Novel Review: All Flesh is Grass

We’re back, with another novel review! Here we have the second of two reviews of the novels from the Time Lord Victorious multimedia project: All Flesh is Grass, by Una McCormack. You can check out my review of the first novel, The Knight, The Fool, And The Dead, at that link.

Just a reminder: For the moment, the only parts of the Time Lord Victorious project that I’m covering are these novels, for the simple reason that I haven’t acquired the rest yet. Fortunately, they form the backbone of the project’s story, so this is as good a place as any to start. This post will read a bit like a “part two” of the previous post, as the books are so tightly intertwined; wherever it may matter, I’ve assumed that you’ve already read the previous post.

This novel, published just over a year ago on 10 December 2020, picks up immediately after the end of The Knight, The Fool, And The Dead, and features the Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth Doctors in the Dark Times near the beginning of the universe. None of the regular companions are featured here; however, Brian the Ood fills the role for us. And with that, let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead! Here on Reddit, I omit a summary of the plot (if you would like a summary, you can check out the relevant TARDIS wiki page), or you may read this review on my blog, The Time Lord Archives, where a summary is included). However, some spoilers are unavoidable even without the summary, so read at your own risk!

We last saw the Tenth Doctor leading a mercenary ship, with Brian the Ood assassin at his side, against his Ninth self accompanied by a fleet of vampires, and his Eighth self accompanied by—believe it or not—an attack force of Daleks. The prize is the planet Mordeela and the death-dealing Kotturuh—and the Tenth Doctor just gave the order to fire!

The weapon is no small matter. It turns the Kotturuh’s judgment back on themselves, giving them a lifespan, and a rather abrupt one at that. They begin to die off at once. But that isn’t enough to satisfy the Time Lord Victorious. Mordeela is the source of their power of death, and so he attacks the planet itself; and though his fleet is cut down to just one ship by the Daleks and vampires, it manages to strike the fatal blow, reducing Mordeela to rubble and sealing, as it were, the gates of death. The Doctor then manages to depart for other locales, leaving his past selves to hold their coalitions together. They set off in pursuit.

Elsewhere, though, one Kotturuh has escaped the worst. Many years ago, Inyit sensed the coming doom of her people, and hid herself away on Birinji, the first world the Kotturuh doomed. There she maintains her garden inside a biodome, the one spot of life on the dead world, and waits for an end she knows must come.

After weeks of adventurous but undocumented skirmishes against the dying Kotturuh, the Tenth Doctor and Brian find themselves seeking an audience with the Brokers of Entranxis, iron creatures who deal in weapons…and sometimes more interesting things. And the Brokers have something for the Doctor, but it’s not what he expects: it is Madame Ikalla, the leader of the vampires, who was captured while escaping the battle at Mordeela. She is much abused, but the Doctor determines to rescue her. He is interrupted by the arrival of his past selves, who intend the same plan; altogether…well, they botch the job pretty thoroughly. Ultimately Brian and the Tenth Doctor are forced to extract the Eighth Doctor, whose TARDIS is being held by the Daleks; the Ninth Doctor in turn rescues Ikalla, and in the process hears an intriguing mention of a planet called Birinji. But before any of them can escape, the Kotturuh—still trying to carry out their Design, even in the throes of death—come to judge Entranxis. They will fail; they are intercepted and killed by the Daleks. It seems the Daleks intend to replace the Kotturuh as the dealers of death.

Brian, Eight, and Ten make their way to the vampires’ remaining Coffin Ship, and find that all the lesser vampires are dead; the other Coffin Ships in the small fleet have escaped. However, there is a squad of Bloodsmen aboard, the highly trained and powerful bodyguards of the Great Vampires who usually use the ship to travel. They grudgingly ally with the Doctors to try to recover Madame Ikalla. Meanwhile, she—along with the Ninth Doctor and a dying houseplant named Hector (don’t ask)—have landed on Birinji, and there discovered Inyit, who will very soon be the last of her kind. Inyit welcomes them; she has some things to teach them about her experience with life and death, and her own regrets. But perhaps the most urgent thing she tells them is what will reputedly happen if the last of the Kotturuh dies: the gates of death will open, releasing all the remaining power of the Kotturuh at once.

