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Literature: Doctor Who Novelisations

During the 70s and 80s, in the days before video took off, the way to catch up on previous Doctor Who stories were the novelisations from Target Books, which retold (and frequently expanded on) the stories on TV.

Notable authors included Terrance Dicks (who wrote more Doctor Who novelisations than anyone else), Malcolm Hulke, Philip Hinchcliffe, Ian Marter, and David Whitaker, all of whom had worked on the TV series in various capacities.

Target Books was established in 1973, publishing TV novelisations and other books for children. The Doctor Who line was its most successful, and in later years the two became synonymous: "Target Books" meant Doctor Who novelisations and vice versa.

Because Target's target audience was children, the novelisations used simplified language and were stuck with a maximum page count of around 150 pages, even for epics like the 10-part The War Games. A special concession was made for The Daleks' Master Plan, 13 episodes including the prologue, which was published in two volumes, although this was very late in the series where the books were being marketed to the adult fan-collector market as much as to the original child audience. The quality of the writing varies considerably, from thin Beige Prose to relatively sophisticated works that took time to fill out characters' personalities and backstories; Malcolm Hulke's novelisations, for instance, were notable examples of the latter type.

The first three Doctor Who novelisations, Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure With the Daleks (based on The Daleks and reprinted as Doctor Who and the Daleks) Doctor Who and the Web Planet and Doctor Who and the Crusaders were originally published by Frederick Muller in the 1960s, before Target Books reprinted them and bought the rights to new novelisations. The Target series began with Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion, written by Terrance Dicks and based on Spearhead From Space.

Almost every story from the classic series got a novelisation. The four exceptions were the two Dalek stories by Eric Saward, Resurrection of the Daleks and Revelation of the Daleks, due to conflict between Saward and the Daleks' agent about the division of royalties; and Douglas Adams' two stories, The Pirate Planet and City of Death, because Adams wanted the novelisations to be done by someone who could do justice to the material (namely, himself) but having hit the big time with The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy he was too busy, or too expensive, or both.

Circa 1979, ten of the novelisations were brought to America by Pinnacle Books. The reprints had a foreword by Harlan Ellison, some edits to make them US-friendly (jelly babies changed to jelly beans, etc.) and covers that never actually showed the Doctor or the TARDIS.

As the '80's wore on, Target began to branch out. It adapted the audio drama Doctor Who and the Pescatons into The Pescatons and another audio story, Slipback. It novelised K-9 and Company under the Companions of Doctor Who sub-series, which had previously included the original novel Turlough and the Earthlink Dilemma by Tony Attwood and Harry Sullivan's War, written by Ian Marter, the Target author who had played Harry on Doctor Who. Three novelisations of the original, cancelled Season 23 stories The Nightmare Fair, The Ultimate Evil and Mission to Magnus appeared under another sub-series.

In the early 1990s, Virgin Publishing brought out the last of the unadapted novelisations, alongside the Doctor Who New Adventures. This new incarnation of Target published a novelisation of the audio drama The Paradise of Death and The Powers of the Daleks followed by The Evil of the Daleks.

In 1996, BBC Books released a novelisation of the TV movie with Paul McGann. The BBC has shown no sign of publishing novelisations of anything produced afterwards, although it has published novelisations of the younger-ages spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures; the novelisation of the first episode was by Terrance Dicks.

In 2011, the BBC reissued six of the novelisations in new editions with introductions by writers including Neil Gaiman, Stephen Baxter, and Russell T Davies. In 2012, they reissued six more, and also published the first new novelisation in years: Gareth Roberts' novelisation of Douglas Adams' Shada (a story cancelled in mid-production by a strike at the BBC). Unlike previous novelisations, it was aimed at a general audience, and clocked in at approximately 400 pages. In 2013, when the BBC reissued a spin-off novel for each Doctor as part of the 50th anniversary, the first six were Past Doctor Adventures released in the late 1990s and 2000s, but the Seventh Doctor's was the 1990 novelisation of "Remembrance of the Daleks".

