The Tenth Doctor travels to the Dark Times and the dark side of his own nature as the Time Lord Victorious rises…
Time Lord Victorious starts here! Well, okay, it seems like we’ve said that before. We’ve already had a scattering of comic books featuring the Ninth and the Tenth Doctors, as well as a short story and an annual. By the time this review is published a pair of audio Short Trips will have been added to the pile. But if those have been attractive appetizers, The Knight, the Fool and the Dead feels undeniably like the start of the main course. Within its pages the Tenth Doctor and the Kotturuh finally meet and begin their war on each other. And by its end the Doctor has pulled on his Time Lord robes and declared himself truly the Time Lord Victorious.
BBC Studios and the team behind the epic have frequently touted its accessibility. Each element is intended to be both part of an over-arching storyline and satisfying even if it’s your only purchase. Yet many have questioned how true would actually be. And The Knight, the Fool and the Dead is certainly the idea’s first real test. Ultimately it works incredibly well. There’s only a brief scattering of references to other TLV stories. The Doctor mentions having wound up in the Dark Times near the universe’s beginnings due to a ‘Time Fracture.’ While Brian the Ood Assassin (yes, you read that right) explains he once met another incarnation of the Doctor. But even if the rest of this crossover didn’t exist at all, there’s nothing here that wouldn’t pass or the normal backstory as in any standalone novel.
The Knight, the Fool and the Dead carries the weight of more expectation than any Doctor Who novel for years
But taken on that basis, is The Knight, the Fool and the Dead actually any good? The answer, thankfully, is absolutely yes. (And let’s face it, after all the excitement, it would have been a bit of a let down if the central plank in Time Lord Victorious had been anything less). Steve Cole’s brisk, engaging prose successfully echoes the breathless style of the Russell T Davies era. It similarly captures the Tenth Doctor’s distinctive voice. It also provides a plausible, but thrilling, slide into shades of grey for the Doctor.
The basic outline of the plot is like so many others in the Doctor Who canon. The Doctor arrives on a planet and discovers its under threat by a malevolent alien force. There are people he fails to save which only makes him more determined that ever. He meets up with some plucky allies, in this case including the aforementioned Brian and the mysterious young Estinee – the only known survivor of a Kotturuh purge. He comes up with a simply brilliant plan powered by poetic justice. And he walks into the lion’s den of the enemy because he has to give them a chance… Which is where things step off the familiar path and into the unknown dark. Not just in terms of Who storytelling, but also in terms of the darkness at the edges of the Doctor’s soul.
The novel looks at all those times the Doctor was pushed to the brink but stepped back. And asks ‘But What if—?’
This is no flip-switch transformation into a villain. In fact, it’s not really a turn to the Dark Side at all. Rather it’s an extension of all those moments on television where the Doctor was tempted into doing the wrong thing for the right reasons. And it asks what would happen if once, just once, he made the wrong call. It’s telling that a crucial moment in the novel sees the Doctor again asking himself “Have I the right?” But unlike in Genesis of the Daleks, this time, his philosophical coin flip lands on the other side of the argument. But throughout the Doctor is still driven by his instinct to save people. To protect them and keep them safe from the terrible things some corners of the universe have created.
The success of this gambit, of the whole Time Lord Victorious project, depends on the Kotturuh. They have to be an adversary terrible enough to justify the Doctor’s extreme measures. And while we’ve had glimpses of the Kotturuh before now, in their first full appearance they’re truly, utterly vile. The Guide to the Dark Times and The Dawn of the Kotturuh cast them as creatures seeking to bring balance to the cosmos. Their mission simply to spread the ‘gift’ of death by allotting the basically immortal species of the universe a specific lifespan. A mission understandably terrifying to those on the receiving end. Yet they seemed to go about it with as little fuss as possible, motivated by their ability to see the future and a plan for saving it. Not cruel or sadistic, but almost apologetic about the inconvenience of genocide.
The Kotturuh convince as a monster so snide and repugnant that the Doctor’s obsession with defeating them at any cost feels justified
The Knight, the Fool and the Dead gives that official history the whiff of propaganda. The Kotturuh here are cruel. They gloat. They have fun with their work. The ‘great design’ for the future of the universe has all the capriciousness of a child playing a board game. And, worst of all, they’re just so smug. They even maintain a collection of the last members of the races they’ve destroyed, each undead and each doomed to repeat the galactic coordinates of their homeworld at the hour of its destruction forever. All in all, they’re one of the most successful new Doctor Who monsters in years.
