Books / Features

Book Review: Doctor Who – The Target Collection (2022)

Ask any Doctor Who fan of a certain age and the likelihood is that they have a pile of battered Target books stashed away somewhere on their shelf. Back in the dark days before VHS, DVD or BBC iPlayer, the only way to relive an episode of Doctor Who after broadcast was to seek out the novel adaptation produced by Target Books, a long-running series of paperbacks in which classic Doctor Who stories of old were given a new lease of life in print form. Read by both the fans who were too young to have seen the original television version on its initial broadcast and those who were keen to experience the story again after many years, the Target Books fast became invaluable pieces of Doctor Who merchandise for many a fan throughout the years prior to the advent of home video.

The initial run of Target novels came to an end in the early 90’s, but in 2011 BBC Books revived the brand for a series of reprints, before publishing brand new novelisations in 2018, allowing fans to not only revisit classic adventures that weren’t previously adapted to the page, but also relive more recent stories in a new and exciting format. Now, another four Doctor Who stories from various periods of the show’s history get the Target treatment, including two never-before novelised episodes from the show’s revival.

Our resident Whovians Pete Messum and Matt Dennis give us their verdict on each of the new books below and you can now order yours here!

The Stones of Blood

The Stones of Blood was originally adapted into Target Book form in 1980. However, this new edition of the classic Fourth Doctor serial is not that version. Instead this is a completely new adaptation of the story from the pen of Stones‘ original writer, the late David Fisher, who adapted both Stones and his follow-up The Androids of Tara into prose form for a series of BBC audiobooks in 2011. Fast forward to now, and we’ve come full circle, as Fisher’s audiobook manuscripts finally become available in printed book form. Are we on the same page yet?

Fisher sticks closely to The Stones of Blood‘s original shooting scripts throughout, but what this adaptation lacks in new plot details or characters, it more than makes up for in atmosphere, especially in the first half where the story delves deep into both druidic magic and local folk horror. Free from both the aesthetic and budgetary constraints of the era, this new version goes to town on the suspense and horror, upping the ante in terms of the mystery and creating some wonderfully creeping moments that are laden with menace and tension. In keeping with the book’s tone, Tom Baker‘s Fourth Doctor is a tad more authoritative and grumpy here then he is the finished TV version, but Fisher is careful to ensure the more whimsical and lighter aspects of the serial remain intact as a buffer between the story’s darker aspects.

Fans who have Terrance Dicks‘ original 1980 adaptation on their shelves should no doubt make some room for this new edition of the beloved story – Fisher’s prose is beautifully nuanced and full of wit, whilst the spookier aspects of the story are sublime and effective in their execution, resulting in a worthy new edition of a much-loved story. A must have for completists, but also a worthy purchase for those who love their Who with a touch of the macabre. MD

The Androids of Tara

Following on from The Stones of Blood, Fisher’s novelisation of The Androids of Tara benefits greatly from having been adapted by its original screenwriter, who is here able to explore the mythology and culture of Tara to a greater extent than in the TV serial. Even with this additional world-building, Fisher’s prose remains a light and easy read, never rushing through events but ensuring that the pace never drags in order to explain something more clearly.

The blend of medieval and sci-fi adds a fantasy tone to this adventure which involves knights, princesses and robot kings – as well as the wonderfully evil Count Grendel, a terrific one-off Who baddie who is brilliantly depicted on the page. His charm and cunning also contrasts nicely with the improvisational, bohemian Fourth Doctor, and provides some strong verbal repartee with Romana. Despite being part of the Key to Time series, the hunt for the segment is quickly swept aside for an old school adventure tale that’s able to use the new format to expand on its world in interesting and fun ways – and for those interested in the adaptation process, an afterward by Steve Cole is also included. PM

The Fires of Pompeii

The Fires of Pompeii is a modern classic that unfortunately found itself overshadowed by about four other modern classics when it first aired as part of Series 4 in 2008. The years have thankfully been kind to the episode though, and now as writer James Moran‘s historical tearjerker makes the leap to Target Book form, it’s even more apparent just how utterly perfect the story is as a piece of drama. However, a questions remains – will the episode’s emotional power remain intact when transferred to prose?

Thankfully, Moran’s adaptation of his script loses none of said-power on the page, its main emotional beats hitting just as hard in written form. One particularly short chapter is extremely effective and compelling in this regard, whilst the events elsewhere in the book are beautifully detailed and descriptive, with the text adding extra flourishes to the historical backstory and the central characters (the true horror of what happened when Vesuvius erupted is made all the more terrifying on the page through the descriptions but thankfully the author holds back just enough to ensure it stays tragic, not tasteless). Just as importantly, Moran captures the voices of Donna Noble and the Tenth Doctor beautifully in the text (especially in the newer stretches of dialogue), and manages to wield his fast-paced episode into an equally breakneck but thrilling book.

Fourteen years on and in a brand new format, The Fires of Pompeii still burn just as brightly! MD

The Eaters of Light

My first thought as the credits rolled on Rona Munro‘s The Eaters of Light back in 2017 was that I wished it could be adapted into a novel. Five years later, and my wish has been granted! Free from the confines of a forty-five minute episode of television, Munro has expanded upon the story, themes and characters to such an extent that it feels like an entirely different experience. There are a number of deviations from the TV version, but these all serve to make the novel work much better as a standalone piece. A whole section of the book is dedicated to the backstories of teenage Pict, leader Kar and Roman legionary Lucius, not only providing readers with some historical context but also providing their storylines with the extra development needed to make the ending land with the intended emotional impact.

Inevitably, the story benefits from not being restricted by a budget, embellishing and adding sequences that build upon the narrative and allow for a more immersive experience. The battle between the Romans and the Picts – before being attacked by the Eater of Light – is described from both sides, adding something that could never have been depicted convincingly on a BBC budget. The Eater of Light itself remains a mysterious creature lurking in the shadows, while Munro examines its impact on the local wildlife, leaning into the fantastical side of this Iron Age adventure. Rona Munro is clearly fascinated by this part of history – as articulated in her Author’s Note at the end – and uses companion Bill Potts to display her enthusiasm, as well as tackling a version of the Twelfth Doctor who seems even more spiky and reckless as he reaches the end of his life. Whether you loved this adventure on TV or simply want to give it another chance, this novelisation of The Eaters of Light is a must-read for Doctor Who fans. PM

All four 2022 Doctor Who Target novelisations are out now and are available here.

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