I loved it on first viewing.
Context is important, obviously. It had been built up to so much, I was staying with a group of friends and having a great weekend anyway. First viewings are more about gut feelings for me than critical analysis.
I recently listened to the audiobook of The Day of the Doctor.
Nick Briggs is an excellent narrator. Steve Moffat is still an expert at deflating you with one joke too far, one joke too many, or just simply using the phrase ‘Down boy’ again.
There’s an ambition to the novelisation of The Day of the Doctor, using the change in medium to flesh out characters through accessing what’s been internalised. This is occasionally incredibly effective.
What it also does is provide proof of something I’ve suspected for a while: all of Steve Moffat’s characters are horny. Even the Curator. Have you read the interview with Tom Baker in Doctor Who Magazine where he mentions asking a dying Nicholas Courtney whether he was a breast or leg man? I feel like Moffat just transposed that moment into official continuity.
Possibly, after six years of Doctor Who that seemed targeted very much at me and people like me, I have had enough Moffat (It’s how the first half of Series 4 made me feel about the RTD era). This book started off exciting and moving but by the end I’d lost that feeling for a particularly fannish reason.
The Seventh Doctor and the Eighth Doctor.
Doctors are usually reactions against their predecessor. Eight’s enthusiasm, lack of cynicism and romantic air are in stark contrast to the sad clown whose spinning plates keep smashing. The Seventh Doctor tries to make the end justify the means, the Eighth Doctor rejects this notion.
However, the Eighth Doctor’s characterisation in this book is very much post-2005 Doctor. In the extra scenes we get with him he feels more like Tennant or Smith. This feels odd, not merely because of what’s gone before, but because the rest of the book is very clear that the War Doctor initially doesn’t recognise himself in his older-yet-more-childish incarnations.
So when we have a story built around the War Doctor killing everyone on Gallifrey, including the billions of children, it’s based around this idea of the character never indulging in consequentialism, that this is a significant departure.
Moffat addresses the character’s aspirations to an absolute morality by contrasting examples from the post-2005 series with the idea that the Doctor had previously committed double genocide. ‘I never would’ rings with a bitter regret because the character knows he has, and is trying to run as far away from being that person as possible. However, you could slot the Seventh Doctor into the Time War easily. He could just as easily be the figure the later Doctors are thinking of when they proclaim their heroism.
The War Doctor functions as this cut off point between old and new series in this story, echoing the BBC English of the original run and providing a reason for his future selves to act in a noticeably more flippant manner. This isn’t subjective interpretation, it’s in the text. The reason that Nine through Twelve have taken Troughton’s foolish front and made that a permanent feature is because being serious reminds them of the Time War.
As a result it jars when the first thing we see the Eighth Doctor do is whooping and cheering as he goes to rescue Cass. It feels like the act of a post-War Doctor, muddying the cut off point the book later establishes.
As the book progresses, the weight on the idea of the War Doctor being atypical increases. The Seventh Doctor’s head is cocked to one side, and he’s gently questioning. Soon his consonants will harden, and the cracks will start to appear.
You can argue that this point of continuity isn’t something that needs to be answered in a novel that barely features the Seventh Doctor, but it also goes out of its way to fit the Cushing Doctor into continuity and address the notion of the Doctor’s heroism as an ideal versus the reality of it (and, being a Moffat story and an anniversary celebration, you can guess which one wins and why it’s okay for this to happen).
The Seventh Doctor’s behaviour approaching the War Doctor’s can’t be mentioned for this to work.
Day of the Doctor needs to iron out this blip in his character to make sense, because the War Doctor can’t be this aberration when he was actively trying to destroy oppressive races two incarnations ago. It just makes it seem like the Doctor has mood whiplash. Maybe he does (Ohilia’s revelation regarding the ingredients of the potion is Moffat at his best). The Eighth reacts against the Seventh’s ways and means, only to find himself in a situation where he needs to be None More Seventh. That works as a headcanon.