Reviewed By: newt5996
Review Date: 4/3/19 3:11 am
0 out of 0 found this review helpful.
Sometimes the quality of a novel can be gained from the amount of time it takes to read said novel. A quick read is often the mark of a great novel and a slow read is often the mark of a bad novel, yet this is only a guideline to this judging of quality. Some great novels work better if you read them slowly and some bad novels are easier to get through if they’re read quickly. And finally there are novels where you do not quite know where the quality lies. Mark Gatiss’ first Past Doctor Adventure, The Roundheads, is one of those novels. It took me only about a day to actually get through the 282 page novel, yet when looking at the quality there’s nothing in the book that really screams a masterpiece. The plot is a standard pure historical story taking place in 1648, about a month before the execution of King Charles I, in the beginning of a ten year rule of Oliver Cromwell. The Doctor, Jamie, Ben, and Polly arrive and get divided into their own little plots. The Doctor and Jamie get stuck with a child’s book about the time period leaking to Richard Cromwell while Ben is put on a ship bound to Amsterdam and Polly is caught in a plot to save King Charles from trial and execution.
Looking at the three plotlines Gatiss includes in the novel, it is interesting to note that unlike serials like The Romans where multiple stories cross paths at multiple points, each remains pretty separate once the party splits off. The weakest of the bunch is the Doctor and Jamie’s story as it reads like Gatiss read the novelization of The Highlanders and wanted to write his own version. The Doctor gets a chance to have his own comedic subplot where he and Jamie get up to comedy antics, pretending Jamie is Scottish fortune teller McCrimmon of Culloden. The problem with the subplot lies in the fact that the Doctor loses a children’s book about the English Civil War. This is really the one major misstep Gatiss makes in characterizing the Second Doctor, who throughout most of the novel is on top form. Gatiss shows that he has understanding of what makes the Second Doctor work as a character and just how to characterize Patrick Troughton’s mannerisms in print. There’s care here to show just how the Doctor and Jamie’s relationship has grown since the latter’s introduction. The Doctor has been drifting himself away from Ben and Polly as they have made it incredibly clear that at their first chance they will be leaving the TARDIS and The Roundheads works well for that end as it takes place after The Macra Terror. Jamie perhaps is a little closer to the more primitive version of the character as seen in The Highlanders than he should be, but the two work off each other well enough and Gatiss keeps it interesting. It is just the plot itself really lets down the characters for their portions of the novel.
The plotline revolving around Ben Jackson is perhaps the most well written of the plots, yet it is the one that has the least to do with proceedings in England. The scenario is similar to the plot of The Smugglers, with Ben being kidnapped and put to work on a ship to Amsterdam run by the Polish Captain Stanislaus. Things take a turn for the interesting when he escapes to the ship of Captain Sal Winter, a female captain with a false nose who wishes to regain lost treasure from the Polish Captain. Winter and Ben have a great chemistry with each other, with several points where Gatiss indicates there could be something a little more to their relationship had Ben stayed behind here. Polly’s story is almost equally as good as like The Highlanders she gets a female sidekick and plays in some espionage for long stretches of the novel. She gets some incredibly interesting moments with Charles I around Chapter 8. What is interesting is that Gatiss includes a brief prologue to the novel from the point of view of an older Polly and gives some real insight into the secretary’s life before and after travelling with the Doctor. Polly’s always been a companion who slips through the cracks and The Roundheads is really her time to shine during the events. The Roundheads as a whole isn’t going to win any awards for best novel, and there are definitely better novels to have reprinted, but it’s still a fun romp through history with a good set of characters.