Today sees The Target Storybook hit shelves, collecting fifteen brand new stories from Doctor Who writers past and present. Recapturing the spirit of those old pulpy paperbacks, each story is written with the same economy of words and artwork that made them so beloved.
It’s hard to be a fan of Doctor Who without eventually hearing about the Target novelisations. Back when repeats were rare and before every fan could pour over every detail of a story in glorious mid-definition, it was pretty much impossible to relive the Doctor’s adventures on screen. The Target novelisations were a series of Doctor Who books based on the television serials. Starting in 1973 with Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion by former script editor Terrance Dicks, the range would continue to publish novelizations until 1994.
Because, for young fans, this was the best (and only) way to experience the Doctor’s old adventures, the books themselves became a subject of nostalgia. Not least because of the uniquely stylised cover art that each new story would receive. The format was so popular among fans that, last year, BBC Books published five new novelizations in the same style.
Which brings us right up to date. While the 2018 Target Collection releases turned new series adventures into novels, The Target Storybook is an anthology of original short stories matched with brand new artwork. Boasting an impressive collection of authors from a wide range of Doctor Who media, including writers, actors and luminaries.
Sadly, Terrance Dicks passed away in August 2019 after completing work on the book. The news was met with an outpouring of tributes to “Uncle Terrance” (as he was dubbed by fans) and so The Target Storybook contains his final contribution to Doctor Who after more than half a century of involvement with the series. As one of the show’s most influential creative voices and his vital role in its paperback afterlife, it seems fitting that Uncle Terrance’s last story should arrive in a Target book.
Save Yourself by Terrance Dicks is a short, unassuming twenty page tale nestled between stories by Simon Guerrier and Matthew Sweet. Dicks had a particular affinity for the Second Doctor and with extending that incarnation’s life using the “Season 6B” theory. Dicks uses callbacks to his earliest Doctor Who work and elements of the fan theory that he integrated into his later stories to deliver a wholly satisfying resolution for fans of Uncle Terrance.
But it’s not just legendary writers who have offered up new stories. Matthew Waterhouse, who played Adric, and Colin Baker, the Sixth Doctor, have both contributed to the Storybook. While Baker has penned comics and short stories for Doctor Who, this is Waterhouse’s first contribution to the series having established himself as a novelist outside of Doctor Who.
Waterhouse’s entry The Dark River takes Adric and Nyssa on a side-mission during the events of The Visitation. Arriving in nineteenth-century Mississippi, they meet an escaped slave and help him make a break for freedom. But an old friend of the Doctor’s has other plans. Waterhouse gives the setting some very rich descriptions and the action turns this short story into an epic quest. That said, Nyssa is written rather out of character and the story treats Adric with a little too much reverence. But if you can’t indulge yourself when writing a character you’ve lived for almost four decades, when can you?
Similarly set between episodes of a TV story, Baker’s work shows us the Sixth Doctor in the Matrix preparing his defence against the Valeyard. A simple tale that boils down to an extended conversation, Baker’s grasp of dialogue is pretty solid for the most part. But the piece struggles when it comes to exposition and liberally-applied continuity dumping. He also favours exhaustingly long and complex sentences that compound the problem. A heartfelt story but by no means an easy read.
While imagination did the heavy-lifting when it came to visualising the stories, fans were helped along by the cover art. Inked by the likes of Jeff Cummins, Andrew Skilleter and Chris Achilleos back in the day, these became iconic in their own right. So much so that the Cartoon Museum in London held a special exhibition of the original artwork in 2016.
Anthony Dry, who designed last year’s Target-style releases, returns for the cover art and Mike Collins provides new illustrations to accompany each entry. Collins has added an impressive amount of detail, emulating the style of the original releases and drawing the eye carefully. The compositions feel very much like vintage comic book covers in their style, teasing a moment of action and intrigue to come. If you want to be hypnotised, check out the eye-wateringly elaborate illustration accompanying Susie Day’s excellent Fourth Doctor story Punting.
Other highlights of The Target Storybook is George Mann getting his hands on the War Doctor once again having written the first (and so far only) full-length novel featuring John Hurt’s incarnation. Una McCormack brings us a family outing for Doctor-fanatic Clive Finch and his son, while Steve Cole brings back Eighth Doctor companions Fitz and Trix.
With such variety in The Target Storybook, almost every Doctor Who fan will find their own personal gems. While I found the stories a little hit-and-miss – often stymied by the limited word count clashing with the ambition of the writer – an anthology is a lovely way to continue the Target legacy and, in particular, to bid farewell to a Doctor Who legend.
After Terrance Dicks passed away, a fundraiser for Save the Children was started in his name. If you can, please visit the JustGiving page at this link to donate.