Target- Class of 1981/2
With Target’s 1981 output being severely curtailed by their dispute with the Writers’ Guild, it makes sense to review the two years’ output as one- if nothing else, the period from January 1981 to November 1982 covers a major change in Target’s approach to their range and the beginnings of an emergence from their late-1970s doldrums. The change in logo, reflecting the televised series’ new image, is the most obvious change, but over the period in question we have eleven books to consider, of which a mere three are Terrance Dicks adapting somebody else’s story and in seven cases (including Dicks’s ‘State of Decay’), the script writer adapted the story himself. We have four debuts, Andrew Skilleter firmly finding his style as the incumbent cover artist and the first photographic cover, emphasising the arrival of the new Doctor and an attempt to create a separate identity for the current Doctor’s adventures as opposed to the artwork used for earlier stories.
Reading the books from the copies in my collection, what’s very noticeable is the extent to which many of them had two or three reprints in as many years. Clearly the Target range was being snapped up as quickly as the books could reach the shelves, which is pretty much as I remember the bookshops of the period, most of them having a good shelf for the Doctor’s adventures. And demand for the more recent stories from Seasons 18 and 19 was at least as keen as for those stories which at the time were firmly confined to the archives. That said, this is the era of the Fourth Doctor’s transformation into the Fifth and, with the Five Faces season, the rediscovery of the series’ past, which left Target uniquely well placed to exploit a resurgence of interest. Of the stories adapted, Doctor Who and the Enemy of the World is something of an oddity; one of the less well-known or remembered Patrick Troughton stories and one still largely missing from the archives, it’s an unusual choice for Ian Marter to attempt and his adaptation brought a neglected story into the light for a moment. Doctor Who and an Unearthly Child is an admission that the series’ very debut had been overlooked in print, while apart from Eric Saward’s adaptation of ‘The Visitation’, the remainder of the releases are tying up loose ends from Tom Baker’s era, with Doctor Who and the Sunmakers coming across as a bit of a straggler.
But as much as anything else, it’s the image of the range which changed during these years. Photographic covers for Peter Davison’s adventures no doubt seemed like a bold and distinctive approach, even if the pictures chosen weren’t always the best and the books reverted to artwork later on, but at the same time the consistent use of Andrew Skilleter’s artwork, not only on the Fourth Doctor stories but on the reprints from this period, helped to give the Target range a more coherent look and consistency of style. Anybody looking at today’s DVD covers would do well to remember that there’s nothing new under the sun. What’s genuinely striking is that such a turnround was achieved in a very short space of time and with such confidence in the range’s future.