Target Review 005 – Doctor Who and The Keys of Marinus

Written by Philip Hinchcliffe

From the Back:

MARINUS
a remote force-shielded island set in a sea of acid, governed by
THE CONSCIENCE
the ultimate computer which rules and balances the gentle life of Marinus, guarded by
ARBITAN THE KEEPER
ruthless protector of a peace loving race threatened by
YARTEK
Warlord of the brutal sub-human Voords, sworn enemy of Arbitan and of Marinus, who has within his grasp
THE KEYS OF MARINUS
the Conscience’s vital micro-circuits, the doors of good and evil.  Can the Doctor find the hidden circuits in time?  Arbitan’s command was ‘Find them, OR DIE!’

Opening Line: “The day–like every day on Marinus–started clear and bright.”

First thoughts are that this is an odd novelization.  Oh, the actual content is normal enough.  In fact, it is quite straight-forward.  What makes this odd is that Philip Hinchcliffe, the producer for Tom Baker’s first few years, is the author.  Hinchcliffe had nothing to do with this story.  Granted, many Target books are like this.  Ian Marter, the actor who played Harry Sullivan (also from the Tom Baker era) novelized a few of the books as well, many of them of episodes he wasn’t in.  I’m rather curious what it was that led to Hinchcliffe writing this particular novel, especially as I would say his heart wasn’t in it.

As novelizations go, if you want a straight script-to-prose adaptation, you will be quite pleased with Keys.  Unfortunately, I prefer the books that go into greater detail and become something beyond the source material.  Since Keys still exists, and has been released on DVD, I would probably prefer to watch the serial than revisit this book.  This is just personal preference.

Final Verdict: Yeah, I realize this is a short review, but I just didn’t care for this novelization.  I was quite bored.  Occasionally I felt I should just watch the DVD because it would be quicker.  I will try to make the next review more interesting.  Sorry.

From lust to gluttony: “Vasor quickly locked the door behind him and turned to Barbara.  ‘There.  We’re alone.’  He gave a funny chuckle.
Barbara shuddered and crossed to the fire.  Vasor followed and put his large hands around her shoulders.  She broke away, trying to conceal her alarm.  ‘He’ll be back,’ she said, ‘I know he will.’
‘We’ll see.  Meanwhile I’ll get us some food.  We must fatten you up, eh?’”

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Target Review 004 – Marco Polo

Written by John Lucarotti

Click on the picture to be transported to a magical world where you can purchase this book.

From the Back:  The young Venetian Marco Polo is on his way to the Emperor’s court in Peking when he meets the intrepid time-travellers, for the TARDIS has landed on Earth in the year 1289.
Marco Polo recognises in the TARDIS a means of winning favour with the Emperor. But in the end the Doctor has no one but himself to blame for the loss of his wondrous travelling machine – which he gambles away to Kublai Khan…

Opening Line: “‘It’s freezing cold outside,’ Susan said, looking at the external temperature thermometer in the TARDIS, ‘minus twenty.’”

I make no attempt to hide that I love the televised version of Marco Polo, well, the audio that exists of it.  So obviously, my standards were high going in to this novelization.  Thankfully, Lucarotti adapted his own material, and he did so exceptionally.

This novelization was written in 1985, a full 21 years after the final episode of the serial aired.  I’m not sure how much Lucarotti drew from his script or memory, but he does an excellent job of adapting it.  Yes, there are a few changes, in particular the ending in which Tegana is shot by arrow rather than engaging in combat with Polo.  Some of the changes work better than others and I think I prefer the combat from the serial to the quick dispatching of Tegana.  But the relationship between Ping-Cho and Ling-Tau is more believable and satisfying.  In fact, because many of these changes work well, I think I prefer the novel to the TV version.

This is yet another great historical adventure.  Lucarotti provides plenty of details and flavors of Cathay.  The novel flows quickly, as many of the TARGET books do, and is a wonderful way to enjoy this lost story.  In fact, it was this novel that really gave me a glimpse into how important the TARGET books were to children.  I felt like a child again as I read this.  I wonder if my nieces and nephew would be interested in a copy once they are old enough to read . . . .

Final Verdict: Do I really have to repeat it?  I loved it.  Recommended for a warm, sunny day.

A Misery Shared: “‘What a burden old age is,’ Kublai sighed.
‘A trial to be borne with dignity, Sire,’ the Doctor observed.
‘You are right, our friend.  With dignity,’ Kublai replied and with little ‘oohs’, ‘aahs’ and ‘ouches’, the two of them hobbled out of the throne room.”

