Six Stories That Should Get Target Adaptations

For fans of a certain vintage, Target novelisations were pretty much as important as the programme itself. No videos, no DVD’s, no downloads; my goodness me no! If you missed Doctor Who in the Seventies – that was it. And even if you’d seen it, that was probably your one and only viewing with hardly any repeats in the days before BBC3. So the books were crucial if you wanted to relive your favourite adventures or, even better, discover ones you had never seen at all.

The news that the wonderful City of Death is to get the novelisation treatment in 2014 has set us thinking here at Kasterborous. What if Target were still publishing Doctor Who books? Which stories should get the adaptation treatment? And which writers should get the gig? Join us as we journey into a parallel universe where the Target empire never fell…

Aliens of London/World War Three

I bet Russell T Davies secretly wishes he could journey back in time and have another go at this. Make the Slitheen truly threatening and scary, not that horrid mix of clumsy costumes and dodgy CGI. Rein in the performances to stop the guest cast acting like they were on CBBC. Sort out that shot of the spaceship crashing into the back-to-front clock face.

Lord knows, he could even get someone to teach Andrew Marr how to deliver a line. Well, now he can do all of this, only on page in the first of our all new alternate reality Target novelisations… Come on Russell; over to you.


Art by Kasterborous co-founder, Anthony Dry.

Art by Kasterborous co-founder, Anthony Dry.

Arguably the moment when the revived series really took off – I remember being in the pub that night where a bloke in a top hat and long leather coat (yes, really) told me it was ‘the greatest 45 minutes of television’ he’d ever seen – and packed with potential for expansion into a novel. The scene where the Doctor faces off with the very last Dalek in the universe (ahem) is surely worthy of a book on its own. I, for one, would love to know more about the Doctor’s terrible torment – what must Rose have been thinking when she saw the spitting rage he displays? And Robert Shearman is a proper writer who’s done plays and books and everything…

Human Nature/ The Family of Blood

Okay, bear with me here. I know Human Nature was a novel long before it was adapted for the series. But there’s just so much good stuff in the television version which is, for me, probably the richest, most elegant story since the series returned in 2005. So many people in so much pain, unable to say who they really are or what they really feel. Joan, obliged by the social conventions of the time to hide her feelings. Martha, forced to endure casual prejudice from ghastly born-to-rule posh types. And that ending, with the Doctor, deeply damaged, inflicting all manner of cruel and unusual punishments on the Family of Blood… I’m welling up already at the thought of reading this.

The Vampires of Venice

Vampires of Venice 7

Target books seemed to be published at such a rate in the 1970’s that a trip to WHSmith was pretty much bound to reveal a new title on the shelves. And many of the covers were so terrific they made the books worth buying for the artwork alone (yes, even the most slender, knocked-off-in-a-morning volume by Terrance Dicks, bless him). Have a look at Carnival of Monsters, with a striking black and white Pertwee about to get a sea monster munching on his bouffant hairdo. Or Jeff Cummins’s atmospheric Horror of Fang Rock with Tom Baker complete with bowler and seafarer’s rope (Tom’s favourite cover, Target trivia fans).

I reckon Chris Achilleos would be ideal for this overseas adventure from Matt Smith’s first season. Never would those beguiling sexy-fish-vampires and Venetian (okay, Croatian) canals have looked more alluring.

The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People

One of the great things about Target books was the way they could turn a so-so television story into a great one on the page. Think of Doctor Who and the Doomsday Weapon, where Malcolm Hulke managed to turn a plodding six-parter into a fascinatingly detailed exploration of his characters’ back-stories, complete with new introductions for the Master and Jo Grant (in the early days of the books there was no expectation that all the stories would be adapted, meaning writers could be wonderfully unconstrained in making up new stuff).

So maybe if Hulke were still around in our alternate dimension he could have a bash at this one, where some strong Doctor Who ideas somehow amounted to less than the sum of their parts. And shake up that all-too-convenient resolution, where somehow only one of each human/ganger pairing survives.



Despite a couple of valiant efforts, Target’s attempts to launch a spin-off range never really got off the ground, much like JN-T’s with K9 and Company. The modern day series had much more success, of course, with Captain Jack and Sarah-Jane enjoying lengthy runs of adventures away from the parent show. I think there’s room in our parallel universe for a Torchwood range, and where better to start than with surely the most vividly memorable episode of that wildly hit-and-miss show? But who could tackle this most full-on festival of high camp?

Gareth Roberts is having a ball these days adapting Douglas Adams’s witty, sophisticated scripts, but when he’s done with that how about a tyre-shredding change of direction to attempt a prose version of this slice of jaw dropping, what-the-hell-were-they-thinking magnificence? How about it Gareth?

