Target Books were a children's publishing imprint, significant for being the dominant publisher of Doctor Who prose fiction and non-fiction from the 1970s to the early 1990s. They were most famous for their line of novelisations of Doctor Who serials, in part because the novelisations were the principal route by which some fans could experience missing episodes. Technically an imprint, and not an independent publisher, they were owned by several houses. However, the Doctor Who line is most associated with W.H. Allen & Co, who owned Target from 1977–1989, and Virgin Books, who bought them in 1990 and extended and reprinted the line until 1994. The imprint was revived in 2018 by Ebury Publishing with newly commissioned novelisations of episodes from after 2005 as well as reprints of novelised stories originally published by BBC Books (another Ebury imprint) from the 1990s to the 2010s.
Target Books was a publishing imprint set up in 1972 as a range of paperback fiction for readers of approximately 14 years of age. Although far from the only subject matter published by Target, it was for its long lived and highly successful range of Doctor Who novelisations that Target became best known. Target almost exclusively published paperbacks, but their novelisations did occasionally get first printings in hardback by related publishers Allan Wingate and W.H. Allen & Co. Many of the hardcovers are considered rare, given that they received far smaller distribution than the paperbacks (especially outside the UK). On occasion the hardcovers followed the paperback editions by several years.
The Target imprint changed hands many times over its history but up until the end, when it adopted a more modern monochrome version, retained its distinctive, brightly-coloured logo. By the end of the series, Target had novelised almost every Doctor Who television story and adapted every one of the First, Second, Third and Seventh Doctors' on-screen adventures. (By 2022, Target editions had been published of every televised story of the 1963-1996 period, as well as several from the 2005-present revival.)
The importance of the Doctor Who novelisations to maintaining interest and knowledge in the franchise cannot be overestimated. Prior to the 1980s, it was usually impossible to obtain recordings of previously aired stories as commercial home video had not yet been established. Reruns were rare and sporadic, and many episodes from the 1960s were destroyed and believed lost forever. The novelisations were (and in some cases remain) the only venues for reliving past stories or catching up on stories never seen before by fans. They also provided opportunities for many stories to be presented in a form unhampered by TV budgets, special effects technology limitations, and occasional content limitations imposed by the BBC.
Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks and Doctor Who and the Crusaders, adapted by David Whitaker, and Doctor Who and the Zarbi, adapted by Bill Strutton, saw publication as hardbacks by Frederick Muller in the mid-1960s. In 1973, Target began its run of Doctor Who novelisations by reprinting these three titles. For the Target edition, the Daleks novel had its title shortened to Doctor Who and the Daleks. All had new covers by Chris Achilleos, who would illustrate the first wave of Target Doctor Who books. It was originally considered by Target Books' editor Richard Henwood to have the Third Doctor replace the First Doctor in the revised illustrations for the novels, however this ultimately didn't happen.
An original publication, Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion by Terrance Dicks, would follow in 1974. Over the years, "Uncle Terry", as fans nicknamed him, would write more Target Books and have a closer association with them in the minds of fans than any other writer. He also wrote a short-lived series of simplified Junior Doctor Who novelisations for younger readers. (Dicks also wrote other works for Target in the 1970s, including a series of novels based on the adventures of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.)
Linking some early Target novelisations to their television counterparts was a challenge at times, as for the first few years Target occasionally published novelisations under titles that differed from the TV originals. This practice actually pre-dated Target, with Doctor Who and the Zarbi having been based upon The Web Planet. Under Target, for example, Spearhead from Space became Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion. When the decision was made to keep the original title, the prefix Doctor Who and... was usually added. There were a few exceptions, such as the release of The Three Doctors. Also there were occasional exceptions for first-edition hardcover publications, such as the novelisation of Revenge of the Cybermen, which was first published as The Revenge of the Cybermen in hardcover, and Doctor Who and the Revenge of the Cybermen in paperback.
