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Are the Novelisations on Target?

By Morgan Davie

The Target novelisations of Doctor Who stories are widely collected among Doctor Who fandom. But are they really worthwhile merchandise? Let us consider the purpose of the novels. The first were introduced in the mid 60s and 70s. At that time video recorders were unheard of and so the novels were the only way the fans could have a record of the show. They performed this function admirably during those early years, being as a rule well written and faithful to the show - an important exception being the start of The Daleks which had Ian and Barbara joining the TARDIS crew at the start of the story instead of during An Unearthly Child.

But since then technology has advanced. Few Who fans are without access to a large number of stories on videotape. So the first purpose of the books becomes redundant, and the secondary purpose - that of entertainment - becomes more important. The way I see it the novels should perform three functions: (i) Provide an accurate record of the story in question; (ii) Expand upon the plot and explain any errors (in continuity for example) and explore the characters more deeply than in the show; (iii) Provide good, entertaining reading.

So it must be asked if the novels are performing these functions, and for the most part I would say they were not. The first function, now the least important of the three, is often missing from the novels. Dialogue is changed, scenes altered, even omitted, and sometimes the story is severely altered e.g. The Romans and The War Games. Sometimes there is a legitimate reason for this such as disposing of a short scene of padding which merely repeats an earlier section, but usually it is just because the writer thinks the story would not make good reading in full.

The second function is only presently coming into its own with stories like Remembrance of the Daleks, Battlefield and Ghost Light. These books are regarded by many as the finest Doctor Who books ever written, and with good reason for they perform all three functions well.

The primary function, that of entertainment, would seem to be so obvious that no Who book could be without it. Sadly this is not so. One need only look at the later work of Terrance Dicks and virtually all of Pip and Jane Baker's material to see that the entertainment factor is often lacking.

Very few novelisations perform all three functions, fewer perform them well. I am not looking for a Shakespeare among the Target writers, just a group of writers like Marc Platt and even Rona Munro who can take the source material and develop it into a book worth reading. Until all the books reach the standard of The Curse of Fenric the Target books are ultimately a waste of money.

This item appeared in TSV 28 (April 1992).