Fifty Years, and Counting: Target Books continue to thrill

Russell Cook reveals some of the behind the latest Doctor Who Target Books, including the reinvigorated Warriors’ Gate by Stephen Gallagher… plus, information on a special event celebrating the range this weekend!

In May 1973 to very little fanfare, three previously published novelisations of early Doctor Who stories were reissued with new bright, colourful and terrifically eye catching covers under the Target Books imprint, which had been created by Universal Tandem publishing a year earlier.

The clever marketing people, keen to promote their brand, had bought up a number of out of print children’s titles, including the adventures of our time travelling hero and battles with the Daleks, the ant-like Zarbi and his historical swashbuckling meet up with Richard the Lionheart, which proved instant bestsellers and sold like hotcakes. As you would say after enjoying a delicious warm treat , “more please!”. The BBC duly obliged and a little-known Script Editor got to grips with the Nestenes. The literary invasion had begun.

Fifty years later and the Target brand is experiencing a rejuvenation in its fortunes. In 2011, BBC Books reissued six classic titles, and, a year later, six more. The word “success” rattled around the editorial offices of Random House and as the team sat around with their mid-morning hot cake and caffeine fix, an idea began to take shape.

“Is the book buying public reading for some new novelisations of new series stories?”

“Yes, what a fantastic idea.”

“Allons- y’l said various editors and publicity operatives. Contracts issued, and Target is go.

Four new titles have recently hit the shelves – novelisations of transmitted TV adventures of the Tenth, Twelfth and Thirteenth incarnations of the long-lived Time Lord, showcasing them in prose form – but these are not just script to screen adaptations.

Recent adventures Planet of the Ood, The Waters of Mars, The Zygon Invasion and Kerblam! have now been novelised by the authors of the screenplays, (respectively, Keith Temple, Phil Ford, Peter Harkness, and Pete McTighe), fleshed out to bring the dramatic tension of the well produced forty five minute “blink and you miss a vital plot point” runarounds to the printed page.

Special mention must go to Peter Harkness, for chillingly recreating the sheer terror of the Zygons, shapeshifters extraordinaire. He captures the era of today with the embrace of the nostalgic childhood love of the classic series.

I did say there were four new titles. However, five books have been released. “Five? Goodness me, there are five of them now?” I hear you say. Yes, indeed.

Travel back a few decades to a time when the Target Books were arguably at the height of their popularity. Stephen Gallagher, channelling his inner John Lydecker, was given the opportunity to give the Target treatment to his complex and visually stunning screenplay, Warriors’ Gate. Setting about it with considerable enthusiasm and gusto, he submitted a novelisation that didn’t stick to the unofficial guidelines of the BBC Doctor Who Production office which were a “he said, she said faithful adaptation of what was watched on TV and on pain of death, no longer than 126 pages in length.” So, the complex, detailed chapter free 170-plus page extended manuscript was hastily returned via various gateways to the author, who, with the help of a pair of scissors and a bottle of tippex, cut, edited and painted the manuscript to the satisfaction of the BBC. Case closed.

However over the years, it became known amongst the Target aficionados of Doctor Who fandom that an envelope existed containing snippets of a lost manuscript.

[Stephen was the first Doctor Who creator I interviewed as editor of Doctor Who Magazine, back in the late 1980s, and told me about this manuscript then – Ed]

Finally, in 2018, Stephen was persuaded to reopen his bottle of tippex and sharpen his scissors and restore the tale of a collapsing void and the time-sensitive Tharils to its lion like glory. Released as an audio book the following year, it proved popular enough to be restored again to its original home as a novelisation. This version also contains a couple of extra tales following on from the E-Space adventures.

Enjoy the adventures both original and new. The Time Winds live on. The Target range lives on and thrives, continuing to surprise and delight generations of readers old and new!

Russell Cook

Dedicated to the memory of Terrance Dicks and Chris Achilleos… without whom the Target book world would be considerably poorer

Planet of the Ood by Keith Temple is available to buy now (AmazonUK Affiliate Link)

“The Ood came from a distant world, they voyaged across the stars, all for one purpose… to serve.”

The TARDIS lands on the Ood-Sphere in the year 4126. Here, human profiteers have subjugated the Ood: the gentle creatures are forced into servitude and sold across the galaxy as the perfect slaves. But now, some are fighting back. Their eyes turn red as they throw off their chains and kill their oppressors…

The Doctor and Donna soon learn that the planet of the Ood holds cruel and awesome secrets. As they battle for justice and survival, the fate of the entire Ood race hangs in the balance. Will the outcome be salvation – or extinction?

The Waters of Mars by Phil Ford is available to buy now (AmazonUK Affiliate Link)

“Water is patient… water just waits. Water always wins!”

November 21st 2059, and Bowie Base One – the first human colony on Mars – is destined for destruction in a nuclear explosion. This tragedy is a fixed point in history. The Laws of Time dictate that it cannot – must never – be changed.

The Doctor arrives just as a viral life-form escapes from the Martian ice into the base’s water supply. A single drop can transform a human into a terrifying monster with the power to infect others. History records that the threat is destroyed along with the base and every human in it. But as his darkest hour comes calling, the Doctor resolves to break the rules as he never has before…

The Zygon Invasion by Peter Harkness is available to buy now (AmazonUK Affiliate Link)

“We will die in the fire instead of living in chains.”

For years, 20 million shape-changing Zygons have lived among us in secret. They wear human form, hiding in plain sight. Now a fanatical Zygon splinter group seek to expose their own kind and provoke a conflict that will force both sides to the brink of Armageddon to ensure their own survival.

It took three Doctors to broker a fragile peace between Zygons and Humans. Now the 12th must face the fallout alone. With his allies compromised and his companion believed dead, can he stop the world from plunging into war?

Kerblam! by Pete McTighe is available to buy now (AmazonUK Affiliate Link)

The TARDIS is invaded. A plea for help delivered by robot summons the Doctor and her friends Yaz, Graham and Ryan to Kerblam – the biggest retailer in the galaxy. Posing as new recruits among the thousands of human workers, the TARDIS crew uncover a deadly plot that threatens the life of every person in the warehouse – and beyond.

Who has sent for the Doctor? What is the dark secret at the heart of Kerblam’s operations? And who will escape the merciless Postmen…?

Web Links

• The Target Book Club is a 50th Birthday Party for Target Doctor Who Books on Sunday 16th July at Bush Hall, London, with support from BBC Books | Tickets and further information here

Fifty years ago Target published their first Doctor Who books – terrorising generations of children with eye-popping covers and pages crammed with monsters, terror and thrilling chapter titles.

This special event celebrates these remarkable books with short talks, author panels, and helping launch the latest Target titles with BBC Books.

If you love Daleks and Cybermen, if you thrill to the name Terrance Dicks, if you’ve ever Escaped To Danger with a wheezing, groaning sound, then this is the day for you!

Stephen Gallagher is online at

Russell Cook’s memoir, Castles in the Sky. A story of love, loss and learning to live again is available from Amazon

Categories: Books, Doctor Who, downthetubes News, Events, Other Worlds, Science Fiction, Television

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