Announced by BBC Studios earlier this year, Time Lord Victorious is a Doctor Who multi-platform story spanning novels, audio dramas (both CD and vinyl), comic books, figurines, an escape room and an immersive theatre event. It’s hard to know where to start with this new sub-franchise in the Doctor Who canon, but the first BBC Books novel The Knight, the Fool and the Dead appears to be the closest to a definitive starting point.
Written by Steve Cole, The Knight, the Fool and the Dead begins in medias res, with the Tenth Doctor having travelled through a time fracture (presumably linked to the immersive theatre event Doctor Who: Time Fracture) to the planet of Andalia. But he’s travelled further back in time than ever before, to the Dark Times – a period before the Time Lords were even alive. The people of Andalia fear the threat of the Kotturuh, a sinister veiled species who are determined to bring death to a universe that has grown used to immortality. The Kotturuh intend to put a finite life-span on each and every species, even if it means murdering billions in an instant to do so. Allying himself with an Ood assassin named Brian, the Doctor intends to put a stop to the Kotturuh’s plan for the universe – no matter the cost…
It’s certainly a fascinating concept, focusing on a Doctor who – after the events of the TV story The Waters of Mars – is perhaps not in his right mind, and determined to be victorious against his enemies. While the Doctor starts off as the familiar happy-go-lucky (with a fair bit of brooding) David Tennant incarnation we’re all familiar, the unfolding story reveals more and more of the “Time Lord Victorious” personality hinted at in The Waters of Mars. Author Steve Cole really captures Tennant’s voice in the role, making it easy to imagine the actor himself saying the lines. While it is strange not to see Jodie Whittaker‘s incumbent Thirteenth Doctor present in Time Lord Victorious, the story very much feels like one that could only focus on the Tenth incarnation.
There’s also Brian the Ood assassin, a character the Doctor doesn’t remember, but a brief interlude implies that the two have met before (presumably in the upcoming Big Finish audio drama He Kills Me, He Kills Me Not). Brian is a very quirky creation, and one who brings a welcome comic touch to what is quite a dark and sombre tale. The Kottoruh themselves are an interesting concept: both a sinister death-bringing cult and a necessary evil that the Dark Times need in order to bring forth the universe we’re all familiar with. All these ideas are great in themselves, but the narrative feels quite by-the-numbers, with some familiar stock supporting characters and villains that don’t really get much in the way of development or backstory. Conceptually though, the Kotturuh are a terrific monster for the Doctor to go up against; if he defeats them, the universe he knows will never have been – and if he fails, billions will die.
The Knight, the Fool and the Dead is only one part of the Time Lord Victorious event/franchise, however, and while it may not require too much back-story to enjoy this entry, the major cliff-hanger ending means that fans will have to purchase the second novel All Flesh is Grass to get the continuation (and possible end) of the story. It also appears that in order to catch up on some of the key back-story elements, fans have to purchase all of Big Finish’s Time Lord Victorious audio dramas and Doctor Who Magazine‘s current comic strip run, which while not a problem in itself, does raise the issue of overall cost. Time Lord Victorious is a very expensive undertaking for any adult Doctor Who fan, let alone younger fans for whom I feel these spin-off titles should be aimed at as well.
Overall, I have very mixed feelings about The Knight, the Fool and the Dead. It’s a nice, easy read – great for younger and older Who fans alike – and it tackles some interesting concepts, but the story feels quite by-the-numbers, and because of the way Time Lord Victorious has been promoted, key plot developments have already been spoiled by the announcement of other releases. As a standalone Doctor Who novel, it feels incomplete, and as an instalment of Time Lord Victorious, it doesn’t fully deliver in telling a wholly satisfying story. For fans wondering whether or not to travel through the time fracture into this new branch of Doctor Who merchandise, it’s a tough call to make. This first novel is good, but it’s very much a “Part 1”, with the second part not due until December. There’s a lot riding on All Flesh is Grass, but it certainly has a killer premise behind it.