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The Black Archive: The Time Warrior

timewarrior_titleObverse Books have announced today that they will be publishing my examination of the Doctor Who story The Time Warrior as the twenty-fourth book in their series The Black Archive. The Time Warrior was a four-part story broadcast between 15 December 1973 and 5 January 1974, written by Robert Holmes and directed by Alan Bromly. It was the first story of the eleventh season (Jon Pertwee’s fifth and last as the Doctor) and the first to feature Sarah Jane Smith, played of course by Elisabeth Sladen, and also introduced the Sontarans, with Kevin Lindsay as their solitary representative, Linx. The full announcement can be found below, via Facebook.


The King’s Demons novelization on audio

King's DemonsWe sing in praise of total war…

This post exists to provide a link to my review of Doctor Who – The King’s Demons by Terence Dudley for the Doctor Who News Page.  I find few redeeming features, but might just be thought open to some of the charges I level against Dudley – except that I do like the Doctor and Tegan. In general, from the mid-1980s I came to appreciate more and more the economic writing style of Terrance Dicks; handing over the books to the authors of the television serials didn’t always gain the desired results.

Doctor Who novelization covers at the Cartoon Museum


As might be expected at a Doctor Who-related exhibition, Menace lurked in a corner.

Considering that until recently I worked almost round the corner from the Cartoon Museum for nearly two years, it was a pity that I’d not visited it since the museum hosted an exhibition of Doctor Who comic strip art in 2013. This trip was occasioned by another Doctor Who-related project, a smaller but still informative and I hope influential exhibition of Doctor Who book covers, all commissioned for the range of novelizations published under the Target imprint in the 1970s or 1980s or in the case of three new covers for the BBC Books reissues in the current decade. Accompanied by my old comrade-in-Who Paul Dumont, we explored the current main exhibition, The Great British Graphic Novel, beforehand. As I wrote in the visitors’ book afterwards, perhaps reachingly, the museum displayed the work of Masters – Hogarth and Cruikshank and Achilleos and Cummins – alongside the Mistress, Marie Duval of Ally Sloper (a character about whom I first learned from an article on comics in the Look-In Television Annual published for Christmas 1976) but there were other masters and mistresses too, many of whom I’d not heard of before such as Carol Swain or Asia Alfasi, or those of whom I was dimly aware like Kate Charlesworth.

The Doctor Who covers were striking in their original forms, revealing a mixture of formats, materials and working practices. Several artists at times composed their covers on square boards rather than in dimensions which corresponded to those of the paperback cover, knowing that the logo and title and author straplines could be placed on a plain background above them. Some artists suffered from the editing of their work: Roy Knipe’s cover for Doctor Who and the Invisible Enemy had his signature trimmed off with the small but in the original welcoming detail of the button on the fourth Doctor’s coat cuff. On Doctor Who and the Android Invasion, we lost Styggron’s fingers. Knipe had a tendency to change the colours of the aliens, whether deliberately or because he lacked colour reference I don’t know, but Styggron is a memorable green rather than grey-brown as he was on television, where the Nucleus of the Swarm was a sort of mottled pale pink rather than the deep-cooked lobster red of and the Invisible Enemy‘s illustration. Others might undergo decluttering, such as David McAllister’s generic TARDIS-in-space used for Doctor Who and the Keys of Marinus. Paul particularly noticed Jeff Cummins’s original artwork for Doctor Who and the Tomb of the Cybermen, published in 1978, where the background was a more vivid blue and the light patterns across the glass of the tomb door a richer gold than any reproduction has managed. Indeed, the standard of reproduction on the Target covers varied over the years and some suffered from generations of copying as the books migrated from one printer to another and new reproduction methods evolved. Doctor Who and the Ark in Space, as Paul has also said, was a particular sufferer with the subtle beige-yellow of the Wirrn’s eyes in Achilleos’s original being reproduced as an intense and bright yellow-orange. Reproduction on the new impressions might be better, but Chris Achilleos’s new cover for Vengeance on Varos was altogether stronger with a noose around Colin Baker’s neck as was originally intended.

The collection encourages respect for craft. The ebb and flow of the ink on what appears as a solid purple border on Achilleos’s Doctor Who and the Pyramids of Mars is visible, as is the technique of his inking of the cosmic objects fizzing around the Doctor and his antagonists on his first three covers, Doctor Who and the Daleks, Doctor Who and the Zarbi and Doctor Who and the Crusaders. More impenetrable are the smooth washes of his early multi-coloured Daleks (very much based on the work of the last of the TV 21 Dalek artists, Ron Turner) and the methods by which he painted incredibly smoothly the features of Tom Baker on Doctor Who and the Genesis of the Daleks and Doctor Who and the Ark in Space.

