24 August, 2008

Missing Targets

My obsession with Doctor Who grew out of a love for the highly collectable Target novelisations of the Doctor's television adventures. When I was a boy I used to seize any opportunity to nip into a bookshop and peruse the shelves for the highly distinctive slim paperback books. I arranged these carefully in series order and accorded them pride of place on my bookshelves. Once I'd caught up with all of the books already available it became a matter of tracking down each new monthly release. Because each novelisation was based on a television story I always knew exactly how many gaps there were in the book series and how many titles there should be in total when the range was complete (this latter figure was of course adjusted annually to keep up with each new season of television stories).

The Target range finally ended in the early 1990s, following on the heels of the cancellation of the television series itself. The 154 novelisations covered almost but not quite all of the television stories as there were at that time. There were, frustratingly, just five gaps remaining on the bookshelf. The missing Targets were three Fourth Doctor stories, all scripted by the late Douglas Adams, and two Dalek stories scripted by Eric Saward. Due to unsuccessful negotiations with these writers, the publishers were prevented from completing the set. So close, and yet so far.

It was a desire to fill these niggling gaps that inspired me to produce my own versions of the missing novelisations. I novelised two of the five stories myself, and three other writers adapted one story each. When the books were offered as a set of five they proved extremely popular with fans worldwide (whom no doubt like me had those niggling gaps on their bookshelves). I found myself struggling to keep up with demand and had to keep reprinting in ever greater numbers. Although these books were always strictly amateur non-profit publications, this unfortunately didn't prevent buyers from onselling these with a markup. I decided to let the books go out of print and instead issue them completely free of charge as online ebooks. It has taken a couple of years to get all five books online, but I'm delighted to announce that the last of these, Doctor Who and the City of Death, went up yesterday.

The set of five novelisations can be read online (and downloaded) here.

22 August, 2008


The Crusade
is not the only 'lost' Doctor Who story featuring the First Doctor that I’ve helped rescue from oblivion. I also had a hand in the restoration of author Jim Mortimore’s self-published novel, Campaign.

Jim’s novel has a fairly turbulent background. Campaign was originally commissioned by BBC Books as a purely historical adventure set in various time periods during the life of Alexander the Great, but the book Jim delivered was late, underlength, and differed radically from the original synopsis, becoming a mind-bending adventure about multiple realities set largely within the confines of the TARDIS and, for the most part, only tangentially dealt with Alexander’s life. The book was cancelled so Jim took it upon himself to self-publish the book for charity in 2000.

The limited-run paperback proved popular with fans, garnering many online rave reviews, and consequently completely sold out of its limited print run.

In late August 2006 I was browsing the Outpost Gallifrey Doctor Who discussion forum, and read a thread about how copies of Campaign, which was by now long out of print, was changing hands for large sums of money on Ebay. My only prior contact with Jim Mortimore was when I had bought copies of Campaign off him years earlier, but I dropped in an email suggesting that he take a look at the TSV website where David Bishop’s Who Killed Kennedy novel had been reissued as an ebook free for all to read and accompanied by new supplementary material including a chapter-by-chapter commentary. I proposed that if he was interested, we could perhaps do something similar for Campaign.

Jim responded positively, writing “THAT is a brilliant idea. What do you need from me?” and started bombarding me via email with some highly creative suggestions including randomised alternative endings, a complete rewrite of the manuscript, an interactive slideshow, and especially composed music (Jim’s also a musician) to accompany the book. None of this eventuated, but it demonstrates just how enthusiastic Jim was initially about the project.

We soon struck a major setback; when I’d worked on the Who Killed Kennedy ebook David Bishop had been able to supply me with an electronic copy of his complete manuscript which made things fairly straightforward. After some time spent searching his files Jim confessed that he couldn’t find a copy of his manuscript; it had apparently been lost forever in a PC crash a couple of years earlier.

I could sympathise with Jim’s predicament; I lost many years worth of TSV files in my own disastrous computer hard drive failure in 1998, and subsequently spent ages painstakingly restoring these by scanning pages of the print master copies. Scanning a copy of the book was the only practical solution that would enable the continuation of the Campaign ebook project. I scanned the first few chapters from my own copy, but as anyone who has ever tried to do this with a paperback book will attest to, this is very tricky and results in both poor quality scans and a book with a wrecked spine.

