As the newly-minted Target Collection hits the shelves, we’re looking at a tale of Parisian peril.

This week sees the release of five new Doctor Who novelisations. Though published by BBC Books, the “Target Collection” uses the iconic art style of the Target Books range for its covers. But one may already be familiar to you…

“Is no-one interested in history?!”

‘City of Death’ was a season 17 serial broadcast in 1979. Though credited to “David Agnew”, this was a pseudonym used for the collective efforts of David Fisher, Graham Williams and Douglas Adams. It, along with Adams’s other script ‘The Pirate Planet‘ didn’t get the novelisation treatment back when it was first broadcast. But that changed in 2015 at the hands of James Goss under the aegis of the Adams estate. As the only classic story in the collection, ‘City of Death’ is finally getting the Target-style adaptation it deserves.

“Why a man who’s got six Mona Lisas…”

Doctor Who: City of Death (2015 edition)
Doctor Who: City of Death (2015 edition)

We could just point you to the review we published back in 2015 when this story received its first novelisation. However, we decided to look at it with fresh eyes, since this edition is abridged. Bear that in mind if you’re expecting the exact same book with a new cover. But a story about art should have a great cover and now this story has two! We’ll discuss the abridgement changes in more detail later on. But we touch on the 2015 edition of ‘City of Death’ in our chat with James Goss at the tail-end of last year for extra context.

“What’s Scarlioni’s angle?”

The Fourth Doctor and Romana are taking a holiday in Paris, 1979. Little do they know that they’ve stumbled into the final stage of an eon-spanning plot to restore the Jagaroth race. With the whole of history at stake, they team up with fists-first detective Duggan to steal a stolen Mona Lisa and sabotage a makeshift time machine. With a little assistance from the likes of Leonardo da Vinci, of course.

“The brushwork’s Leonardo’s…”

Goss recreates the style of Adams’s prose and humour with relaxed authenticity. Adams is often imitated but rarely matched. So it’s a relief that the humour of Adams’s script shines through in this version thanks to Goss’s clear respect for the source material. Tom Baker’s delivery as the Fourth Doctor – another often imitated aspect – is carefully rendered so the energy he brings to the TV screen carries over. I particularly enjoyed Goss’s description of the Doctor’s “broad welcome mat of a grin”. The physicality that Tom Chadbon used to play the put-upon Duggan is also very well translated to the page. You get a real sense of his moments of barely-restrained agitation and sloping disappointment, often all at once.

“Shall be undone!”

The scene where Scarlioni first reveals his true face is composed using vivid descriptions that make it chilling to read. Reframing it as the moment Scaroth remembers was a great way to add new texture to what was baffling in the original. Goss generates body horror from what was initially a cheap jumpscare to end episode one. This theme is carried over to the scenes between the Doctor and Tancredi, expanding on Scaroth’s past lives that Adams could only hint at.

“With the aid of our sonic knife…”

Unfortunately, getting trimmed down from 320 pages to a svelte 186 for the new edition comes with problems. Characters like the Countess, Duggan and the Louvre guide have had their introductions removed so they get named without any preamble about who they are. This is especially confusing for the guide – Madame Henriette – since Goss invented her name for the novelisation. It’s not a huge problem but it makes the first few chapters quite jarring to read. In the 2015 edition,¬†Goss blended his own ideas with notes from Adams to expand on the story in unexpected ways. But much is lost in the abridgement.

“Bye bye, Duggan!”

Despite the removal of some of the 2015 edition’s more entertaining diversions, the Target version still holds up as a terrific adaptation. The descriptions are rich and demonstrate an attention to detail that I didn’t think possible. City of Death is my favourite classic story but even I was hopping back to my DVD to spot things I’d missed. James Goss has crafted an ideal balance between the style of Douglas Adams and his own writing sensibilities. The result is a lot of exciting new takes in a nevertheless faithful adaptation not to be missed.

The Target Collection edition of ‘Doctor Who: City of Death’ is available to buy now.


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