Doctor Who and the Pirate Planet

Novelising The Pirate Planet

By Paul Scoones

David Bishop and I first met at MicroCon, a one-day science fiction convention on Auckland's North Shore, early in 1989. I knew of David from his articles about Doctor Who for the television pages of the New Zealand Herald newspaper. David rapidly became involved in the New Zealand Doctor Who Fan Club and attended the club's first convention, Trakon in July 1989. Jon Preddle and I had talked at Trakon about our plans to cover the rest of the ‘missing Targets’ and David was enthused by our talk to write one of these novelisations himself.

“I grew up loving Doctor Who and the Target novelisations were just about the only merchandise easily available in NZ during the 1970s,” David explains. “So the pithy prose of Terrance Dicks was incredibly influential. The chance to write such a novelisation myself, even unofficially, was very exciting!” David picked The Pirate Planet, as this was one that no one else seemed to have shown any interest in writing. The story appealed to him because it completed the set of Key to Time books and also because it was a Douglas Adams serial.

David was a newspaper journalist with the Herald and a fast and efficient writer. He transcribed the story himself using an audio recording he'd made of the story from an off-air video recording of the story borrowed from Jon Preddle. David handwrote the transcript in a month in his breaks during his work as a court reporter, and then tackled the novelisation itself.

[Picture of transcripts]

David Bishop's handwritten transcripts of The Pirate Planet.

David's time was limited by his impending departure for the UK (where he still lives today) in January 1990, and he was determined to complete the book before he departed. He initially wrote most of a handwritten first draft from the perspective of certain characters, including Romana, the Captain and Kimus, but found himself running out of time to complete the task. David stopped working on his first draft and borrowed my IBM electric typewriter to type up the final copy. David wrote this version in two weeks, between 21 December 1989 and 4 January 1990.

“It was down to necessity, as I was immigrating to the UK,“ says David Bishop. “I have since discovered that I am a sprint writer who works best at speed. I admire writers who can spend a whole day crafting 500 words to perfection. I can't do that. They probably envy my ability to write quickly - the grass is always greener, and all that... Sadly, if you write fast the critical perception is you must be a hack, not taking sufficient care over your deathless prose. So, it was down to necessity, but that's how I work best.”

David created a number of additions to the story, including Balaton's execution and the subsequent citizens' revolt, because he was dissatisfied with the depiction of the ‘revolution’ as it appeared on screen. Another major addition was to have the Captain experience visions of his demise at the hands of an ‘angel of death’.

An epilogue was included that covered the opening TARDIS scene from the following story, The Stones of Blood and this was followed by an ‘Appendix’ of background notes.

David also drew the cover artwork, featuring the Pirate Captain and a planet with skull and crossbones imposed over it. The artwork originally had a black star field background, but after realising that such a dark cover would not photocopy well, he produced a version with the artwork cropped against a white background. “The original book cover design dates back to before I had access to desktop publishing technology,” says David. “Solid black covers are hard to photocopy well, hence the rearrangement.&rdsquo;

The 87-page finished book was delivered to the NZDWFC in Christchurch after David had run off several copies for himself and friends. A print run of approximately 20 copies with a white card cover was produced by the NZDWFC for sale exclusively at WhoCon in September 1990. This was the second and final novelisation published under the JPS Books imprint.


The 1990 first edition (cover artwork by David Bishop)

After WhoCon, both The Pirate Planet and Shada had sold out of their print runs, and the Christchurch-based NZDWFC and TSV were transferred over to me in January 1991. I decided that the time was right to give the novelisations a re-launch. ‘JPS Books’ was renamed ‘TSV Books’ in November 1990, and I produced a new edition of The Pirate Planet, retyping the entire book (as the first edition had featured a double-spaced, uncorrected typescript), with a redesigned cover that retained David Bishop's artwork. David, who was by this time residing in London, supplied a new introduction.

The second edition, published in January 1991, was 56 pages long and had a pale blue cover. 70 copies were printed. A very slightly revised version of the second edition was reprinted in October 1992, this time with a dark purple cover. 30 copies were printed.

The Pirate Planet had sold out by early 1995. Around the middle of that year I prepared new cover designs, based on Virgin Publishing's new novelisation cover format, for a planned reissuing of the series of TSV Books novelisations. These new-look editions were never published, and it was five years before the books were once again made available to fan club members.

In response to the popularity of the novelisations of Resurrection of the Daleks and the reissued Revelation of the Daleks, both published in 2000, new editions of the three Fourth Doctor novelisations were planned for 2001. The intention was to release the trio of books at regular intervals throughout the year in story order however this changed when The Pirate Planet was delayed to incorporate new material, and later City of Death had to be put back to early 2002. In line with the intention to have the books follow the Target books of their era, the titles were modified to ‘Doctor Who and the...’ and the contemporary series logo was adopted for the three covers.

