Tuesday, 18 December 2012

The Roundheads by Mark Gatiss

Plot: The Doctor, Jaime, Polly and Ben are embroiled in the politics surrounding the trial and death of King Charles. But is there a sinister plot that never made it to the history books and can the Doctor make sure that history as he knows stays on the right track?

Oh My Giddy Aunt: Absolutely spot on rendition of the hardest Doctor to capture in print, Mark Gatiss proves just how well he understands this show. His attire looks as though it has seen better days. He loves snow and claps his hands together in child like delight when he spots the roundheads. He still gets hopelessly lost in the TARDIS but there is already a sense that the ship looks after him. He is frequently hilarious, especially when put in awkward situations (such as having to pass Jaime off as a seer of the future and trying to convince Richard Cromwell that his CIVIL WAR book is just jealous propaganda). He was taught hypnosis by the Master. He has to pay the price for travelling through time and making sure that history runs its course is one of those responsibilities. You don’t realise it until the end of the book (because it is so darn entertaining) but the Doctor spends pretty much the entire book incarcerated! However I could feel Troughton radiating from every page from his giddy wonder at the Thames-side marketplace to his improvisation to how he can turn on a coin from mischievous charm to utter seriousness. Good job.

Who’s the Yahoo’s: Almost a sly dig to readers is the indication that Polly and Ben are no longer needed (thus their stunning last moment of glory in this story before their unfortunate dumping in The Faceless Ones), the Doctor and Jaime strike of on their own and prove why they were such a winning act. Jaime, still new to this time travelling gig feels a little hurt that Polly and Ben dig at him for his naiveté at times. He remembers his mammy singing ‘Adam Lies Y’Bounden’ in front of a roaring fire. He is starting to think of the TARDIS as his home and his fellow companions as his family. His honesty about knowing future events gets him dubbed McCrimmon, powerful seer of Culloden.

Able Seaman: Ben rarely received material this good on the telly (I can only think of The Smugglers and The Macra Terror) and The Roundheads proves what an asset he and Polly were to the show in one of its most difficult ransition periods. Booze always gets him lively and after a few he gets them noticed by cheerfully mentioning King Charles’ execution! His sailing days are exploited to great effect and he is press ganged into working for two ships, first for the sinister Captain Stanislaus and then for the brilliantly entertaining Captain Winter who he strikes up a rousing rapport with. Ben always wished he could live the life of a pirate and he sure gets his wish when the two ships go at each other, firing cannons and fighting hand to hand with cutlasses! He gets to have fabulous adventures in Amsterdam having a rowdy piss up, flirting with the girls and embroiled with Winter and the ominous mystery regarding Stanislaus’ package due for England. His relationship with Winter is a joy to read, he gets so close with her that after she is killed he tracks down her killer (okay so that’s Rupert but Stanislaus is her nemesis!) and seeks revenge for her dispatch. He almost gets a terrifying moment when he is trapped in quicksand to his waist, thinking he is going to die. It is a great book to show how likable this down to Earth character was and how sad it is that so little of his material can actually be seen.

Lovely Lashes: Polly too deserves much praise for her contribution. She had worked with a girl called Rosie in an office in Bond Street and Rosie took this shy young girl under her wing and turns her into a swinger! She is enchanted by the chivalrous and courteous Christopher Whyte and is devastated at the climax where she has to follow him and reveal where he is hiding the King to keep history on track. She strikes up a warm and friendly relationship with Frances Kemp and manages to make a bad situation even worse when she is tricked into freeing the King. She realises that when trapped in history’s key events her actions are no longer insignificant. Brilliantly, she flirts like mad with the lecherous guards in order to poison them and free the King.

Twists: The colourful writing is extremely attractive and readable and instantly noticeable, Gatiss blowing the works of the likes of Christopher Bulis and Gary Russell, out of the water. Ben is attacked outside the inn and Polly is kidnapped. Pages 68-69 depict a nightmarish battle in beautifully vivid prose prose. William Kemp is a firm Royalist and his daughter wants to marry a Roundhead, the excellent political intrigue starts early on. The Doctor drops his CIVIL WAR book, which is scooped up by Richard Cromwell who is horrified to learn his father will die in ten years and that he will be seen as an embarrassing footnote in history. Parliament wants control of the army and religious reforms. I loved the descriptions of the pirate fight (“Two great wooden whales in conflict, gaily dressed crabs scuttling about executing their dance of death, a dreadful popping sound and a sailors innards spilled from him like a cork from a bottle.”) O’Kane falling into a barrel is a brilliant end to such a brutal character, his beard aflame he sets the powder of and blows his head off! Winter and Ben plant a bomb on the Teazer after discovering the hung body of Ashdown and watch it go up. After freeing the King Copper attempts to stab Polly in the neck! We discover Stanislaus and Winter had an affair and he gave her the pox which ate away half her face and after their breathless struggle, Price Rupert cruelly shoots her in the back and the sea claims her body. Kemp slugs the vile Copper after he attempts to rape his daughter. Richard Godley is revealed as Prince Rupert, the Kings exiled nephew back with a plan to assassinate Oliver Cromwell and make way for a Catholic invasion army to move into British waters. van Leewenhoek’s method of assassination is a dart infected with plague, a week later and the victim is dead, not even knowing he was murdered. Politics is a dirty business and Culpeper is wrongly executed simply because Thurloe doesn’t like him.

Funny Bits: Jaime talks like Bill Shankey! The Doctor proudly owns EVERY BOYS BOOK OF CIVIL WARS. Euro-sceptics are like winnets on a mans backside! Stanislaus has less between his legs than a maiden girl, apparently.

Result: Tasty! Anyone questioning the validity of the Past Doctor Adventures should pick up this delightful book immediately. It slots beautifully into its chosen era and captures its regulars with pinpoint accuracy, highlighting all of their strengths and yet it also manages to be a brilliantly plotted, deliciously written and deftly handles political drama with tons of excitement, humour and strong characterisation. The book is worth reading just for Ben’s adventures at sea, which I would have to have been filmed. It is a well selected period of history, expertly explored with some lovely conspiracy theories and twists and with a guest cast that match the regulars for pure entertainment value (I wanted smelly Scrope to be a companion!). What’s more Mark Gatiss’ prose is blisteringly good, astonishingly visual, hugely entertaining and in places qutite inspired. Astonishingly good: 9/10

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