Which Doctor Who Book Do You Hold Dear?

The history of Doctor Who printed fiction is every bit as varied and extensive as that of the programme itself, encompassing everything from straight retellings of televised adventures to more experimental journeys into territory the show wouldn’t have gone anywhere near and everything in between. It’s no easy task to pick a favourite from the hundreds of books published since the programme’s first flush of success back in the 1960s, but perhaps we can help you out in this difficultly undertaking by providing a (very brief) overview of the (very wide) array of choices…

For many fans, particularly those of a certain age, it’s going to be difficult to beat the early days of the classic novelisations, which saw adventures from the programme’s first decade adapted in ways that diverged quite markedly from the stories they were based on. A special mention for David Whitaker, whose recounting of Ian Chesterton’s first meeting with the Doctor on Barnes Common matched the television version for eeriness. Malcolm Hulke delivered wonderfully sophisticated retellings of his Doctor Who scripts, and Terrance Dicks will always have a special place in the hearts of those who read his many novelisations for his economical, unpatronising style.

Doctor Who Target books

In later years the Target novelisations became something of a production line, with readers for the most part happy to settle for faithful versions of stories they had seen on the screen. Perhaps this was understandable in the pre-VHS era, when opportunities to see episodes after they had first been shown were extremely limited. There would later be a resurgence in the quality of the books however, owing to a combination of the desire to complete the range by returning to stories which hadn’t yet been novelised, the desire of script writers to adapt their own work and the injection of new blood into the show’s writing talent in the late 1980’s. So we were able to enjoy the likes of Donald Cotton and John Lucarotti returning to the world of Doctor Who after many years to deliver their own interpretations, as well as young writers such as Ben Aaronovitch and Marc Platt bringing a new level of polish and detail to stories from the programme’s later years in its original run.

Doctor Who’s cancellation represented an opportunity for aspiring writers which probably wouldn’t have arisen if the programme had continued, of course. Virgin secured the rights to create the long-running New Adventures line and gave authors the remit to come up with stories ‘too broad and deep for the small screen’. Readers who avidly followed these books continue to revere them over two decades later, as evidenced by Big Finish’s success in adapting selected titles on audio. These may have been fallow years for the show but this era in fact saw a wealth of creativity, and of course gave the likes of Russell T Davies, Mark Gatiss and Gareth Roberts their first paid work on Doctor Who. BBC Books, seeing it was missing out on a good thing, brought the publishing rights back in house and continued a regular pattern of both past and Eighth Doctor releases until the news broke that the programme would be returning.

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The years since Doctor Who returned in 2005 have seen a mix of releases encompassing regular batches of books featuring the current Doctor and companions aimed (like the programme itself) at as wide an audience as possible as well as more infrequent, more complex novels from writers who are often already extremely successful in their own right. Many would argue that the results have been somewhat mixed, demonstrating that literary talent and impressive sales don’t necessarily translate into memorable stories when it comes to the tricky task of writing Doctor Who.

AL Kennedy, who recently wrote Fourth Doctor novel The Drosten’s Curse, blogged in the Guardian last week about how writing Doctor Who for publication gave her the opportunity to rediscover ‘the power and the clarity of pure story in children’s writing’. Elsewhere in the article she confesses to not being that much of a fan but nonetheless displays an impressive awareness of Doctor Who’s history in print.

So many writers, so many books and I haven’t even mentioned annuals, short trips, graphic novels, Telos novellas… But which is my favourite Doctor Who book? It’s back to the glory days of Target for me. Doctor Who has given me many happy memories but none better than the day my Dad brought home a copy of The Auton Invasion, the stunning cover of which promised a nightmarish tale of ‘dummies whose murderous behaviour is directed by the NESTENE CONSCIOUSNESS’ (their capitals, not mine). It even had review quotes from the Daily Mirror and Daily Sketch to say how good it was.

Over to you, Kasterborous readers! You’ve got all of time and space to choose from – which is your favourite Doctor Who book? Let us know!

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22 Responses

  1. Coopergreg says:

    Would love to see the stories from the 9 new series novelised in a Target book style if only for nostalgia!

    Target managed to make 2×25 min stories like The Awakening & Black Orchid into decent length books so I’m sure the same could be done to single 45 min episodes.

    • Castellan Spandrel says:

      Hi Coopergreg

      Various (mostly unpublished) writers, including me, wrote novelisations of stories from Rose to Utopia, if memory serves, with a few gaps in-between, around 8-5 years ago.

      I wrote versions of The Long Game and Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways.

      The aim was to approach BBC Enterprises with a complete set and ask them if there was any chance they would take them on and publish them.

      It was perhaps a naive project. We got a ‘no’. Aside from copyright issues, and the obvious fact that, if there were any money in it, the BBC would already have commissioned writers to write them (and the story’s original writers may prefer to novelise their own work themselves), there’s the prevalence of DVDs and broadcast repeats of the stories, something which wasn’t the case in the 70s, 80s and 90s when Target books were flying high. Anyone who wants can easily access any existing Who story nowadays, rendering a novelisation pointless.

      And so I have several hardback copies of mine and others’ NuWho novelisations, gathering dust in the cupboard. It was fun while it lasted.

  2. Dr. Moo says:

    My two favourites: Alien Bodies (continuity be damned!) and Engines Of War.

  3. Andrew W. says:

    I really enjoyed Doctor Who and the Abominable Snowmen. Prisoner of the Daleks is also another essential read.

