A Doctor Who anthology typically involves multiple incarnations of the doctor, and multiple authors telling stories. In the case of The Target Storybook the reader is given a collection of 15 stories, each relating to one Doctor or another era, usually as a follow-up, side story, or prequel to an existing story. As with any anthology, the results are mixed. In this case one of the things that makes them so mixed is a subversion of expectations.
The jacket illustration for this collection is by Anthony Dry, and is a very nice set of images featuring multiple incarnations of the Doctor. Indeed, all of the television incarnations from the start of the series until today appear on the cover, including the War Doctor and the current Doctor, played on television by Jodie Whittaker. The stories within, however, while taking place in each of thee eras of the series do not necessarily feature the characters. In particular, the fifth and ninth Doctors play no part in the stories, never appearing, and whether or not the tenth DSoctor appears depends largely on your interpretation of the metacrisis. To anyone who sees those Doctors as a personal favorite, the quality and desirability of the stories included within might be something of a mixed bag.
Out of those three the fifth Doctor era story was most enjoyable. “The Dark River” was written by Matthew Waterhouse, and features the character he played on television in his earlier days, Adric. That character and Nyssa, the two companions who were not from Earth, find themselves in nineteenth-century America helping a runaway slave. It’s an interesting setup on its own, giving us The outsider’s view the Doctor would normally give without properly featuring the character. It also helps to show the massive positive influence the Doctor had, although does so without his presence. There is an offworld threat, a different one than might be expected. Indeed, in fitting with the unexpected nature of the story, the entity from offworld is significantly less threatening than the society of the period. It’s a short, fun romp from an author that clearly knows how to write a story. Looking into the “about the author” section, it is quickly noticeable that Waterhouse has made something of a name for himself as a writer.
By contrast Jenny T. Colgan makes the decision in “The Turning of the Tide” to include the character known as the metacrisis Doctor, giving him a new name and a very clearly delineated relationship with Rose while trying to solve an alien problem in his new life without many of the tools that the Doctor is known for. It’s hard not to compare this story to television’s “The Eleventh Hour” but it comes off overall very good in comparison. Both are enjoyable enough bits of storytelling, although the purpose of this story is in no small part to remind the reader that this character is not the Doctor, or at least is a very different one than the one they know. This is also one of the longest stories in the collection, although well written, and should be approached as more of a novella than a short story.
Another piece included in this collection is “Save Yourself” by the late Terrance Dicks. This story is welcome, as it likely represents his final contribution to the franchise. This particular tale focuses on the events following the second Doctor’s last appearance, and lends itself to the idea he had many adventures before changing into the third Doctor. There’s something of a clever fusion of ideas here, including the planet Karn and The Sisterhood and their Flame. In addition, a certain antagonist from the second Doctor’s era is used again, in a somewhat new way: he is attempting a similar scheme to one seen previously with a new twist, and the Doctor calls him out on that in a way that feels pitch perfect to the character. The story also serves as a reminder that, particularly at this point in the series, the Doctor’s people were decidedly not heroes. Indeed, the phrase “deal with the devil” might come to mind in regard to the agreement the character attempts to make regarding his trial.
The thirteenth Doctor appropriately is given the most time, being the current Doctor in a multi- incarnation anthology. She gets the first story by Joey Wilkinson, titled “Gatecrashers”, and the last by Vinay Patel, titled “Letters From the Front.” In addition, the thirteenth Doctor gets an unusually large part in Jacqueline Rayner’s “Citation Needed” which begins in the eleventh Doctor’s era, but sends itself deep into the era of the thirteenth. Out of the three, all are well told stories, although the reader, again, may feel slightly put off that the story meant to focus upon one incarnation spends time on two others. That said, the point of view being that of a certain memory bank is intriguing and justifies this unusual treatment.
The initial printing of this volume is a very large hardcover, although there is an e-book available as well. It will not, of course, fit in well with most small paperbacks or even hard covers of the Target novelizations, however given the slightly different nature of this book and its status as a tribute, it’s sitting larger on the shelf seems appropriate.
Overall this was quite a nice collection of Doctor Who stories. Each of the stories pays tribute to its era, directly or not, and was well written by someone experienced with the franchise. The use of the classic series logo was appropriate, given that this volume surveys not only the franchise as a whole, but also the Target novel era specifically. The stories evoke each of the eras of Doctor Who quite well, and as a result one’s enjoyment of them will largely depend upon their enjoyment of the franchise as a whole.
(BBC Books 2019)