(2021) Terrance Dicks, Target – BBC Books, £25 / Can$53.95, hrdbk, xi + 467pp, ISBN 978-1-785-94735-3
This is the second of two volumes recently collecting some of the best of prolific Doctor Who scriptwriter Terrance Dicks’ work. In this second volume we are looking mainly at Terrance’s later work for the Third Doctor, Tom Baker. He was the longest serving and arguably the most popular Doctor in the early series run from 1963 – 1989, and so this volume contains some of the most popular stories of the original run. The last novel is based on the anniversary story which happened whilst Peter Davison was the Fourth Doctor, although two of the other Doctors are in that story as well.
Volume Two contains, complete and unabridged: Doctor Who and the Genesis of the Daleks, Doctor Who and the Pyramids of Mars, Doctor Who and the Talons of Weng-Chiang, Doctor Who and the Horror of Fang Rock and Doctor Who and the Five Doctors.
Doctor Who and the Genesis of the Daleks is one of the most popular Doctor Who stories of all time. The Doctor (portrayed in the television series by Tom Baker) and his companions Sarah-Jane (played by Elisabeth Sladen) and Harry Sullivan arrive on the planet Skaro to find an ongoing war between the Thals and the Daleks. They also meet their leader Davros for the first time. Great story. It evidently has the greatest print run of any of the original Target series and I can see why.
Doctor Who and the Pyramids of Mars is an almost Lovecraftian story. Set in 1911 it involves archaeological professors, ancient mummies, alien gods and even robots. Very heavy on the Gothic and with some knowing nods to the film The Mummy, both elements which I enjoyed a lot.
Doctor Who and the Talons of Weng-Chiang is perhaps a story that wouldn’t sit well with modern audiences. With more than a nod to the Sax Rohmer stories of Dr. Fu-Manchu, the Doctor finds himself in Victorian London with companion Leela fighting magicians from the future, mystical spirits and opium drug dens around the sewers of the Thames.
Similarly, Doctor Who and the Horror of Fang Rock finds the Doctor and Leela in Victorian Gothic territory, with a dysfunctional lighthouse and aliens to deal with. And Leela trying to adapt to Victorian culture.
Lastly, Doctor Who and the Five Doctors was an anniversary series designed to celebrate 20 years of the Doctor, and was published before the programme was aired, which created great excitement at the time.. It was actually written by Dicks, who also wrote this novelisation. Whilst Peter Davison was the Doctor at the time (the fifth), the story involves admirable support from the first, second and third incarnations of himself and their companions as they battle against Daleks, Cybermen, Yeti and others in order to get a bad guy to justice. Being less limited by budget, the novelisation is appropriately filled with lots of cameo performances, and a good story to finish on - but not the best.
Like in the first volume, Dicks’ prose is minimal and yet precise, conveying the plot and the visual elements of the stories with a minimum of fuss. The stories make their point and then move on. That’s not to say that they aren’t exciting and fast-paced when they need to be, but there are few diversions into subplots and introspection. In short, they are just what a person’s inner twelve-year-old needs.
As is de rigueur with these reissues there is also a foreword by a celebrity brought in to say how important these stories were to them when younger. This time it is Robert Webb, who rather expectedly tells us that these books were a major influence on his reading habits back in the 1970s. Thoughts along the lines of “I wouldn’t be here today had it not been for…”
Like the first volume I really enjoyed revisiting these older Doctor Who tales. These stories are, if anything, stronger plot-wise than the first. I still wonder whether a new Who-vian would enjoy them, but even allowing for some elements being dated (all that talk of Orientals, for one), I can’t see why not. Even if you don’t remember the original episodes they capture the essence of a good Doctor Who story – strong plot, fast pace, minimal musings, atmospheric setting, great dialogue. And when Terrance was good, he was very good. A fitting celebration of the joys of Doctor Who.
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