The other Doctors arrive, and a conference ensues. And at last, the Tenth Doctor is properly chastened for his choices—though he still believes in his cause: the fight against death itself. But things have become more urgent; for Madame Ikalla reveals that there was, in fact, a Great Vampire—the old enemy of the Time Lords—aboard her ship. And it has been captured by the Daleks. The possibilities are horrifying.

Ikalla stays with Inyit (and Hector the houseplant) while the Doctors, Brian, the remaining mercenaries, and the Bloodsmen go to war against the Daleks…to rescue the Great Vampire. The ridiculousness of the situation is lost on no one. They soon find that the Daleks have experimented on the Great Vampire; they kill it in the process, but they successfully create Dalek-vampire hybrids, extraordinarily deadly creatures. Soon enough their ultimate aim is revealed: They plan to use the hybrids to destroy Gallifrey here in the Dark Times, long before the native Gallifreyans become their hated enemy, the Time Lords.

And so, the final battle begins, at Gallifrey itself. And it is a very near thing; the Daleks are on the verge of winning. But then, as Inyit’s long life fails, a single Dalek hybrid comes to ensure her death…but before she goes, she pronounces the Kotturuh’s final judgment…on the Dalek hybrids. At once they begin to die, screaming. The pure Daleks aboard their ship are thrown into a panic, as they feel the judgment tugging at their own genetics; fortunately, the Eighth Doctor returns to them at that time, and with a little push from the Tenth, he drags them out of the Dark Times and back to their own time. As Inyit dies, Gallifrey—and the future—are saved.

In the aftermath, the survivors return to Birinji. There they find Inyit dead—but Ikalla remains, and she has been changed. Inyit’s final gift to her is a change in her biology; she is freed from her terrible urges. She is the last of the vampires—save for her scions and the Bloodsmen—and in a way, she is also now the last trace of the Kotturuh, and of the life of Birinji. But new life will come to Birinji; the mercenaries will settle here, as will the remaining undead, who can inherit the changes given to Ikalla. Brian, as well, chooses to stay—though not without acknowledging the unlikely-but-not-impossible chance that he might take over and run the place. The Doctors conclude that, in the wake of the Kotturuh, death will still come to the universe—but in accordance with life’s own patterns, not the Kotturuh Design. Some races will live but briefly; some will outlive the stars; but they will all have their own chance. Death can’t be beaten, perhaps; but sometimes you can outrun it.

And in the future, three men—three faces of the Doctor—meet for one last time.

Although this book picks up where the last left off, and continues the same story, its tone is very different. It’s much more lighthearted and comical, with many witty lines, puns, and jokes. I suppose that makes sense; the first book only features the Tenth Doctor in full Time Lord Victorious mode, and he’s not a very funny guy at that point. Here, though, we get Eight and Nine as well; and not only do they bring their own typical bouncy personalities with them, but also they begin to pull Ten out of his own pit. It isn’t only them, as well; Brian the Ood, the vampire Madame Ikalla, and others all get in some great lines.

But there are somber moments here, as well. Most notably, it becomes clear soon enough that the Eighth Doctor is from a point in his timeline prior to the start of the Time War; he’s fully unaware of it, and of Gallifrey’s destruction (well, he would be unaware of that, I suppose). His optimism and relative naivete are almost painful to watch when played against the Ninth and Tenth Doctors, who do know; it’s certainly painful for them to watch. Even though it’s acknowledged that he–and Nine as well–won’t remember these events once they end, Nine and Ten go out of their way not to tell Eight what’s coming.

That, in turn, begs the question of when exactly these Daleks originate from. Having arrived along with Eight, clearly they must also be pre-Time War Daleks; therefore they also can’t know of the future (despite having a Time Commander among their ranks). And yet, a Dalek is a Dalek is a Dalek; just as surely as their future Time War compatriots, they hit on the idea of destroying Gallifrey before it can rise to be a threat. Some things never change! I did find it interesting that they needed the Eighth Doctor and his TARDIS to get here; it’s stated that Dalek time travel tech has never been able to penetrate the barrier separating them from the Dark Times. It’s the first time I’ve heard of that barrier; I knew these times were forbidden to Time Lords, but I had not heard they were impossible to reach. Possibly this comes up in TLV stories I haven’t experienced yet; at any rate, it bears further investigation.

