What Next for Doctor Who Books?

Written with an economical prose style, the Target Doctor Who books are widely credited with teaching a generation of fans to read. In the Seventies there were non-fiction tie-in books and fiction aimed at younger readers. In the Eighties, though, the audience for the books was shifting to older and more committed fans. Target also tried launching ranges to counter the inevitable point when they would have adapted all the television stories it was possible to adapt (a few weren’t novelised, some because Target couldn’t afford Douglas Adams’ fee and some because Terry Nation and Eric Saward couldn’t agree a deal over Saward’s two Dalek stories). They tried spin-offs involving companions Turlough and Harry Sullivan, and adapting stories from the cancelled version of Season 23. As the number of new TV stories reduced, the range finally finished in 1990 with an adaptation of 1969’s ‘The Space Pirates’ (incongruously released with the McCoy era logo). For potential (extremely niche) pub quiz use: the last book actually released in the Target range was a reissue of ‘Talons of Weng-Chieng’ in 1994.

Doctor Who Target novel covers

These books, even at their most economical, often altered or expanded upon what we saw on screen. As more writers got the chance to adapt their own work in the Eighties, some took the opportunity to base the novels on different drafts or take advantage of the medium: Donald Cotton’s adaptation of ‘The Romans’, for example, took the form of letters collected by Tacitus. The adaptations of the Seventh Doctor’s stories were notable in this regard, adding a lot to the televised versions (for example, a chapter from the point of view of the Special Weapons Dalek, the Doctor as Merlin, or an epilogue featuring an older Ace after she leaves the TARDIS).

New (and Missing) Adventures

The New Adventures line came about after Virgin took over WH Allen, then-owners of the Target Imprint, at a point when the line was still profitable (sales were consistent and predictable) and the number of stories left to adapt was in the single figures. TV Producer John Nathan-Turner had been resistant to original novels while there were still stories to adapt, but soon there would be none. As more recent novels had started getting longer and more expansive, the new line of books developed from there featuring the Seventh Doctor and various companions. After a few years they were joined by the ‘Missing Adventures’ range that featured past Doctors and companions. These were a mix of homage and attempts to replicate the tone of the show across different eras, but also took advantage of the expanded palette of the New Adventures books.

Retrospectively, the New Adventures were a mixed bag from book to book, but at their best they expanded what Doctor Who was capable of, not just in terms of concepts and scale but emotionally. For every gratuitous instance of sex and swearing there’d be something new that cast fresh light on the show and its main character (with Paul Cornell emerging as the range’s most acclaimed author in this respect, later adapting his novel ‘Human Nature’ for TV, and with Russell T. Davies taking aspects of his book ‘Damaged Goods’ into the 2005 series).

BBC Books: Inspiring the TV Revival

In 1996, BBC Books, then part of BBC Worldwide, got the rights to publish Gary Russell’s novelisation of the TV Movie. Virgin’s licence for Doctor Who books was not renewed. The main line of new Doctor Who fiction became The Eighth Doctor Adventures and the Missing Adventures became The Past Doctor Adventures. The new lines were initially intended to be less graphic, more suitable for a family audience, but beyond that the range lacked direction. It cohered somewhat when Stephen Cole took over as editor, and then – hilariously in hindsight – Cole left in 2000 after writing a book in which Gallifrey – alongside a lot of unresolved plot strands – was destroyed in order to provide a clean slate for Justin Richards to take over the line, only for Russell T. Davies to do the same thing for himself five years later.

Doctor Who Afterlife BBC Books cover cropped

The BBC Books lines initially sold well, and featured several creative high points and ideas that would appear in the TV series post-2005, but its sales eventually dwindled to the point where critically acclaimed titles such as Simon Guerrier’s ‘The Time Travellers’ would fail to make their advance back. These lines finished in 2005 after the TV show returned, with the BBC New Series Adventures taking their place (and BBC Books being sold to Random House in 2006). These were paperback-sized hardbacks featuring the current Doctor, with the 9 releases in 2006 selling 321,230 copies. These releases continued in batches of three until 2012, while standalone titles began in 2010 (with Michael Moorcock, Dan Abnett and Jenny Colgan writing Eleventh Doctor stories).

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