Okay, so that’s what we think. What do you think, fair reader…?

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  1. Christine says:

    To be honest, although a novelisation of Dalek would be wonderful, I would love to finally see both revelation and resurrection of the daleks turn up in bookform!

  2. Geoff says:

    This is a brilliant article and I love the accompanying artwork. Thanks very much Kasterborous for cheering me up while I’m laid up in bed for nearly the 5th week running!
    While its true that Terrance Dicks did knock the books out pretty sharpish it’s also true that he always chucked in a few big words “capacious” for example and of course coined the “never cowardly, never cruel” line. He also used to change bits here and there to compensate for some of the bits that didn’t come across too well on screen. I’ve heard Terrance describe himself as just a hack writer but I think he’s deliberately underplaying his skills there.
    I chose many of the books because of their covers. I remember very well going to the library with my Dad and choosing Tomb of the Cybermen purely because I liked the cover: I thought the Cyberman looked friendly and a bit sad…by the time the book was finished I knew better.
    I love the “Doctor Who and the…” titles too. Anyone for “Doctor Who and the Blink?” 🙂
    I bet Steven Moffat could turn his hand to a very colourful novelisation or two if he had the time.

    • We actually put this article back a few day and asked Jonathan to add a section on Dalek or The Christmas Invasion PURELY so we could include Anthony Dry’s awesome classic artwork. Thanks to Jonathan for entertaining the idea.

      Made sense!

  3. Sally Ann Price says:

    I think this is a great article. I love Christopher Eccleston. He was really great as Doctor Who. I thought it was great that Russell Davies bought him to be nine. I wish he would come back in the future.

  4. Simon Magellan says:

    For me, growing up, DW was very much a literary series – we pretty poor and didn’t own a TV, so if I saw it at all, it was on friends sets. I still remember that my the treat I got on my Dad’s paydays when I was allowed to buy a bottle of Cherryade, a bag of wine gums and a DW book of my choice – only one at a time, because we couldn’t afford more than that.

    They are one of the reasons I grew up wanting to be a writer.

    I think that today’s fans miss a lot by not having the novelisations.

  5. TonyS says:

    Simon, have you pursued your dream to be a writer?

    For me, the books are part of the reason I didn’t grow up at all 🙂

  6. TimeChaser says:

    Nice article. Frankly I think the entire Target line, plus the Virgin novels, should all be re-published. Its like lost TV Doctor Who, except in this case there’s no excuse to deprive newer fans of these excellent books. We should start a campaign to get them all back into circulation.

    New series stories I’d like to see get the Target treatment: The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, The Shakespeare Code, The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky, The Unicorn and the Wasp, The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone, The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon, The Doctor’s Wife, Asylum of the Daleks, The Crimson Horror, Nightmare in Silver (could expand the story for this one), and The Day of the Doctor.

  7. TonyS says:

    I’d like to see Uncle Terrance novelise a lot of them too 🙂

    • TimeChaser says:

      Too bad we can’t summon the spirit of Ian Marter, because he was also a brilliant writer and made some of the best adaptations.

  8. Many years ago on these hallowed pages a plan was hatched to write some Series 1 novelisations, garner interest and then take them to BBC Books.

    Obviously nothing came of it (I dropped out due to changing work and university commitments) but I do know that there are some novelisations out there…

    • castellanspandrel says:


      I still have some hardback copies of the novelisations you mention, some my own and others by the other writers involved – a limited print run.

      They were presented to the Beeb by the chap in charge of the project and rejected. Politely told, “You don’t have the rights to do this. Stop now.”

      Despite the willingness of Who fans to buy just about anything and everything related to the series, I also got the impression the BBC don’t see novelisations of the modern series as commercially worthwhile. Pity, as the covers on this page look terrific.

      • I’ve still got my early draft of the first two/three chapters. There is remarkably little Doctor in it. As such, I’ve been thinking of respinning it into an original piece.

        • castellanspandrel says:

          You should. It was good.

          Remarkably little Doctor in it because of the need to stretch it out page-wise, which usually involves delving more into other characters’ lives.

          • Nice of you to say so! I’m tied up with something else until June, though, so it’ll have to wait sadly.

            I say sadly; I’m starting a hugely exciting project on Wednesday 😀

  9. David F says:

    Excellent point about The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People and Malcolm Hulke. Moral ambiguities, well-developed groups of everyday characters, blue-collar workers in space . . . Chibnall certainly occupies a similar storytelling space to Hulke.

