The 1976 And All That

The first thing that struck me looking at the Target list for 1976 is that it’s the first year in which Target covered the eras of all four Doctors to date. With one or two weak links, it’s a particularly strong selection of stories-not only all four Doctors but Daleks (twice), Cybermen (twice), Ice Warriors, Yeti, mummies and dinosaurs. So, apart from being a particularly monster-heavy year, what else do we have? For a start, a concerted effort to bring the range bang up to date with Tom Baker’s Doctor, who by Christmas of 1976 was very much in command of the role and a fixture on screen- so we have Doctor Who and the Loch Ness Monster on the shelves within a few mon ths of transmission, followed by adaptations of ‘Revenge’ and ‘Genesis’ in the summer and ‘Pyramids’ at the end of the year. Although in retrospect it might seem questionable to adapt stories which were still fairly fresh in the viewer’s mind, it has to be remembered that these were the days when missing an episode meant really missing it, and Terrance Dicks’s style in particular is very good at picking out some of the subtleties and implications in dialogue which a young audience might sometimes miss.

Dicks himself provides half the year’s titles, Malcolm Hulke adapting two of his own serials and Brian Hayles and Gerry Davis both adapting the debut stories of their most famous creations. It makes for a good balance, and it’s a sensible way of dealing with connected stories. In terms of quality, it also keeps things fresh- there’s no doubt that Dicks’s style particularly suffers when called upon to adapt three six-parters consecutively, leaving him little opportunity to put in character touches or flesh things out with a bit more atmosphere. By contrast, his adaptations of ‘Terror of the Zygons’ and ‘Pyramids of Mars’ have rather more depth to them, and definitely feel as if he enjoyed the writing more along the way. Malcolm Hulke takes a slightly more flexible approach to his source material (which was after all his own stories) although the end result can sometimes feel rather odd and indisciplined- as of a writer claiming his story back from the production team, while Davis’s contribution is solid enough and Hayles’s book is one of the strongest so far. It’s no wonder the Troughton era garnered such a mythical reputation on the basis of books like this and Dicks’s ‘Web of Fear’.

If the beginnings of a decadence in the range are apparent, it’s in one or two of Dicks’s adaptations of stories which he didn’t help bring to the screen. His ‘Revenge of the Cybermen’ is a straight adaptation of a mediocre script, and it shows- similarly there’s a weariness creeping in towards the end of his three six-parters. But by and large, 1976 shows a particularly strong collection for the Target range with everything the fan could ask for.