REVIEW: The Target Collection (2021)

The legacy of Doctor Who’s Target books lives on, as the second set of modern Target Collection novels hits the shelves today. Seven new stories added to the range – three plucked from the new series for adaptation by the original screenwriter.

PREVIEW: New Audiobook Adaptations! | Target Books | Doctor Who

The TV Movie by Gary Russell

Target Edition (First Published in 1996)

Reprinted from Gary Russell’s 1996 novelization, the text is tweaked to fix some minor errors and update the fate of a classic Who character with recent developments. The same deviations from the television story remain intact, born of having written the novel based on an early draft of the script. But these are a fascinating insight into the ambition of a story that fell victim to too many cooks during production. Russell uses the opportunity to add texture to the things the film’s running time had to skim over. Spartan character backstories are fleshed out, the plot is granted a clearer flow and, best of all, the breakdown of Bruce’s Master-infested body is described in deliciously revolting detail. These changes seem minor but all pay off in the bombastic finale that gives Grace and Lee more active roles and raises the stakes of the final showdown immeasurably. If you know the TV Movie back to front, prepare to see it with fresh eyes.

Dalek by Robert Shearman

Reintroducing the Daleks to a new audience back in 2005, Shearman’s Dalek was an instant classic that gave a new lease of life to the Doctor’s seasoned foe. But the episode’s plot is only the skeleton of this novelisation with a much greater focus on fleshing out the guest stars Really, the Doctor and Rose feel more like elevated background characters against the stories of Van Statten, Goddard, Adam and, most of all, the titular Dalek! Shearman has painted a rich history for the eponymous pepperpot and, with it, a far deeper psyche than the television episode could depict. As well as some significant changes to the plot and some of the character arcs, this makes for the most inventive use of the Target format I’ve ever read. A work of art independent of its source material and a must-read for any and all Doctor Who fans.

The Witchfinders by Joy Wilkinson

The Witchfinders marks the first full appearance of the Thirteenth Doctor in the Target range, other than her brief regeneration scene at the end of the Twice Upon a Time novelisation by Paul Cornell in 2018. This was an excellent choice of story, with memorable moments and an explosive guest turn by Alan Cumming as King James. Wilkinson has stuck pretty close to the television plot but, as well as adding to the Morax’s backstory, adds a framing device throughout which pays off in a way that will make a lot of fans very happy. But the thing that really hooked me into this story is the first in-depth exploration of how the Doctor feels living in their first female incarnation and how the setting challenges this new persona in ways they haven’t had to deal with before. And these moments are so carefully composed I had to stop reading to let the impact of the text really sink in. Joy Wilkinson is primarily a screenwriter but when and if she writes another novel, I’ll be first in the queue on publication day.

Three Target Collection Novels (2021)
Doctor Who: The Target Collection (2021)

Notably, this is the first Target Collection book to break with the tradition of using the original Third Doctor era logo, which was the standard for all classic Doctor Who products before 2018. Instead, The Witchfinders employs the current Thirteenth Doctor era logo. While the original run of Target novels used different logos all the time, this will be a controversial change for some fans. But one that BBC Books is reportedly sticking to, using the new logo on all future Target Collection releases. Even a legacy range can move with the times.

The Crimson Horror by Mark Gatiss

With the Eleventh Doctor making his debut in Mark Gatiss’ adaptation of his 2013 story The Crimson Horror, every (numbered) Doctor now has at least one Target novel under their belts. Well, I say numbered Doctors but…well, spoilers…

Anyway, Gatiss emulates his angle from the TV script by giving the bulk of the action to the Paternoster Gang and, inevitably, writes in the style of a Sherlock Holmes story. But a very different type of Holmes story than the one we saw on screen, with Gatiss devoting half the book to a totally separate (albeit linked) story featuring Jenny, Vastra, Strax and the Doctor. If Big Finish are ever stuck for new ideas in their audio range, look no further. In fact, by the time you reach the first scene of the TV story, the book is more than halfway done. The remaining story is faithful to the original script, but keeps things interesting by using several framing devices so that the “author”, like Watson, is piecing together the adventure from various accounts. Gatiss clearly has a lot of ideas for what he’d like to do with this trio so if an original Paternoster Gang novel isn’t on the cards, a short story or an audio outing would be wonderful.

Resurrection of the Daleks & Revelation of the Daleks by Eric Saward

Target Edition (First Published in 2019)

Penning the final two Target novelisations of classic serials, Eric Saward finished these books in 2019 to be published that same year. This edition reskins the same stories in the trappings of a Target novel without any noticeable differences. I spoke to Saward (briefly) back in 2019 about the development of these novels.

The Pirate Planet by Douglas Adams and James Goss

Target Edition (First Published in 2017)

Back in 2017, James Goss – writer, producer and man involved basically every non-televised Doctor Who project for the last ten years – wrote an epic 400 page adaptation of 1978’s The Pirate Planet based on the drafts and notes from the late Douglas Adams. I reviewed it back when I was working for Blogtor Who. The Target version has been mercilessly hacked down to a tight 183 pages, with some minor changes to the text to keep sense and sticking closely to the plot of the televised story. The tradition of the Target Collection makes the logic behind the edits obvious, though given the quality of the original book I’d much rather they re-released that in a special Target-style paperback edition. Still, it’s worth picking up if you can’t find the original novel.

Doctor Who: The Target Collection (2021)
Doctor Who: The Target Collection (2021)

Target & Terrance

It might be premature to talk about what’s next for the Target Collection, but with only two years between each set (these were delayed from a 2020 release due to COVID) it’s hard not to speculate on what 2023 – an anniversary year – might bring. Personally, I think it’s more likely that the planned Terrance Dicks collection, collating some of his most beloved Target stories, will be out next year. After that, I’d wager it’s likely we’ll get another anthology of original stories in the Target format – a follow-up to The Target Storybook before any more individual releases are revealed.

I think it’s inevitable that Tom Baker’s 2019 novel Scratchman will be republished as a Target novel and maybe an omnibus edition of the two Time Lord Victorious novels. Ten years since his first appearance would be a good opportunity to reprint George Mann’s War Doctor novel Engines of War. As far as original stories go, I’d expect them to try out some two-parters and The Empty Child or The Parting of the Ways from the Ninth Doctor era stand out as prime candidates. Also at least one unusual choice, like Love and Monsters and a fan-favourite, which I suspect would be Vincent and the Doctor though not written by Richard Curtis. If I was making the decision, however, I’d ask Paul Cornell to write a loose adaptation of his television story for Human Nature that blended it with his original 1995 novel.

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