2014 will see Gareth Roberts' novelisation of City of Death, a story based on a storyline by David Fisher and scripted by Graham Williams and Douglas Adams (but popularly attributed solely to Adams). A novelisation of The Pirate Planet by Adams will presumably follow.

These novels provide examples of:

  • All There in the Manual: Some stories, particularly "Warriors' Gate" and about half of the Seventh Doctor's later adventures, are much easier to follow in the novelisations than they were on screen. One particularly notorious example is the novelisation to Dragonfire, which in the TV version had a scene wherein the Doctor hangs off a cliff by his umbrella for what appears to be absolutely no reason whatsoever; the novel explains that the Doctor is using it to try and reach a ledge lower down, but slips and loses his footing.
  • Author Catch Phrase:
    • Terrance Dicks had many stock phrases that were repeatedly deployed in his novelisations; for instance, the fifth Doctor was always "a young man with a pleasant open face", and that noise the TARDIS makes was invariably "a wheezing, groaning sound".
    • In Christopher Bidmead's novelisations, the TARDIS makes "a whirring, chuffing sound".
  • Batman Gambit: According to the Warriors' Gate novelisation, Biroc set up the events of the entire story, simply by causing the TARDIS and the privateer to land at the gateway and then letting events take their natural course.
  • Beige Prose: Many of the less inspired novelisations.
  • Bowdlerise:
    • Doctor Who and the Sunmakers, novelised by Terrance Dicks, depicts the rebellious citizens as immediately feeling guilty and regretful after they throw Hade off the roof (as opposed to joyous cheering in the original "The Sun Makers") because Dicks felt that an all-ages show shouldn't condone the casual murder of helpless prisoners, no matter how villainous.
    • Dicks' Doctor Who and the Web of Fear removes the implied antisemitism present in the first episode, mainly by changing the name of the avaricious Silverstein to something less obviously Jewish.
  • Bureaucratically Arranged Marriage: Doctor Who and the Doomsday Weapon, the novelisation of "Colony in Space", adds extra details about life on Overindustrialised Future Earth; one of the mining ship's officers recalls how the faceless megacorporation he works for "takes care" of its employees, arranging their accommodation, education, and, if the Company considers it necessary, marriages. They do try to arrange compatible matches, but probably only because unhappy employees are bad for productivity, and the matching process involves a stack of employee profiles and a computer in the personnel department, as opposed to, say, people getting to meet people. In his case, he agreed to be married as a condition of his next promotion, and then heard no more about it until he returned from a voyage to find his new wife waiting for him in the kitchen.
  • Character Name and the Noun Phrase: With occasional exceptions (The Three Doctors, Death to the Daleks), every novelisation until 1982 was titled Doctor Who and the X. Disappointingly, the novelisation of "Doctor Who and the Silurians", the only TV story with that kind of title, was Doctor Who and the Cave Monsters, not Doctor Who and the Doctor Who and the Silurians. And, of course, the Doctor's name isn't actually "Doctor Who".
    • Oddly enough, it was the novelisations' constant references to the character as "the Doctor" that cemented the I Am Not Shazam viewpoint in fandom.
  • Composite Character: The novelisation of "The Invasion of Time" combines the characters of Jasko and Ablif into a single character. The character in the book is named, appropriately enough, "Jablif".
  • Compressed Adaptation: Any of the novelisations that tried to cram six or more episodes into less than 150 pages.
  • Covers Always Lie: The US Pinnacle covers featured more impressive versions of the sometimes feeble monsters in the actual stories (Target Books made sure not to do this). Doctor Who and the Day of the Daleks depicts a very badass UNIT spaceship, which never appeared in the show or anywhere else!
  • Death by Adaptation: Luigi Ferrigo in Doctor Who and the Crusaders (based on The Crusades). Lolem in "The Underwater Menace" (he probably dies off-screen in the TV story but the novelisation makes sure). Roberts in Doctor Who and the Cave Monsters. Ahmed and the other workers in "Doctor Who and the Pyramids of Mars". Zbrigniev in "Battlefield". Vershinin and Bates in "The Curse of Fenric". Harvey, Len and Derek in "Survival".
