Steve Cole’s novel The Knight, the Fool, and the Dead, the first book in BBC Books’ Doctor Who: Time Lord Victorious project, was in my shipment this week.
I knew from reviewers that the book was short — maybe more novella length (ie., under 45k) than a full novel. I don’t think I was prepared for how thin the book actually was. The EDAs in paperback were thicker than tKtF&tD.
It’s a perfectly adequate book, though it feels a bit insubstantial, and I don’t think that’s entirely due to the brevity. I think I was anticipating something a little more ambitious, something closer to Pocket Books’ Star Trek multi-series events of twenty years ago, and this is a very ordinary, very short tenth Doctor novel.
Cole did a solid job capturing the tenth Doctor. I could often “hear” David Tennant in the dialogue, and I didn’t find the Doctor, even at the end when he’s driven to find a way to turn the Kotturuh’s “gift” back on them, to be out of character at all. He spends much of the book being his happy-go-lucky self, and when he turns even a little “dark” it’s very much in character for him and not out of line with, say, the ending of “The Family of Blood.” Even though Brian serves the companion role and acts as a kind of amoral conscience, Brian doesn’t steer the Doctor into doing anything truly un-Doctor-ish, except maybe putting on the Time Lord robes at the very end.
My main problem with the story is that I never had any sense that the Dark Times setting was unique. The tenth Doctor lands on a planet, gets himself involved in an adventure, and the fact that it takes place billions of years ago doesn’t affect the telling of the story in any crucial way that I could tell. This story could just have easily been told, without change, if it were set in the Andromeda Galaxy in the year 6,000.
I was less bothered that it wasn’t what we’d been led to believe. I had the impression that the tenth Doctor, after “Waters of Mars,” went to the Dark Times specifically to end death. On the contrary, he just finds himself there post-“Waters” (it’s not even clear that the planet he visits at the beginning was the first planet he visited in the Dark Times), witnesses first-hand a Kotturuh genocide, and, in true Doctor-ish fashion, goes, “Nope,” picking up new companions along the way.
The one interesting touch was the Kotturuh. I’ve heard The Minds of Magnox, the original audiobook as part of the TLV project, so I know that it’s pronounced very closely to “Cthulhu.” The Doctor and Brian visit the cavern of Mordeela, and there the Doctor reads the alien writing that causes insanity. This made me think of Diane Carey’s novel First Strike (the first of the Invasion! quartet) and how the Furies were believed to be the source of the racial memory of demons and monsters, and could the Kotturuh be the source behind the stories of the Elder Gods?
Perfectly adequate. I’d give it 6 out of 10.