Tag Archives: Target

One book, two trips and The King’s Demons (1983)

kingsdemonsLate afternoon, getting dark. I’m on a train, and not a good one either. A red rattler. It’s noisy, there’s no heating and my seat’s lumpy. It’s going to be a long trip home from Sydney. Three hours.

It’s the end of a day’s shopping. My mum, y’see, likes to escape from the country and head for the big smoke. Dad can’t abide cities. So I’m my mother’s travelling companion. It’s 1986 and I’m 12.

I’m happy to trail around behind her on these occasions, as long as I get to go to the Galaxy Bookshop. A specialist sci-fi bolt hole and a haven for nerds of all varieties. Like the TARDIS, it periodically shifts locations, but I’m always able to find it. I’m a Target seeking missile, and it has more Doctor Who books per square metre than any other store.

Galaxy was always worth the trip because they flew books in from the UK, ahead of the Australian release schedule. Doctor Who books you couldn’t get anywhere else! Beyond exciting. On this particular day, I’ve secured book 108, The King’s Demons. Oh yes, I know the numbers.

I’m a King’s Demons fan. Saw it on the telly. It stars my favourite Doctor. It’s set on my birthday! It has a shapeshifting android! It’s a long trip home, but for me, it disappears. I’m engrossed.

****

Back in 2017, we’ve just got four new Target novelisations of new series Doctor Who stories. I wonder what new fans will make of them? I, like all fans of my vintage, love and revere the original range. To new fans, our attachment to these strange little novellas must seem fusty and archaic… no matter how many times we might say, “but before there were videotapes, they were our only record of the TV stories!” I mean, referring back to the age of videotape must, in this digital age, seem like quaint nostalgia indeed. But the stories we read as kids have an uncommon hold on us, and with so many Doctor Who novelisations to collect and devour, is it any wonder that hold is so unshakable? I hope kids reading the new series books get an ongoing chance to find out.

The list of things so commonly said about the Target books – their ability to bring the TV stories back to life, their ability to inspire kids to read – never seems to include something intrinsic to the experience of reading them. They were utterly inconsistent. Their covers kept changing. Their logos kept changing. Their authors kept changing. Their numbering made no sense. Stories they adapted came out in random order. (I know, right? So annoying. I hope that had no lasting effects.)

And the quality… oh, the quality of them jumped around like nobody’s business. Early books were artful embellishments on the originals, courtesy of some of the TV show’s best writers: David Whitaker, Malcolm Hulke and Terrance Dicks. But they later settled into a regularly pedestrian mode, where Dicks wrote most of them in an economical, almost perfunctory way, only occasionally interrupted by more visceral efforts from Ian Marter, and even more occasional efforts by other TV show alumni.

In 1982, though, the same year The King’s Demons was being made, things began to change. Those occasional books by the un-Dicks were distinguished by being written by the TV stories’ original authors, who seemed to be striving for something more engaging than Dicks’ standard 128 pages of gently expanded script. Steve Gallagher’s Warriors’ Gate was an intelligent deviation from the TV original. David Fisher’s The Leisure Hive a tongue-in-cheek retelling, imitative of Douglas Adams. The Visitation, Full Circleand Logopolis, all written by their original authors, all showed there were smart, idiosyncratic alternatives to Dicks. It was a watershed year.

Consider now 1986, the year The King’s Demons novelisation was published, and extend it at either end by a couple of months. This is the golden age of the Target novels. Donald Cotton’s masterful adaptations of The Myth Makers and The Gunfighters.Robert Holmes’ only novel, a razor sharp expansion on The Two Doctors.  Rehabilitations of The Twin Dilemma, Timelash andGalaxy 4.Marter’s best in The Invasion. A epic sized Fury from the Deep. A range in such rude health, it could afford to experiment with an original novel celebrating, of all characters, Turlough. Even Dicks was regenerating, with stylish adaptations of The Mind of Eviland The Seeds of Death. The King’s Demons is another notable entry in this renaissance.

