For anyone who grew up in Britain in the 1970s, the Target novelisations were as much a part of Doctor Who as the television series itself. Along with Doctor Who Weekly in the latter part of the decade, they provided a vital link with the series when it wasn’t on the air. I remember walking home from the local library with a huge pile of the colourful hardbacks; I didn’t necessarily read them all at once, but I was attracted to the exciting, vibrant colours and – when I did eventually read them – by the exciting, vibrant prose.
Now BBC Books, under the auspices of publishing giant Penguin, have revived the Target range with four brand new novels based on the post-2005 series and a revised reprint of City of Death. Setting the latter aside, the first of these chronologically is Russell T. Davies’ novelisation of the very first episode of the new series, Rose. Often languishing in the shadow of bigger and brasher stories that followed, it’s easy to forget that Rose was the keystone that supported the massive success of the revived series, attracting an unprecedented 10 million viewers on a Saturday night in 2005.
The very thrust of the new production was the American style brevity of the episodes. At a brisk 40-45 minutes, the padding that had often weighed down classic Doctor Whowas gone; so how would a lean 21st century script translate into a full length (albeit rather slender) novel? Well, amazingly well as it turns out. As a Doctor Who fan, Davies is obviously well versed in the style and language of the Target novelisation and he uses that as a starting point to launch the first true novelisation of New Who.
I say starting point because, although the novel retains much which is intrinsically Target in its outlook, it is distinctly a novel of our modern times. Davies never shied away from making his vision of Doctor Who a pan-sexual one and this novel is no exception; there are many small references to sexuality throughout the text, but the main manifestation is in his description of Mickey Smith’s band Bad Wolf (never seen or mentioned on TV) whose line-up engender an entire spectrum of… well, gender. And the great thing is that, unless you were particularly puritanical in your outlook, it’s unlikely that you would mind your kids reading this – which shows how far we’ve come on as a society since the original Target days.
Mickey is painted as less of a coward in this version of events and more of a victim. Let’s face it, you’d be a blubbering wreck too if you’d been through what he goes through! By getting inside the characters’ heads, Davies fleshes them out into an extra dimension. Rose Tyler could be seen as being a little impulsive and even selfish as she appears on TV, but by allowing us access to her trail of thought, we get a better understanding of why she would turn her back on her home and family and naff off into time and space with a man fifty times her age. The story doesn’t skimp on telling both sides of the situation either, as we’re also given a much greater understanding of the life and circumstances of Rose’s mum Jackie.
Also benefiting greatly from the novelisation treatment is conspiracy theorist Clive. He was something of a comedy side-character in the original, quickly dispatched in the climactic melee; but here, by giving us a greater insight into his life, his fate is much more tragic. And gory. Oh yes, there’s a hell of a lot more of that. On TV, Rose‘s Auton uprising was primarily a bloodless one, but here the plastic invaders morph their hands into razor-sharp blades and literally cut a swathe through the inhabitants of Central London. It’s all rather grisly, but again kids will just lap it up, because they’re a blood-thirsty bunch of little buggers at heart and this is exactly the sort of thing which will keep them turning the pages.
As the first in a (hopefully) new series, Rose is as triumphant as its TV counterpart was. For fans of the old Target novels, this has all the beats and for new series fans who thought Target was just an American supermarket, it has everything that the modern TV show promises to deliver. It’s fast, thoughtful and exciting, and it’s just a shame that Russell T. Davies has said he has no interest in writing another one. Hell, these Doctor Who types are always changing their minds though, so only time will tell. Until then though, I’ve got The Christmas Invasion, Day of the Doctor and Twice Upon a Time to look forward to. Can’t wait!