Tom Baker’s final series of Doctor Who episodes stories were first broadcast from August 1981. Much as I loved the traditional opening, I was greatly impressed with the novelty of the new “starfield” titles that new producer John Nathan-Turner introduced for Season 18. I got to watch it on my parents’ colour TV, and from the comfort of their cosy sofa, in a warm living room in which all other family members had been ruthlessly drilled not to interrupt during first transmission.
This was so I could enjoy the show and also make an audio recording from the TV speaker. Yes, speaker, singular. None of your fancy stereo telly back them. I had it tough. Although, on reflection, my mute family probably had it tougher.
My pal Tony, a fellow fanzine editor, somehow contrived to miss episode one of “The Leisure Hive,” and so the audio recording was my invaluable soundtrack for explaining to him what he’d missed. Tony hadn’t enjoyed Season 17 of Doctor Who much, and listened patiently to me extolling of the virtues of the opening episode. Those of you who remember “The Leisure Hive” story will recall that almost the first two thirds of episode one seem to be a tracking shot on Brighton Beach to the sound of Tom Baker snoring, so Tony’s patience was sorely tested.
My other fanzine pal, Peter, agreed with me that this series of Doctor Who stories was terrific. Peter was also a dedicated off-air audio recorder of the show. In the days before TV scripts were available to fans, he would painstaking transcribe the dialogue from audio recordings and type it up. This meant we had a written record of a story even before the Target novelisation was published. There is a generation of Doctor Who fans for whom the Target books were the primary way to relive stories post-transmission.
By October 1981, however, I was hundreds of miles away at university, where I lived on the eighth floor of a student hall of residence. Although in the 1980s student facilities had advanced beyond the chalk slates and quill pens that younger readers of this blog may be imagining, it wasn’t anywhere near the always-connected multi-device environment that my own children take for granted these days. My choices for television at university, for example, were: (a) watch a portable black and white device in the room or (b) get a seat in the hall’s communal TV lounge and hope the majority wanted to watch what I wanted to watch. I suppose there was also (c) the TV lounge in the Students’ Union, though that was an impossibly long distance to get to from my accommodation at short notice.
Because, needless to say, making sure I didn’t miss an episode of Doctor Who was a Saturday ritual. Sometimes there wasn’t a student consensus to watch BBC 1 that week; irrationally, there were people who preferred to watch Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, scheduled by ITV directly opposite Doctor Who.
In which case, I had to make a dash for the lift and go up eight floors back to my room in the hope I didn’t miss anything. Obviously, I would have left my black and white TV switched on in anticipation of such a calamity – no faffing around getting it tuned in and warmed up, plus I could have the audio recording happening in my room if and when I was in the communal lounge. Well, I could hardly do an audio recording in the student TV lounge and expect my fellow students to be as amenable as my family, could I? No, of course I didn’t ask them. And on mature reflection, this tells you volumes about my wonderfully tolerant family back at home.
Speaking of whom… in the middle of Season 18, my parents bought a VHS video recorder.
Get it taped
My parents patiently agreed to record Doctor Who for me each week. Occasionally, this was delegated to my younger brother, so some element of risk was involved every Saturday. Crucially, they agreed to keep the episodes and not record Match of the Day over them, on condition that I furnished a sufficient number of E120 or E180 video cassette tapes. This was no minor concession, because in the early 1980s an E180 blank tape cost £9.99 (including VAT at 15%).
The availability of videos started to transform the experience for fans. Some other DW enthusiasts had been recording the show on tape since about 1977 (or Season 15, as DW fans know it). So it was possible to relive the stories in exactly the way they had been transmitted, rather than through the medium of a novelisation. Many of the books were published shortly after the TV transmission, and tended towards a perfunctory recollection of the programme – or even, a literal translation of the original scripts (rather than what was recorded and broadcast) because they were written so close to transmission.
Subsequent novelisations were a bit more imaginative, expanding on the original stories in a way that anticipated the brand new, original novels that Virgin Books would publish after the BBC put the original Doctor Who series on ice. And indeed that BBC Books would publish, and where I launched my own professional novel writing career.
Doctor Who fans are collectors and completists, and so obviously we kept buying the novelisations. Peter and I were very enthusiastic about the concluding story in Season 18 (and Tom Baker’s finale) “Logopolis.” This was also the time of Douglas Hofstadter’s 1979 “metaphorical fugue on minds and machines in the spirit of Lewis Carroll” called Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, which particularly captured Peter’s interest.
A novel idea
Peter and I thus concluded that “Logopolis” might not be well-served by the kind of Target novelisation then being written. Because we were publishing our fanzine Frontier Worlds around this time, we ambitiously decided that we’d do our own novelisation. Peter had written up a dialogue transcript from the TV. And I had my video recording. So I used those to write a novelisation under our Frontier Worlds imprint as a not-for-profit fanzine.
This was before we knew that Christopher H Bidmead was writing the Target novelisation. He is the author of “Logopolis,” and the Season 18 script editor to boot. He very graciously agreed we could publish our version. Through a contact in the Doctor Who Appreciation Society, we also wangled to talk with John Nathan-Turner backstage at a London convention, and he said he was OK with us publishing our version as long as it did not appear before the official Target version.
So that’s what we did. Tony Clark drew the cover. In those days, desktop publishing and typesetting would have been ruinously expensive for students, so I typed up the text and did all the wonky letter transfers (the back cover features some especially wobbly Letraset).
I notice, now that I look at my copy of it, that we conspicuously didn’t thank either CHB or JNT in the published version – for which, 34 years later, I apologise, as they were both very accommodating with their permission at the time. And with the benefit of over three decades’ hindsight, my po-faced “Authors’ Note” (page 8) makes a somewhat implausible claim that the novel isn’t just a transcription of the TV show – an unsubtle comment that we thought it was better than the contemporary Target books.
As it is, the Target novelisation by Christopher H Bidmead is far superior to ours. We knew that, because we kept our promise to JNT, and had therefore read his excellent Target version shortly before we printed and published ours. Christopher’s book is a much better written expansion of his very enjoyable TV story.
Peter and I had also really liked “Castrovalva” (Christopher Bidmead’s script to follow “Logopolis” and the debut for the Fifth Doctor). On this occasion, we’d somehow got hold of the actual camera scripts for the episodes, and were laying plans for a novelisation of that, too. We got as far as having a cover drawn up by Andrew Martin. But we recognised, based on “Logopolis,” that we couldn’t do as good a job as the Bidmead book for “Castrovalva” would be, so we shelved our plans.
Indeed, there was something of a renaissance for the Target novelisations – especially those adapted by the original script writers themselves, such as Andrew Smith (“Full Circle”) and Stephen Gallagher (“Warriors’ Gate” under the pseudonym John Lydecker). And I really enjoyed David Fisher’s adaptation of his script for “The Leisure Hive,” which did not cause any snoring.
I’ve seen a few copies of my Logopolis novelisation turning up on eBay, and even Amazon sold a few at some point. Back in the 1980s, the only money I took off readers was to cover printing, postage and packing, so I can’t really approve of people making money from it. You can download a completely free copy of the Logopolis novelisation here.
If you enjoy it, feel free to add a review at that Amazon site. And perhaps consider purchasing one of my officially licensed books.