Target 003 – The Edge of Destruction

Written by Nigel Robinson
From the Back: In a final bid to regain control of the Tardis’s faulty control system the Doctor is driven to experiment with a dangerous untried combination.  With a violent explosion the TARDIS blacks out and the crew find themselves trapped inside.  A simple technical fault? Sabotage? Or something even more sinister?  Tensions mount as the Doctor and his companions begin to suspect one another.  What has happened to the TARDIS?  Slowly a terrifying suspicion dawns.  Has the TARDIS become the prisoner of some powerful fifth intelligence which is even now haunting the time-machine’s dark and gloomy corridors?

First line (not counting the introduction, which is just a recap): “The tall glass column in the centre of the six-sided central control console rose and fell with a stately elegance, indicating that the TARDIS was in full flight.”

An uninteresting start to a rather uninteresting book.  I must confess, that my primary reaction to Nigel Robinson’s novels has been one of boredom.  This is rather astounding as he was the author who adapted Moris Farhi’s outstanding Farewell Great Macedon.  Honestly, I believe Robinson did a stupendous job with Macedon.  Unfortunately, I still found his work on The Edge of Destruction to be dull.  Perhaps it isn’t his fault.  Edge of Destruction isn’t one of the more engaging stories.  It has an intriguing premise, but I’m not entirely sure David Whitaker delivered on this in his original script.  This leaves Robinson with the unpleasant task of novelizing a story that didn’t really deliver.

Part of what made the televised version Edge of Destruction interesting was the direction.  Many of the shots were arranged to heighten the inherent suspense in the story.  Scenes with Susan and the scissors or Ian choking The Doctor were handled quite well, even if the actors didn’t quite know what was happening.  Robinson understandably focuses on these suspenseful elements.  He expounds upon them.  At some points it is hard to tell if a new intelligence has invaded the TARDIS or if The Doctor is deliberately playing with Ian and Barbara.  Of course, in the end we know that neither is truly the case.  Honestly, this is one are where Robinson excels.  Occasionally the televised version of the story was unclear or difficult to make out.  Robinson more fully conveys both the terror and the explanation.  Unfortunately, is was tedium getting to that point.

Another thing Robinson does well, something that is implicit in the original script, is showing us what Barbara sees after she regains consciousness on the TARDIS.  She is in Coal Hill School, something that was only conveyed in dialogue in the episode.  In the novel, with no special effects constraints, Robinson can more fully deliver the ideas that Whitaker was unable to.  In truth, if I had to choose between the two, I would be torn between the hour it would take to watch Edge of Destruction or the realization of the concepts and effects in the novel.  Each version has its strengths and weaknesses.

Prescient chapter title: The End of Time

Final Verdict: If you are a fan of Nigel Robinson or the televised version of The Edge of Destruction, then you will probably find plenty to enjoy here.

Target Review 014 – Doctor Who and the Crusaders

Written by David Whitaker

Note: This review is based on the AudioGo release Doctor Who and the Crusaders as read by William Russell.

From the Box: Back on Earth again, the TARDIS lands Doctor Who and his friends into the midst of the harsh, cruel world of the twelfth-century Crusades.  Soon the adventurers are embroiled in the conflict between Richard the Lionheart and the Sultan Saladin, ruler of the warlike Saracens.

Opening Line: “As swiftly and as silently as a shadow, Doctor Who’s Space and Time ship, Tardis, appeared on a succession of planets each as different as the pebbles on a beach, stayed awhile and then vanished, as mysteriously as it had come.”

Admittedly, I skipped ahead a bit.  I have had a lot to read lately and wasn’t able to sit down with the Target version of The Crusaders.  I did, however, have plenty of time for an audiobook while working some late hours of work or cleaning at home.  I was a bit apprehensive about launching into another First Doctor story, especially one that was a novelization rather than original, but now that I’m well in to the Troughton Era and watching Matt Smith again on the laptop, I figured a revisit of Hartnell could be managed, even if it is Wiliam Hartnell as written by David Whitaker and performed by William Russell.