The exhibition draws attention to the lost art of the book cover, but there was room for it to have made more of the links between the book covers and comic strip art. Chris Achilleos’s covers were initially intended as patterned after the style of Frank Bellamy, too expensive a comics artist for budget-conscious publishers Universal-Tandem to employ. Achilleos borrowed not only from Turner for his Daleks but famously from a Marvel Comics Fantastic Four Jack Kirby image when composing his cover for Doctor Who – The Three Doctors . Absent from the exhibition were the four mould-breaking but format-setting covers by Peter Brookes, which all appeared in 1975. At a time when the BBC Books reprint programme is associating the Target series exclusively with Chris Achilleos, the exhibition was a reminder that there were many other artists with the ‘family friendly’ image BBC Books have cited as their reason for using the Achilleos covers. I think a case exists for a Peter Brookes set of reprints, as well as a  Jeff Cummins set and a Roy Knipe set. The use of light and indeed suggestion of reflections on smooth surfaces in the work of Cummins and Knipe wasn’t flattered by the reproduction of the covers during their original lifespan, but their imagery is surely something in which the current paperback market might have some confidence.

Though limited to one part of the upper gallery at the Cartoon Museum, and lacking some of the apparatus which other exhibits had, Doctor Who: The Target Book Artwork is more than welcome. Edward Russell, best known as a long-serving brand manager for latterday Doctor Who, deserves thanks for his effort in curating this exhibition, including sourcing the original artwork from several collectors, some well-known among fans veteran or otherwise, some not.

Doctor Who and the Republication of the Targets

Target_booksFollowers of the Doctor Who books range have been pleasantly surprised by listings on Amazon which indicate that seven more novelisations of Doctor Who stories first published between 1965 and 1988 are to be reissued by BBC
Books as mass market paperbacks in April 2016. The titles listed are Doctor Who and the ZarbiDoctor Who and the Web of FearDoctor Who and the Dinosaur Invasion, Doctor Who and the Genesis of the DaleksDoctor Who and the VisitationDoctor Who – Vengeance on Varos and Doctor Who – Battlefield. It also appears that Doctor Who and the Zarbi will appear in hardback, along with the other two novelisations published by Frederick Muller Ltd in the mid-1960s, Doctor Who and the Daleks and Doctor Who and the Crusaders, perhaps as a belated celebration of fifty years of Doctor Who books.

There is no news on whether the format followed by the reissues of 2011 and 2012 will be revived, with covers based on the design of the Target paperbacks (Target being the imprint which published Doctor Who novelisations for twenty years from 1973) and introductions by prominent writers associated either with televised Doctor Who or the contemporary books range. Given the four-year-gap between the second and third set this would seem unlikely, as the last three titles don’t come from either of the two series of covers by Chris Achilleos. Indeed, the inclusion of 1980s titles broadens the appeal of the range away from the 1970s nostalgia mined by the first two; this third set draws from the first seven Doctors and each has an obvious hook to sell the titles anew to the audience of 2016.

We have perhaps the most inhuman enviroment encountered by the Doctor; the subversion of the London Underground, a touchstone of metropolitan and perhaps English and British identity too, in a story which became part of Doctor Who‘s refoundation myths; a memorable allegory of middle-class protest turned authoritarian fantasy, with dinosaurs; the Dalek story I expected to be part of the second set; the serial which arguably moved the pseudo-historical genre from fan cr
itical theory into part of the series’ fabric, with alien monsters influencing the course of two famous historical events; a biting satire of reality television possibly even more relevant today than it was in the 1980s; and a story which promises (but doesn’t deliver in a conventional fashion) the meeting of the Doctor and his fellow British myth, King Arthur. If Amazon’s early listing is correct, this looks like a strongly commercial set.

Why Who? The Influence of Doctor Who in Fiction, 16 July 2014

Apologies to Neil Perryman, whose book is not depicted here as my copy is elsewhere.

The post-event off-centre picture-of-boosk-on-bag on table on pink carpet domestic illustration. Apologies to Neil Perryman, whose book is not depicted here as my copy is elsewhere.

