Image Credit: BBC Books (Fair Use)
Image Description: The cover of The Knight, The Fool and the Dead
By John Salway
Name: The Knight, The Fool and the Dead
Current TLV investment: £75.22
So this is it – we’ve finally arrived at what appears to be the core of the Time Lord Victorious range. The Knight, The Fool and the Dead sees the Tenth Doctor, haunted by the events of The Waters of Mars, travelling back to the Dark Times to get away from everything, but ending up picking a fight with death itself…
The book itself is in a pretty standard nu-Who format – less than 200 pages of fairly large type in hardback. If you’ve read a tie-in novel since 2005, you’ll be in familiar territory. At first, I found this a little disappointing, having been hoping for something a bit bulkier, like some of the ‘prestige’ releases we’ve had over the years, such as The Wheel of Ice or The Coming of the Terraphiles. But this slight upset soon faded once I’d started reading, for Steve Cole has written a fast-paced, tightly structured adventure that Who fans of all ages should enjoy.
One of the book’s greatest surprises was how likeable and relatable the Tenth Doctor is written as. The portentous Time Lord Victorious name, and the book’s placement in the Doctor’s timeline, had me worried that we were in for an angsty, angry Doctor looking for trouble; perhaps heading to the Dark Times specifically to start a fight. But instead we have a far more compassionate interpretation of the character, one who is only drawn into conflict with the Kotturuh by his concern for a single young girl. And that makes it far more interesting when his actions become increasingly murky…
That girl is Estinee, a survivor of one of the Kotturuh’s “judgements”, who may hold the key to stopping the seemingly all-powerful race who have been enforcing lifespans on, and occasionally simply destroying, the previously immortal beings of the cosmos. Thus, Cole is able to have his cake and eat it too – presenting an epic backdrop of grand civilisations, sweeping change and lots of death, while also keeping things narratively intimate with a small, well-defined cast and a clear, linear plot progression. Also, making his grand debut, and in a way crucial to the story, is Brian the Ood, a rather shady figure whose anachronistic presence in the Dark Times points to intrigue in future releases. He’s ruthless and pragmatic, and keeps speaking on behalf of “Mr Ball.” It definitely feels like there’s a lot more to unpick here – I’d like an origin story please James Goss!
There’s a real contradiction behind the central premise of this book that I find fascinating, something I hope the range will continue to explore, which is the ambiguity about the naturalness of death. At many points the Doctor’s struggle against the Kotturuh appears futile, and is described as going against either fate or the natural order. With death, like taxes, being inevitable, he is said to be a fool to even attempt to prevent its spread. But at the same time, the death brought by the Kotturuh Is inherently artificial – they are the ones who meet other species and determine, seemingly arbitrarily, their new lifespans, all in deference to their grand ‘Design’. In this case, death is not a natural part of existence at all. So when viewed in this context, of course the Doctor is going to oppose a race than is forcing its own beliefs on the entire universe, and he’s entirely correct when he questions what gives the Kotturuh the right to spread their “blessing” to all and sundry. I’m really curious how this dilemma can reach a conclusion without determining that the Kotturuh were right all along – because surely they’re not?
I’m getting a bit more philosophical there than the novel itself ever is, because for the most part it’s moving ahead at a fair pace. This is something I greatly approve of – too many modern Doctor Who tie-in novels have lots of back-and-forth, and running around not really accomplishing a lot. The Knight, the Fool and the Dead always feels like it’s building towards something, with a well-judged narrative momentum that kept me reading on just one more chapter, again and again.
There are also three short interludes that break up the rising tension, and while I don’t want to spoil the surprise of what they contain, I found them a delightful inclusion, with the first in particular coming as a total shock and planting a huge grin on my face.
After a pretty satisfying climax, the novel ends on a cliffhanger that looks set to lead directly into the next book, released in December. While this was a well-chosen and exciting place to put the action on hold, the exact details will not come as a particular surprise to anyone who has seen the cover or read the description of All Flesh is Grass. But such is the nature of marketing when it comes to an ongoing series…
My total enjoyment of The Knight, The Fool and the Dead can be demonstrated by the fact I devoured the entire book within 24 hours of opening it. It’s an engaging thriller with an intriguing central premise, interesting characters, and lots of ties to both the Time Lord Victorious range and Doctor Who as a whole. But it is still, at its heart, a TV tie-in book, and may be somewhat of a disappointment for those hoping for something more akin to a full adult sci-fi novel.