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The Unfolding Texts

The Target Books novelisations were essential purchases for Doctor Who fans in the 1970s and 80s. But what was the secret of their success?
An Ice Warrior dominates Tony Masero’s cover painting for Doctor Who – The Seeds of Death (1986).

Clockwise from left: Details of Chris Achilleos’ art for the covers of Doctor Who and the Dalek Invasion of Earth (1977), Doctor Who and the Crusaders (1973) and Doctor Who and the Planet of the Spiders (1975).

People never really stop loving books,” says the Doctor in Silence in the Library (2008).

For Doctor Who fans of a certain age, the Doctor Who novelisations published by Target Books are not merely a subject of nostalgia. For a whole generation of fans, the novelisations were the reason they became Doctor Who fans. In the days before streaming, before Blu-rays, before DVDs, before videos, they were the only way to experience most past Doctor Who adventures ‘on demand’. They were the only way for fans to relive fondly remembered stories from previous years and to discover stories from before they started watching. For most fans, they were the only form of Doctor Who that could be revisited and absorbed in depth.

Stories could be re-read until the pages fell out and every character, monster and chapter title had been committed to memory. Stories could be appreciated as a whole, freed from the constraints of weekly TV showings, where episodes would spend half their time reminding viewers what happened last week and the other half trying to get them to tune in next week. Stories could be analysed and evaluated: which ones had the most exciting plots, the most interesting ideas, the most memorable characters. They could be fitted together into chronologies according to the incarnations of the Doctor, the comings and goings of companions, and the repeated encounters with Daleks and Cybermen. They enabled fans to enjoy Doctor Who stories in the way that fans like best: where you already know everything that happens and can just sit back and enjoy the ride.

You’re right there in the tunnel with the marauding Yeti lurching towards you; you’re not watching it on a screen.

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About Doctor Who Magazine

Considered a unique record of Doctor Who’s history in the era before fanzines, official magazines and home video, Target books are probably the most cherished items of merchandise inspired by the show. They’re certainly the most commercially successful. From the early 1970s to the early 90s, it’s estimated that Target sold over eight million novelisations and other Doctor Who books. This is the inside story of a legendary imprint, from its rise and fall to its triumphant revival in 2018. Highlights include exclusive interviews with the key players, numerous rare images and extracts from two unpublished manuscripts.