Jim sent me a defaced copy of the book that I could use instead. The only way in which it was 'defaced' was that Jim had written a dedication on the title page and then scribbled it out. I didn’t allow myself to think about how much the book could still have fetched on ebay, as I took a sharp knife and sliced away the spine. The result was a set of perfectly flat pages that made scanning considerably easier, if still very time-consuming, but on 26 January 2007 I scanned the entire thing from end to end, and tidied up as many of the text recognition errors as I could find to create a Word document of the complete novel.

Jim was delighted to once again have an electronic copy of his novel, and told me he was going to set about restoring it to its original layout and also begin work on the supplementary features. I told him to take as much time as he needed, and in June 2007 he emailed me three documents. The first was an article tracing the history of the book from his initial idea through to its final cancellation; the second a chapter-by-chapter commentary, and the third a collection of reviews of the book harvested from various internet sites. These items were, in total, almost as long as the novel itself.

I had three main concerns about the content of these three articles. Firstly, Jim had included a great deal of the private email correspondence between himself and various individuals at BBC Books, some of which pertained to a dispute over the book’s commissioning and contract. I was naturally worried that if this material was published on the TSV website we could potentially invite legal action from the individuals concerned. Secondly, Jim hadn’t held back in his use of swear words in his commentary and while this was clearly genuine and heartfelt, I was mindful of the broad age range of fans reading at the TSV website, and felt the swearing needed to be toned down. Lastly, I wasn’t comfortable with a wholesale reproduction of all of the reviews from other sources, especially if these could still be found elsewhere online.

I put this feedback to Jim and he agreed to try to seek the necessary permissions. I didn’t hear much from Jim for several months. He finally got back to me in November, saying that the permissions would not be forthcoming and conceding that a rewrite was therefore required. Jim asked me to edit out what I thought needed to be removed, but by early February 2008 I still hadn’t found time to do this as I was by now working on a book project of my own and had little time to spare. I suggested to Jim that I pass the project on to Jamas Enright. Jamas is a long time TSV contributor who has done some excellent work proof reading the online reissues of TSV. Jamas admired Campaign, and his online review of the book was among Jim’s collection of critiques from the internet.

Coincidentally, in February 2008, the Doctor Who Forum’s Campaign discussion thread has a comment from a member with the user name ‘fridaydalek’, saying “Anyone know if Mr Mortimore plans / can be persuaded to release an ebook? Who Killed Kennedy is available in this format.” This was uncannily close to the truth of what had been in the planning stages for over a year, but no hint of this had been disclosed to more than a select group of people directly involved with the project. Another user responded saying that this couldn’t happen because Jim had been threatened by the BBC’s legal department. Jim was quick to post a reply himself saying that this wasn’t true, he’d never had any such contact from the BBC over Campaign.

Jamas began working with Jim on editing the Campaign supplementary material in early March, but another setback came in later that month when Jim emailed both Jamas and myself out of the blue to say that he was pulling the ebook project and was instead going to publish the book with all of the controversial emails intact. I was understandably most disappointed at this sudden about face. I challenged Jim on his reasons, and his explanation was that although he was fine with the work Jamas had put in, he was sick of the way he had been treated by BBC Books and wanted the whole unexpurgated truth to come out. The trigger for this was an experience he’d just had with Big Finish over a Doctor Who audio play that he’d been commissioned to write and was then cancelled. Jim said, “The fact is I’m sick of being kicked in the arse for doing what people ask, and having no recourse but to allow them to make it out to be my fault when their lack of professionalism sends the whole sorry mess spiralling down the pan.”

A month later, Jim emailed again to say that he’d reconsidered, and was now happy for the ebook to appear online, with Jamas’s edits intact. Jim wrote: “Why? I hear you mumbling, in weary abandonment. You were right. You guys put a f**kload of work into this and this book would not now exist without you. That means a *lot* to me. Far more than any stupid gripe with a f**kwitted editor.”

Campaign - the ebook version – was published online by TSV website editor Alden Bates on Monday 28 April, the day before I flew out to the UK for a five week holiday. I made a tentative arrangement with Jim to meet up for a beer in London to celebrate the relaunching of Campaign, but circumstances alas prevented me from finding a suitable time to do this.

