Saving the Day: A review of the Target novelization of “The Day of the Doctor” by Steven Moffat
First things first: If you haven’t seen the episode, “The Day of the Doctor” this will contain heavy spoilers! If you have seen the episode but not read it’s novelization, this will contain minor spoilers exclusive to the book.
If you thought Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary special, “The Day of the Doctor” was a monumental salute to the show… well… you’re right it was. But! I would argue that the Target novelization was an even more respectable tribute to our favorite show about a 900 year old time traveler. “How can this be?”, one might ask. Well that is in fact what I’m going to make the case for in this review.
Let’s start by talking about the book’s author, Steven Moffat. Steven Moffat has been a writer for Doctor Who since before the modern-day reboot, penning the 1999 Comic Relief special “Doctor Who and the Curse of the Fatal Death”. But when he came on board under the reign of Russel T Davies in 2005, he wrote some of the most unforgettable stories for the show’s first four series including: “The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances”, “The Girl in the Fireplace”, “Blink”, and “Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead”. With outstanding stories like these, he was the obvious choice to become the new Doctor Who show-runner when Davies made the decision to step down in 2010. Under his reign, with Matt Smith in the TARDIS seat so to speak, the Doctor Who fan base grew to an unprecedented global level. So when it came time to write the show’s 50th anniversary special in 2013, it’s safe to say that the pressure was on. And for most, Steven Moffat thankfully succeeded in delivering a touching, triumphant story about change, destiny, regret, and loss. The episode was simulcast around the entire world and received heavy praise from fans everywhere.
The reason I personally say that the novelization is a better story is mainly because all of our characters are heavily expanded upon. Kate Stewart, Osgood, Clara, the Three Doctors (with a focus on The Warrior), and even the Zygon’s mental states are delved into. There’s also many expanded scenes. The conversation in The Tower of London, for example, is especially broadened. We see the Warrior, the 10th Doctor, & 11th Doctor’s individual journeys to the Tower of London, offering an even more heart-wrenching exchange about the fact that the Eleventh Doctor forgot how many children were on Gallifrey and how he forgot that number. The relationship between Osgood and Mcgillop gets a much closer examination. We also get an extended chapter of the Eighth Doctor on Karn, adding a charming bit of character to Ohilia, and giving us backstory as to the reason why Cass hates the Time Lords. We get to see the Warrior trick his way into the Vault to steal the Moment. And because characters on paper have not aged like our beloved Classic Doctor actors, the saving Gallifrey act gives each classic Doctor a moment to shine without having to re-use old footage. There’s even more expanded moments and new scenes like these that I don’t want to give away (trust me, this isn’t the half of it).
Now I’m personally not keen on excessive fan service but if there’s one place it deserves to be, it’s in an anniversary story. That’s what it’s really supposed to be; a love letter to the history of the show. But it also helps that the story is a great tale that touches on topics of loss, regret, discrimination but also … triumph, beating the odds, and underdogs. And it’s just so cleverly written and structured by Steven Moffat that you just can’t put it down. The last sentence itself made my jaw drop. Surprises and easter eggs and gut-punches all the way through. If you love Doctor Who, I would 100% recommend reading this novelization. It’s well worth the time and money and it is one great celebration of Doctor Who.
So while the pressure was surely on for Steven Moffat, his fanboy love for the show shone through gloriously, and he definitely saved the day.
The book is based on a Doctor Who story which was originally broadcast on 23 November 2013.
Starring: Matt Smith, Jenna Coleman, and David Tennant. With Sir John Hurt and Billie Piper.
The Day of the Doctor, written by Steven Moffat, cover art by Anthony Dry, published by Target Books, released on 5 April 2018.