Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Guess I'm just fussy that way...

The Doctor Who novelizations of yore, published by Target Books - imprint of the popular BBC television series - were a collector's delight. Each was issued haphazardly in relation not only to the serial's broadcast order, but to the various incarnations of the Doctor himself. Often current releases were interspersed among classic sixties adaptations; one never knew which of the four Doctors' adventures you would be introduced to next, and this uncertainty was easily half the fun for eager fans.

For the better part of the seventies, I scoured the shelves of bookshops for the latest Who novels. The staff of Coles and WH Smith pretty much knew me by sight, if not by name. The thrill I felt stalking those titles during trips to Sherway Gardens and the Eaton Centre was something I'm not likely to ever experience again.

My interest in Who waned dramatically during the vast interregnum between televised broadcasts of seasons sixteen and seventeen. The last book in my stalled collection would be "The Horns of Nimon", and it would be two years before I got the chance to see this serial (or indeed anything from that disappointing season) for myself.

The final insult, however, was the logo change. The neon-style title configuration was crude, tacky, and quite simply ruined the books for me. While still entirely of the Target line, and bearing the same roster of familiar authors like Terrance Dicks and Ian Marter, they seemed utterly foreign and unworthy of inclusion. I suppose my nascent obsessive-compulsive tendencies were partly to blame, but the way I hurried past these sullied treasures while browsing in comic shops was very much akin to the manner in which Pee-wee Herman avoids the snake terrariums during the pet-store fire at the end of his Big Adventure.

While my collection of (homogeneously logotyped) Who books was eventually boxed up and moved to storage, those Target titles kept a-comin', and I just kept ignoring them. Finally, novelizations ceased with the demise of the Target division in 1991.

Looking back, I've come to regret my fastidious purism. These books are damned hard to come by now. However, thanks to the wonders of today's technology, I can at least see what I was missing. To wit: On Target (The Changing Face of Doctor Who) is a lovely tribute site and exhaustive archive for Who book collectors.

And just for the sake of pretendsies, I'm going to show you some of my "What If" covers, and some of my "improved-artwork" covers using the magic of Photoshop. (Forgive the artistic licence, and all apologies to you neon-logo-loving freaks out there.)

Here we have "An Unearthly Child", the first Who serial ever broadcast, novelized in '81 (missed it by that much), and spoiled by the pointless red banner and the hateful neon logo.

And here's the book I wish it could have been. The denim colour works very well, I think. Sets off Andrew Skilleter's Tardis rendition nicely.

Below is one of two non-Target novelizations from Virgin publishing, with a decent cover by Alister Pearson. Oh, but that Sylvester McCoy-era logo will never do...

While not an artistic improvement, it's hopefully an aesthetic one.

Next we have John Geary's terrific Axos cover, but with a minor error. He's coloured the tentacled Axons green instead of reddish-orange.

An honest mistake, as those costumes were re-used in "Seeds of Doom" and painted green. He was probably given the wrong snaps to use as a source. Here's a corrected version.

Speaking of "Seeds of Doom", here's Chris Achilleos' cover for that book. He's got Tom Baker nailed, but Liz Sladen frankly looks...a little odd and out of place. (Look at the positioning of her feet!)

So, as much as it pains me to take Sarah out of any equation, here's the re-do (with an attempt at a colourized Doctor).

Another one that doesn't quite work is "Brain of Morbius". This is the serial that took the Gothic themes that the show was exploring to new heights. Decapitations, organ transplants, castles, witches, disembodied brains and patchwork monsters were all featured in this story. Sarah even goes blind for a bit, while the Doctor is rude and belligerent throughout most of the proceedings. So why is this man smiling?

Ah, that's better. That's Alister Pearson's Tom Baker from the "Pyramids of Mars" reprint, replacing Mike Little's grinning scarf-attack victim.

"Planet of Evil" is next. It's another gothic thriller, though possibly more Lovecraftian than Hammer-inspired. The cover, to a degree, is a bit laughable.

Goodbye, anti-matter wolfman.

Probably my least favorite of all the covers was John Geary's "Image of the Fendahl". The figures aren't bad, but the background looks rushed and incomplete.

Don't know if this would pass muster with WH Allen's art department, but I think it's at least an incremental improvement.

By the way, I agree with the fans who felt that going from hand-drawn art to photographic covers (as they did during the Davison era) was a bad idea.

Of course, many of the painted works produced, such as Alun Hood's superb Nestine creature from the "Terror of the Autons", Roy Knipe's 3-D Sontaran on the "Time Warrior" cover, and Jeff Cummins' full-cover treatment for Leela on "The Face of Evil" were realistic enough to pass for photographs. Or very nearly.

Here's a Cummins cover with a more flattering background colour. I always hated the original's sky-blue, for some reason.

As some of you know, not all the classic serials have been novelized. "Shada" was the famous serial scuttled by a BBC strike, a couple of the later Dalek stories were never tackled because of licensing issues. Douglas Adams was intending to adapt his "City of Death" and "Pirate Planet" scripts, but sadly never got around to it. Unofficial fan novelizations of these in-limbo properties have cropped up, but since this post is nothing if not an exercise in fantasy...

We miss you, D.A.

If you're wondering if there is a practical point to any of this, I can't say. Perhaps if I had a laser-printer, I could theoretically reproduce some of these "re-imagined" covers onto the appropriate glossy one-sided card stock, and then...I don't know, tear off the old book covers and possibly find a way to glue the new ones on without ending up with a sticky pile of worthless pages of ruined memorabilia.

What do you think, Pee-wee?

Perhaps not.


Post a Comment

<< Home