The Crusaders follows the beats of the televised stories pretty well, but what I love about this version is that we get into the heads of the secondary characters more.  Saladin is fleshed out more as are El Akir and Haroun.  El Akir, in particular, is a nasty piece of work in this version of the story.  He is evidence that Doctor Who doesn’t always need aliens to be monsters because humans can suffice.  Additional character changes involve Ian and Barbara, who are undeniably in love, an element that is at odds with the televised version Doctor Who, but follows on from Whitaker’s adaptation of The Daleks.  Romance between the teachers may have been forbidden by the BBC when filming, but with no such restriction here, Whitaker seems to take delight in fleshing out Ian and Barbara’s predicament at being in exiles in time and space, and explores the natural attraction that two people might have in this situation.

While the story is well-written, engaging, and an exciting historical adventure, perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this novelization is the prologue in which David Whitaker almost explicitly lays out his view of time travel and, by implication, how Doctor Who should work.  In the prologue, Ian and The Doctor engage in a philosophical discussion on the nature of time travel and the impact the adventurers have on the various worlds they visit.  Ian basically points out a major hole in the premise of the show.  “Why is it that when we land on earth, with all the pre-knowledge of history at our disposal, we can’t right one single wrong, make good the bad or change one tiny evil?  Why are we able to do these things on other planets and not on Earth?”  In response, The Doctor espouses a view that Time moves regardless of what the adventurers do.  He likens Earth history to a landslide and once the TARDIS lands, the adventurers are a part of the landslide, “roped completely to Time and must be led by it.”  Time would seem, in Whitaker’s view, to be a controlling force.  I’m not entirely sure this answers Ian’s question as to why Time invalidates their actions on Earth but not other planets, but it is an attempt.  It would seem, according to The Doctor, that the best thing to do is learn from history, to use pre-knowledge of events as a way to study the period and motivations of the players in history.  Only with this knowledge can the adventurers understand themselves and their place in humanity, only then can they learn to find an antidote to greed, selfish ambition, and war.

Final verdict: This is an excellent novelization of an excellent story.  Highly recommended.

Impeccable Logic (from Ibrahim, a thief who has subdued Ian):  “You arrive beside the water pool, and I can see you are a rich Lord, so I am tempted to knock you out and search your clothes.  The temptation was your fault, for you are obviously rich and I am obviously poor.  So I search through your clothes and I find nothing.  Again, My Lord, am I at fault?  I must earn my living and Allah has decided that my profession is to be a thief.  I can tell you I was very frustrated, My Lord, very frustrated indeed.”

Target Review 002: Doctor Who in An Exciting Adventure With The Daleks

Written by David Whitaker

Note: This review is based on the Doctor Who and The Daleks audio book release by BBC Audio.  It was wonderfully read by William Russell

From the box:  Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright travel with the mysterious Doctor Who and his granddaughter, Susan, to the planet of Skaro in the space-time machine, the TARDIS.  There they strive to save the peace-loving Thals from the evil intentions of the hideous Daleks.  Can they succeed?  And, what is more important, will they ever see their native Earth again?

Opening Line:  “I stopped the car at last and let the fog close in around me.”

The first and most obvious thing about this story is that it provides a different introduction to Ian, Barbara, Susan, and The Doctor.  While Ian and Barbara are still school teachers, they do not know each other before this story begins.  They actually meet when Ian finds Barbara in the fog on Barnes Commons.  She had been taking Susan home when they collided with a lorry.  This is a rather suspenseful introduction, and while it lacks much of the intrigue of An Unearthly Child, I think I prefer The Doctor’s first adventure to be The Daleks.  Every hero needs a nemesis, and The Doctor’s most-identifiable ones are The Daleks.  In some way, it fits that they would be the first antagonists, the ones that were present when his grand journey began.  This is actually rather similar to what Tim Burton did in his first Batman movie.  Jack Napier created Batman by killing Bruce Wayne’s parents.  Batman created The Joker when he couldn’t save Napier from falling into toxic waste.  There is a satisfying irony in this, even if it does go against comic continuity.  So while An Unearthly Child has a rather symbolic juxtaposition of primitive vs. advanced society, Doctor Who and The Daleks creates an action-packed starting point for our Edwardian Adventurer.  I’m also quite biased as I prefer David Whitaker’s writing to Terrance Dicks’.

It is generally thought that the best way to introduce new people to Doctor Who is to write a story in which the companion discovers The Doctor through mysterious circumstances.  An Unearthly Child does this, introducing us to Ian and Barbara as they attempt to unravel the mystery of Susan.  Rose had the titular character be rescued by The Doctor when she was attacked by Autons.  David Whitaker has done this in his novel, but he goes a step further by using the first-person narrative with Ian Chesterton being the POV character.  I honestly think this was a great move because it adds a new layer to the original story.  While the same events occur, we get more than a recitation of these events.  We get Ian’s perspective.  Likewise, any action in which he is not present must be related to him.  These exposition-laden passages can potentially be dull, but they are brief enough to not break the narrative flow too much.  As Ian is the “action” character, this also serves to keep us in the middle of the action and skip over many of the slower scenes from the original script.