Overall, not a bad book; but it does have one fatal flaw: It never really resolves its main issue. The Tenth Doctor goes back in time and seeks to destroy the Kotturuh so that they can’t introduce death to a universe where no one ever dies. And yet, once the Kotturuh are vanquished, it really seems to make no difference. All races will still inherit death; they’ll simply come to their own lifespans without the interference of the Kotturuh. Of course the point is made that you can’t defeat death no matter how hard you try–which is not at all a new argument in Doctor Who–but…why was this ever an issue in the first place? It’s all very downplayed at the end. Throughout both books, a major point is that the Doctor has broken something fundamental in history by stopping the Kotturuh. It should have to be fixed–but instead, at the last few pages, we find out that it was never really broken at all. It really removes much of the impact of the story, and that’s unfortunate. Because it’s a hell of a good time getting there–journey before destination, to borrow a phrase from the Stormlight Archive series–and it’s regrettable that the destination is so anticlimax. Well, at least it’s a pretty battle!

Continuity references: Brian the Ood–who, incidentally, really steals the show whenever he’s onscreen–has an elaborate collection of weapons from ancient races: Racnoss (The Runaway Bride, et al), Jagaroth (City of Death), Grelsh, Uxaerian (Colony In SpaceThe Quantum Archangel), Daemon (The Daemons), and Kastrian (The Hand of FearEldrad Must Die!). Nine mentions the Untempered Schism (The Sound of Drums). The Doctors telepathically join by saying “Contact” (The Three Doctors, et al). Ten, speaking to Nine, alludes to a child’s death (To the DeathMuseum Peace). The Daleks use the phrase “philosophy of movement” when speaking of the TARDIS’s time travel (The Daleks). Ten reminds Eight that he started out by changing time to save his friends’ lives (TV movie). Eight thinks about meeting Brian (He Kills Me, He Kills Me Not), and about the TARDIS’s role in bringing them here (What the TARDIS thought of “Time Lord Victorious”). Inyit mentions Kotturuh legends regarding their activities (The Dawn of the Kotturuh). Gallifrey’s galactic coordinates are given (Pyramids of Mars, et al). The Doctors cite the Blinovitch Limitation Effect and caution each other against touching (and then promptly do it anyway, without consequence) (Mawdryn Undead). Eight mentions President Romana (Happy Endings, et al). Hector the Houseplant survives and ends up with the Ninth Doctor (Monstrous Beauty). Rose is mentioned, but is not present; she is on another planet, in the future, recovering (Monstrous Beauty).

Overall: I mean, why not? It’s not the most coherent novel, and it wraps up just a little too neatly (Just this once, everybody lives! gets a new home!). But it’s still a lot of fun, and in the end, that’s why we’re here, right? So yes, check it out–and if you didn’t already read The Knight, The Fool, And The Dead, read that one first.

Next time: Who knows? Soon it will be a new year, new reading/watching/listening, and we’ll see where it takes us. I’ll catch you there.

All Flesh Is Grass is available from many booksellers.

You can read the TARDIS wiki entry for this novel here.


Novel Review: The Knight, the Fool, and the Dead

We’re back, with another novel review! For the holidays, here’s another standalone novel review (well, almost standalone—let’s say one of two). We’ll get back to the New Adventures soon, but not just yet. Today we’re looking at the first of the two novels from the “Time Lord Victorious” multimedia project, Steve Cole’s The Knight, the Fool, and the Dead. Published in October 2020, this book takes place shortly after the events of The Waters of Mars, and features the Tenth Doctor on the run from—and yet embracing—the decision he made in that story.

I want to go ahead and mention that for the moment, the only part of Time Lord Victorious—hereafter abbreviated as “TLV”—that I’m covering is this novel and its sequel, All Flesh is Grass. For now, anyway; I may try to check out some of the other installments, but at the moment all I have at hand are the two novels. Fortunately, they form a coherent story by themselves, and supplementary materials seem to indicate that they form the core of the entire TLV narrative; so I think we’ll be okay for now.

And with that, let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead! Here on Reddit, I omit a summary of the plot (if you would like a summary, you can check out the relevant TARDIS wiki page), or you may read this review on my blog, The Time Lord Archives, where a summary is included). However, some spoilers are unavoidable even without the summary, so read at your own risk!