    As for Target books, to a boy in the early eighties, they WERE Doctor Who. Bookshops seemed to stock Doctor Who books completely at random. They’d usually have two or three different titles, and you never knew which they’d be.

    There were no repeats. The covers coloured my view of Who history. The austere whiteness of books such as The Ice Warriors and The Web Planet, and the dated typeface within, made the early years impossibly attractive. The stylish cover of The Armageddon Factor, which was the only Target book in my local library, teased me with a Romana different from the one I remembered and suggested a lost golden era tantalisingly close to my earliest memory. It was a hardback, which convinced me it must have been a classic story.

    And my primary school had The Highlanders. I never figured out why. I used to stare at it and wonder how it got there.

    Even now, every cover gives me an emotional response just like hearing a pop song from childhood. I’m quite capable of recalling the circumstances in which I bought each title.

    When I was twelve, my school made me cover all my lesson notebooks in sticky-backed plastic. I got carried away, and did the same with my Doctor Who books. I regretted it. They were all reinforced with this horrible stuff, and scarred by air pockets. I never recovered from the mistake.

    • Geoff says:

      The Armageddon Factor is a remarkably thin book for a 6 parter too. I remember at some point in the mid 80s they started numbering the books on the spines. I never liked that idea. I think my all time favourite book has to be The Two Doctors closely followed by The Daleks.

  10. Al says:

    Now that Gaiman has gotten away with a novella, I’d like to see him do his promised Doctor’s Wife novelisation.

  11. Dave Rudin says:

    Nice article and great artwork. It makes me glad that I’ve held onto my Target novelizations all of these years. However, don’t let’s forget the books written by Ian Marter, who was also a talented writer.

  12. mrpurry says:

    I credit Terrance Dicks for my love and knowledge (such as it is) of the English language. He did more for my learnin’ than any school textbook.

    A little off-topic…(and this has been mooted before elsewhere) because of the alternate 50th anniversaries and suchlike- I’ve been wondering what would happen if any particular adventure was embarked upon by a different doctor- the 1st Doctor would have handled the “seeds of doom”, quite differently to the 4th. Sure there would be similarities (he would win), but what would change?

  13. koloth says:

    Any chance of seeing clean versions of the artwork?

  14. Jonathan Appleton says:

    Lovely reminiscences about people’s book buying and borrowing days. Geoff I love your take on the Cyberman as ‘friendly and a bit sad’. Jeff Cummins apparently got a lot of letters about that cover pointing out he’d drawn the wrong kind of Cyberman…

  15. Geoff says:

    Dave, well done for bringing up the name of Ian Marter who along with Terrance put a lot of effort into the book range, very bloody and gory effort it must be said but when I was about 13 I loved that.

  16. castellanspandrel says:

    If Ian Marter were still around and novelising Who, he’d be a shoe-in for Silence in the Library and Time of Angels.

  17. mrpurry says:

    Chris Achilleos also profoundly influenced my art practise. Even now it takes me forever to finish a drawing because of the time gobbled up with pointillism.

    Ian Marter… There was a great bit in … I think it is in a special feature on the ‘Robot’ disc, where two of the people participating in the documentary read excerpts from a target book, and then contrast with what was actually on the television story. Ian Marter fleshed out the stories (even ones with “remarkably thin plots”) so effectively they sometimes felt almost like the Hammer version of a tv show.

  18. sharma says:

    . It makes me glad that I’ve held onto my Target novelizations all of these years. However, don’t let’s forget the books written by Ian Marter, who was also a talented writer.

  19. Angelina says:

    The austere whiteness of books such as The Ice Warriors and The Web Planet, and the dated typeface within, made the early years impossibly attractive. The stylish cover of The Armageddon Factor, which was the only Target book in my local library, teased me with a Romana different from the one I remembered and suggested a lost golden era tantalisingly close to my earliest memory.Thanks

  20. Martin Hearn says:

    The BBC don’t seem interested in novelizing any of the stories from the new series. In fact, they actively discourage people from doing it. I know from experience, as I transcribed and wrote up the first six Eccleston episodes as Target-style e-books, acknowledged all the copyrights so as not to tread on anyone’s toes and put the first two – Rose and The End of the World – up on my website as free downloads. I got a few nice comments too.

    But within ten days of doing so, I got a shirty e-mail from Edward Russell at the BBC ordering me to take them down or face proceedings for copyright infringement! I complied immediately, offering to let them have them to publish on the official website if they wanted, but just got told never to let them out again. I got the distinct impression he’d never actually read them – he just didn’t want anything up for people to have.

    For the full story on what happened to me, check out my website where I reported the whole sorry story –

    But the chances of any of the new series ever coming out are zero squared. Idiots!

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