Steven Moffat may no longer be Doctor Who showrunner, but his work on the series is not over yet. He’s back with the Target novelisation of 50th anniversary special The Day of the Doctor – and it’s just as wibbly-wobbly as you’d expect.
Before we start, let’s make one thing very, very clear. The Day of the Doctor by Steven Moffat may look like any other Doctor Who Target novel. It looks the same, it feels the same… yes, it even smells the same. But, in typical Steven Moffat fashion, what awaits inside its pages is quite unlike anything else you’ll have seen in the collection. In the transition from television to prose, Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary special has undergone a bit of a regeneration. This edition of the story is half faithful adaptation, half massively expanded material – both for better, and for worse.
The Chapters of the Doctor
But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves! After a touching dedication to the late, great Sir John Hurt, the book begins proper with The Night of the Doctor. Well, sort of, anyway. Unlike the other Target novelisations, which are straightforward adaptations of the episodes they are based on, The Day of the Doctor is told in a number of different orders, and from a number of different perspectives. The story starts at Chapter 8, and it only gets more complicated from there! In between each chapter are ‘live’ psychic paper transmissions from an unknown source, whose identity is revealed right at the end. It’s very self-aware, very fourth-wall-breaking, and very different to the A-to-B retelling that you might have expected. Full marks to Steven Moffat for doing something original, even if it’s a little difficult to adjust to at first.
With one or two exceptions, each chapter is told by a different version of the Doctor. While an ‘interesting’ structural choice (to put it politely), it plays in well with the book’s emphasis on identity. After all, the whole point of the story is to ask: just who is the Doctor? When you haven’t got them all acting out in front of you, how are you able to tell them apart? Cleverly, the Doctors aren’t referred to as the “Tenth” or “Eleventh”, or even “War”, for the most part. Sure, they’ve got little nicknames depending on which Doctor is narrating, but that all adds to the fun. Each Doctor views themselves – or rather, himself – very differently. This novelisation allows us inside the Doctors’ heads in a way that the TV episode could never do. This is brilliantly exemplified inside the Tower dungeon, which plays out three separate (but equally engaging) times.
The Expansion of the Doctor
The expanded material doesn’t end there though. It may have only been five years since The Day of the Doctor aired, but that hasn’t stopped Moffat from making some adjustments. Anyone who’s seen his work on the television series knows he’s not afraid to tinker with the past, and it’s not long until the same holds true with this novel. You’ve probably already heard some of the controversies about colour-blind incarnations and Peter Cushing. These are (mainly) included as throwaway remarks, and more often than not just played for laughs. They don’t always feel necessary though, and they will undoubtedly split the readership right down the middle. Even The Night of the Doctor doesn’t come out unscathed. And yes, of course there’s a River Song appearance (or two). A bit like the Doctor’s half-human heritage, this book will forever make us question the just how canon Target novelisations really are.
Some adjustments though have been made for the better. They don’t play out exactly as you remember, but that’s fine. It makes things more shocking, more exciting – and in this case at least, even more poignant. The impact of the Doctor’s actions really hits home on an emotional level, plus it gives Moffat an opportunity to tie up any lingering plot holes from before. What really did happen to all those Daleks after Gallifrey disappeared…?
The Verdict of the Doctor
So, the big question is: should you pick up this new version of The Day of the Doctor? Really, that all depends on how much you enjoyed the original story, and how willing you are to tolerate Steven Moffat’s… well, Moffat-isms. If you enjoyed his era as showrunner, then absolutely, go out and pick this up now. If not… well, your mileage may vary. This is about as wibbly-wobbly, booky-wooky as a Doctor Who novel can get. Needless to say, whichever side of the fence you fall, reading this makes for one heck of an experience. And, in spite of all the controversy it will cause, Steven Moffat’s prose is honestly rather wonderfully written. An especially impressive feat, considering it’s his first ever attempt at writing a novel.
Much like the anniversary special on which it’s based, this new edition of The Day of the Doctor will surely be talked about for years to come. Some will love it, some will loathe it – but hey, that’s Doctor Who for you! This book is an extraordinary, unique beast all of its own, and if only for the sake of sheer curiosity, we’d recommend you give it a look.
The Target Doctor Who novelisations are available from Amazon £6.99 each.