The Doctor has already broken the most important rule—that you cannot change a fixed point in time—so why not break some more?

Thus he travels back, further back than any Time Lord is supposed to go, to the Ancient Days, the era when the universe was young, a time his people referred to as the Dark Times. He finds them anything but dark, though; for here he finds a universe where death is unnatural and rare. Every species is immortal, barring accidents; no one grows old, no one dies by natural means. But that is before the Kotturuh arrive.

The Kotturuh bring death—but not just by killing. Instead, the Kotturuh introduce death. They grant each species a peculiar and dark gift: the gift of a lifespan. For some it is short, for some long, all according to the Kotturuh’s Design. When they come to a world, those above the prescribed lifespan die at once; those beneath age to the point they would have reached had they been born with this lifespan. It is horrifying—and yet they deem it necessary.

The Doctor meets allies here. There is Estinee, the young survivor of an early encounter with the Kotturuh. There is Fallomax, the scientist and scam artist who saved and recruited Estinee. There is Chalskal, the self-proclaimed ambassador and would-be conqueror who seeks Fallomax’s Lifeshroud technology so that he can equip his armies to withstand the Kotturuh’s gift. And last, there is Brian the Ood, a rather strange and possibly insane Ood who claims to have arrived here in the Doctor’s TARDIS, under a different incarnation of the Doctor—and who works as an assassin.

And yet, it may not be enough. For the Doctor, drunk with his own power as the last of the Time Lords, the Time Lord Victorious, has decided to take on the greatest enemy of all—death itself—and cut it off at the source. If he can defeat the Kotturuh here, the universe will never know death as a force; and perhaps its greatest evils—the Daleks, the Cybermen, others like them—will never arise.

The Doctor takes charge of the Lifeshroud project—but he does more than make the life-preserving technology functional. With the help of his friends, he turns it into a weapon, a system that will turn the Kotturuh’s gift back on themselves, and bring death to the dealers of death. The Kotturuh will have their own lifespan, and their power will be cut off from this universe, and life will prevail.

Except…the Doctor’s past lives want to stop him.

The Eighth Doctor and the Ninth Doctor—each accompanied by some of their greatest enemies—arrive at the ultimate moment, and attempt to dissuade the Tenth Doctor from his course. And yet he will not listen, for he is the Time Lord Victorious—and he fires the weapon.

I’ll be brief, and for the very simple reason that this book is not a complete story by itself. I’ll be able to say more when I post part two of this review, concerning All Flesh is Grass.

After so many seasons of the next three incarnations of the Doctor, and all of the elaboration we’ve had on the Time War, the Moment, and the Doctor’s character, it was a bit of a challenge to put myself back in the mindset of the way things were at the end of The Waters of Mars. In some ways it’s a pity that the Time Lord Victorious arc (if we can call it that) was contained to one episode, because the Doctor was forced to go from pride to remorse so quickly. (I realize an argument can be made that other episodes figure in as well, in terms of the influences that led the Doctor to that moment, and in terms of the consequences; but I’m saying that his entire time as the “Time Lord Victorious” was contained to one episode.) That creates a bit of a problem when trying to start this storyline, because the Doctor immediately seems to backtrack. His remorse is forgotten, except for the occasional fleeting memory; he’s right back to be the proud, arrogant Time Lord he was when he decided to save Adelaide Brooke.

But he plays it well, though. He really commits to this new course of action, and he immediately finds a challenge he considers worthy of his status: the removal—prevention, even—of death from the universe. And he turns his considerable personal energy to that goal in very un-Doctorish ways. He blusters and brags; he bullies his friends into doing what he wants; he runs over their objections and refuses to listen; he threatens (okay, that’s Doctorish enough, I admit). And in the end, he decides that the ends justify the means here. He decides—over Estinee’s objections—that doing to the Kotturuh what they’ve done to other species is not just okay, but admirable, if it means stopping them.

