The Target Collection (2022) – The Blood Eaters of Pompeii Androids

Today sees the next wave of Doctor Who titles in The Target Collection hit the shelves from BBC Books and Penguin RH!

You know the story, classic Doctor Who serials were published under the Target imprint back in the day. The Target brand passed through several owners but ultimately went defunct in 1994. Until Penguin RH and BBC Books resurrected it in 2018 to fill in any gaps in the classic era and to extend the range to the ongoing modern series.

Target Collection Titles 2022
The Target Collection (2022)

The revived Target Collection range debuted with five titles and, in 2021, the second wave of books dropped a staggering seven titles on us in one go. This time we have a much more manageable (at least for your humble correspondent) four new stories, and an even split of classic series and new series adventures.

If you read my review of the 2021 releases, you’ll remember my predictions for what this wave would bring. And I was wrong on all counts. No original stories; no Scratchman; no omnibus Time Lord Victorious book; no Engines of War and no two-parters. Still holding out for that sure to be insane Human Nature novelisation by Paul Cornell that blends his original VNA book and the TV version. I have faith!

The Fires of Pompeii by James Moran

Given his popularity and Tennant’s imminent return to the role in the 60th anniversary, it’s weird to think that this is only the second Tenth Doctor era story to receive the Target treatment. The first wave had his introduction in The Christmas Invasion but in The Day of the Doctor he was really a guest star in an Eleventh Doctor’s story. The second wave was minus Ten. So to get another Tenth Doctor story is one thing; to get one of his strongest standalone stories is an absolute treat! James Moran returns to adapt the story, which sees the Doctor and Donna on a trip to ancient Rome only to discover they’ve landed in Pompeii on Volcano Day. Moran makes an excellent choice in the story to focus on Donna as a way to bring the reader into the Doctor’s world and to follow her emotional arc on her first TARDIS trip. This pays off beautifully near the end of the book, as Moran reinterprets that closing scene from Donna’s perspective and gives it a heartbreaking new dimension.

The Fires of Pompeii by James Moran

The Stones of Blood by David Fisher

Television writer David Fisher (1929-2018) contributed two consecutive serials to the classic series back in the day, starting with The Stones of Blood. Coming right in the middle of Season 16 – otherwise known as the Key to Time arc – it sits oddly amongst the other stories as there’s a degree of context required. That being said, the last wave of Target novels gave us James Goss’ adaptation of Douglas Adams’ The Pirate Planet which immediately precedes this story and could be interpreted as a primer. Back in 1980, our old pal Terrance Dicks penned the novelisations of these episodes to be released as Target books. However, Fisher got the chance to write his own version in 2011 for the audiobook and this new edition uses that same manuscript. A few minor tweaks, presumably to keep the word count down, but otherwise a remarkably faithful adaptation of the original TV story and the audiobook.

The Target Collection 2022
The Target Collection (2022)

The Androids of Tara by David Fisher

The second of David Fisher’s TV stories – again, novelised by Uncle Terrance; reinterpreted for an audiobook by the original author and reprinted almost verbatim here – is another Fourth Doctor story in the midst of the Key to Time saga. However, this one stands out to me because of how much Fisher has added to the story that fleshes out the history and politics of Tara.

In the sleeve notes for the audiobook release, Fisher writes:

Writing the audio novelisation all these years later has meant that I have had to justify and explain various things in the text that could be comfortably ignored in the television script. For example, how and why does a relatively backward economy like Tara manage to develop androids? Hence my invention of the plague which leaves the lords relatively untouched in their castles and the serfs dying in the fields. Obviously the next step is the extensive mechanisation of agriculture. From there it seemed logical for such a hierarchical society to concentrate on androids to replace the missing serfs.

David Fisher, May 2012

For an author novelising episodes of a TV show, with all the last minute changes and editing decisions that entails, it must be tempting to simply produce a verbatim prose version of the finished episode. So it’s wonderful to see the author took such care over his world and the story is all the richer for having been adapted this way.

The Eaters of Light by Rona Munro

As well as the first writer to pen episodes in both the classic and modern series, the novelisation of The Eaters of Light makes Rona Munro the first author to write for the original Target range and the revived one in different stories, having penned Survival back in 1990. The Twelfth Doctor stars, with Bill and Nardole, to investigate a historic mystery in second century Scotland. Other than the final scene in the TARDIS being understandably cut, Munro has taken this opportunity to embellish the story rather than reshaping it, including a romance between Lucius and Sextus that (Munro told Doctor Who Magazine) fulfilled her original intention to include a queer relationship in the story. Beyond that, the occasional use of flashbacks and some wonderfully vivid descriptions ramp up the horror and tension of this story beyond what was possible on TV.

Doctor Who: The Eaters of Light (BBC)

What’s Next?

As I mentioned earlier, my ability to predict this stuff is clearly not very reliable. But it’s fun. Assuming none of my previous guesses end up coming true in the future, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some earlier Doctors getting their novelisations reissued or even rewritten. The 60th anniversary would be a great time to drop a First Doctor story on us and I can imagine someone like Mark Gatiss relishing the chance to pen an updated novelisation of a Third Doctor story – Planet of the Daleks would be my guess.

Which has been your favourite story in the Target Collection so far? What do you want to see next? Let me know in the comments below.

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