According to the interview material at the end of the audio book, overt attempts to portray Ian and Barbara romantically linked were generally nixed in the show.  The strength of these two characters and the chemistry of William Russell and Jacqueline Hill caused such suggestions to be present in the performances if not the scripts.  In the novel, however, no such restrictions are present.  Whitaker makes it quite clear that Barbara falls for Ian and that Ian hopes that this relationship will grow in further TARDIS adventures.  While I think many fans take it as writ that Ian and Barbara fell in love in their travels, it is nice to have a book, written by the original script editor of Doctor Who, confirm this.  I almost wonder if this was Whitaker’s initial plan for the characters.

In all, I think this was a great adaptation.  It was not a straight adaptation of the original episode, it provided interesting insights and variations to the characters, and it was a compelling read.  Certainly one of my favorites.  It is quite exciting that the book is not only available on CD or MP3, fittingly read by William Russell, but that the BBC is re-releasing the book this year.  Highly recommended.

Prescient Chapter Title: The Power of The Daleks

Girl Talk: “Alydon is about six foot four and perfectly proportioned and he has long, fair hair.  The scaly thing I’d caught a glimpse of is the cloak he wears.” She glanced at Barbara again.  “I’ll come back to Alydon later, if you like,” and Barbara raised her eyebrows to agree to a future and secret conversation.

The new release of the novel can be ordered at Amazon.

The audio version can be purchased on CD from Amazon or on digital audio from Audible.

Doctor Who and The Unearthly Child

A novelization by Terrance Dicks

While attempting to satisfy their curiosity about an unusual student, teachers Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright find themselves trapped with a mysterious old man at the beginnings of the ice age.

I wrote in a previous post that my preferred Target novelizations were those that took the opportunity to flesh out characters and situations in greater detail than the episodes on which they are based or for the author of the story to give a greater indication of his or her vision of the story than was achieved on television.  Doctor Who and The Unearthly Child does not deliver this.  On the latter point, it can’t.  The original story was written by Anthony Coburn while the novelization fell to the prolific (by necessity) Terrance Dicks.  Now, there isn’t anything inherently wrong with how Dicks adapted this story.  It is perfectly by the numbers and by reading it, you get an accurate vision of what was on the screen.  So accurate that when you actually watch the episode, you see very little difference.  Dick’s adaptation was written about nineteen years after the original broadcast, so I don’t know if he was drawing from scripts or the episodes themselves.  There will be some minor deviations and differences.  I imagine it would be hard to write for The First Doctor when Dicks has written for the Second, Third, Fourth, and Fifth by this point.  So much development has come to the character and certain ideas of who The Doctor is have changed in the intervening years.  Despite this, Dicks reproduces the Hartnell Doctor quite well.  The characters are reminiscent of who they were on the screen as well.  Of the changes, the most-striking that I noticed was when the idea for using the skulls and fire were devised.  In the televised story, Susan began inexplicably playing with the fire and skulls, which gave Ian an idea.  In the novel, this scene is played much more naturally.  I honestly think it works better.

In my review of the televised An Unearthly Child, I played with the idea of cave-man politics not being so far removed from modern day politics.  In the novel, the political nature of the struggle between Kal and Za is much more explicit.  In fact, this struggle is juxtaposed a bit with the power struggle between The Doctor and Ian.  It isn’t masterfully written, but the idea does seem present and I think the story is better for it.  Likewise, the parallels between Ian and Barbara’s primitive nature (in comparison to The Doctor) and the prehistoric humans are quite striking.  Setting the beginning of an epic (well, long) journey in the dawn of civilization may be a bit heavy-handed, but no more so than beginning a novel range at the point of the first written-epic (see Timewyrm: Genesis).  Yet, as a way to draw parallels between the lead characters and how they could potentially relate to one another, it works great as a metaphor.  Likewise, the TARDIS crew, forced together by circumstance, must learn to work together to survive while at the same time showing Za and his tribe how to work together to survive the ice age.  In many ways you could say that The Doctor, Susan, Ian, and Barbara are the founders of human survival and civilization due to the lessons they taught the tribe.  Those in humanity’s future helped those in humanity’s past to survive and flourish.  How very Moffat.