And that’s where we get to the real conflict of this book. It’s the infamous Trolley Problem, but writ large, and in Doctor Who terms. If the Doctor does nothing, every species in the universe will experience death. But if he acts to prevent that from happening, the Kotturuh will die (as well as every species they’ve already touched). And yet it’s not quite the same problem, because the Kotturuh aren’t just potential victims; they’re the perpetrators of death for everyone else. So it would seem like an easy choice—make the Kotturuh pay for their actions, kill them, and their many would-be victims can live. That’s the choice the Tenth Doctor makes.

But…it’s not that clear, either. We’re clearly intended to think that what he’s doing is wrong. Not only does Estinee—who is the innocent in this story, the tiny moral compass, the role that is often filled by a companion—disapprove; but also, the Doctor’s past selves disapprove. The Eighth and Ninth Doctors, appearing at the last moment, are here to stop the Tenth from carrying out this strike on the Kotturuh. They even tell him that he thinks he is doing the right thing, but he isn’t. The only catch here, is that we don’t yet know why it’s the wrong decision.

And that’s the exciting part! It could go several ways. It could be that something worse will be unleashed. It could be a “MCU Thanos” scenario, where the future universe can’t support all this life if there’s not death. It could be that death is necessary for the existence of the Web of Time. A million possibilities—and we just don’t know yet. And it’s in that environment, with so little knowledge, that the Tenth Doctor arrogantly makes his decision to strike.

I can’t wait to see what happens!

As for the experience of reading this book, I had only two complaints. For one, it’s very short, 178 pages in hardback. It took me about two hours to read. Not that I mind shorter fiction—I don’t—but It’s a pretty abrupt change from every other Doctor Who novel I’ve read. Of course there’s the sequel still to go; despite being from a different author, it could almost be regarded as the second half of the same book. The other issue was that the characters—specifically the three Doctors, since they’re the only familiar characters—don’t really feel or sound much like their usual selves here. One can picture them doing the things they’re doing, but the dialogue is very different from what we usually get for those characters, and it comes across jarringly. After recently reading (er, listening to) Scratchman, which really nails the characterization and dialogue, it was a bit of a letdown.

But none of that is a dealbreaker, and I still recommend the book.

Continuity References: Obviously there are many references to The Waters of Mars. The Tenth Doctor refers to several “old one” species: The Jagaroth (City of Death), the Exxilons (Death to the Daleks), the Racnoss (The Runaway Bride), and the Eternals (Enlightenment). He uses the term “walks in eternity” to refer to himself, as did the Fourth Doctor in Pyramids of Mars. The Ood Brain is mentioned several times (Planet of the Ood). Chronolocks are mentioned (Face the Raven), as are the fallen civilizations of Ascinta and Perganon (School Reunion). The rise of the Daleks (Genesis of the Daleks) and Cybermen (Spare Parts) are mentioned. The Doctor alludes to the rejection of his name in The Night of the Doctor. He remembers his conversation with Mr. Copper, though not by name (Voyage of the Damned). He puts on his Time Lord robes and says he is dressed for the occasion; the Master did the same in the TV movie. The Dark Times are referenced in a way reminiscent of the short story The Guide to the Dark Times. Brian reports arriving in the Dark Times in the TARDIS (What the TARDIS thought of “Time Lord Victorious”). And, most importantly, there are three interludes, each of which features a scene from a different Doctor’s life; in each instance, he tells the fairy tale of “Godfather Death”. In the first, the First Doctor and Barbara talk in the Cave of Skulls (An Unearthly Child–using that title for the serial, not the individual episode). In the second, Rose and the Ninth Doctor talk (no particular episode cited). In the third, it is the Eighth Doctor with Brian the Ood (again, no particular episode).

Okay, I lied about being brief…oops!

Overall: Despite the heavy topic, this is fairly light reading for Doctor Who. Still, if you’re interested in the TLV series, you should definitely pick it up—and even if not, I think you’ll find it entertaining. After the most recent run of television episodes, it feels like a palate cleanser, and at this point that’s a welcome change.

Next time: All Flesh is Grass, by Una McCormack! See you there.

The Knight, the Fool, and the Dead is available at many booksellers.

You can read the TARDIS wiki entry for this novel here.