The first stage in the preparation of Doctor Who and the Pirate Planet was to scan the typewritten pages from the previous edition. Whilst tidying up the scanned text on computer, I decided to check on the correct spellings of words invented specifically for this story. In January 2001 I contacted Andrew Pixley in the UK who had a set of rehearsal scripts for the story. I also asked Andrew about additional sequences cut from the story that he'd mentioned in The Pirate Planet Archive in Doctor Who Magazine. Andrew quickly came to my assistance, providing not only the correct spellings but also compiled an extensive collection of deleted and changed sections; the result of spending more than five hours going through the rehearsal scripts. Andrew explained, “I've put in all that I've found of interest including some alternate dialogue which you may feel is sufficiently interesting to work into the broadcast version.“

I realised that the book could be greatly enhanced by the inclusion of this hitherto unavailable extra material, and got in touch with David Bishop about incorporating this additional material into the book. David had by this time moved to Scotland and was just embarking on his new career as a freelance writer so was too busy to undertake the revisions himself but gave his blessing to me to making whatever changes I saw fit.

While working out where these deleted scenes fitted into the story, I compared David's manuscript to the TV serial and identified material that David had left out of his book. It seemed odd to add extra material from the scripts whilst leaving out sequences from the TV version, so in the interests of making the novelisation as complete as possible I also reinstated the missing TV material. The result of all these additions was that the book swelled by nearly 10,000 words.

Picture of manuscript

Paul Scoones's notes on a page of the manuscript, made whilst checking the book against a recording of The Pirate Planet in preparation for the expanded 2001 edition (notes in purple pen identify the places where deleted scene excerpts may be inserted).

David Bishop approved of the new, expanded edition. “I think it all adds to the depth and texture of the book,” he says. “I wish that material had been available to me at the time! But then again, when Terrance was bashing out a book a month in the seventies and eighties, he often had little more to go on than I did, so perhaps there's a certain symmetry to how it came about.”

Alistair Hughes, who had previously illustrated the covers for novelisations of Resurrection of the Daleks and the reissued Revelation of the Daleks, drew the cover artwork for this new edition. Alistair was particularly keen to tackle The Pirate Planet: “Not only would it be a change of style, but I've always been very fond of this story and when I was much younger used to imagine what the Target cover might look like. So this was a chance for me to create the cover that I'd always wanted to see.”

Continuing with the ‘house style’ of sticking to the look of the Target books of the right period, I recommended to Alistair that he use The Stones of Blood Target cover as a reference, as well as of course the other Season 16 covers. “This ‘montage’ kind of composition is more to my liking,” explains Alistair, “although I suspected that finding good reference for Tom Baker which hadn't already been over-used might be difficult. I wasn't wrong, and finally settled for a low-resolution Logopolis picture from a website. The lack of clarity in that image goes some way to explaining why Tom's expression seems a little indefinable; it's hard to create detail which isn't there on the original! I was happier with the ‘villains’ because I like the contrast of three-quarter view figures along-side a large head-and-shoulders close-up, and this gave me a chance to depict the Captain in a less well-known pose. I felt the more familiar publicity shots of this character had been rather over-exposed. I've always loved the miniature effects aspect of Doctor Who, so was very happy to include the Bridge model, which was thankfully reasonably consistent with the composition features of the other Season 16 covers. All in all, The Pirate Planet was a bit of an indulgence for me. Not my best cover execution wise, although I was happy with the choice of elements and composition.” The new design was liked by author and original cover artist David Bishop, who says, “I have a lot of affection for my original cover drawing, but Alistair's done a cracking job on the new edition and it's a big improvement!”


The 2001 third edition (cover artwork by Alistair Hughes)

Alistair Hughes delivered the cover artwork in February 2001. In a departure from the usual coloured card, the cover was printed on white card as the Season 16 books all had white spines and back covers. Doctor Who and the Pirate Planet - the third edition - was published in April 2001 as a 92 page (38,756 words) book. The book was reprinted numerous times between 2001 and 2005 (reprints were not recorded on the publication page after 2002), with an estimated 480 copies of the third edition printed in total. The last reprinting, a batch of 50 copies, occurred in May 2005 and the book was announced as out of print, along with the rest of the TSV novelisations, in November 2005.

In the years between the first and latest editions of The Pirate Planet, David Bishop has become a professionally published author, with many books - including several Doctor Who novels - to his name. Looking back on the novelisation now, David still has “a lot of fondness” for The Pirate Planet. “It was the first long project I ever wrote and it's like a postcard from the past whenever I look at it. I can still remember sitting at the dining room table, pounding away at the typewriter, even though it's more than 12 years ago. The changes I made seem a little audacious and high-handed in retrospect, but that's the arrogance of youth, I guess! I'm certainly not embarrassed by it and I love seeing the book back in print.”