Book Reviews: Doctor Who Novelizations

The Doctor Who Target novelizations are back!

What's that? Why should you care? Fair question. Allow me to get nerdy. Or rather, nerdier than I was already.

Way back when in the 1970's–or possibly the 80's–the BBC commissioned novelizations of pretty much all Doctor Who TV episodes. They were usually really good, and took advantage of the opportunity to improve upon the lackluster special effects of the day by imagining the monsters and other sci-fi stuff as it was meant to be seen. Not unlike the Big Finish Doctor Who audio dramas, which I'll be writing awhole post on very soon.)

Then Doctor Who got cancelled, and most of the expanded-universe stuff was discarded for a long time. But now, the Target novelizations have resumed for the new series–complete with cool retro-design covers to match the classic books.

There are quite a few of these new novels available in the US right now. So far, I've read two: Rose by Russell T. Davis, and The Day of the Doctor by Steven Moffat. Since these were written by the original writers/showrunners who created the episodes, I was interested to see how the adaptations would be handled. A good novelization is hard to find–too many of them are just blow-by-blow descriptions of what happened in the corresponding movie or TV series, and aren't worth reading if you've already seen the thing in question.

Fortunately, both these books are of exceptional quality, and add whole new layers to the TV episodes. The Day of the Doctor, in particular, is a must-read for any Whovian. Read on for my full reviews. (There are no spoilers for the books or the TV show in these.)

Rose by Russell T. Davies

“Nice to meet you, Rose. Run for your life!”

In a lair somewhere beneath central London, a malevolent alien intelligence is plotting the end of humanity. Shop window dummies that can move – and kill – are taking up key positions, ready to strike.

Rose Tyler, an ordinary Londoner, is working her shift in a department store, unaware that this is the most important day of her life. She’s about to meet the only man who understands the true nature of the threat facing Earth, a stranger who will open her eyes to all the wonder and terror of the universe – a traveller in time and space known as the Doctor.

 

Compared to the heights the revived series of Doctor Who would go on to reach, Rose, its premiere episode, is far from perfect. The characterization is off in places. There are a few too many interjections of goofy humor. And the tonal shift for fans of the classic series is a little too jarring. But, all the same, it works surprisingly well as a “gateway drug” to the rest of Doctor Who. It certainly worked on me when I began watching the show back in 2009.

So when the Target novelization of Rose was announced, penned by the episode's original author, Russell T. Davies, I was intrigued to see how he would go about adapting the episode into book form. It's a fairly simple story, so does it have enough material for an entire novel? And what about the missteps in the original script?

Overall, I was quite impressed by how Davies handled the job. He spends plenty of time fleshing out the characters, adding details and backstory that were impossible to address in the space of a 45-minute TV episode. The benefit of hindsight allows Davies to weave in character elements that didn't emerge until a season or two of the show had gone by. In the novel, Rose's motivations are well-defined and relatable (and a certain irritating line of her dialogue from the end of the story is removed completely). Mickey actually has a spine. Jackie's rough edges are smoothed, and her maternal traits get more emphasis. The wacky humor is still there, but it's written in such a way as to make it far less off-putting. And Davies takes the opportunity to introduce the Doctor in the scope of the show as a whole–both its past and its future. Multiple Doctors make “cameos” in a particular scene, including ones that didn't exist when this episode first aired. Plus, Davies sets up a potential new adversary for the Doctor in the aftermath of the book, one whom I really hope will show up elsewhere in the Whoniverse someday.

Davies doesn't get everything right. Towards the denouement, it's clear that he's trying to pad the story to make it long enough. He does this by adding subplots with new side characters, none of whom are particularly interesting. Also, the multi-Doctor-cameo scene includes a self-indulgent touch on Davies' part that feels like a petty jab at more conservative Whovians. But on the whole, the book is still gripping and well worth reading for any fan of the show. It offers welcome nostalgia while reinforcing the enduring nature of Doctor Who.

The Day of the Doctor by Steven Moffat

When the entire universe is at stake, three different Doctors will unite to save it.

The Tenth Doctor is hunting shape-shifting Zygons in Elizabethan England. The Eleventh is investigating a rift in space-time in the present day. And one other – the man they used to be but never speak of – is fighting the Daleks in the darkest days of the Time War. Driven by demons and despair, this battle-scarred Doctor is set to take a devastating decision that will threaten the survival of the entire universe… a decision that not even a Time Lord can take alone.

On this day, the Doctor’s different incarnations will come together to save the Earth… to save the universe… and to save his soul.

 

At the risk of hyperbole, I have to say that this is more than a book. It's an experience–and one that no Doctor Who fan should miss.

Steven Moffat, never one for following rules, doesn't bother with them in the slightest while adapting his acclaimed Doctor Who anniversary special into a novel. In fact, it doesn't seem accurate to call this a novelization. It's more of a separate entity that incorporates all the plot beats of the TV episode while adding a wealth of new material.

I won't go into excessive detail about all the brilliant, unexpected moments Moffat incorporates into this book. You don't want it spoiled, even if you've already seen the TV version of Day. There are fan-pleasing surprises on practically every page–not to mention plenty of laugh-out-loud lines. I actually had to re-evaluate my opinion of Moffat as a writer and showrunner once I'd finished, considering that if he had had the time and the budget to give free rein to his imagination, many common complaints about his tenure on the series would not have arisen in the first place.

Most importantly, this book has been released at the perfect time. In 2018, we Whovians are facing a potentially difficult transition for the show. The change in showrunner and the unexpected casting of the Thirteenth Doctor have led to a chaotic, and at times toxic, atmosphere in the fandom. And I'm not dismissing the concerns raised by many fans–I even share them to a degree. But The Day of the Doctor is the kind of story that reminds us why we came to love this show in the first place, why change should be faced with optimism, and why, even in his (or her) most uncertain moments, the Doctor is always the Doctor.

Rose and The Day of the Doctor are now available to purchase in e-book format from Amazon, and paperback versions will be released in June. Also, in case you haven't heard, the soundtrack for Series 9 of Doctor Who will finally be available on April 28th. I'm sure we're all looking forward to adding that to our writing playlists.

Thanks for reading these reviews! Let me know what you thought in the comments. And look out for more Doctor-Who-related stuff in future posts, as I delve into the realm of Big Finish audio dramas and explain why you should be listening to them. For now, just bask in the amazingness of this (coming in July):

 

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Comments (2)

Wow! I NEED THESE. I always just kind of assume all novelizations for TV shows are lame and badly written (because usually they are…), so I’ve really paid no heed to the Doctor Who novels. BUT NOW I WANT THEM. Especially The Day of the Doctor. I honestly always though Moffat was a brilliant storyteller and, though I didn’t approve of some of the things he did, I still loved his episodes.

Anyways, yes, I must read these someday. Thanks so much for the reviews!

You’re very welcome! These are so good; I really think you’d enjoy them–particularly DotD. SO much fun. And I agree; Moffat had some tendencies that drove me nuts (his penchant for having female characters put men down constantly, for example), but on the whole I do think he contributed a ton of wonderful stuff to the Whoniverse. I’m going to miss him.

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