01 April 2015

MA: The Plotters

There's no doubt in my mind that The Plotters, one of only two contributions to the William Hartnell era by Gareth Roberts, is excellent. In it, the Season Two team of the First Doctor, the eternally-paired Ian and Barbara and Vicki arrive in seventeenth century London, in another bid to return the school teachers home. In one of those happy coincidences Roberts notes the Doctor seems to have more than fair share of, the TARDIS has touched down just days before the Gunpowder Plot reaches its climax.

Pleasingly, this is a "pure historical", devoid entirely of extraterrestrial interference - the Doctor excepted of course. The 1600s are not a period I've ever been particularly interested by, but in Roberts' skilled employ, they really come alive. I must confess I was pretty much entirely ignorant of the Gunpowder Plot beyond the location, date and most famous conspirator (Fawkes). As a result of this novel, though, I certainly want to find out more. The politics and machinations of each party exploiting and playing off the others is fascinating; Roberts makes it instantly accessible and continually intriguing. 

After allowing Ian and Barbara an afternoon at the Globe once they realise they're several centuries out of time, the Doctor hatches his own plan. It turns out he's always been interested by the Gunpowder Plot, and under the guise of investigating the translation of the Bible, he leads Vicki right to the quarters of James I, much to the King's delight. 

This is a hugely witty novel, without ever tipping into comedy or farce. The author neatly treads the line to deliver a massively readable narrative that never drops the ball. Despite being only a few pages shorter than The Sorcerer's Apprentice, I read this almost three times as quickly. Little surprise then that I rank this at the opposite end of the scale. There's laughs from absolutely every character, but the integrity of the plot and intelligence of the narrative is never damaged. There's a brilliant revelation at the conclusion that makes me want to reread the whole thing - undoubtedly a good sign. 

To be frank, although I can appreciate the quality of the Hartnell era (every season of his has some remarkably good stories), it's never been a favourite of mine. I have particularly little experience of Maureen O'Brien's Vicki, having seen a handful of her stories once or twice each several years ago. So until now I've never had much of an impression of her. In Roberts' hands, Vicki is intelligent, caring and self-deprecating, and above all endearing. If her TV characterisation marries at all with her portrayal here, I might have to prioritise watching and listening to her era. 

Even though the plot is initially split into two main streams, for large swathes of the novel, the action's divided four ways. These never feel forced though. Indeed, one of the most impressive things about The Plotters is how realistic it all feels. This really does feel like an historical recounting rather than a well-woven plot, meant in the nicest possible sense. History nerds ought to heed Roberts' opening warning that this isn't 100% accurate - one event in particular will probably come rather out of the blue. It does however make for a great read. 

The First Doctor is simply excellent here, and as a result I've sought out more of his Missing Adventures. I doubt he'll be portrayed as acutely to my tastes as he is here, but if any of the authors can get even halfway there, we're onto a winner. Ian and Barbara are equally great, and having four leads never seems to faze Roberts. Even the TARDIS is tied effectively into proceedings. James, and all the other contemporary characters, are quite excellent, with distinctive personalities the reader can immediately grasp effortlessly. The insights we get into characters is first rate, and the background Roberts slips in (however true it is) serves only to add to them, and is never arduously lengthy. 

This really is an excellent story, in every sense. I may be inherently biased because Roberts' writing has always appealed to me, but I'm yet to see a review of this that's anything but glowing. It's not just the engaging narrative that I loved but the style in which Roberts writes. Over the course of the book, he slowly adopts a vocabulary akin to that of his seventeenth century characters. It's done so expertly the transition feels entirely natural and only serves to enhance the overall experience reading this book offers. Roberts took both a period and a TARDIS team I wasn't especially interested by and captured my attention entirely. Given that adaptations of some of his other Missing Adventures are currently in hot demand with Big Finish, I'd love to see this added to the schedule. In fact, I'm so enamoured with this I've already started my own adaptation, so David Richardson, if you're interested..! In conclusion, this is now one of my favourite Doctor Who titles, and a breath of fresh air. Allow yourself to be immersed in a world of intrigue, deception and wit for a few days - I promise it'll be worth it. 

In a Nutshell: Undoubtedly a forgotten classic, The Plotters is one of the most accomplished books I've ever had the pleasure to read. 

No comments:

Post a Comment