No wonder young Spandrell collected them devotedly each month. For once, the range was approaching something close to consistency.

***

Late afternoon, getting dark. I’m on a plane, travelling for work. Aged 43, I’m re-reading The King’s Demons and thinking about the story it emerged from.

The TV version, loved by young me, now feels inconsequential – a whimper that ended celebratory season 20. Even its big move, the introduction of a new robot companion, is undermined when the shiny mannequin has to be shuffled quietly off stage because all it can do is lean precariously and say its lines at the wrong times.

No wonder it’s not allowed out unaccompanied. When released on VHS and DVD, it’s been forced to fill out twin packs with other, more substantial stories. Like Kamelion, it seems The King’s Demons can’t stand up on its own.

But the Target books are great equalisers. The King’s Demons might be an underwhelming appendix of a TV story but in book form, it commands the same shelf space as any other story, four, seven or ten parter. More than most, in fact – at 153 pages, it’s luxurious by Target standards.

Inside those pages, Terence Dudley elaborates and embellishes. For him, this is no small deal. He relishes historical detail and obscure vocabulary, and wraps it all in elegant, if occasionally pompous, prose. Freed from the limitations of TV production, Kamelion’s a fully functioning technological wonder, the Master’s disguise is foolproof and the Doctor sounds just like Jon Pertwee. On top of it all, it finds time to mention the Doctor’s bum.

I smile at its sheer audacity. This mouse of a TV story that roars as a book, finally legitimised. My journey home evaporates. I’m engrossed again.

A version of this post appears in the forthcoming charity anthology, You on Target. Find out more about it here.

LINK TO Dinosaurs on a Spaceship: both feature historical figures (kind of).

NEXT TIME… I sense the vicious doctrine of egalitarianism! Praise the Company, it’s The Sun Makers.

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Acting, Adapting and The Sontaran Experiment (1975)

sontaran ex

Yesterday, the Doctor Who Fan Police dragged me away to Stangmoor or Stormcage or somewhere when it became clear that I’d never actually finished reading Doctor Who and the Sontaran Experiment by Ian Marter. I’d made several attempts when I was a kid, but never actually got all the way through it. I have an excuse though; it was never the story I thought it was.

To be fair, the story I thought it was doesn’t exist. Roy Knipe’s cover art led me to think this was a tale of the Doctor landing on a planet and discovering a colossal statue of a Sontaran, towering above the landscape. Then each time I started it, I remembered that this was in fact an adaptation of The Sontaran Experiment, which thanks to ABC’s tendency to frequently repeat Tom Baker’s early seasons, was a story I’d seen many times.

This reminds me of the time a casual viewer of Doctor Who told me his favourite story was the one with the golden Cyberman. I told him there was no such story, and that given the Cybermen’s unfortunate allergy to gold, constructing such a Cyberman would be tricky to say the least. But still, this viewer was insistent; gold Cybermen, it happened and he loved it.

I let it go, though for some time afterwards I did wonder whether he had simply imagined the whole thing, or perhaps if his television had some colour imbalance. But then one day, I idly pick up a copy of Doctor Who and the Cybermen, the Skilleter covered one, and the penny dropped. Another case of novelisation cover confusion.

Chris Achilleos’ covers were often to blame. No matter how many times I read Doctor Who and the Three Doctors, Omega never shot rays from his fingers to bore into the heads of the titular three Doctors. Varga, star of Doctor Who and the Ice Warriors never had the ability to generate sparkly energy with a wave of his clamp like hands. And, most disappointing of all, the Yeti of Doctor Who and the Web of Fear never did shoot beams from their eyes which entrapped helpless soldiers in halos of light. This last egregious misleading of young readers was so convincing that when Skilleter painted a new cover for the reprint, he also featured a beam emanating Yeti. These things catch on, obviously.

