the epic 12-episode The Daleks’ Master Plan into two volumes because the manuscript was considered too long.

WH Allen was bought by the Virgin Group in the late 1980s and changed its name to Virgin Publishing in 1991. The Target books line was retired following the publication of Victor Pemberton’s Doctor Who – The Pescatons in the autumn of 1991, however when Virgin later published novelizations of the serials The Evil of the Daleks, The Power of the Daleks, and an adaptation of the radio play The Paradise of Death, the books were identified as being part of the Target series on their title pages; The Paradise of Death, published in April 1994 as No.156 in the “Doctor Who Library”, was the last book to be connected to Target. Since then, both Virgin and the BBC have published several hundred original novels based on the TV series, but for me – and many others – the Target years were the most significant.

As a final note to this brief history, in 2006 Ebury Publishing (a division of the Random House group) acquired a majority shareholding in BBC Books. In March 2007, Random House, through its UK division, also acquired a 90% stake in Virgin Books and in November 2009, Virgin became an independent imprint within Ebury Publishing. As a result of all this, the current Doctor Who brand, along with the ownership of the original Target backlist and all the previous Virgin and BBC titles, now reside with the same publisher. Perhaps in time, with the success of the revival of Doctor Who, we may see some of those original, wonderful adventures back in the bookshops…

The Target Book:

In 2007 David Howe (and his publishing company; Telos) released a lovingly produced book that delved into the history of these wonderful titles. Full of interviews with authors, artists, editors and publishers it is an absolute must for anyone interested not only in Doctor Who books but also publishing history.

If you want to see the variety of covers from the re-issues over the years, you can visit my Pinterest archive, where I have images of my collection, including first editions, reissues and rarities.

This Blog:

I intend to read and review every Target Doctor Who book in a random order. It will be as and when I feel like it, so I don’t get Who-ed out! Each entry will start with the description of the story from the back of the original edition of the book, followed by the following information:

Originally transmitted: The date the serial was originally broadcast on BBC1
Script: The writer of the original serial
Novelization: The author of the novelization
Published: Original Target publication date
Chronological Release: The number of its release
Target Library Number: The number allocated to the book when Target created the “Doctor Who Library” in 1983. This odd project numbered all the titles that were released prior to Time-Flight, however rather than number them from 1-73 as they were originally released, they organised them into alphabetical order first! So although Doctor Who and the Daleks was the first Target book published, in the Doctor Who Library it counts as No.16, whereas Doctor Who and the Abominable Snowmen, although tenth to be published, is re-designated as No.1. Confused?

Favourite Chapter Title: For quite some time Target books had a penchant for extravagant and occasionally lurid chapter titles. I shall pick my personal favourites.

After these entries will come my comments, usually with an excerpt from the book. You can read my reviews here.

If you have your own memories or thoughts on any of these, please feel free to comment. I hope you enjoy this as much as I know I will!

Paul Greaves, Jan 2010

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