An even greater challenge is posed for those reading the books in televised order. When the Target line (and, indeed, the earlier Muller trilogy) were launched, the publishers had no inkling of the comprehensive nature the book series would take over the next 20 years. As a result, several novelisations ignore the events of previous stories, creating continuity issues. For example, Doctor Who and the Doomsday Weapon, based upon the Season 8 story Colony in Space, includes introductions for Jo Grant and the Master, with Grant meeting the Doctor for the first time. In reality both characters were introduced in Terror of the Autons, which wasn't novelised until some time later, and that book once again introduced the two characters. Similarly, Doctor Who and the Daleks ignores the events of An Unearthly Child and thus creates a continuity hiccup for those who first read the novelisation of An Unearthly Child, which wasn't published until the early 1980s. (This situation is not confined to 1970s issues; in the 1980s the novelisation of Mindwarp contained an epilogue that contradicted the ending of a later novelisation, The Ultimate Foe.)
The Muller reprints were not the last books by another publisher to be reissued by Target, as the company also published a new edition of The Making of Doctor Who, a book previously issued by Piccolo Books.
Beginning in the second half of the 1970s, W.H. Allen and/or related publishers began issuing hardcover editions of the novels. In some cases these predated the paperback editions by months. Often they were published simultaneously, and in the case of a few of the 1974–75 books hardcover editions weren't published for nearly a decade.
During the 1980s, experimentally, Target published two original novels featuring further adventures of the Doctor's companions, Turlough and the Earthlink Dilemma by Tony Attwood and Harry Sullivan's War by Ian Marter, who had played Harry Sullivan on television. Target also took up three scripts from the "lost" version of Season 23 which, due to the delay and re-thinking of Season 23 by the then-current production team of Doctor Who, never made their way onto screen. Target also began to look beyond the televised series for source material by novelising the radio play Slipback, the spin-off special K9 and Company: A Girl's Best Friend, and the mid-1970s audio drama Doctor Who and the Pescatons.
Beginning in 1981, Target began making a concerted effort to enlist the original script-writers in writing the novelisations based upon their stories (a practice actually dating back to Strutton's Zarbi novel, but only occasionally employed during the 1970s, such as Dicks and Malcolm Hulke adapting their own scripts). They were successful in commissioning novelisations even from writers who had last worked on the series in the 1960s. Where the original author was unavailable, unwilling, or deceased, the range turned to one of its staff writers, such as Marter or Dicks. The practice of having the original scriptwriters write the books when possible would continue for the remainder of the line. The two most significant writers whom Target was unable to commission for novelisations were Terry Nation and Douglas Adams. Marter had the unique distinction of adapting several stories in which he himself had performed as Harry Sullivan; he died in 1986 and several of his novelisations were published posthumously. One of Marter's books, Doctor Who and the Enemy of the World, was controversial for incorporating adult concepts and language — issues that would later resurface when original Doctor Who novels began to appear in the 1990s.
Towards the late 1980s and into the 1990s, however, Target loosened the policy of only commissioning writers with past connection to Doctor Who on TV, beginning with the novelisation of The Celestial Toymaker, which was co-authored by Gerry Davis and Alison Bingeman, a writer with no Doctor Who connection. Later, Nigel Robinson, the line's editor, who otherwise had no Doctor Who TV connection, wrote four books. In the 1990s, John Peel (an author with experience writing books for several franchises) wrote the final five Dalek novelisations prior to the 2018 revival of the Target Books line.
In 1982, Target phased out the practice of adding Doctor Who and... to its novelisation titles. In 1988, the practice of publishing hardcover editions was abandoned following publication of The Smugglers, much to the stated chagrin of fans collecting the novelisations in that format, resulting in the final run of books being available in paperback editions only.
The Virgin years
During the 1990s the company was acquired by Virgin Publishing. The only titles still held by Target were the Doctor Who stories. Many of the titles were reissued with new covers, but to many readers they were still affectionately regarded as "Target Books". Indeed, Virgin itself branded the later titles as part of "the Target Library".
The end and return of Target Books
In the later years of the run, Target was successful in negotiating with Terry Nation's estate the rights to adapt four of his Daleks storylines, most notably The Chase and The Daleks' Master Plan; the latter (one of the longest storylines at 12 episodes) had to be published in two volumes.
