“Rose” novelization by Russell T. Davies (2018) & “The Day of the Doctor” novelization by Steven Moffat (2018)

(These are 2018 Reading Challenge Books #6 & #7.)

There was a time for Doctor Who fans when books were an essential part of the fandom. In an era before home recordings, novelizations were the way that fans could rediscover past Doctor Who adventures long after they had aired. The first novelization, The Daleks, was published in 1964, only a year after airing. In the decades that followed, nearly every original story (barring a few written by Douglas Adams) were reproduced as a novel. During the “dark period” between the end of the original show and the launch of the new one, novels and stories were the only way fans could experience new Doctor Who adventures. Many of the writers of the new series, including both Steven Moffat and Russell T. Davies, wrote new adventures of the Doctor during that period. It may have been in part due to the success of the novels (and comics and audio books) that Doctor Who never really died, it only slept until it was time to arise again.

I could write in detail of the various novel lines featuring the 7th and 8th Doctors, the “Past Doctor” adventures, and the new original novels written for the revised series. I could, but I’m not. Instead, what I am most excited by is the new 2018 novelizations by Target Books. These are the first novelizations of the new series, covering the events of “Rose” (2005), “The Christmas Invasion” (2005), “The Day of the Doctor” (2013), and “Twice Upon a Time” (2017). All of them were important episodes of the new series, including the first adventures of the 9th and 10th Doctors, but “Rose” and “The Day of the Doctor” have an even more special place: they were novelized by their original authors who were also the showrunners of their respective eras, Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat.

Let’s start at the beginning: “Rose” is the novelization of the very first episode of “new” Doctor Who, as well as being the first episode to feature the 9th Doctor and his companion, Rose. Looking back on the story now, it is amazing in its compactness, managing to introduce a new generation to the Doctor, the TARDIS, and the role of the companion, all while doing it in a “modern” format with great sound and direction. It’s what the classic series would have been, if it could have been. What’s more, they also reintroduced a classic villain, the Nestene/Autons, as well as set up the pieces for the slow reveal of the “Time War”, the big mystery event that happened between the old and the new series. This episode and novel cover a lot of ground and it covers it very well.

That said, this is “just” a novelization, albeit a good one. Unlike the original episode that it is based on, the novel does not shy away from past and future Doctor Who history, dropping hints about future companions and events. It reveals that Rose remembered, for example, her strange New Years visit by a dying 10th Doctor, although she just thought he was drunk. It also adds more backstory and pathos to Clive’s story, including adding a sequel hook with his vindictive wife. A sequel hook… to what exactly? I have no idea. Maybe Mr. Davies plans to write another novel or two someday. Incidentally, Clive now has pictures of most of the incarnations of the Doctor, including several “future” incarnations that we haven’t seen yet. (I’m particularly fond of the black woman with a sword.) Overall, the story has more room to breathe so we get more details about Mickey and his friends, the doomed caretaker at the department store, and even Rose’s ex-boyfriend. We also get a ton more violence with the Autons now dismembering people instead of the implied killing of the TV show. It’s a great read and I enjoyed it a great deal, but that’s all it is: a good novelization. I’m glad Mr. Davies came back to his first and arguably most important script, but he could have done more.

The second book that I read, the novelization of “The Day of the Doctor”, is something a bit more. In its original airing, this was the 50th anniversary special of the show. It was the first real multi-doctor story of the revived series (something that frequently happened in anniversary stories during the original run), plus focused on the mysterious new character of the “War Doctor” and answering the mysteries of the Time Work that Mr. Davies had laid the groundwork for eight years earlier. This is actually a two-for-one since it includes the events of “The Night of the Doctor”, a special mini-episode that aired before the anniversary and showed the final moments of the 8th Doctor.

How can I describe this book? It is Steven Moffat realizing that this might be the last thing he commercially writes for Doctor Who and turning every bad (and good) habit of his up to eleven. It is “timey wimey”, it is complicated, and it features characters and events that dramatically expand on the story told on TV. Most of the book is even framed as a mystery as we do not know until the end who the narrator is. Mr. Moffat plays with every convention such as numbering the chapters out of order, having a narrator that is aware that you are reading this as a book, and even having a surprise “missing” chapter that answers all the most fan-ish questions of the series but doing so in a way that you just have to understand just how much he is trolling you. He adds an adventure with River Song and the 10th Doctor, an expanded role for all of the older Doctors in the final events on Gallifrey, a cameo by the Brigadier (and a retcon about whether or not the Doctor abandoned him in his old age), and even manages to slide in a bit of Doctors 12 and 13. The book is a brilliant mess and I want to re-read it just to catch all the little things that I missed, which is all the more impressive because it’s supposed to just be a novel about a TV episode. My favorite bit is the revelation that the special “potion” brewed for the 8th Doctor on Karn was just lemonade and dry ice, made to look impressive, but ultimately a placebo. The Doctor would have become who he became no matter what; that’s a nice way to frame that the “War Doctor” was a real Doctor after all. Also, the 1st and 2nd Doctors were colorblind which is why we see all their episodes in black and white. Also, the Peter Cushing movies exist in the Doctor Who universe and the real Doctors even helped with his wardrobe. It goes on and on like this, a real treat for the fans and utterly inscrutable for anyone that doesn’t like the series and Steven Moffat in particular. I loved it, but I can see how your mileage may vary.

Two excellent Doctor Who books down, two more to go. That said, I think I’m going to pause on reading the rest of the series for a while. I have a lot of other books I need to finish.

Previous posts in this series:

  1. “Captain  Vorpatril’s Alliance” by Lois Bujold (2012)
  2. “The Storm Before the Storm” by Mike Duncan (2017)
  3. “The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck” by Don Rosa (1994)
  4. “Crystal Phoenix” by Michael Berlyn (1980)
  5. “The Original Hitchhiker’s Guide Radio Scripts” by Douglas Adams and John Lloyd (1978, 1980)

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