The Doctor Who Target novelisations are a well loved institution in their own right to fans of the long running show. For those of us growing up in the 70’s and 80’s they were a chance to experience stories that where unlikely to be repeated ever again, featuring incarnations of the Doctor that we knew little about.
For newer fans that have grown up with the modern series, they represent a vast treasure trove to dive into, usually for only a few quid via Amazon or e-bay. A chance to see what life was like for older fans in the days before the Internet and streaming.
These days, even the modern series is fast gaining a new brace of Target novelisations for fans to eagerly devour. New books, which like the best that came before, expand upon what we see onscreen and take familiar stories into new and often unexpected directions. Here then is my own personal top ten Targets …
10 – The Companions of Doctor Who: K9 And Company by Terence Dudley
A great novelisation of a rushed and lacklustre TV story. There’s no Doctor in this, just K9 and Sarah Jane Smith fighting devil worshippers in a typical English village at Christmas time. Dudley expands the village from the few interior sets we see in the TV version to a fully realised living, breathing setting. Dudley’s take on Sarah Jane is interesting too, she’s a lot grumpier and more stressed than we’ve ever seen her before but this serves to make her seem less infallible and more realistic as a character. Theres also a greater hint at actual supernatural elements taking place in the background to the story, most effectively in the scene where the local policeman is scared to death at night whilst riding his bike. On the TV you just see what looks like a car headlight rushing towards him, here, he gets a full on paranormal encounter including the demonic sounds of spectral goats bleating before he meets his death. The end sequence as Sarah and K9 are sent on a wild goosechase whilst trying to rescue young Brendan from being sacrificed at midnight is also expanded upon massively. I read this one every Christmas.
9 – Doctor Who and the Cave Monsters by Malcolm Hulke
Hulke takes the TV original and fleshes out the characters and situation to great effect. There’s a nice chapter told entirely from the pov of a Silurian, also the plague that sweeps London in the second half of the story seems to have considerably nastier symptoms than was able to be shown on TV at five thirty in the evening. The Silurians are given individual names in this and seem a lot more like three dimensional characters. This was the first Target book I ever read and it got borrowed from my school library many times afterwards.
8 – Doctor Who: The Invasion by Ian Marter
The Invasion has always been one of my favourite Who stories and the book version is, if anything, even better. Marter adds a grittier overtone to what we get on screen, including added swearing and violence – its done just enough to not seem gratuitous and OTT and must have seemed like a proper ‘grown up’ book to young readers at the time.
7 – Doctor Who and the Daemons by Barry Letts
The first Doctor Who novel I ever bought when I was a kid. I got it from WH Smiths at Nottingham and it was the first time I ever read an entire book in one day, so much did it engross me. Letts expands upon the setting nicely and as with the K9 novel we get more insights into the backstories and lives of the villagers of Devil’s End. It’s a very well written book and Letts has an engaging prose style that is both detailed and fast moving.
6 – Doctor Who: Fury From The Deep by Victor Pemberton
This double-sized bumper edition seemed like a real bargain at the time. It’s very atmospheric with its descriptions of the lonely windswept beaches and the storm lashed oil platform. It’s a book with a great sense of place and has a dark, sinister vibe to it. This felt like an adult horror novel when I first read it aged 12 and it still retains its chilling, creepy atmosphere to this day.
5 – Doctor Who: Rose by Russell T Davies
The first of the modern era Targets. RTD takes his original script and gives it the full on movie blockbuster treatment. Giving the reader scenes of destruction, devastation and action that could never be achieved on the TV show’s budget (even with the better effects of the modern show). We also get some nice extra background into the characters of Mickey and Clive and we even get a glimpse of some interesting looking future incarnations of the Doctor.
4 – Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion by Terrence Dicks
I couldn’t do a list like this without at least one book from Terrance Dicks (you could do a top ten featuring Dicks alone, he wrote so many). This is his first Target novel and still one of his best. As with RTD’s Rose novel, Dicks expands the titular Auton invasion to grand proportions and we get to see a Britain on the verge of total panic and breakdown due to the alien invaders. The Nestene Consciousness is also a lot better in the book, being a total Lovecraftian nightmare as opposed to a few rubber tentacles attacking Jon Pertwee.
3 – Doctor Who: Dalek by Robert Shearman
Every character is given thier own individual chapter of backstory that weaves in and out of the main narrative to the point that this reads more like an anthology of short stories than a novel. The thing is – they’re all great, the torturer’s tale being especially effective as a short horror story in it’s own right. There are also some horrific insights into the Daleks themselves – what a Dalek’s extermination ray actually does to a victim’s body WILL stay with you …
2 – Doctor Who and the Daleks by David Whitaker
The very first Doctor Who novel ever written and still one of the best. From the massively atmospheric alternate opening on Barnes Common that reads like a pulp crime novel to the thrilling adventure on Skaro – this book is brilliant. It’s so vividly written that there is no wonder this book has captured the imaginations of generations of readers and still does to this very day.
1 – Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor by Steven Moffat
From an old classic to a modern classic. Moffat’s novelisation of his own script is probably the best thing he’s ever written for either television or prose.
It’s multi layered and multi viewpoint narrative draws you in. He pulls lots of literary tricks out of the hat, including a chapter that shows the same event from the point of view of three characters at three different points in time. Sometimes, Moffat gets a bit too clever for his own good. He does have a tendency to slide into “can you see what I just did there” mode. However, this is forgivable in this instance because when his ideas land they REALLY hit the mark. This book gets so far into the mind of The Doctor (all of them) that you will never see him or her in the same light ever again. Its a character study, its a deconstruction of who and what the Doctor is and stands for, and its completely bonkers and brilliant. Audacious.