Felt Trips: “Target Books” by Bob Fischer

Childhood is filled with tiny moments of swiftly-forgotten joy. For the parka-clad Doctor Who fan, eagerly perusing the dusty shelves of their musty local library, few were more potent than the heart-stopping nanosecond of delight that followed the sighting of a gaudy multi-coloured target logo and the immortal legend: “Doctor Who and the…”

In the pre-VHS wilderness, Target Books were our saviours. Faithful (and occasionally not-so-faithful) novelisations of our favourite TV adventures, they became staples of the cluttered hinterland around the bedside table. They introduced us to new words, and fresh-faced primary school teachers were baffled when our giddy assignments suddenly became peppered with “bohemian hats” and “capacious pockets”. And their covers were frequently miniature works of art: the book above (inevitably misread at my school as “Genius of the Daleks“), with its unflinching depiction of the horribly-injured Davros, both repelled and intrigued me in equal measure. So much so that, in Autumn 1982, I decided to replicate Chris Achilleos‘ iconic artwork in felt tip form. Perhaps even as an attempt at catharsis…

I remember having distinct trouble with the creases on Davros’ rumpled tunic, and so delegated that job to my Dad, who (boasting a mid-1950s GCE in art) gamely had a bash. “I wish he’d ironed this bloody thing before he put it on,” he grumbled, exhausted from a day on some godforsaken Teesside building site, clearly wanting nothing more than a read of the Evening Gazette and a doze in front of Nationwide. The rest of the cover is undoubtedly my dubious handiwork, the book’s title being hammered out on an ancient Hermes typewriter, purloined by my Mum from some 1970s office or other.

Fired by this success, I turned my attention to another classic of the Tom Baker years:

Unlike “Genius of the Daleks” – the original TV version of which had been repeated in omnibus form in the summer of 1982 – ‘Image of the Fendahl‘ was completely new to me, so my only visual reference was John Geary‘s evocative illustration on the cover of the book itself. A book I’d bought – as usual – from the downstairs section of W.H.Smiths in Middlesbrough, where Target novelisations were granted an entire stand. A riot of marauding Daleks, spinning TARDISes and multiple incarnations of the Doctor – their faces glaring from dozens of different book covers – this head-spinning display offered offering tantalising glimpses of glories from eras as-yet unknown to me.

Anyway, I had a go:

It’s worth nothing that, in order to lend my illustrations a timeless, future-proofed quality, I replaced the outdated 1970s Doctor Who logo with the gleaming, futuristic chrome of the 1980s version. I’d also discovered the convenience of having a ruler at hand to work on fiddly things like wood panelling and grandfather clocks, although presumably couldn’t find a red pencil to lend authenticity to the Fendahl’s gizzards.

For my next project, I stepped back to the 1960s:

The Cybermen were big news in 1982, following a shock return to our TV screens in the Peter Davison story ‘Earthshock‘. Having been born in 1972, I was too young to have ever seen these metal menaces in any previous episodes of Doctor Who, but I knew their fearsome reputation from both Target novelisations and from the pages of Doctor Who Magazine, which I’d been buying since its launch in 1979. I was intrigued by their refusal to entertain the indulgence of human emotion, which reminded me a little of our former deputy headmaster, Mr Douglas.

Anyway, my attempt at an A4 version of Chris Achilleos’ original:

By this stage, brand consistency was clearly becoming a less of an issue for me, and I decided to loyally keep faith with the book’s original logo. Albeit a tiny version, and with a preference for a puce colour scheme. Note also the sepia-tinted sellotape which suggests that, at some point, these pictures were a fixture on my bedroom wall.

And then, in October 1982, came this:

I cannot overstate my love for Logopolis. Tom Baker’s final story, it has an atmosphere frequently described by Doctor Who fans as “funereal”. So many of its core elements came to define my childhood tastes, and then – inevitably – lingered long into adulthood. It has that delicious mix of the mundane and the fantastical. The pale, ghostlike figure of the The Watcher, glimpsed across the dual carriageway of the Barnet bypass, is worthy of M.R James. It boasts an air of decaying melancholy, and exists in that distinctly early 1980s bubble, where elegant Edwardiana combined incongruously with early home computer technology. It is the Doctor, in his flowing burgundy frock coat, jabbing expertly at a BBC Micro and discussing Z80 Machine Code.

And, of course, it has the Doctor’s arch-enemy, The Master – as played by Anthony Ainley, and depicted on the cover by artist Andrew Skilleter:

As far as I can recall, this was the last Target cover I attempted to emulate. Perhaps the subsequent switch to using photographic illustrations for the range’s covers failed to inspire me quite as much, or maybe I simply took note of the toll the Master’s tunic took on my black felt tip pens. As the Doctor himself points out to a wide-eyed Adric in that magical opening episode, “Entropy increases…”

Felt Trips is a collaborative effort. If anyone wants to contribute their own childhood drawings from the era, I would be utterly delighted – please drop me a line using the “Contact” link at the top of the page. A good quality scan would be perfect, but – if not – then a clear photo of your artwork, lying flat, is fine. And maybe a few words of explanation, too: when the drawings were done, how old you were, what inspired you to tackle those particular subjects? Thanks so much.