The Day of the Doctor (TARGET Novelisation)

Books Evening. I was admittedly a bit reticent about purchasing any of the TARGET novelisations of nuWho stories despite the presence of original writers for reasons of cost and my ongoing endeavor of narrowing my focus given the limited time I have, both chronologically and in general.  Did I mention the cost?  If it's not the Eighth Doctor or some new shiny disc release, I'll usually wait and see if its heavily discounted by The Book People (as has been the case with most recent publications).  Then someone on Twitter suggested it was like reading a very good Eighth Doctor Adventure novel and then someone else confirmed something else about it and I that Amazon would be sending me a book after I'd supplied them the correct remittance and that after that there'd be a review of it.  So here we are.

Spoilers ahead.

The Day of the Doctor is very much like reading a very good Eighth Doctor novel not least because for fourteen whole pages is actually is an Eighth Doctor novel, an adaptation of minisode The Night of the Doctor in a chapter with the same title.  Finally, if you have a mind to, there's a bookend to the EDAs on the shelf with Gary Russell's novelisation of the TV movie at the other end.  Incredibly the cover designs aren't that different, at least on the front.  The Pertwee logo from the TV movie is present and correct with the book title just below it.  The spines don't match at all, but when has that ever not been the case with Who merchandise?  It doesn't even match the TARGET re-issues from 2013 which is an especially weird oversight.  Or for that matter the other new publications, the various bits of text moving up and down the edge.

What kind of EDA?  For all their reputation for being difficult, around half of the EDAs were pretty trad, not too dissimilar to past Doctor novels or the later nuWho efforts except with Eighth, or the version of Eighth who asserted himself in the novels at the centre, with or without his memories.  The Day of the Doctor isn't one of those.  Instead, Steven Moffat pays homage to the experimental literary excesses elsewhere, The Banquo Legacy, The Blue Angel and especially Interference with its mixture of unreliable narrator, epistolary passages and obfuscation.  Although it often manages to be a novelisation of the television story The Day of the Doctor, covering most of the action and dialogue, it's a much deeper experience with cameos from across the franchise and a lassez-faire attitude to both continuity and canonicity.

The overall effect is breathtaking as, like some of the older TARGETs, the story is reconfigured for other purposes.  But unlike those TARGETs, Moffat knows this doesn't exist in an experiential vacuum.  Unlike those writers in the 70s and 80s, he  knows his readership can just as easily watch a dvd or even more quickly streaming it so doesn't have the responsibility of being for being the only available source for the story so fights to provide something more, with a rare excursion into the Doctor's psyche, offering amongst other things, a peak into how it feels to have memories of the same room from three different perspectives and personalities and levels of experience.  This is the sort of internal monologue which was part and parcel of the EDAs, usually when they were trying to rationalise his nibs's selective amnesia.

But what of his nibs?  Without the need to offer anything like the surprise we all had when Paul popped up in the iPlayer stream, Moffat opens out the material and slackens the pace, taking us inside his TARDIS at the moment he picks up Cass's distress signal, his console room having returned to the gothic mansion interior with a cathedral attached familiar from the TV Movie (which is, I think, what the latter Big Finish stories assume it looks like too).  Cass is given some more backstory, a clearly explanation of why she runs away from the Doctor rather than embrace his heroism and a surname.  But most significantly his final speech is modified with a nod to the EDAs and although I won't reveal what it is, fans of any of his female companions from that period will be disappointed.  Told you there'd be spoilers.

If anything his transition from Doctor to warrior feels even more rushed on the page, although its clear he doesn't have much of a choice.  He'll either die again, having only been revived by Ohila and the sisterhood temporarily or become someone he doesn't necessarily want to be.  It's both a selfish and selfless act and although at first glance it seems unworthy of Eighth, given the events of anything from The Ancestor Cell to Neverland, it isn't completely our of character.  Of all the incarnations, the Eighth Doctor's character is strong and long enough to encompass a range of tones and hews.  He once shot a guy in the head because he couldn't think of another way of beating him, something which Moffat inadvertently seems to comment on here when he's actually making a point about something else.

A "straighter" version of the novelisation might have left The Night of the Doctor out or reduced it to a brief mention in a prologue.  But Moffat makes it an integral part of the novel and the War Doctor's back story.  There's also something about seeing the dialogue on the page which makes it feel in keeping with the Eighth in the EDAs even though on watching he's clearly based in the version in the audios.  Perhaps that's just a demonstration that in fact he really is just one man, that the same person who blew up his home planet also saved reality by plunging himself into another, who was friends with both Charley and Fitz.  If nothing else, this just makes me ache for more Eighth Doctor novels either set in previous publishing periods, the Time War or else a brand new run of stories.  I'm sure we could fit them in somewhere.

Well, after all this, as you can imagine, I have the bug.  I've started collecting the original TARGETs.  Sorting through, I already have forty eight of them, a bunch of others as audio books and the Gary Russell's novelisation of the TV movie, not that it really counts.  Having visited a few charity shops this past week, I've realised that it's going to take some work, which is fine, it'll be nice to have a new challenge.  I could, of course, simply head off into the treacherous climates of Amazon and eBay but blimey some of those are expensive, especially the hardbacks.  So, we'll see.  Either way, it's been a pleasure writing a review longer than a paragraph for a change.  But I felt like there was so much to say.  Even if I've managed to say it three or four times over.

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