Class of 1977

There’s a decisive shift in Target’s output during 1977- towards the current Doctor (7 out of 11 titles) and towards Terrance Dicks doing the vast majority of the adapting (8 out of the 11). For anybody with an interest in maths, sets and Venn diagrams, it is however far from conclusive as only four of the titles are Dicks adapting Tom Baker stories. It is however a predictable move for a number of reasons- for one, having the current Doctor on the cover at the peak of the series’ popularity would surely increase sales, but also the majority of the more memorable Pertwee era serials had been adapted and although a small number of black and white serials would continue to be adapted, Target could no longer rely on their readership having their own memories of these stories so the well-known monster tales were naturally adapted ahead of others. And while Dicks’s predominance was firmly established, some of the variety previously afforded by the likes of Brian Hayles and Malcolm Hulke adapting their own scripts would now come from the likes of this year’s debutants, Philip Hinchcliffe and Ian Marter. Of the two, Marter’s approach is by far the more ambitious and radical, embracing the horror from which even Hinchcliffe and Holmes shrank and writing with a greater understanding of what Target’s audience were reading (or wanted to read) when they weren’t reading Doctor Who. Hinchcliffe’s approach is pedestrian by comparison and seems to lack either an above-average prose style or much of a real engagement with the story and characters. His adaptations are curiously bland, when one considers that he was working from strong scripts which had become some of the best serials the series had produced to date and seem to show a mistrust of flair and character which would have been far better handled by Robert Holmes who, somewhat ironically, took another eight years to be persuaded to commit one of his stories to the printed page.

As regards the choice of stories, we have one of the two remaining suitable Dalek stories adapted (rather too faithfully, as in sticking to the script Dicks shows up David Whitaker’s alterations to the background of the original crew in Doctor Who and the Daleks), three of the better remaining Pertwee stories confidently adapted by Dicks, with Doctor Who and the Mutants particularly good at tightening up a straggling six-parter while preserving the fusion of ideas at the story’s heart, and the remainder adventures of the Fourth Doctor, adapted with a haste not always compatible with imagination and attention to detail, the record being held by Doctor Who and the Talons of Weng-Chiang, on the shelves within seven months of Part Six going out. From Target’s point of view, this was no doubt a good thing, children and their parents being more likely to pick up a book with the current Doctor and a recent monster on the cover than, say, an adaptation of a 1964 Hartnell serial, and no doubt easier to negotiate rights with writers currently working for the series. Terrance Dicks has always maintained that he wrote primarily for those readers who had already seen some if not all of the stories in question, which if nothing else made his job easier as it dispensed with the need for detailed description or evocation of atmosphere. Of course in 2005 we’ve lived with home video, DVD and satellite channels showing archive television for years, and so by our standards the more workmanlike adaptations of the 1970s can appear lacklustre. However, with the televised series producing on average six serials a year at this time, for Target to maintain their output they would have to pursue a more adventurous policy towards the series’ past if they were to maintain such an ambitious release schedule.

On a more aesthetic point, 1977 also sees Chris Achilleos’s last regular contributions to the range’s covers. Apart from a break in 1975, Achilleos had been with the range since the Target launch and his style is still immediately recognisable today. Compared to the haste with which Peter Brookes’s covers would be replaced after a few years, a good two-thirds of Achilleos’s contributions would stay in the range until Virgin’s mass re-covering of the 1990s. His approach is simple- often just the incumbent Doctor, a monster or two and some space-age background effects- but they must surely have stood out on the shelves and ultimately become identifiable with the range in the eyes of booksellers and purchasers alike. Of his replacements, Mike Little never really gets the hang of what’s expected and must have had trouble doing Tom Baker’s hair, since he omits it from two of his covers. By contrast, Jeff Cummins seems to understand the need for a cover to evoke something of the atmosphere of the story and has a good balance between an accurate representation and the significant elements needed to trigger the potential purchaser’s memory of watching the serial- the "oh, it’s that one!" factor. I’ve never quite trusted the statement that one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover- after all, if it were true, all books could be printed in plain covers and no doubt more cheaply- but the purpose of a cover design is to attract the potential buyer, and given that I can still remember being faintly repelled by Little’s cover to Doctor Who and the Deadly Assassin, it’s something of a relief that it was Cummins rather than Little who continued with the range.