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BOOK
The Target Book
A History of the Target Doctor Who Books

Author: David J Howe
Telos
RRP: 19.99, US $39.95, Cdn $49.95
ISBN: 978 1 84583 021 2
Available 03 November 2007


From 1973 until 1994, the Target
Doctor Who paperbacks were a mainstay of the publishing world. From humble beginnings, they grew into a list running to 156 individual titles and selling over 13 million copies world-wide. This is the story of Target Books. Noted researcher and historian David J Howe chronicles the origins of the imprint, speaking to all the major players in its development, from editors to art directors, managing directors to artists and authors, and charts the books' critical reception as well as the fortunes and failings of the many publishing houses involved in their production...

There’s a whole generation of fans who grew up reading the good Doctor’s thrilling adventures in the Target novelisations and, in many ways, this cherished range of books became almost as important as the television episodes themselves.

Way back in the mists of time, when Doctor Who repeats were almost unheard of, long before the days of wall-to-wall re-runs on digital channels, long before you could walk into a shop on the High Street and purchase a DVD boxed set of an entire season (and still have enough change left over for an inflatable Dalek and a pair of Cyberman slippers), the only way of re-living a classic story was to track down a copy of the Target novelisation from the pen of the mighty Terrance Dicks.

They were a hugely important part of the young fan’s life, and we would consider it a fabulous privilege to be able to dip into the mythical realms of vintage Who, and immerse ourselves in stories that we could only ever dream of seeing on the small screen.

The quality of the books was, of course, variable. The range got off to a cracking start in the early 70’s with deliciously enhanced and extended works from the likes of Malcolm Hulke, Brian Hayles and, of course, the ubiquitous Terrance Dicks himself.

There was then a momentous slide downhill as the other writers gradually lost interest, and Dicks found himself with an accidental monopoly on the entire range, settling on a very simplistic style which enabled him to knock out a couple of books at a time on a rainy Sunday afternoon when there wasn’t much on the telly.

Fortunately, things picked up again in the mid-80’s, as more effort was made to persuade the original script writers to novelise their own stories, resulting in a glorious peak of consistently superb books which would continue right up until the eventual demise of the range.

But there was always something magical about the Target books, even during the absolute nadir when Dicks seemed to be simply typing out the scripts and adding a few “wheezing, groaning” bits of description.

Whether you were eagerly awaiting the latest brand new book to materialise in your local WHSmith, or desperately hunting down old and battered copies in second-hand bookshops (and pondering how much it mattered that some idiot had written “Only 20p!” on the cover in permanent marker), collecting the Target books was a crucial and deeply wonderful part of being a fan.

The Target Book is a joyous celebration of those days, and it’s about time too. It’s baffling to think that we have about 273 reference books to peruse on the clunky old series, but it’s taken this long to come up with a guide to such a massively important part of Doctor Who’s legacy.

Was it worth the wait? Unquestionably, unequivocally, yes.

The roots of the book lie in a series of terrific features written by David J Howe for Doctor Who Magazine several years ago, which chronicled the secret history of the books for the very first time, and were amongst the very best articles ever to be published in the magazine’s 28-year history.

If Howe had simply reprinted the text of those articles into this stunningly designed book, it would still have been great. As it is, the articles have been revisited and hugely expanded to such a degree that the book is now a completely fresh overview of the history of the Target range.

From the publisher’s humble beginnings in reprinting a couple of old 60’s children’s books that nobody else seemed interested in touching, through the dazzling success of the 70’s and 80’s when Doctor Who titles dominated the bookshelves, right up until the quiet death of the range in the early 90’s, David J Howe has left no stone unturned in compiling an exhaustive and definitive study of a publishing legend.

All of the major players are interviewed and profiled, be they editors, writers, artists or managing directors.

The compelling story is told within a beautiful landscape of lavish design, featuring the cover of every single Doctor Who book produced under the Target banner, from the 1973 Chris Achilleos cover of Dr Who and the Daleks, to the final Alistair Pearson cover of the The Talons of Weng-Chiang reprint in 1994.

Even the ‘extra’ books that existed outside the novelisation range are meticulously covered here, from The Doctor Who Dinosaur Book to the short-lived Companions of Doctor Who series, as well as special coverage on overseas titles (and some of their frankly baffling artwork!) and a wealth of previously unseen concept art and unused covers.

The Target Book is quite simply a flawless journey into glorious nostalgia, and every conceivable angle is covered in breathtaking detail (want to know exactly how many chapters were titled The Terror Begins or Escape To Danger, and in which books they appear? No? Well tough, it’s all here anyway!)

It might be a history of the classic books, but it’s perhaps quite ironic that it has itself ended up as a genuine contender for the crown of best Doctor Who book ever.

Danny Salter

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