Jim went ahead and got new editions of his book published in hardback, with all of the supplementary material in the back. Jim promised copies of this new edition for myself, Jamas and Alden as a thank you for the work we’d each put into the project. In August the books were finally posted to us and turned up in the mailbox just a couple of days ago.

The new edition is a heavy substantial hardback printed on good quality paper with a glossy, full colour dustjacket. I’m name-checked in the book’s introduction, and it’s a pleasure to not only be associated with such a good-looking tome, but also to finally have a copy of the book I helped in some small way to make possible, almost two years to the day after I first suggested to the author that it ought to be reissued.

The online version of Campaign can be found here.

18 August, 2008

TSV 59

In my editorial for TSV 59, published January 2000 I took the occasion of the turning of the decade to bemoan the fact that, notwithstanding the McGann TV movie, fans had gone ten years without newly-produced television Doctor Who. I wrote of the unexpected thrill that myself and a couple of friends had experienced when we first watched the cliffhanger ending of The Curse of Fenric episode three, a thrill that had been missing in the intervening years; and concluded by making a simple yet heartfelt request: "Can we have our series back, please?"

I had to wait a few more years after that editorial appeared but I’m happy to say that my request was granted and I'm now experiencing that cliffhanger thrill again, most recently at the conclusion of The Stolen Earth, which was so astonishingly unexpected it actually had me wondering whether I just seen the Tenth Doctor's swansong. Honestly, I cannot understate this: I adore the new series of Doctor Who and it's brilliant beyond words that it has been such a phenomenally huge success.

TSV 59 however belongs to a time when fans were still clutching at whatever passed for something new about Doctor Who. It seems highly unlikely that a spoof Comic Relief sketch would receive such prominence now, but there’s The Curse of Fatal Death (scripted by current producer-in-waiting himself, Steven Moffat), on the front cover. Actually that’s a rather good piece of artwork by Alistair Hughes which cleverly pastiches Target’s The Five Doctors novelisation cover.

There’s more goodness from Al Hughes inside the issue, in the form of a Lara Croft-inspired picture of Leela. The artwork appeared in black and white in the issue, but in an early example of the TSV website supporting the issue’s content, a link was provided for readers to check out the full colour version online. (Now, of course, the whole issue's on the website.)

Al’s finest work this issue is in the form of an eight page comic strip called Our Final Battlefield which is just stunning. When I first laid eyes on this I emailed Al and told him he should send a copy to Doctor Who Magazine to see if they might be interested in printing it. I’ve no idea if Al did, or if he received a reply, but to my mind it was certainly worthy of consideration.

TSV 59 also has some rather good articles, including an insightful examination of the subtext of The Greatest Show in the Galaxy by Peter Adamson. This caused a bit of a problem when an emailed comment was included that wasn’t intended for publication. Thankfully this genuine misunderstanding was soon smoothed over without the need to do anything as drastic as withdrawing the entire print run (though this was initially requested), but I have of course removed the offending comment for the online edition.

Peter was a prolific contributor to TSV for many years, delivering both quantity and quality with inspiring regularity. His input, if not always his name, infuses at least half of this issue’s content. The Machinery of Survival is one of his articles, a thorough examination (I’m tempted to write dissection) of the rather gory subject of converting humans into Cybermen. Now that’s why I think Cybermen are far scarier than Daleks.

I mentioned in a previous commentary that legendary TV historian Andrew Pixley has something of an aversion to being interviewed, claiming that the process of writing the Doctor Who Magazine Archives was simply too boring to talk about. I disagreed, and after some gentle persuasion on my part he agreed to an email interview. The first half appeared in this issue, and I think makes fascinating reading for anyone like me who regards Andrew’s Archives as the most thorough and reliable reference work ever produced on the behind-the-scenes history of Doctor Who. I just wish that these will someday get reissued as bound book editions, as it would be a lot easier to look things up if I didn't have to shuffle through more than a decade’s worth of magazines.

Even if you're already familiar with Andrew's interview from the print edition, I recommend looking up the online version as it includes a new postscript by Andrew in which he brings his comments up to date. I should add too that Andrew offered to write this for the online edition when he observed that the issue was due for republication, without any prompting from me. That's the kind of generous and thoughtful man he is.

Read the issue here.

Fellow TSV 59 bloggers:
Alden Bates
Jamas Enright