All Flesh is Grass is the very centre of Time Lord Victorious‘ tangled web of storylines. But can it support the epic storyline’s weight?
Time Lord Victorious has now been and, largely, gone in the manner of a good New Year’s Eve fireworks show. The hours of build up, the first burst of light and action, shortly followed by a blazing climax. Then perhaps a few stray whizz-bangs as the crowd collects themselves for the cold slog home. Ultimately never lasting as long as it felt in the anticipation, but nevertheless filling you with a satisfied rosy glow. And in the case of TLV, the team behind the multimedia event that’s dominated the Doctor Who calendar between Series 12 and Revolution of the Daleks can exhale at last in the afterglow of a job well done. Few of them more so than novelist Una McCormack. The task of providing the crossover with its huge thunderclap of a climax fell to her. If All Flesh is Grass doesn’t work, then Time Lord Victorious itself doesn’t.
And, have no doubt, All Flesh is Grass does work. In fact it works remarkably well considering everything it needs to accomplish within its 199 pages. Not so much a shopping list, but a tangled web of demands on its word count. It has to provide the connective tissue between two Big Finish audios for a start. The Eighth Doctor has to be delivered from the end of one story to the explosive start of the next. It has to connect the dots between the Daleks’ internal squabbling and scheming as seen in the Eaglemoss magazines. And it has to provide a gap for The Minds of Magnox and the Comic Creator strips to fit into.
The novel powers through its narrative To Do list with breakneck speed, but manages to be an exciting adventure in its own right.
Finally, and most crucially, it has to resolve the cliffhanger ending to The Knight, the Fool, and the Dead. And, moreover, do it in a way that tidies up the seismic changes wrought on history. Figuratively, all the universe’s chairs should be back under the tables for closing time. All while being a complete and comprehensible Doctor Who novel in its own right. One you can pick up and read even if you’ve picked up nothing else from the Time Lord Victorious range.
The result is a novel that rattles along at a terrific pace. In fact the main selling point of the event, three version of the Doctor going to war on each other, is very swiftly boxed away in the opening chapters. It’s a wise move. That big idea is a great hook for a story. But it falls apart when you think about the various ways it could play out. So that three-way stand-off in orbit of the Kotturuh homeworld lasts only a few page. Instead the Doctors swiftly move on to competing plans to mitigate the damage already done.
The good natured bickering between the Doctors perfectly captures their voices and characters
There’s the required amount of bickering between them about the best way to do it, of course, and recriminations about who’s most to blame. And one of the highlights of McCormack’s prose is just how skillfully she captures their distinctive voices. It’s all the more crucial in the case of the Tenth Doctor. Like Steve Cole before her, she skillfully navigates the drama of the Doctor sliding into moral greys. His well intentioned decisions may go terribly wrong, but he’s still being recognizably himself.
It’s helped by his other selves also having made compromises lately. The Ninth Doctor has recently displaced the leadership of a giant Vampire Coffin Ship, and is struggling with being responsible for their fate. The Eighth meanwhile has allied himself with the Daleks and allowed them access to the Dark Times in an error of judgement that puts the Tenth’s in perspective. All Flesh is Grass quickly takes shape as a race to solve all three problems. Most urgently the Daleks cutting a swath of extermination across the young universe in their quest for the ‘Ultimate End.’
The only problem with All Flesh is Grass is that it’s not longer
The result is a plot that barely stops, so fast moving it would leave a Russell T Davies series finale breathless. The most pleasing strand is easily the Dalek conflict. Especially when focusing on a free wheeling, cheeky, Eighth Doctor who delights in poking fun and teasing them to their faces. (And neatly balanced by a moment of reflection from the Tenth, as he admits he treats the Daleks lightly because he knows it annoys him, but that it’s increasingly difficult after all they’ve cost him.) The Vampire and Kotturh problems, meanwhile, leave the Doctors with even more ethical conundrums. Not least whether to help the remaining Kotturuh regroup, rebuild and continue their mission to bring death to the universe. They’re problems with a common solution, however, with the climax confidently tying them together.
That said, it’s not clear the central crisis on which Time Lord Victorious is built is put to rest. A large part of the epic is spent with various people realizing that the modern day universe is is shifting and changing around them. Even as the reader turns the last page of All Flesh is Grass there’s no explanation of if that’s been righted, or if it could be. The Doctor now has his greasy fingerprints across the Dark Times three times over, while the Daleks have merrily exterminated a not insignificant number of civilizations. A serious amount of squinting and goodwill presents a possible answer, but it’s not terribly gratifying after all this build up. Unless, of course, the upcoming coda Echoes of Extinction holds the key. Because that’s the things with fireworks displays. Sometimes just when you think it’s all over, there’s one last big bang…
Time Lord Victorious: Where to next?
If you want to follow the action as various characters deal with the aftermath of All Flesh is Grass, we have you covered. The Eighth Doctor’s battle with the Daleks concludes in Mutually Assured Destruction, out now from Big Finish. While the Tenth Doctor’s journey home is covered in Echoes of Extinction, coming early next year.
You can keep track of everything tying into Time Lord Victorious, what’s out next, and all of Blogtor Who’s reviews of the adventure so far on our Time Lord Victorious Master List page.