Fiction Reviews

Doctor Who: Twice Upon A Time

(2018) Paul Cornell, Target / BBC Books, £6.99 / Can$14.99 / US$9.99, pbk, 161pp, ISBN 978-1-785-94330-0


This is the novelisation of the final Peter Capaldi episode in his run starring as Doctor Who and it also was the 2017 Christmas episode (trailer here) entitled Twice Upon A Time based upon the original screenstory by Steven Moffat and adapted into book form by the establish SF/F writer Paul (London Falling & Who Killed Sherlock Holmes) Cornell.  Paul of course, in addition to his own novels, has been associated with Doctor Who for a number of decades and has written for Doctor Who Magazine.

The (Capaldi) Doctor is about to regenerate as the TARDIS brings him to Antarctica.  Meanwhile, the (Hartnell) Doctor is about to regenerate as his TARDIS brings him to Antarctica.  And so these two Doctors at last meet. But there is also a quasi transparent glass woman who seems to have designs on both the Doctors as well as a British officer plucked from no-man's land of World War I. The only common thing the two Doctors and this officer have is that they were all facing death…

Paul Cornell has provided us with a near-faithful adaptation of the Moffat episode that saw the William Hartnell Doctor (following a brief clip of the man himself – see the short video clip here) played by David Bradley (for the transition see 31 seconds into the afore linked clip). Though it has to be said that this last was only covered in a few lines in this novelisation.  The episode was Doctor Who fan treat for a number of reasons.  Not only do we see the first (Hartnell/Bradley) Doctor enter the (Capaldi) Doctor's TARDIS (see the short video clip here) the episode gave Peter Capaldi the chance to say farewell to his two companions for his final season (including my personal favourite Nardole) – see the short vid clip here.  We even get to see the'good' Dalek 'Rusty' (see the vid clip here) and briefly the previous Doctor incarnations get a welcome reference (see the vid clip here).

This novel is part of the current 'Target' series of Doctor Who novels from BBC Books which itself is (currently, as it’s a franchise contract thing) part of Ebury Publishing within the Penguin Random House group.

'Target' itself was a run of Doctor Who novelisations originally when the BBC out-sourced its publishing in the 1970s to Universal Tandem and inheriting the first Doctor Who run of novelisations.  In the 1990s, Target was re-subcontracted with BBC Books to Virgin Publishing.  During its time with Virgin the number of Doctor Who Target titles had reached 154 with global sales in its history to then exceeding 8 million copies. The Target run of Who books has therefore survived a number of publishing houses, regenerating every decade much like the good Doctor himself.

Then this year (2018) BBC Books, now with Ebury, has resurrected the Target Doctor Who books with some new titles.  The great news for those into Doctor Who novelisations is that BBC Books/Ebury have harked back to the style of covers (albeit with the slightly different 1996 Doctor Who logo) and livery of the old Target books: for old-timers, these new titles will sit easily alongside the early Target books on their shelves.  These new Target books are probably aimed at slightly younger readers (the font size is bigger at 11.4 point) than some of the other Doctor Who currently coming out from BBC Books: so for older fans these are quick reads but still a chance to re-visit episodes in written form.

I have to say changes in the Doctor I do find unsettling. It usually takes a while for me to accept the new incarnation of the Time Lord; I dare say it also takes a few episodes for the actor to settle into the role and then make it their own.  Peter Capaldi becoming the new Doctor was no exception. Worse, alas he was badly let down by the screenstory writers for his first season and then there were scheduling problems (which fortunately have since been largely overcome with the new BBC i-Player catch-up service but no thanks to the schedulers for that).

Capaldi did settle into the role and subsequent to his first season he did get favoured with better (though still all to frequently flawed) scripts.  So I grew to like the man.  Further, this 'Twice Upon A Time', the 2017 Christmas episode was written by Moffat, a long-standing Doctor Who script writer and he has provided a sound send-off. In fact, I would go as far as to say that this was the best regeneration handover we have had given we get two Doctors and a hark back to the show's origins. Brilliant stuff.

This title will delight Doctor Who fans, especially as Cornell does good, sympathetic-to-the-series adaptations.

Jonathan Cowie

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