  4. Andrew Ford says:

    For me, David Whitaker’s novelisation of the Daleks has to be one of the best. Although it deviates from the narrative of the TV story, it is compelling (really draws one in to the mystery of the Doctor, Susan and the TARDIS) and it fleshes out the companion characters – particularly Ian – very well. It also succeeded in giving me a real sense of what Hartnell’s Doctor was like; before I had even seen any of his episodes on screen.

    • Castellan Spandrel says:

      And the glass Dalek, too.

      Ian hiding inside a Dalek casing to help the travellers escape was much more exciting in the book than onscreen.

  5. maf67 says:

    Mine has to be Tomb of the Cybermen, a brilliant story and very claustrophobic, scared me as a teenager.

  6. Nigel Webb says:

    Doctor Who and the Doomsday Weapon. but I must admit the new ‘City of Death’ novelisation is a cracking read too…

  7. Castellan Spandrel says:

    My most treasured Target novelisation: The Abominable Snowmen. A Christmas present in 1976.

    I remember sneaking into my parents’ room before Christmas and nosing around in cupboards, looking for the book, peeling back the wrapping so I could see it. I couldn’t wait, and was intrigued by the blurb for The Daemons’ book inside the back cover.

    It was around this time that I was starting to discover more about the riches I’d missed out on, having started watching in the middle of the Pertwee era. Terrance Dicks’ and Malcolm Hulke’s The Making of Doctor Who was invaluable, as it listed all the stories (with some erroneous titles) up to the then-recent Hand of Fear.

    But the other book I loved, and wish I still had, was the Target Doctor Who Monster Book. I still have the second one, which focuses a lot on the early Tom Baker seasons, but the first one was a real eye-opener. I saw the First Doctor for the first time, as well as Azal, Axons, early Cybermen, etc.

    • Castellan Spandrel says:

      And by the way, Chris Achilleos’ illustrations for those two monster books, as with his novelisation cover artwork, was wonderful. Another reason I loved them so much.

  8. ThePurpleFrockCoat says:

    I lost a lot of stuff when I moved so the ones I treasure is the 5 Target Books I have left.

  9. TheLazyWomble says:

    The first Target book I read was “Curse of Peladon”. There are so many that I really enjoy: “The Gunfighters” (for the description of how a gunfighter walks down Main Street); “Earthshock” (Ian Marter at his best); “State of Decay” (We need Uncle Terrance in this list and this is among my favourites of his); “The Auton Invasion” (My list of favourite Uncle Terrance novelisations is a long one). Actually, I have loads of books close to my heart.

  10. TimeChaser says:

    The first Doctor Who book to really make an impression on me was Doctor Who and the Web of Fear. It really started my fascination with Troughton’s era and made me long to be able to see the story, which is why I was over the moon when it was found (mostly) complete.

    • TimeChaser says:

      Just remembered, one of my all-time faves was The DisContinuity Guide. I thumbed through that thing so many times that pages came loose. 😀

  11. Dharding says:

    The programme guide by Mark Campbell. I quote that in every review I write and look in it at least once a week!!

  12. Baron Benji of Fecal Matter says:

    John Peel’s The Gallifrey Chronicles

  13. Grumpy The Unicorn says:

    oh man, there are so many, I wish I could have them all. so far, I’ve read:
    The Adventuress of Henrietta Street
    The Year of Intelligent Tigers
    The King’s Dragon
    the one about the two Shark men and the Black Time Market. 😉 the Time Market scene was a really great scene for the Doctor…
    The Many Hands
    The Stone Rose
    The Dalek Generation
    The Terror? of the Shroud
    And of course, LUNGBARROW.
    ;))))
    I have no idea where to start next… part of me doesn’t want to read the old ones, because those Doctors are no longer ‘the current one’ … I know it’s weird, but I’m like that sometimes… like that feeling of difference when you look at a photo of someone you know is dead? it’s really strange to me… a bit of overwhelm and confusion, there. What do some of you recommend, knowing the ones I’ve listed are ones I’ve very much enjoyed? any more in the vein of those?

    • TimeChaser says:

      Just to supply you with the titles you can’t remember:
      Shroud of Sorrow
      Plague of the Cybermen
      Snowglobe 7
      Peacemaker
      Wishing Well

      Have no idea which one has Shark Men and a Time Market. Doesn’t sound familiar to me.

      🙂

  14. Jon Pountney says:

    The Daemons by Barry Letts, The Invasion by Ian Marter. Remembrance is very good. All Paul Cornell’s books.

  15. Edward Delingford says:

    I used to voraciously devour the Target novelisations from the local library usually reading a couple at the same time. I’ve dipped into a few of the new Who novelisations but found them pretty vapid TBH, although there are a couple of good 11th Doctor ones, including Dan Abnett’s Silent Stars Go By and the War Doctor’s Engine of War which is also excellent. My most valued and dog eared Who book is the Discontinuity Guide.

  16. Caleb Goldberg says:

    I absolutely love the “Mission to the Unknown” novel. For non-fiction books, my favorite is Who-ology.

  17. bearcatrock says:

    Right on, there is someone else in this thread who recognizes the real
    treat of “the Doomsday Weapon”. I’ve never understood the disdain for
    “Colony in Space” as I read the book first and it really helps fill in
    the world and character development. Hulke is #1! Runner ups would
    probably be “The Edge of Destruction”, as well as the EDAs “The Sleep of Reason” (self-contained and
    atmospheric) and “Alien Bodies”.

    Actually, “State of Decay”
    (mentioned by theLazyWombie) is also a personal fav and was the first
    book I read in a single single sitting as a kid.

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