Novel Review: Engines of War

We’re back, with another Doctor Who novel review! This week, I’m taking a brief break from the New Adventures series for a special reason. On Thursday, I’ll begin reviewing the first set of War Doctor audio dramas, Only the Monstrous; I had been planning this for a few months, but with the recent death of Sir John Hurt, it becomes suddenly and unfortunately timely. In conjunction with that plan, I want to take a look today at the first War Doctor story to be released after The Day of the Doctor: George Mann’s novel, Engines of War, which sets the tone for the audios and most War Doctor stories to come. Next week, we’ll return to the New Adventures; for now, let’s get started!

**Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not read this novel!  This novel is a fairly recent addition to the Doctor Who universe, so read at your own risk!**


It is late in the Great Time War.  For more than a century of personal time, the Time Lord once known as the Doctor has thrown himself into the war, destroying the Daleks at every turn—and in the process, losing something of the man he once was.  Now, he leads a fleet of Battle TARDISes into combat against the Daleks near a temporal anomaly called the Tantalus Eye—and narrowly escapes as the fleet is destroyed.

The Doctor (and though he doesn’t want to be called that, let’s face it, we have to call him SOMETHING) crashes on a human colony world near the Eye, called Moldox.  His arrival saves the life of a young freedom fighter named Cinder, but not in time to save her partner, Finch—Cinder is forced to watch as a new type of Dalek destroys him.  But something isn’t right; once he is gone, so are her memories of him.

Cinder goes with the Doctor to the local base of the Daleks; she is reluctant at first, but finds him compelling, for reasons she can only sense, not explain.  Once there, they find that the Daleks have created a new weapon: a version of a de-mat gun, which removes its target completely from the timeline as if it never existed.  As well, the Daleks plan to seed progenitors of this modified Dalek paradigm throughout history, creating legions of Daleks with this capability.  And there’s worse to come:  The Tantalus Eye is no ordinary structure; rather, it’s a fold in spacetime that creates a rupture, leaking temporal radiation into the area.  The Daleks have used that radiation to develop their weapons; and now, they are creating a colossal version at the eye, which will eliminate an entire planet—and they have aimed it at Gallifrey.  In one stroke, they can win the war forever, by removing Gallifrey from history.


The Doctor and Cinder manage to destroy part of the base, freeing many human captives.  They then leave in the TARDIS, heading for Gallifrey.  Meanwhile, the Eternity Circle—the leaders of the Daleks near the Eye—declare that this setback is irrelevant; their plans are ready to be activated.

On Gallifrey, the Doctor and Cinder are met by the Castellan and a Time Lord politician named Karlax, with whom the Doctor does not get along.  They meet with the Lord President Rassilon in the War Room, and the Doctor tells of his discovery.  Rassilon calls a meeting of the High Council, and determines to deploy a superweapon from the Omega Arsenal: The Tear of Isha, a stellar manipulator.  If deployed, it will close the Tantalus Eye forever, but it will also destroy the dozen human-occupied worlds in the vicinity.  Over the Doctor’s objections, the plan is approved.

Rassilon mentions consulting a “possibility engine”, which gets the Doctor’s attention.  Rassilon transmats away; the Doctor follows, leaving Cinder behind.  He finds himself in the Death Zone, outside Rassilon’s former tomb.  Inside, he learns the nature of the possibility engine:  His old mentor Borusa, now rescued from entombment, has been retro-engineered into a being in a state of constant regenerative flux.  His mind is opened to the vortex, allowing him to see all possible futures, and choose the best among them.  Borusa declares that the Tear will work, but that the humans cannot be saved.  Rassilon is undeterred by this.

Back in the Citadel, Cinder is captured by Karlax, and with the unwilling help of the Castellan, he subjects her to a mind probe, seeking to confirm the Doctor’s claims.  He succeeds, but injures her in the process, and hides her in a hidden room behind the council chamber.  When the Doctor returns and cannot find her, he visits the council in a rage, accusing Karlax of harming her; the Castellan caves in and reveals her presence.  The Doctor attacks Karlax, but is stopped by Rassilon; he declares he will stop the Time Lords from deploying the Tear of Isha, as it will make them no better than the Daleks if they kill billions of humans.  Rassilon declares him a traitor and has him imprisoned with Cinder.


