The Night of the Doctor and The Day of the Doctor, by James Cooray Smith, Alasdair Stuart and Steven Moffat

So, back in November 2013, I was having a dull Thursday afternoon in the office when my social media started pinging with news of a new short Doctor Who story on Youtube. I fired up the link and watched it; and watched it again. I don’t think that you can ever recreate the impact of Paul McGann, 18 seconds in, saying “I’m a Doctor – but probably not the one you were expecting.”

The continuity issues raised by precisely which companions were mentioned led me into completely inaccurate speculation about the plot of The Day of the Doctor.

That evening, still excited, I was reading through Big Finish’s online magazine and unthinkingly tweeted the final paragraph of their interview with Tom Baker, which turned into my most retweeted tweet ever (to the point that Buzzfeed ranked it ninth in their list of 16 pictures we can probably stop tweeting in 2014).

Nine days later, we drove to Germany for the showing of The Day of the Doctor in a cinema near Cologne. I wrote:

The cinema is part of the massive Hürth Park shopping complex, and we found food without difficulty at their in-house restaurant. They were showing [TheDay of the Doctor in three different screens, and ours, which was the emptiest when I booked it, was full on the night, so I guess that all three sold out. Sitting beside me were three young women speaking Russian to each other, who gasped with appropriate appreciation in all the right fannish places(such as “Bad Wolf” and “I don’t want to go”). I wondered how far they had come to watch it. Probably not as far as us on the night, anyway.

We cinemagoers also got a lecture from Dan Starkey as Strax about cinema etiquette, showing unfortunates who had been arrested by the Sontarans for using their mobile phones or for trying to record the event, but also rejoicing in the eating of popcorn; followed by Matt Smith and David Tennant demonstrating the 3D while bantering with each other. (It’s perhaps a little regrettable that the 3D glasses were not returnable, at least not where we are; I can’t imagine that we’ll ever use them again.)

And then on with the main feature. Well, I liked it a lot. As everyone has been saying, John Hurt slipped into the part of the missing incarnation utterly smoothly, and in just the right way, portraying a veteran in his own incarnation aware that there would be others to come, and mocking the future Doctors very effectively. I was also relieved that Tennant dialled it down a bit; I felt he sometimes pushed too far in his own stories. And Smith seemed totally energised by the experience, though he must have already decided to go when it was being made.

I was actually glad that Billie Piper didn’t play Rose again (and delighted with the way the script covered that); she actually does well when she gets decent material to work with. Jenna Coleman is a delight. I liked the UNIT subplot (Yay, Jemma Redgrave and Ingrid Oliver!) more than the Elizabethan subplot, but enjoyed both (Joanna Page excellent, if improbable, and softening one of the stupider lines from The End of Time). I remembered the Zygons fondly, and indeed rewatched Terror of the Zygons last weekend to refresh myself; the negotiating the deal moment was perhaps a bit contrived in plot terms, but theoretically sound from the diplomatic perspective. And the shedding of the Time War baggage, both in terms of plot and in terms of liberating the Doctor from what we now know was more than just survivor’s guilt, and possible reintroduction of the Time Lords and Gallifrey is excellent for the future of the show’s storylines.

Not to mention the fan service:

A terrific way of including the former Doctors
(who did Harnell’s voice, by the way?)

Just one look from his eyes, but
already we know it will be different.

I was spoilered for this, which is probably
just as well as I don’t think I could
have remained dignified otherwise.

In the global scheme of things, this was one of Moffat’s better Event episodes and probably the best anniversary special. (I know that Moffat has declared that there is only one previous anniversary special, The Five Doctors; he is entitled to his opinion, but I definitely count The Three DoctorsSilver NemesisDimensions in Time and Zagreus, plus perhaps one or two others.) He has always been good at witty banter, and at identity confusion; he hasn’t always been as good at fitting these things to the frame of a wider show, but he did it this time, and I’m a happy fan.

I rewatched both Night and Day of the Doctor in preparation for writing this post, and they both held up really well. The Night of the Doctor packs so much into six and a half minutes. The plot threads of The Day of the Doctor just about tie up properly (this is one of Moffat’s skills). It’s all great fun and rekindled my enthusiasm.