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Those Doctor Who novelisations that were published some years after the TV story was broadcast sometimes added in references to later stories.
    • The novelisation of "The Time Meddler" has a notorious line where the Doctor refers to the Monk as a Gallifreyan, leading fans who relied on the novelisations to believe that the Doctor's home planet had been named eight years earlier than it was on TV.
    • The novelisation of The Mind Robber makes reference to the Master, to clear up the oddity of that story also having an unrelated villain called the Master (or the Master of the Land). (This contradicts TV continuity, though, in that, when the Master first appeared onscreen, he had only recently adopted that name.)
    • In the novelisation "Terror of the Autons", the bomb that the hypnotised Professor Philips uses to try to kill the Doctor and Jo was retconned into a Sontaran hand grenade.
    • In the novelisation of "The Time Monster", the device with which the Master pulls soldiers and weapons out of the past to attack UNIT is compared to the Time Scoop from "The Five Doctors".
    • The novelisation of "Shada" nods to the TV Movie (temporal orbit), "The Shakespeare Code" (Carrionites), "The Stolen Earth" (time locks), "The End of Time" (Visionaries), and "The Doctor's Wife" (the Corsair), etc.
    • The Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver in the novelisation of "The Faceless Ones"; the TV serial was made before the sonic had been thought of in real life. In the novelisation of the following story, "The Evil of the Daleks" (which follows straight on without a gap), the Doctor notes that he hasn't got his screwdriver, because he left it in the TARDIS. (But then the novelisations existed in their own little bubbles of continuity, separate from the others.)
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: Quite a lot of this. The three novels originally published in the 1960s weren't subject to the familiar Target rules; in particular, they're all well over 150 pages. While Doctor Who and the Zarbi is pitched at about the same reading level as Target aimed for, David Whitaker's two are aimed at adult readers, with developed characters, polished prose, and, it has to be said, a certain amount of child-unfriendly violence. The first one takes the form of a first person account by Ian Chesterton. Additionally, they sometimes refer to the Doctor (in description, not dialogue) as "Doctor Who". (The very first Doctor Who novelisation does not, though.)
  • Everybody Lives: Unlike in the original story, Gareth Roberts' Shada rewrites the ending of the story to achieve this.
  • Fourth Wall: Played with in the novelisation of "The Mind Robber", the adventure in which the Doctor and his companions visit the Land of Fiction. The novelisation is set entirely within the Land: it begins with the scene where the Doctor wakes up there (filling in earlier events through flashback), and ends when the Doctor and his companions leave.
  • Framing Device: Each of Donald Cotton's three Hartnell-historical novelisations: The Mythmakers has Homer deciding to tell, just this once, the story of what really happened at the Siege of Troy; The Gunfighters has Doc Holliday on his deathbed telling a journalist the story of what really happened at the OK Corral; and The Romans is presented as a collection of contemporary documents telling the story of what really happened in the lead-up to the Great Fire of Rome.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: In "Doctor Who and Invasion of the Dinosaurs", the Anti-Villain Butler has a distinctive scar on his face (which he didn't have in the TV version; it was added because he shows up in several different scenes before being named, and the author needed a way to signal to the reader that it was the same character each time). The trope is played with: Butler is a Well-Intentioned Extremist, and when Sarah Jane remarks on his Evil Scar he reveals that he got it while saving somebody's life.
  • Long Title: The first-ever Doctor Who novelisation was titled Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks (with Doctor Who in big letters). This was shortened to Doctor Who and the Daleks on subsequent editions.
  • Out of Order: In the early years, the novelisations were written and published according to which stories were considered most popular and suitable, rather than TV broadcast order. This led to many sixties stories not featuring well-known villains being novelised very late in the day.
