Image Credit: BBC Books (Fair Use)
Image Description: The cover of All Flesh is Grass
By John Salway
Name: All Flesh is Grass
Current TLV investment: £214.47
The second and final novel in the Time Lord Victorious saga, All Flesh Is Grass, is something of a finale for the range. No, that doesn’t mean that this will be the last review – we’ve got a few months of content left before reaching that milestone. However, this book does see the conclusion of the series’ main plotline, as the Tenth Doctor embraces the epithet of Time Lord Victorious, facing the consequences of his decision to destroy the Kotturuh and prevent their spread of death across the universe. Oh, and did I mention this was also a multi-Doctor story? The Eighth and Ninth Doctors pop in from their own side stories, and are both quite ticked off with their future self, as well as bringing Daleks and Vampires in tow. All in all, there’s quite a lot for veteran Who author Una McCormack to cover. No pressure.
The novel gets off to a truly impressive start, picking up on the cliffhanger to previous novel The Knight, the Fool and the Dead and running with it in exciting, blackly comic directions. Three Doctors, each the head of an army, face off as chaos and death rain down in all directions, hypocritically decrying the actions and associates of their other selves. Almost immediately, the concept of the ‘Time Lord Victorious’ is proven hollow as the Tenth Doctor finds himself out of his depth and unable to control the flow of battle, or even his own forces, as Brian the Ood begins to make some executive decisions of his own…
Straight away, this opening section establishes that this isn’t a Tenth Doctor novel with two bonus Time Lords chucked in – instead, all three of the Doctors are given equal weight, and we swap perspectives constantly between them. Sometimes they’re alone, sometimes they’re in pairs, and sometimes they’re working as a particularly spiky and ill-mannered trio. It’s a really engaging way to keep the plot moving forward, and to make the extended TLV universe seem more worthwhile. While this book should be (mostly) understandable, even if you’ve only read the previous novel, having absorbed more of the 8th and 9th Doctors’ adventures makes this feel even more like an epic culmination.
For the most part, the Doctors are well characterised, with the Ninth Doctor in particular standing out as a more thoughtful, mediative figure than his two alternates; the implication being that he’s seen quite enough of war recently, thank you very much. The Eighth Doctor is perhaps a little less well defined, but still shows some key moments of dry wit. Finally, the Time Lord Victorious himself, Number 10, has a really compelling path, blazing forward with confidence, yet willing to admit that this wasn’t a battle he really intended to fight – in a beautiful, quiet moment, confessing that it really all came down to “the death of a child”.
After this initial blast of energy as Doctors collide, there’s a narrative break, and the next chapter re-commences a few weeks later. There are pros and cons to this choice. On the one hand, it allows for even more TLV stories, such as The Minds of Magnox, to be integrated into the greater whole, and provides a sensible period of time for the Doctors to calm down following their previous conflict. On the other, it does kill a little of the momentum the story has developed, and makes the grinding of the narrative gears a little too obvious as the novel beings to change its focus. I’m wary of providing too many spoilers for this one, but I don’t think anyone would be surprised to learn that bringing the Daleks into the Dark Times wasn’t the brightest idea the Doctors ever had…
Previously, I’ve spoken about a tension I perceived in the ongoing plot of Time Lord Victorious – if the Doctor is going up against the Bringers of Death, and trying to end their practice of enforcing finite lifespans, surely he cannot, and should not, succeed? Not only logically, because we know that death will continue to be a factor in the Doctor Who universe, but also thematically in a series that has often spoken about the dangers of trying to avoid or delay death, and the necessity of change for life to thrive. But this comes into conflict with another key theme of Doctor Who, which is fighting against injustice. What the Kotturuh are doing is innately unfair and unjust – what gives them the right to decide when other species must die? And on top of this, we have seen multiple instances where the Kotturuh’s ‘impartial’ judgement has been influenced by self-interest or petty dislike. So surely the Doctor must win and defeat the Kotturuh!
It’s an interesting paradox, and one I was pleased to see engaged with a little here. The story acknowledges both the good and the bad in the Tenth Doctor’s crusade against the Kotturuh, and draws strong parallels between the foes. By reflecting their own judgement back at them, the Doctor has become as indiscriminate as they are. As this book, and previous stories in TLV have shown, the Kotturuh aren’t, in fact, all alike. Individuality and change are an important theme of the book, as the Doctors’ interactions with Madame Ikkala, vampire Chatelaine (and Comic Maker star!) change her nature, while our heroes discover what has become of Inyit, last of the Kotturuh…
While I initially approached this book with quite some trepidation, afraid that it would collapse under the weight of all the stories and loose ends that have come before it, All Flesh Is Grass truly impressed me. It has a fantastic first act that immediately grabbed my interest, and a conclusion that provides some sensible, emotionally mature, responses to some of the questions of morality that the series has raised. If you’re interested in seeing the core of what Time Lord Victorious has to offer, and you can cope without knowing all the details of the Eighth and Ninth Doctor’s escapades, the pair of TLV novels is a great place to start. And if you’re more invested like I am, then this release is utterly essential.