Target eventually outlasted the original run of Doctor Who itself, which ended with Season 26 in 1989. The Target line continued in the "short paperback" form until the release of Doctor Who - The Pescatons in 1991 — an adaptation of an audio play, as virtually all available televised stories had been adapted by this time. Between 1990 and 1994 Target republished many of its older releases with new cover art; a subsidiary, Star Books, also published omnibus paperback editions combining two books at a time. The 1990–1994 reissues were straight reprints, rather than new editions that corrected typographical and other errors, with cover designs that sometimes corresponded with VHS video releases of the stories. The Star Books editions combined the interiors of remaindered individual book stock, glued together with new covers.
After 1991, several additional releases were published in longer-format paperbacks by the owner of Target, Virgin Publishing, beginning with the adaptations of The Evil of the Daleks and The Power of the Daleks, two David Whitaker scripts that, like the Nation stories, had previously eluded adaptation. The 1994 release The Paradise of Death, based upon a radio play, was the 156th and last release (until 2018) to be branded as part of the Target series.
By the time the 1973-94 run of the Target Books line had ended, almost every Doctor Who story aired on television, along with several audio dramas, had appeared under the Target imprint. The few from the 1963-89 version of the show that had not appeared were later included under the revived imprint from 2018-2021. Within a few years of the final release, the Target Books line had fallen out of print, with many of the books, particularly the scarce hardback editions, becoming collectors items. Virgin continued to publish a few more novelisations, but under its New Adventures and Missing Adventures lines, and none based upon televised episodes of the original series.
When Doctor Who returned to television in 2005, it was announced that no novelisations would be published, in part due to the expectation that the episodes would be easily available on DVD in due course. Nonetheless, Penguin Character Books revived the novelisation format by releasing adaptations of episodes from the spin-off series The Sarah Jane Adventures; appropriately, the first of these books was written by Terrance Dicks. One novelisation, adapting The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith, featured the Doctor appearing in a TV novelisation for the first time since the novelisation of the 1996 TV movie. However, in 2018, four new novelisations were released: Rose, The Christmas Invasion, The Day of the Doctor (the first adaptation of a story featuring the Daleks for over 20 years), and Twice Upon a Time, followed by Dalek, The Crimson Horror, and The Witchfinders in 2021.
The "lost" novelisations
Prior to the line's 2018 revival, Target Books was unable to come to agreement with Douglas Adams or Eric Saward on the adaptation of several serials. In 2012, BBC Books published a novelisation of Adams' Shada by Gareth Roberts, the first new Doctor Who novelisation in 16 years; an adaptation of the Adams-coauthored City of Death by James Goss was published in May 2015 and and an adaptation of Adams' The Pirate Planet, also by James Goss, was published in January 2017. In 2019, Saward adapted his own scripts for Resurrection of the Daleks and Revelation of the Daleks for BBC Books.
In 2018, City of Death was republished as a paperback under the Target Books imprint, followed by Target reprints of The Pirate Planet, Resurrection of the Daleks, Revelation of the Daleks, and The TV Movie in 2021. These were not, however, simply paperback reissues of the hardcover editions, as all (including the TV Movie novel) were revised to more closely conform with the televised versions of the stories, effectively resulting in these stories being adapted twice. A Target paperback of Shada was also published, but it was not revised.
In the early 1980s, several audio book adaptations of Target novels were released, read by Tom Baker. In 2007 BBC Audio began a new series of complete and unabridged releases of the Target novelisations, giving new life to these old (and out of print) stories. In most cases, the books are read by actors who had appeared in the original stories. This series has continued into 2018.
In July 2008, backstock of 27 Target novelisations (and a few Target-published spin-off works) were distributed at random with copies of Doctor Who Magazine #397. These were not reprints but original copies, some dating back more than 25 years.
BBC Books reprints
In 7 July 2011, BBC Books reprinted six Target novelisations with original cover art by Chris Achilleos and new introductions by prominent writers affiliated with Doctor Who or who are fans of the series. Six more reprints followed in May 2012. Seven more followed in April 2016. These were in the same format as the 2018-2021 Target editions.
In 2013, Remembrance of the Daleks was republished in a new trade paperback edition by BBC Books as part of a series of 50th anniversary reprints; it was the only TV novelisation featured in the set and was reissued in lieu of republishing any of the many original Seventh Doctor novels (the line otherwise featured original novels).