The Day of the Doctor (2018) by Steven Moffat

A genuine masterwork of the series, easily in contention for Moffat’s crowning achievement with Doctor Who, and I say that as someone cool on the televised fiftieth anniversary in contrast to most. I’d say it’s astounding this is the man’s very first novel, but perhaps that’s the key to its brilliance, as he completely dismisses the entire idea of a “novelisation”, of a reproduction, a translation of a work of television into prose, of the idea of a prose adaptation of an episode being fundamentally derivative or even after-the-fact. Occasional prose wonkiness and first novel blues are difficult to fixate on given how overwhelming the creativity of the book is.

Moffat completely reimagines the story of the anniversary from the ground up in ways that specifically suit the medium of a novel. Arguably the most iconic and praised scene of the anniversary is literally not even in the book, as it relies heavily on television as a visual medium to work, so Moffat scrapped it and came up with a scene hitting equivalent beats for theme and character but in a manner that would only be achievable in a novel. The whole book follows this line of thinking. From the table of contents, it’s clear Moffat was brimming with ideas, drunk on the comparatively boundless nature of the novel format to tell such a grand, yet such a personal story.

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What the novel does with point of view and perspective is so clever and central to the themes of the story that the televised special feels thin in retrospect for obviously not being able to follow the same idea. The structure of the novel is mad, brilliant, a gleeful descent into the Doctor’s minds that immerses the audience in a way TV can’t.

But even setting aside all the potential Moffat found in prose to tell this story in new, exciting, better ways, he just plain mechanically refines the story as it was too. Clearly he had quite a lot of time to reflect on the special by the time of writing the novel, and it’s fascinating how much he changes even down to the most minor sense – at times it does become him essentially rewriting the episode outright. The Eighth Doctor’s regeneration is substantially reframed in ways that shift his characterisation. Kate Stewart is given some much-needed characterisation. Endless meta situations are given winks that actually work in-universe (chapter nine is a particular highlight). The entirety of the revived series of Doctor Who (up until the fiftieth anniversary anyway) is recontextualised as one very long day revolving around the Time War, a load of narrative baggage that Moffat and Russell T. Davies – for better or worse – decidedly extracted all the juice they themselves could out of, a move prompting Moffat to gloriously blow it all up (for want of a better term) singularly as he does here.

The litany of creative and brilliant ideas Moffat pulls off here is far too long for me to want to list, but suffice to say the novel is a genuinely transformative, brilliant piece of work. Four Moments, and a very long day.

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