It does feel like I’ve experienced this story Twice Upon a Time with the original episode still fresh in the memory from Christmas Day. I wasn’t sure what could be added to this story and why it was chosen for adaptation but was instantly drawn in by the spectacular cover, and the feel of the old school Target novels didn’t end there.
The first thing I noticed when I started the novelisation was how much it felt like a classic Target novel. Only 161 pages long and seemingly reading like a close approximation of the episode. Maybe that feeling could come from the episode being so familiar as it only aired just over three months ago. But it is also true that Paul Cornell sticks closely to the structure of the televised episode.
This adaptation is one of two from the new Who episodes not to be written by its original writer, the other being The Christmas Invasion by Jenny Colgan. This does make it feel like a cover version, so it’s great that it’s being covered by a writer the calibre of Paul Cornell. His episodes of Doctor Who (Father’s Day, Human Nature) are all of an extremely high quality and bring to the fore the emotional aspects of the programme. He also has a long history of writing for Doctor Who novels and comics.
This is the reason it initially feels strange that the novel sticks so closely to the episode. The opening act suffers from the same fate as the televised episode, taking time to introduce the Doctors, and the Captain and how they meet. Not much actually happens for quite a while.
This approach is also quite fun, as it’s like reliving the episode, which is what a good Target novel also felt like. There are some Target traditions laid out, Doctor introductions and character descriptions have a very familiar feel in Cornell’s hands.
As the novel progresses Cornell finds a way to get his voice into the story, expanding on the inner mental torment its characters are going through and a few recurring gags which tickle the fancy. It’s the inner workings of the Doctors mind which are brought to the fore here, as they are in The Day of the Doctor novel. Moffat’s era definitely liked to examine the Doctor more than others have. It works even better in novel form I believe, really getting to grapple with the Doctor’s torment about life, death and what he brings to the world.
Most of Cornell’s additions work really well in expanding the story, but a few of them feel a little jarring. There were a few complaints when the episode aired regarding the sexist jokes from the First Doctor, Cornell it seems held this opinion as he seems at odds to justify these comments. At times it feels like he’s reaching for the justification and it’s just out of his reach.
But it’s a small quibble, which pales into insignificance by the second half of the novel. One of my favourite moments was what Cornell has done with Bill. Just the fact that backstory was filled in that explains events between The Doctor Falls and this episode from Bill’s perspective means so much to the emotional impact of the ending.
The ending of the novel highlights an element of Moffat’s era which I felt the TV episode didn’t have time to explore as well. Cornell threads through the entire story the idea of the Doctor as a fairytale, something which harks back to Season 5 and the Pandorica. I’m sure it was there in the original episode but it’s given more space and time here and really pays off.
What I first thought of as a traditional, classic Target novel that maybe seemed a bit too close to the source, grows throughout it’s telling to be something quite remarkable – an epic examination about death, love, life and fairytales. All within 161 pages, that is some achievement.
The Target Doctor Who novelisations are available from Amazon £6.99 each.