Friday, 3 April 2020

WHO REVIEW: The Target Storybook (ed. Steve Cole)

Next in my Doctor Who review catch-up is this lovely tome, a perfect Christmas present that I read through in just a few sittings, but then neglected to write-up for three months. The Target Storybook is a gorgeous tie-in to the recently resurrected Target range of novelisations (which kicked off my stop-start Who novelisation quest), complete with a lovely Achilleos-style cover illustration by Anthony Dry and very Target-esque internal illustrations by Mike Collins. As a heartwarming touch, the collection is dedicated to the late author Tommy Donbavand, who died in 2019.

There are fifteen stories in the Storybook, kicking off with a Thirteenth Doctor tale before moving through incarnation, and bookended with another story that ties into the Thirteenth Doctor's adventures. The conceit of this collection is that many of the stories tie into, sequelise or take place during established stories - classic missing adventures. As you'd expect, they're a mixed bunch, and there's a good combination of classic Who authors, new series TV contributors and unexpected newcomers.

"Gatecrashers" by Joy Wilkinson gets the collection off to an entertaining start. Wilkinson was a coup for series when she wrote "The Witchfinders" for series eleven, so bringing her back for this collection is a canny move. It's a fun adventure for Thirteen and her fam, but with a decent sci-fi moral, as they arrive in a society where everyone lives separate, enclosed lives, with occasional interactions by teleporter. It's easy to imagine this making a solid TV episode.

Placement: Late on in series eleven - after "The Witchfinders" works fine.

"Journey Out of Terror" by Simon Guerrier comes with a perfectly Hartnell-eqsue title and riffs on one of the Doctor's stranger moments in The Chase. For "Journey Out of Terror" takes place in the episode "Journey Into Terror," where the Doctor and company land in a haunted house and the Doctor, bafflingly, declares they've entered the dark realms of the human subconscious. Guerrier's story enters a fantasy realm that's quite different to the First Doctor's usual remit.

Placement: During the final scenes of "Journey Into Terror, " The Chase episode four.

"Save Yourself" by Terrance Dicks is the final story by the late, great Uncle Terrance, and it wouldn't be Target without him. He was never shy of exploring his own continuity, and this is no different, taking place during the infamous "Season 6b" era, as a direct follow-up to The War Games. Season 6b is pretty well-worn now, but this story puts a new spin on the idea. It's a great little adventure and nice send-off for Mr. Dicks.

Placement: Sometime after The War Games.

"The Clean Air Act" by Matthew Sweet is a solid Third Doctor story, which sees the Doctor and UNIT up against an environmentalist group. It's good to see the Third Doctor split between the establishment figure he appears to be, the military force he associates with and the hippy types he sympathises with. It's a bit preachy, but that's true to the Third Doctor.

Placement: The Doctor's still on Earth but it seems later on, so probably between The Time Monster and The Three Doctors.

"Punting" by Susie Day takes the idea of putting an adventure inside an adventure to the next step, and puts an adventure into an adventure that took place inside an adventure. Ever wondered what the Doctor and Romana got up to in the Time Vortex during The Five Doctors? No, me neither, but this is good fun and with some genuinely funny moments.

Placement: During Shada and/or The Five Doctors.

"The Dark River" by Matthew Waterhouse If you wondered why Adric made it to the cover illustration along with fourteen incarnations of the Doctor, this is why. I didn't think I'd love a Matthew Waterhouse story, but my Haywards Heath comrade provided one of the best stories in the book. It's a bit of a serious thing, to take on racism in the old American South, but this adventure, which gives Adric and Nyssa their own companion, James, makes a pretty tasteful go of it. The best part though is a brand new renegade Time Lord, going here by the name of Doc Ashberry, a larger-than-life old friend of the Doctor who's an absolute hoot.

Placement: During The Visitation episode four for Adric and Nyssa.

"Interstitial Insecurity" by Colin Baker Waterhouse isn't the only actor to write for his character in this collection. Colin Baker has written for his Doctor a few times over the years, and while he, naturally, has a good grasp of his character, his prose doesn't make the smoothest reading. Still, this is a pretty good story, seeing the Doctor entering the Matrix to prepare his defense in his trial, with a short-term companion named Anosia, who's quite charming. It's a bit of a hack job to try to make the Sixth Doctor look better than the trial made him appear, but it works.

