Dr Who and the reader/writer.

Posted: July 25, 2011 in Uncategorized

I remember the manager announcing, ‘Dr Who will sign your books now’ only to be interrupted by the great man himself,

‘Jon Pertwee will sign your books now.’

Dad laughed, ‘He’ll always be Dr Who.’

I was nine years old and my father had brought me to the local Woolworths for a chance to see my favourite T.V. character. Pertwee had just announced his retirement from the role and was signing books. I found ‘Dr Who and the Cave Monsters’  and shuffled forwards.

There was quite a crush and my Dad plucked it out of my hand and handed it to Jon. A quick scribble and it was done – I’d bought my first Target Book.

To understand the power of Target Books you have to be a certain age. It is astonishing to think T.V once existed in an eternal present. If you didn’t get in front of a small screen by the right time on a Saturday night, you would never see that episode again. It was literally all, or nothing. The only saving grace was that your favourite programme was a serial, that wonderful Victorian invention which kept you coming back for more every week and enabled each series to last for months. But Target books were something else.

They gave you access into recent episodes, opened the stories out into full novels, and allowed you to experience the adventures of earlier Doctors.  They revealed a context for Pertwee – who now became one of many Doctors and set the stage for another actor to become ‘My Doctor’.

The Tom Baker era covers most of my early and late adolescence, and it’s legacy was to shape my taste in Science-Fiction, Fantasy and Horror, both as a reader and a writer.

From the beginning we had stories in which the horror and aliens could be found in the everyday. The person in the lift next to you could be a lethal god from another place or time. Then the programme opened out into the depths of space with the human race sleeping out eternity in a space ark.

Over the years we would be treated to exotic alien planets, pure space-opera, gothic horror, steampunk (before the term existed) Victorian time travellers and so much more. This was often wildly mixed so that you could fall back into an historical era and still have an alien invasion on your hands. All the time these stories were delivered with a mixture of adventure, fear and, above all, FUN.

The Baker era saw the rise of the female companion as assertive women who were not impressed with the Doctor’s ego, but there was a real sense of a relationship. We were carried by them into these strange adventures, and we missed them when they left. These women were the blueprint for the new generation of female companions – without Sarah Jane there is no Amy.

This year I took my twin sons, now both nine, to Coventry’s Forbidden Planet. They fell upon the Dr Who books with glee. Of course they went straight to ‘their’ Doctor, but they also found BBC Books reprints of those Target Books. The Cave Monsters are back, but strangely my children (my daughter especially) think of Silurians as lady Victorian Samurai warriors!

I threw away all my childhood books, indeed most of the books I read before thirty have gone, but I kept one,  and the signature’s still there.

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Comments
  1. aww yes the Dr Who books thanks for sending me this link via twitter and things yes it something I always wanted Dr Who books however if I bought one I’d never be able to stop myself from getting them all.

  2. Lawrence says:

    The beautiful nostalgia of our childhood fiction 🙂

  3. RBHarkess says:

    I’d all but forgotten my Target books, but they are right in there with my EE ‘Doc’ Smith collection as part of the foundation on which my love of reading was built. Thanks for reminding me of an important part of my childhood 🙂

  4. I never bought any of the Target books, although I did once own a copy of the “Dalek Pocketbook and Space Travellers Guide” (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Dalek-pocketbook-space-travellers-guide/dp/B0000CMRXE) – wonder what ever happened to mine?) I did, however, read an awful lot of Stingray and Thunderbirds spin-off books, which were frankly pretty terrible. (http://homepage.ntlworld.com/john.seymour1/ukbookguide/Series/Thunderbirds/thunderbirds.html).

  5. Dave Weaver says:

    You probably don’t remember the Troughton years; the Zarbi and the Minoptra, The (I think) Planet of Games. My favourite Dr Who concept was Peter Davison’s episodes in a city that was literally an Escher puzzle. You couldn’t walk out of it without walking back in again. Brilliant. And who could forget Peri?

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