As if that wasn’t enough, they delight in needling and goading the Doctor over his supposed powerlessness to stop them. And it’s in the way the Kotturuh get under the Doctor’s skin, make him loathe and despise them, that’s the high point of the book. Not only does it make the Doctor’s own actions believable, but it divides the reader’s loyalties too. Even as we can see he’s going too far, it’s hard not to share his revulsion.
Finishing on a tremendous cliffhanger, the book feels like the first episode of a season finale
At a swift 178 pages, and maybe 40,000 words, The Knight, the Fool and the Dead certainly doesn’t outstay its welcome. Furthermore, it builds to a massive cliffhanger, worthy of ending the first part of a season finale. So it’s hard to escape the feeling, turning the final page, that you’ve only read half a novel. Clearly, between them The Knight, the Fool and the Dead and December’s sequel All Flesh is Grass form the twin beating hearts of Time Lord Victorious. And if Una McCormack’s book finishes the tale as strongly as Steve Cole’s begun it, it will have more than lived up to the hype.
Doctor Who: Time Lord Victorious – The Knight, the Fool and the Dead by Steve Cole
We live forever, barring accidents. Just like everyone else in the universe.
The Doctor travels back to the Ancient Days, an era where life flourishes and death is barely known…
Then come the Kotturuh – creatures who spread through the cosmos dispensing mortality. They judge each and every species and decree its allotted time to live. For the first time, living things know the fear of ending. And they will go to any lengths to escape this grim new spectre, death.
The Doctor is an old hand at cheating death. Now, at last, he can stop it at source. He is coming for the Kotturuh, ready to change everything so that Life wins from the start.
Not just the last of the Time Lords. The Time Lord Victorious.
Time Lord Victorious – Where to Next?
The paths of the Tenth Doctor, the Kotturuh, and Brian the Ood through Time Lord Victorious all continue with All Flesh is Grass by Una McCormack, from BBC Books on the 10th of December.
The full list of Time Lord Victorious adventures
- A Dalek Awakens (Escape Hunt, Open Now!) [Thirteenth Doctor/Daleks]
- Defender of the Daleks #1 (Titan Comics, Out Now!) [Tenth Doctor/Daleks]
- Doctor Who Annual 2021 (BBC Books, Out Now!) [Kotturuh]
- Monsterous Beauty Part One (Doctor Who Magazine #556, Out Now!) [Ninth Doctor]
- The Dawn of the Kotturuh (Doctor Who Newsletter, Out Now!) [Kotturuh]
- The Night, the Fool and the Dead (BBC Books, Out Now!) [Tenth Doctor/Kotturuh/Brian the Ood]
- Master Thief/Lesser Evils (Big Finish, Out Now!) [Kotturuh]
- Defender of the Daleks #2 (Titan Comics, Out Now!) [Tenth Doctor/Daleks]
- He Kills Me, He Kills Me Not (Big Finish, 14th October) [Eighth Doctor/Brian the Ood]
- Monsterous Beauty Part Two (Doctor Who Magazine #557, 15th October) [Ninth Doctor]
- Dalek Golden Emperor/Dalek Drone Figurine Set (Hero Collector, 20th October) [Daleks]
- Dalek Commander/Dalek Scientist Figurine Set (Hero Collector, 1st November) [Daleks]
- The Enemy of My Enemy (Big Finish, 11th November) [Eighth Doctor/Daleks]
- Monsterous Beauty Part Three (Doctor Who Magazine #558, 12th November) [Ninth Doctor]
- DALEKS! The Archive of Isola (Doctor Who YouTube Channel, November) [Daleks]
- DALEKS! The Sentinel of the Fifth Galaxy (Doctor Who YouTube Channel, November) [Daleks]
- Defender of the Daleks Collection (Titan Comics, 18th November) [Tenth Doctor/Daleks]
- Dalek Executioner/Dalek Strategist (Hero Collector, 23rd November) [Daleks]
- Echoes of Extinction (Big Finish, Vinyl release, 27th November) [Eighth/Tenth Doctors]
- The Minds of Magnox (BBC Audio/Demon Music Group, 3rd December) [Tenth Doctor/Kotturuh/Brian the Ood]
- Mutually Assured Destruction (Big Finish, 9th December) [Eighth Doctor/Daleks]
- All Flesh is Grass (BBC Books, 10th December) [Eighth/Ninth/Tenth Doctors/Daleks/Kotturuh/Brian the Ood]
- Genetics of the Daleks (Big Finish, 10th December) [Fourth Doctor/Daleks]
- Time Fracture (Immersive Everywhere, 17th February – 11th April, 2021) [Tenth Doctor/Daleks]
- Time Lord Victorious/Brian the Ood Figurine Set (Hero Collector, 1st March) [Brian the Ood]
- The Edge of Time: Time Lord Victorious game expansion (Maze Theory, TBA)