It’s a little sad that there isn’t quite the atmosphere around the 60th anniversary as there was for the 50th, but it’s understandable why; in 2013 we had the first significant milepost since the 2005 reboot, and the show was on a high; but the Chibnall years did not reach the same level of public interest. It should also be said that I’ve heard from sources involved with the production that some at the BBC felt that 2013 went too far, with An Adventure in Space and Time, The Five-ish Doctors Rebooted, and the awful After-party alongside the actual specials. I’m sure that there will be extras around the anniversary this year, but not as many as ten years ago. (Dismayed by the rumours that the next episode will be shown on 11 November, as I will be out of town that day.)

Stephen Moffat’s novelisation, Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor, actually covers both Night and Day. The second paragraph of the third chapter (numbered Chapter 1) is:

‘He’s here,’ I said, keeping tight rein on the panic levels in my voice. ‘I can hear him, moving about. He’s in Time Vault Zero. The Doctor is in Time Vault Zero.’

The second paragraph of the seventh chapter (numbered Chapter 3) is:

I am writing this account so that perhaps, finally, I can leave it behind.

When it came out in 2018, simultaneously with three other New Who novelisations, I wrote:

Steven Moffat is, oddly enough, the one writer of the four new novelisations who had not previously written a Doctor Who novel. Yep, his previous written Who prose, despite his being the show-runner for the whole of the Eleventh and Twelfth Doctor eras, and having generated screenplay for more Doctors than any other writer (even if you don’t count the extra five in The Curse of Fatal Death), amounts to only a few short stories, starting with “Continuity Errors” in the 1996 collection Decalog 3: Consequences, and going on to “What I Did In My Christmas Holidays – By Sally Sparrow“, the short story from the 2006 Annual that became the TV episode Blink.

Of course, I really enjoyed the 2013 50th anniversary special, which in retrospect we now see as a last salute to the Tennant era from almost the end of the Smith era. And I am glad to report that this is by far the best of the four new Doctor Who novels published last month. Moffat has veered further from the script than any of the other writers; the chapters are told by alternating narrators, in non-sequential numbers, interspersed with reports from other characters (Chapter Nine, significantly, is missing); the basics of the storyline (starting with the Eighth Doctor’s regeneration, and ending with the Curator) remain the same, but the transmission to the printed page has been done in a very different way. And there are some lovely shout-outs to odd bits of continuity – Peter Cushing’s Doctor is canonicalised; there is a desperate attempt to explain the black and white era. In general, it’s just good fun, and it feels like the process of writing the book was much more enjoyable for the author than was notoriously the case with the original script. If you are a Who fan, you should get it here.

I stand by that. Several more novelisations down the line, Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor remains the best of them – so far.

The 49th and 50th Black Archive monographs on Doctor Who are on The Night of the Doctor, which is James Cooray Smith’s fourth in the series, and Day of the Doctor, by the appropriately named Alasdair Stuart, who I also know as a Hugo finalist and commentator on sf and fandom. To jump to the end, they are both very good and enhanced my appreciation still further for two stories that I already liked a lot.

James Cooray Smith’s monograph on Night is only 73 pages long, but that’s roughly 11 pages per minute of script; compare the volumes on the seven-part stories that are barely a page per minute! There’s a lot to say about these short few scenes, of course, and Smith says most of it.

The first chapter, ‘I’m a Doctor, but probably not the one you were expecting’, reminds us (as if we needed to be reminded) of the excitement around the 50th anniversary and the surprise launch of the mini-episode; and looks at the returns of past Doctors (which turns out to be an even more timely topic in 2023).

The second and longest chapter, ‘What if I get bored? I need a television’, debates whether or not Night counts as TV Doctor Who, looking at other edge cases, of which there are a lot more than you might have thought.

The third chapter, ‘The universe stands on the brink’, looks briefly at the origins of the War Doctor. Its second paragraph is

This assumption, however, fits rather less well with other aspects of ‘The Night of the Doctor’, and the possible discontinuities that result are worth consideration for what they imply about the story and its relationship with The Day of the Doctor, particularly with regards to how much time passes between them. In ‘The Night of the Doctor’, Ohila describes the perilous situation in which the universe finds itself at this point in the Last Great Time War in very stark terms, saying that ‘The war between the Daleks and the Time Lords threatens all reality. You are the only hope left,’ and later insisting that, ‘The universe stands on the brink. Will you let it fall?’

The fourth chapter, ‘What do you need now?’, looks further at the concept of the War Doctor.

The fifth chapter, ‘I don’t suppose there’s any need for a Doctor any more’, looks at the Time War and the character of Cass.

The sixth chapter, ‘Physician, heal thyself’, looks at the last words of various Doctors and at the Doctor as Jesus.