  • Pie in the Face: In the novelisation of The Daleks' Master Plan, the Doctor is the originator of this timeless gag. Having started a pie fight, he is, of course, the one person to escape unscathed.
  • Promoted to Love Interest: The novelisation of Remembrance of the Daleks adds a wartime romance to the backstories of Group Captain Gilmore and Professor Jensen, which is renewed over the course of the book.
  • Scrapbook Story: The Romans is presented as a collection of contemporary documents that were gathered up and suppressed to avoid embarrassing certain powerful people depicted therein.
  • Sdrawkcab Name: In the novelisation of The Happiness Patrol, the human who became the Kandyman is named as Seivad.
  • See the Invisible: The novelisation of The Daleks' Master Plan adds a scene where the Doctor and his companions render one of the invisible monsters on Mira visible by throwing it in a swamp.
  • Series Continuity Error: The novelisations weren't really intended to be read end-to-end as a series, and attempting to do so will turn up some interesting continuity anomalies.
    • The earliest, and one of the most famous, is that Ian and Barbara meet the Doctor for the first time two novels in a row: Doctor Who and an Unearthly Child is the novelisation of the first TV story, and includes the scene of their first meeting; Doctor Who and the Daleks, the novelisation of the second TV story, was the first novelisation actually published, and was consequently rewritten to as Ian and Barbara's first adventure, with a new first-meeting scene at the beginning.
    • The second most famous example was that Doctor Who and the Doomsday Weapon, based on the TV story "Colony in Space", has the Doctor and Jo meeting each other for the first time at the beginning, reusing not their actual first meeting from "Terror of the Autons" but the scene later in that story in which the Master hypnotises her and sends her into UNIT HQ with a bomb.
    • The novelisation of The Dominators faithfully retains the serial's cliffhanger ending, in which the TARDIS is threatened by an erupting volcano on the planet Dulkis. The novelisation of The Mind Robber, which immediately follows, relocates the volcano to Earth. In turn, The Mind Robber novelisation ends with four people on board the TARDIS; by the start of The Invasion novelisation, which again should follow without a break, there are only three.
    • Doctor Who and the Space War, the novelisation of "Frontier in Space", removes the cliffhanger ending of the Doctor being shot... but he's still injured at the start of Doctor Who and the Planet of the Daleks.
  • Shout-Out: In the novelisation of "The Daleks' Master Plan", two policemen (who were unnamed in the TV episode) are named Welland and Blessed, after Colin Welland and BRIAN BLESSED, two of the stars of Z Cars.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Medok in "The Macra Terror". Von Weich in "The War Games". Orum in "Carnival of Monsters" (his death is blink-and-you'll-miss-it-being-hinted-at in the TV version but he definitely survives in the novelisation). Eric in "The Time Warrior". Magrik in "Revenge of the Cybermen". Caldera and the other Think Tank scientists in "Shada". Latoni in "Black Orchid". Timanov in "Planet of Fire".
  • Tyop on the Cover: The novelisation of "Delta and the Bannermen" has a typo on the spine, where there is only one Bannerman. (This is nothing to the typo that occurs within, at a point where one of the characters is supposed to be peering over a shelf.)
  • Unreliable Illustrator: The 1960s and 1970s novelisations were published with illustrations, which, although they didn't contradict the text, had clearly been made by somebody who'd never seen the television versions. (In some cases, not only were the details of the scene different, so were the faces of the characters.) This wasn't all bad, though. Some of the monsters are much more convincing in illustrated form than they were on the TV.
  • Writing Around Trademarks: In "The Green Death", the evil chemical company is Global Chemicals in the TV version but was changed to Panorama Chemicals in the novelisation because there was an actual company called Global Chemicals, which complained.
  • You Gotta Have Blue Hair: In Doctor Who and the Doomsday Weapon, Malcolm Hulke's novelisation of "Colony in Space", it's mentioned in passing that a young woman had dyed her hair "dull blue, as was the fashion that month".


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