It is Cinder who helps them escape; the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver won’t work on the cell lock, but Cinder’s low-tech lockpicking skills will—another testament to Time Lord arrogance.  They elude the guards and escape to the TARDIS, which has been sent to be scrapped.  It can’t escape Gallifrey, as the security protocols have been changed; but the Castellan, knowing the Doctor to be right, relents and allows them to leave, knowing he will be punished and possibly killed.  Karlax meets Rassilon at the possibility engine and finds that the path ahead is no longer clear; the Doctor’s involvement introduces a random factor.  Rassilon sends Karlax, with the help of the Celestial Intervention Agency, to kill the Doctor.

In the vortex, the Doctor finds several tracking devices and destroys them, but misses one planted on Cinder.  Karlax tracks them there, and attacks them with five Battle TARDISes; but they are ambushed by Dalek stealth ships and destroyed.  The Doctor is able to rescue Karlax, who is about to regenerate; he locks him in the Zero Room.  He then infiltrates the Time Lord fleet that is en route to deploy the Tear of Isha into the Eye.  He manages to land his TARDIS inside that of the leader, Partheus; after a quick fight, he takes control of Partheus’s TARDIS and pilots it to a star near the end of the universe, and launches the Tear into it, creating a black hole.  He releases Partheus, and leaves in his own TARDIS—but still has to defeat the Daleks somehow.

The Doctor and Cinder land in the Death Zone.  There they meet several of what Cinder calls “Interstitials”—Time Lords who represent Rassilon’s earlier experiments in creating a possibility engine.  They, like Borusa, are in constant flux, seeing multiple futures.  With their help, the Doctor liberates Borusa from the tomb, but agrees to let him die if he will help defeat the Daleks.  Cinder also sees a possible omen of her own death.


With Borusa aboard, they return to the Eye, and surrender to the Daleks.  Unknown to Cinder, the Doctor unlocks the Zero Room before leaving the TARDIS.  The Daleks take the Doctor and Cinder to the Eternity Circle.  The Daleks there reveal that they have had a plan on standby for the Doctor, whom they call the Predator:  they will lobotomize him, removing his memories and emotions, and make a Dalek of him, creating a more deadly version of the Dalek.  Before they can act, however, the TARDIS materializes around them…piloted by the newly-regenerated Karlax, who is still tracking Cinder.  He attempts to shoot the Doctor, but Cinder jumps in front of the blast, thus bringing about her death as she had foreseen.  The Doctor dematerializes the TARDIS without Karlax, leaving him to the Daleks, who kill him.

As Cinder dies, the Doctor realizes he can save her with the possibility engine.  He flies the TARDIS into the Eye, risking destruction…but he realizes that if he saves Cinder, he will miss his chance to save the billions on the worlds around the Eye.  He know it would invalidate her sacrifice, as well as make him no better than the Daleks or the Time Lords.  He asks Borusa, who is now supercharged by the radiation from the Eye, to enforce a future in which the Daleks do not control the Tantalus Eye or its environs, and in which the new weapons and new paradigm cease to exist.  Borusa releases the power of the Eye, and wipes all the local Daleks out of existence.  The release wipes out Borusa as well.

The Doctor returns to Moldox, and buries Cinder with the remains of her family, whom the Daleks killed long ago.  Standing at her grave, he makes a promise to end the War, encapsulated in two simple words:  “No more.”


It isn’t obvious until the ending, but this story is set very near the end of the War.  How near, exactly, we can’t tell; but knowing the Doctor, it won’t take him long to act on his new resolve to end the war.  I personally like to think that, from his perspective, this story ends just minutes before his actions at the fall of Arcadia (*The Day of the Doctor*); but from Gallifrey’s perspective, it can’t be immediately after, as there is no indication that the Daleks are in a position to attack Gallifrey in the manner we see in that episode.  Of course, it’s a time travel show; the Doctor can skip around as he sees fit.  I do think it’s curious that we never see the General here, or in any of the War Doctor audios I’ve heard so far; he seems to be a pivotal figure on the War Council, but he’s strangely absent.  It’s a pity; I like his character.