The more I ponder this story, the more I think about the novel, the more I am coming to like it.  So while Doctor Who and An Unearthly Child may not offer much more than the story upon which it is based, it does help one to re-evaluate the story and engage with it in a deeper and more meaningful way.  The story that Coburn (and here, Dicks) crafted really does work, despite being a bit slow and boring at times.  But metaphorically and structurally, it seems quite ambitious and does achieve some wonderful symbolism.

Excellent passages

First description of Susan:  “She had a way of observing you cautiously all the time, as if you were a member of some interesting but potentially dangerous alien species.”

“Kal saw his hopes of leadership dissolving in the laughter of the Tribe.  He grabbed The Doctor by his shoulder, lifting him almost off his fee.  ‘Make fire, old man!  Make fire come from your fingers as I saw today!'”

A Word on Target…

When I was rediscovering Doctor Who while in my second year of college, I was quite surprised to find a novel entitled The Talons of Weng-Chiang in a local comic shop.  I was aware that Doctor Who novels existed, having seen some of the New Adventures while in high school, but this novel had an older design and lacked the white spine I had associated with the Doctor Who novels.

“Perhaps,” I thought to myself as I prepared to purchase the book, “there were older novels that were released earlier in the show’s history.”  You see, I had not heard of the Target Novelizations and, since I was just beginning to renew my interest in Who, I believed at the time that I had found an original story.

If there is one thing I have learned in my casual research of Doctor Who and its impact on British society, it is that the Target novelizations were absolutely essential to the spread and understanding of Doctor Who.  In the early days of the show, these books were the only way to relive past episodes.  They were the only way to experience previous Doctors.  Being a child of the 80s, this is something foreign to me.  The idea that television existed prior to videocassettes and VCRs is something that it took many years for me to comprehend.  Like many Americans, my experience with novelizations came in the form of movie adaptations.  I consumed these regularly since I wasn’t able to go to the movies often when I was young.  Thus, the allure of the Target books made sense to me when I finally figured out what I had bought.

There is an opinion among those who regularly read books that novelizations and “tie-ins” are largely escapist drivel.  Sure, there may be a well-written book in this sub-genre, but the majority are looked down upon by the literary elite.  And make no mistake, there are some that are simply dreadful, but I grew up reading Star Wars novels by Timothy Zahn and Michael Stackpole (among others).  Tie-ins and novelizations get an unfair reputation.  The idea that an entire genre of novels exists for the sole reason of re-experiencing characters and situation from television and movies is rather fascinating, when you think about it.  Not only is it a testament to the power of the original creations, but it shows the extent to which television and films have influence our literature.  We live in an era when many authors write novels with the possibility of film-optioning firmly in mind.  How many people read The Da Vinci Code and came away thinking it would make a great movie?  Novels have become more cinematic, so it is only fitting that tie-ins and novelizations find more acceptance.  At least they are being more honest about it.

****

I have read very few of the Target books.  They can be hard to find in Mid-Western America.  Of those I have read, I find my preference falling more toward those that don’t merely re-tell the story, but expand upon it and really embrace the format.  We all know Doctor Who had a poor budget most of the time.  Novels don’t have this problem.  They are not bound by special effects, acting, or flubbed lines.  They can clarify where the visual form of the story may have obscured.  This can be especially advantageous in the historical stories, filling in the gaps of history present in the reader’s mind.  This is the potential of the Target books.  Not all of them accomplished them.  In truth, not all the authors saw this potential or opportunity.  And I can see why.  If this is the only way the reader will ever experience The Keys of Marinus, then why not just adapt straight from the shooting script and be as faithful as possible to what was seen in 1964?  In this case, the advent of VCRs and DVD players have hurt many of the Target books.  The ones that would thrive would be those that expounded and differentiated themselves from the source material.  For me, those are the better books.

****

So, as I await the release of The Gunfighters so I can resume reviewing the show, I turn my attention to this alternate form of Doctor Who.  Originally, I had intended to read the Target books in order of release, but only focus on the stories I had already watched.  This means I would only be able to review three books between now and July.  I’ve decided this is a stupid requirement, so instead I will start with Doctor Who and An Unearthly Child and make my way in “broadcast” order.  This gives me a larger pool to draw from, and it also allows me to cover novels whose respective stories are still fresh in my memory.  Read along at home if you wish.  We may turn this into a book club!  Up first, Doctor Who and An Unearthly Child by Terrance Dicks.