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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. 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 (based on "The Daleks", "The Web Planet" and "The Crusade") were originally published by Frederick Muller in the 1960s, before becoming the start of the Target line. The last novelisation, for the Eighth Doctor TV Movie, was published by BBC Books.
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.
In later years, Target also novelised non-series stories, including the spin-off K-9 and Company, three audio dramas (The Pescatons, Slipback and The Paradise of Death), and three stories written for the original never-made Season 23 (The Nightmare Fair, The Ultimate Evil and Mission to Magnus). The half-filmed and never-aired Shada was, at the time, kept from being novelised by the same issues as Douglas Adams' other stories. K-9 and Company was in fact the third in a series of "Companions of Doctor Who" novels featuring companions as solo protagonists after their travels with the Doctor, preceded by two original novels: Turlough and the Earthlink Dilemma, by Tony Attwood, and Harry Sullivan's War by the character's actor Ian Marter.
In the early 1990s, Virgin Publishing (which had acquired Target Books in the 1980s) began a series of original (not adapted) Doctor Who novels, the Virgin New Adventures.
The BBC has shown no sign of publishing novelisations of New Who, 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 released a novelisation of Shada, written by Gareth Roberts; unlike previous novelisations, it was aimed at a general audience, and clocked in at approximately 400 pages.
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.
- Author Catchphrase:
- 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".
- Beige Prose: Many of the less inspired novelisations.
- 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.
- 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.
- In the novelisation of "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 End of Time" (visionaries and time locks), and "The Doctor's Wife" (the Corsair), among others.
- Early Installment Weirdness: 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. Also, while Doctor Who and the Zarbi is pitched at about the same reading level as Target aimed for, David Whittaker'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.
- 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-historial 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 the novelisation of "Invasion of the Dinosaurs", Butler (one of the villains) 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. This was shortened to Doctor Who and the Daleks on subsequent editions.
- 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.
- 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 glitches.
- 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.
- Typo 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".