More than anything else, this story is an examination of why the War Doctor won’t travel with a companion.  The bottom line is that he fears losing them; he makes vague reference to having lost other companions and friends, and he directly says he can’t bear to let it happen again.  Indeed, it’s Cinder’s death that catalyzes his determination to end the War.  Cinder is truly a case of “right person, right place, right time”; beyond just simply being a companion, her personality sparks the Doctor’s own long-buried persona, and makes him want to, if not BE the Doctor again, at least be LIKE the Doctor again.  That aspect of his internal struggle—that is, his insistence that he can no longer be the Doctor—is actually downplayed here; we’re already at the end of it, and most of the internal debate is long past.  We’ll get much more of it in the audios (where he frequently bellows at anyone who dares to call him the Doctor—there’s none of that here).  Here, that part of him is just a means to an end—it gets him to the point of deciding to end the War.  In the meantime, he focuses more on the companion issue.  Although his time with Cinder is short—less than a full day, relatively speaking—he seems to care for her a great deal, and mourns her death as much as any other lost companion.

This story does a good job of tying in to various past stories.  It’s not just fanservice; it’s all well done.  The core of the Time War is that time itself is manipulated; and it makes perfect sense, then, that many incidents from the Doctor’s life would be mixed together here in a way that seems almost random.  For once, that’s not a flaw, but a feature—it makes sense in context, given the nature of the War.  Some examples:  The Doctor uses his John Smith alias, first seen in *The Wheel in Space*.  He refers to *Genesis of the Daleks*, which the Daleks themselves here state to be the beginning of the war—a theory I’ve always held, but had never seen confirmed in-universe.  The Doctor mentions searching for the Master, who has fled the War (*Utopia*).  The Doctor refers to his past as Lord President (*The Invasion of Time, The Five Doctors*).  Rassilon wears a gauntlet that doubles as a de-mat gun (*The End of Time*); de-mat guns were first seen in *The Invasion of Time*.  The Daleks use glass casings as incubators (*Revelation of the Daleks*).  Borusa is seen (*The Five Doctors*); other stories have given contradictory resolutions for him.  The Moment is mentioned (*The Day of the Doctor*).  The Daleks mention various names for the Doctor, most notably the Predator, first mentioned in *Asylum of the Daleks*; oddly, “The Oncoming Storm” is not used here.  Various TARDIS rooms glimpsed here have featured in other stories.  The Cloister Bell has been seen many times, notably in *Logopolis* and *Castrovalva*.  Skaro Degradations, mentioned in *The End of Time*, appear here; they are retro-engineered versions of Daleks with other capabilities.  Mind probes first appeared in *Frontier in Space*.  Bowships are mentioned by Rassilon; they first were mentioned in *State of Decay*, in use against the Great Vampires.  One of  the cave paintings made by the Interstitials shows the War Doctor and the Moment’s Bad Wolf interface, standing over the Moment’s flower-like button.  Partheus fears a time ram between two TARDISes (*The Time Monster*).  The Zero Room was introduced in *Castrovalva*.  Temporal torpedoes were first seen in the audio story *Neverland*.


Cinder is perhaps the most interesting character here, and much of the story is told from her perspective (of course, this changes at her death).  She strikes me as a bit of a cross between Ace McShane and Amy Pond (and not just with regard to her red hair).  She brings Ace’s resourcefulness, devotion to the Doctor, and readiness for action, and combines it with Amy’s variable temper, quick wit, and tendency to leap before looking.  Although I understand why her death is integral to the story, it’s a shame we won’t get more from her; she’s quite good as a companion, and I’d like to have seen her grow a bit more.  The other supporting characters aren’t as good; Rassilon is pure conniving evil, of course, but the other Time Lords are very much stock characters.  Borusa is nothing new, although his real personality is suppressed here; the other Interstitials are interesting, but don’t speak, and don’t get much screen time.

It will be interesting to see how this story relates to the War Doctor audios.  Series One of the audios, as we will see, will focus much more on the Doctor’s identity, and on how he feels he is no longer worthy to be called the Doctor.  It’s a constant struggle for him; he can’t change who he is, no matter how much he feels he must.  He believes himself a monster, but a necessary one.  We’ll also see some parallels between Cinder and his would-be companion in that series, Rejoice.


Next time:  We’ll return to the VNAs in the novel review series; but as well, in the audio reviews, we’ll look at War Doctor Series One, *Only the Monstrous*!  See you there.

Engines of War may be purchased from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million, Book Depository, Audible, and many other retailers, in print, ebook, and audiobook formats.