But back to Doctor Who and the Sontaran Experiment. Like all Marter’s novelisations, it’s a vivid, sometimes florid, read. Marter’s books were always genuine embellishments on the original stories. He always left the basic plot intact, but often played fast and loose with the dialogue. He would also include additional incidents throughout, which kept the pace moving but didn’t veer the story off course. In a way, it’s that misleading cover problem all over again for those who read the book first and watched the story second. Where Mr Marter, a reader-viewer might have asked, is the part where the Doctor hallucinates about the TARDIS being invaded by rats? Why does the hovering, tentacled robot become a static box on scissor lift legs?

The effect is a confusion about which version of a Doctor Who story is the authentic one. Let’s compare The Sontaran Experiment to the story which followed it, Genesis of the Daleks. The Dalek story was novelised by frequent adaptor Terrance Dicks, and his most common style was a straightforward retelling of the story, following the TV story as closely as possible. If you watched and read to Genesis of the Daleks (or even listened to it on LP), you essentially heard the same story multiple times. The story was reiterated; we know Genesis because it’s been drilled into us. Not so The Sontaran Experiment where we’ve heard two different versions of the story. There’s an air of mystery about it.

For another variation on this, we might look at novelisations which vary significantly from their TV originals, but unlike The Sontaran Experiment were written by the original screenwriters. Take for instance, Doctor Who and the Doomsday Weapon, Malcolm Hulke’s retelling of his own Colony in Space. In that instance, we might consider the embellished book version of the story to be the author’s preferred version, as he’s been freed from the strictures of TV production and can re-tell his tale unfettered. That feels different to Marter’s retelling of The Sontaran Experiment where changing the original can be seen as implicit criticism.

Marter was a unique voice in the Target range. If you saw his name come up on the release schedule you knew you were in for something special. He was not just an inventive adaptor of others’ work, he was an alternative to the sparse but efficient prose style of Terrance Dicks. He also developed a reputation for injecting a little more adult content into the range. His adaptation of The Enemy of the World included the word ‘bastard’ and his take on The Invasion is peppered with gory detail.

And in The Ark in Space and The Sontaran Experiment we have the only examples of an actor who inhabited the fictional world writing the book version. In both books, he resists the urge to make them all about his character, solid upright type Harry Sullivan. Marter’s early death in 1987 prevented him from providing further novelisations, and maybe even entries into the New and Missing Adventures lines, which could have been the intermittent treats his Target contributions were.

Digging out my copy of the Target novel made me think about Marter, but it also gave me a chance to play on old game of “make fun of the back cover blurb”, which I’ve reproduced below.  (Look, give me a break, I don’t get out much.)

Landing on Earth, now a barren, desolate planet, Sarah, Harry and the Doctor are unaware of the large, watching robot. The robot is the work of Styre, a Sontaran warrior, who uses all humans landing here for his experimental programmes. (They go out late on Friday nights on BBC4)

What has happened to the other space explorers who have come here?  (Well, as you’ve just said, they’ve been subject to Styre’s experimental programmes.)

Why is the Sontaran scout so interested in Earth and in brutally torturing humans, including Sarah Jane? (Bloody good question. Ostensibly it’s to uncover the human race’s weaknesses so that they might be exploited when the Sontarans invade. But as the planet’s uninhabited, it seems a bit pointless.)

Will the Doctor be able to prevent an invasion and certain disaster, and save both Earth and his companions? (Spoiler alert: yes).

ADVENTURES IN SUBTITLING: ‘Linx!’ Sarah Jane exclaims on her first sight of Styre, mistaking him for the Sontaran she met in The Time Warrior. The subtitles get that first one right. But when she repeats it in Part Two, it turns to ‘Yikes!’ Ah, Commander Yikes, that lesser known Sontaran.

Also on the Part Two subtitles, Erak suddenly announces, “I’ve got cramps!”. That may well be true, but he’s scripted to say “It’s no use, Krans!”

LINK TO A Christmas Carol: the descendants of human colonists are the supporting cast in both.

NEXT TIME… We bung a rock at The Abominable Snowmen.