The seventh chapter, ‘Doctor no more’, looks at how the episode fits into the wider Steven Moffat’s wider concept of who and what the Doctor is.

It’s a little cheeky of the publishers to offer this slim volume at the same price as others in the series which are almost three times as long, but the completist will want it, need it and enjoy it anyway. You can get it here.

Alasdair Stuart’s The Day of the Doctor is twice as long. It starts with an introduction, setting out the author’s stall: this is a story involving metafiction and death, and combining Old and New Who. Usually I write my own chapter summaries, but in this case the author has done it for me so I will lazily cut and paste, inserting the chapter titles:

The first chapter [“The Doctor Can See You Now”] looks in more detail at the concept of postmodernism and Who’s own unique flavour of it. Fans of a certain stripe will probably be thinking the word ‘discontinuity’ and they are not wrong.

The second chapter [“The Barn at the End and the Barn at the Start”] talks about the barn, what it represents to the show and also, crucially, the fictional spaces it allows the show to step into. It’s also going to look at the concept of postmodern and metafiction and what that, and 1970s BBC Shakespeare adaptations, have to do with Doctor Who.

The third chapter [“A Man Goes to War”] looks at the War Doctor. He’s arguably the most important incarnation of the Doctor and also one of the least well known. Here we’re also going to explore the idea that each one of these incarnations represents an era of the character.

Just interrupting to say that the second paragraph of the third chapter is:

But before all that, we need to talk about Christopher Eccleston.

Going back to the chapter summaries:

The fourth chapter [“The Man Who Regrets”] turns the attention to the 10th Doctor. Poster boy for the series’ triumphant return! Big-haired righter of wrongs! Lonely god and occasional near mass murderer. He’s also the representation of the show’s past, which is an odd, interesting thing for him to be.

The fifth chapter [“The Man Who Forgets”] focuses on the 11th Doctor and how this is a story which is a prelude to his final bow in The Time of the Doctor (2013) and how it sets up the future of the show. A future which is far more introspective, for both Doctor and Daleks, than it first seems.

The sixth chapter [“Impossibilities, Moments, Revolutionaries and Evolutions”] examines Clara, the Moment, Kate Stewart and Osgood and why the future of the show is carefully, subtly encoded into those four women.

Finally, [in te seventh chapter, “Midlife Crisis of the Daleks”] we take a look at the Daleks and how The Day of the Doctor is a fictional structure through which the past, present and future of both the Doctor and his nemeses are examined and defined.

There’s also an appendix looking at how the 2020 story The Timeless Children affects our understanding of Day of the Doctor now, including also the “Morbius Doctors”.

This is all good, meaty stuff, well worth adding to the thinking fan’s shelves, and you can get it here.

The Black Archives
1st Doctor: Marco Polo (18) | The Dalek Invasion of Earth (30) | The Romans (32) | The Massacre (2)
2nd Doctor: The Underwater Menace (40) | The Evil of the Daleks (11) | The Mind Robber (7)
3rd Doctor: Doctor Who and the Silurians (39) | The Ambassadors of Death (3) | The Dæmons (26) | Carnival of Monsters (16) | The Time Warrior (24) | Invasion of the Dinosaurs (55)
4th Doctor: Pyramids of Mars (12) | The Hand of Fear (53) | The Deadly Assassin (45) | The Face of Evil (27) | The Robots of Death (43) | Horror of Fang Rock (33) | Image of the Fendahl (5) | The Stones of Blood (47) | Full Circle (15) | Warriors’ Gate (31)
5th Doctor: Black Orchid (8) | Earthshock (51) | The Awakening (46)
6th Doctor: Vengeance on Varos (41) | Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: Battlefield (34) | The Curse of Fenric (23) | Ghost Light (6)
8th Doctor: The Movie (25) | The Night of the Doctor (49)
Other Doctor: Scream of the Shalka (10)
9th Doctor: Rose (1) | Dalek (54)
10th Doctor: The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit (17) | Love & Monsters (28) | Human Nature / The Family of Blood (13) | The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords (38)
11th Doctor: The Eleventh Hour (19) | The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang (44)| The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon (29) | The God Complex (9) | The Rings of Akhaten (42) | Day of the Doctor (50)
12th Doctor: Listen (36) | Dark Water / Death in Heaven (4) | Face the Raven (20) | Heaven Sent (21) | Hell Bent (22)
13th Doctor: Arachnids in the UK (48) | Kerblam! (37) | The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos (52)