Target Books' Doctor Who output in 1981 was unusually low — at least in terms of novelisations. As had happened in 1973, Target only added three titles to their catalogue. Importantly, though, the adaptation of An Unearthly Child debuted this year. At the same time, editorial policy changed at Target, so as to give preference to the commissioning of the serial's original screenwriter wherever possible.
If it was a sparse year for novelisations, however, it was a reasonably eventful one for Doctor Who non-fiction. The first programme guide was published in 1981, offering many fans their initial exposure to a complete listing of Doctor Who serials. Target also launched its range of quiz and puzzle books with The Doctor Who Quiz Book, and gave fans their first look at a kind of "Doctor Who timeline" with The Terrestrial Index.
Reprints and other title covers
|January||Doctor Who and the Creature from the Pit||David Fisher||David Dennington|
|April||Doctor Who and the Enemy of the World||Ian Marter||Bill Donohoe|
|July||Reissue: Doctor Who and the Cybermen||Gerry Davis||New cover: Bill Donohoe|
|October||Doctor Who and an Unearthly Child||Terrance Dicks||Andrew Skilleter|
|October||The Doctor Who Programme Guide Volume 1||Jean-Marc Lofficier||Bill Donohoe|
|October||The Doctor Who Programme Guide Volume 2||Jean-Marc Lofficier||Bill Donohoe|
|December||The Doctor Who Quiz Book||Nigel Robinson|
- Beginning with the 1981 releases, there was a noticeable change in the format of the Target Book series. Up until this point, with a few exceptions (such as Brian Hayles and Gerry Davis), Target Books usually commissioned one of its staff writers to write the novelisations (more often than not, Terrance Dicks, but also Malcolm Hulke and several Doctor Who TV producers). The release of Doctor Who and the Creature from the Pit marked the start of a concerted effort by Target to, whenever possible, commission the original teleplay writer to also write the novelisation; in this initial case, David Fisher. This practise soon extended to include script writers from the 1960s as well; if the original writer was not available or not willing, Target would commission a staff writer such as Dicks or Ian Marter to take on the job (due to the smaller-than-usual number of releases in 1981, this means scriptwriter-penned novelisations would not begin to appear in force until 1982). This practice continued through to the end of the Target novelisations series.