Placement: Between episodes eight and nine of The Trial of a Time Lord.

"The Slyther of Shoreditch" by Mike Tucker Always a reliable writer for the Seventh Doctor and Ace (although what happened to Robert Perry?), Tucker provides a great story that brings together elements of Dalek stories from throughout the franchise. We get elements from The Daleks, Genesis of the Daleks and Remembrance of the Daleks, while it all pushes towards the inevitability of the Time War. Plus, the heinous theft of long johns.

Placement: During Remembrance of the Daleks.

"We Can't Stop What's Coming" by Steve Cole is a rare fish: a post-2005 Eighth Doctor story that follows the Eighth Doctor novel series. Not too surprising coming from Cole, who ran the BBC Books Doctor Who range for several years. This story is a hybrid between the old EDA era and the Time War flashback era, seeing the Doctor, Fitz and Trix dealing with an abuse of causality under the heavy threat of the upcoming Time War.

Placement: Some time after The Gallifrey Chronicles.

"Decoy" by George Mann Really the only person to write the War Doctor had to be George Mann, who provided the excellent Engines of War. It's a brief but punchy story, drawing on the Nestene involvement in the War but focusing on the Doctor's tenuous alliance with Rassilon. It's a great dissection of just how the Doctor would fight a destructive war, while still remaining the Doctor. Having the previous two stories weighed down by the Time War's approach only adds to it.

Placement: Right in the middle of the Time War, probably before the War Doctor titles from Big Finish.

"Grounded" by Una McCormack We don't quite get a Five or Nine story in this, but Nine's absence is felt more, since this isn't even a companion story. No, this is a Clive story, running on the recent fan consensus that the conspiracy theorist/Doctor Who fan stand-in survived "Rose" and had further adventures. This is a rather lovely story, seeing Clive and son finding an alien in their neighbourhood. Very sweet.

Placement: For Clive, some months after "Rose."

"The Turning of the Tide" by Jenny T. Colgan Doctor Who-wise, I associate Jenny Colgan more with the Eleventh Doctor after her excellent novel Dark Horizons, but she totally nails the Tenth Doctor and Rose as well. Unexpectedly, though, she decides to give us a story of the Metacrisis Doctor and Rose, showing us a glimpse of what a personal, Earthbound affair with the Doctor might be like. It goes in a different, more intimate direction than Big Finish's version of their lives on Pete's World. This is a cracking story of impossible storms and aliens after Earth's oceans, and the impeccable Doctor-Rose team makes it one of the strongest in the book. Plus the little one-off bug companion is the sweetest.

Placement: Over a year since "Journey's End."

"Citation Needed" by Jacqueline Rayner although ostensibly an Eleventh Doctor story, covers far more than that, spanning several billion years and taking things right up to the end of series eleven. It's stylistically the most interesting and unique of the stories in the collection, told by the Encyclopaedia Gallifreya, a sentient TARDIS database, essentially the Matrix but held within the medium of bottles of liquid. Fascinating and funny in equal measures.

Placement: All over the place. The Encyclopaedia was briefly seen in "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS."

"Pain Management" by Beverly Sanford is a rollicking story that tells what happens when Missy tries to be good. Set right at the end of the Twelfth Doctor's life, it sees the Doctor and his university crew take in a rock concert and sees events spiral out of control from there, showing that the Missy is still the Master and can just as easily end the world when she's trying to be nice.

Placement: Between "The Eaters of Light" and "World Enough and Time."

"Letters From the Front" by Vinay Patel The author of "Demons of the Punjab" provides a prequel story, told in epistemological style by Prem and an alien Thijarian. It's a finely written look at war and sacrifice, and explores why the Thijarians gave up their bloodthirsty ways. Not really a Doctor Who story, but that just makes the collection richer.

Placement: Some years before "Demons of the Punjab."

No comments:

Post a Comment