What if the Doctor went too far? What if he pushed the laws of time to the brink of universal destruction? And who would stop him? The main premise of All Flesh is Grass – the culmination of Doctor Who‘s Time Lord Victorious multi-platform saga – spanning novels, comics, audio adventures and more – is certainly an intriguing one. It’s essentially the Avengers of the Doctor Who universe, bringing together the Eighth, Ninth and Tenth Doctors – played on TV by Paul McGann, Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant respectively – for an adventure of epic scope set billions of years in the past. It’s certainly ambitious, but thankfully Una McCormack‘s novel delivers on its promise, acting as a satisfying pay-off to the Time Lord Victorious experiment.
Taking place immediately after The Knight, the Fool and the Dead (the first BBC Books novel in the series), the Tenth Doctor – now known as the Time Lord Victorious – is preparing to destroy the Kotturuh (bringers of death) in the Dark Times. But he is confronted by two earlier incarnations: the Eighth has allied himself with the Daleks (continuing from Big Finish’s audio adventure The Enemy of My Enemy) and the Ninth Doctor with the Vampires (continuing from Doctor Who Magazine’s comic strip Monstrous Beauty). An epic battle ensues, and from there the story takes some interesting turns – which I shan’t reveal to avoid any spoilers.
Una McCormack has written a number of Doctor Who novels over the years (most recently Molten Heart featuring the Thirteenth Doctor and her “fam”), but All Flesh is Grass feels unique in the pantheon of Doctor Who media, tackling a story far too grand to tell on TV. It’s a potentially quite convoluted narrative, but McCormack’s prose is simple and makes the story easy to follow for older and younger readers alike. She’s able to deliver on the promise of a big battle between Daleks, galactic mercenaries and Vampires, but also knows that the story has to go beyond this aspect in order to be truly engaging, crafting a focused and tightly-plotted narrative revolving around a new character who could hold the key to ending the chaos unfolding in the Dark Times. It’s a welcome narrative development for the series as a whole, but utilises the established elements to ensure that it never feels like a deviation, but a new element that resolves the saga in a satisfying way. Even the Daleks’ plan (come on, you know they had an ulterior motive) is a surprisingly refreshing take on a familiar concept, while the story takes recurring character Brian the Ood and places him in a situation he struggles to deal with – torn between his desire to kill and his allegiance to an increasingly distressed Tenth Doctor.
All Flesh is Grass is still very much the Doctor’s story though, and the narrative allows each incarnation to approach the events in different ways. The Tenth is troubled and brooding, the Ninth wants to avoid the mistakes of his past (i.e. the Time War), and the Eighth is determined to run from any of the fighting. It’s a shame that none of the Doctor’s companions are present (keeping Rose with the Ninth might have acted as a nice emotional anchor to the tale), but if I can pick one flaw with this approach, it’s that the Ninth Doctor’s inclusion doesn’t entirely work within the context of his TV run. It’s clear that the Tenth Doctor is in his especially broody post-The Waters of Mars phase, and the Eighth Doctor appears to have entered the story before the events of the Time War, but the Ninth Doctor feels somewhat out of time. The character only had thirteen adventures on screen, and this one appears to take place before the events of The Empty Child – except that his interactions, particularly with the Daleks, feel somewhat out-of-character. The Ninth Doctor’s whole character arc on TV revolves around his relationship with the Daleks in a post-Time War universe, so for him to almost shrug them off in this adventure is a bit odd, and doesn’t fit with his actions in either Dalek or Bad Wolf (his only two Dalek stories). As such, I can’t help but wonder if the Thirteenth Doctor would have been a more fitting inclusion – both to tie-in to the TV series, but to provide a unique perspective on the story’s events. This isn’t the fault of Una McCormack by any means – and I’m never going to say no to more Ninth Doctor (thanks, Big Finish) – but his inclusion feels like an odd decision on the part of James Goss and everyone overseeing Time Lord Victorious.
Overall though, All Flesh is Grass is a very strong finale (of sorts) to Time Lord Victorious. It’s a fairly short, easy read, and I enjoyed it much more than The Knight, the Fool and the Dead. Perhaps it could have been longer and expanded upon its ideas, but it doesn’t feel rushed at all. The larger issues with Time Lord Victorious do hold it back in some respects – the Eighth Doctor just runs off at the end, setting up his next Big Finish adventure (Mutually Assured Destruction) in a rather haphazard way – but Una McCormack has crafted a really great read for Doctor Who fans young and old.
For those wondering what I’d consider Time Lord Victorious “must-have” purchases (in order to understand the main story), I’d recommend both BBC Books entries, along with Big Finish’s Eighth Doctor trilogy and Doctor Who Magazine’s Monstrous Beauty comic; although the two Master-centric “short trips” by Big Finish – Master Thief and Lesser Evils – are well worth a listen as well.