The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Thursday, 15 August 2019

Stories of Old

Last week (I am never up-to-date with my updates) there was a new Doctor Who Magazine Special Edition, devoted to the novelisations published by Target Books in the 1970s and 1980s. My contribution to this, quite frankly, wonderful publication was an introduction. In the space of 3000 words I had to give a potted history of the books and explain their appeal. Obviously both subjects could easily merit much more detailed and comprehensive articles, but such articles have already appeared elsewhere so, for this, I decided to include a few personal memories (as examples of how all Doctor Who fans of a certain vintage associate the books with moments in their childhood), and dedicated a chunk of my wordcount to stuff which hasn’t really been covered elsewhere; the books’ literary style, and how their content shifted over the decades from writing novelisations for ‘casual viewers’, kids who watched Doctor Who on telly who might need the basics introduced to them, to ‘dedicated fans’ who wanted accurate novelisations of old adventures they didn’t have on video and expanded novelisations of the recent adventures they did have on video. Thinking about it now, that is best illustrated by the shift from the books having ‘Doctor Who and the’ titles to having ‘Doctor Who hyphen The Title of the Story’ titles. I wish I’d thought of that when I was writing the article! (There’s also a gradual shift from having child-enticing covers in the 1970s showcasing the monsters to fan-accommodating covers in the 1980s consisting of photo-referenced heads floating in a vortex). 

I also included a box-out on something else which has never really been brought up, which is how the Doctor Who novelisations fitted into the history of novelisations as a sub-genre. Because when they started, there were a few other novelisations of shows like Timeslip already on the shelves, and then later, as you move into the late 1970s and the 1980s, there’s a whole load of books offering new stories and novelisations of TV series, from sitcoms like The Good Life and to Porridge to Grange Hill and EastEnders. I mean, one overlooked thing about the Doctor Who novelisations shift to ‘photographic’ covers in the early 1980s meant that they were being brought into line with the other TV tie-ins being published at the same time. Plus that was the era of novelisations of Hollywood movies, just before video recorders came in and rendered the whole idea moot. 

Sadly I didn’t have room for all that, or to go into detail about the dull and complicated history of the hardback editions, or to mention the amusing misprint in Doctor Who – Delta and the Bannermen. However, I still found plenty to say, and all the other aspects of the novelisations – their covers, how the differ from the TV stories, plus the Discovers books and other spin-offs are all covered elsewhere in the magazine. Only £6.99, available from all good newsagents! 


1 comment:

  1. Wonderful article it is, Jonny. I'd probably have emphasised the 'Also available in the Target series' lists found of page two until The Armageddon Factor (first impression) over the catalogue-extract types which appear at the back of the book from The Dalek Invasion of Earth (two books after the last 'Stay on Target' section - I suspect a sign of Liz Godfray, the last of the old Tandem staff involved with the books, leaving Wyndham/W.H. Allen). However, I think my choice also reflects my favourite era of the books being pre-1981 whereas people who discovered the series in the 1980s wouldn't know what I was talking about. For me, the move to photographic covers was a shift from what I'd now characterise as an ambitious children's imprint to a generic novelization publisher. I very much enjoyed all your contextualization. How I realised I missed the familiarity of Terrance Dicks's prose style - or just someone who could write comfortable and engaging prose - as the era of the original story writer wore on in the 1980s... Not that they were all bad, by no means, but!