Work has led this blog to be neglected; but I spent the evening just past at an event which I thought I’d flag up here. It was the last book talk and signing to be hosted by Blackwells Charing Cross Road, as the Oxford-based bookshop chain prepared to migrate from London’s historic street of books; but as at least one attendee said, it felt like the beginning of something rather than the end. Why Who? The Influence of Doctor Who in Fiction placed Andy Miller, author of among other things The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Books Saved My Life, alongside multigeneric scribe Jenny (T.) Colgan, armed by Blackwells with copies of Doctor Who Dark Horizons and bringing along an extract from her Doctor Who e-novella Into the Nowhere. and Neil Perryman, one half of the legendary and beloved Neil and Sue of Adventures with the Wife in Space, the book of which has just been re-released in a new slightly more populist paperback edition. A combination of popularity and the fact that Blackwells close their Charing Cross Road branch on the date of this post – ‘tomorrow’, as I haven’t been to bed yet – led the event to be hosted in the Phoenix Artists Club at the corner of Phoenix Street and Charing Cross Road. I’d not been to the Phoenix before, and its black-walled cave-library-bar of an interior was highly appropriate for an event which had gathered together so many people involved in the book side of Doctor Who and their friends and admirers and critics.

There were issues raised by the material concerning audience: Andy Miller’s excised extract revived memories of Tom Baker’s presentership of Yorkshire Television’s ITV book series for children, The Book Tower.  In children’s television in 1979, four deliberately placed sugars in one’s tea was the most determined statement of opposition to the establishment. Comparisons of Baker’s eventual successor, Timmy Mallet, to the last incumbent of 1963-1989 Doctor Who were not well received in one corner at least, but raised thoughts about what is acceptable to different audiences and how specialist readerships with privileged information will interpret material very differently to less committed audiences primed by exchanges of news and opinion which I’ll label mainstream for want of a more appropriate term.

Jenny Colgan, meanwhile emphasised that even in these days of tight deadlines and regulations in licensed Doctor Who fiction, there is still room for experimentation with the regular characters. The Clara of Into the Nowhere is a person who bears the scars of her experience of being scattered along the Doctor’s timeline much closer to the surface than the Clara we have seen on television after The Name of the Doctor so far, and on the strength of the extract read founds a wariness of her time with the Doctor upon it; someone who has died tens of times for the Doctor can’t be the Doctor’s innocent surrogate through whom he views the universe afresh, or so this Clara feels. Neil Perryman’s moment was autobiographical, the story of how he and Sue met, but given how his book is about how the fiction of Doctor Who is part of the framing material of their relationship, then this was relevant.

My abiding memory of the questions and semi-formal discussion afterwards is that they were dominated by discussion not of Doctor Who‘s influence on non-Doctor Who fiction, but of Target Books and the New Adventures. Andy Miller praised David Howe and Tim Neal’s The Target Book for exploring how the Doctor Who range survived at Target through a series of takeovers and amalgamations. There was much praise for the influence of Terrance Dicks, whose books Jenny Colgan always sought out first when growing up as a Target reader, and there was a lot of appreciation for the elegant economy and of his prose coupled with compressed characterisation. There were suggestions for ‘literary’ writers of the late twentieth century attendees and panellists would have liked to have seen write for Doctor Who, though none seemed to strike the right note with me.

Afterwards there was much lingering, book purchasing (with attendee Steve Berry’s Behind the Sofa a late addition to the Blackwells table) and chat and an impression that there were lots of people who had only communicated through the internet or had not seen each other since they stopped going to the Fitzroy Tavern (and there was much love expressed for Jenny Colgan’s Guardian piece on the Tavern for its alignment of the Doctor Who fan gatherings there with the pub’s literary London heritage). There was an appetite for more events in a similar vein, perhaps also extending to the legacy of Doctor Who Magazine; there are successful literary careers now where authors’ subjects and treatments owe as much to their experience and knowledge of Doctor Who on screen and in print as anything. Blackwells helped start digging the sub-surface tunnel, but a lot of Doctor Who‘s influence is still underground.

This is a late-night blog on an office day, which will close with the expression that the event provided a thoroughly enjoyable series of meetings with everyone I was introduced to or renewed acquaintance with there. My only regret is that I was quieter than I would have liked, dumbfounded perhaps by possibilities – though what does one say when one is introduced a few times as the man who guilelessly unearthed Peter Capaldi’s 1976 fanzine contributions? (‘I bet he really likes you’, someone said…)