THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

The Romance of Crime
The Well-Mannered War
Virgin Publishing
The English Way of Death

Author Gareth Roberts Cover taken from the excellent Doctor Who books home page
ISBN# 0 426 20466 2
Published 1996
Continuity After The Romance of Crime

Synopsis: The Doctor attempts to return an overdue library book and stumbles across a plot to destroy the Earth.


Reviews

A Review by Sean Gaffney 27/8/99

OK, before I begin, let me just say that the following review has absolutely nothing to do with Gareth Roberts the person, who is beloved by all, and is famed for his saving of kittens and puppies and all around niceness.

Since Gary thinks I'm cruel and heartless, apparently, I thought I should make that clear.

However, the same rule does not apply to Mr. Roberts' writing.

The English Way of Death. Where to start? How about my usual rundown:

Plot: Unexplained, with so many scientific explanations thrown in that I just started skimming them. The zombies have to be immolated, then they only have to be beheaded, then they can just be shot. AAAY! I feel as if Tom Baker should narrate the missing bits. Not that I'd want it...

The Doctor: Vague. Since so little of the book is dialogue, we really don't get an impression of the later Tom style. Plus the fact that he spends most of the book worried, or "unusually subdued". Gareth: please note your era.

Romana: Always scintillating with the Doctor, get Romana alone and she tends to be irritating. This, admittedly, is well borne out by Gareth, but I don't think he shares my opinion, so...

K9 - Functional. Next...

Others: Dull, two-dimensional, pointless characters. I wonder if Gareth read my review of Cat-People and decided to pair up everyone. However, since Percy doesn't think much of Felicia until they're suddenly engaged, and The Colonel and Harriet meet and fall in love in the last ten pages. At least we knew Gary's characters - these people manage to be annoying and stultifyingly dull at the same time.

Villain: Overblown, but then this is the Williams era. Romana is amazingly stupid in regards to this guy, letting him run free when anyone can see he's not got butter on his toast from min one.

Writing: The reason that The Romance of Crime was so well-written and indicative of its era was that it was almost all dialogue. It had the wham-bang puns that Season 17 was famous for. Why, then, does Gareth have more descriptive passages than the average McIntee novel? Just when we get a few interesting conversations, the book grinds to a halt with place description, the weather, and the omnipresent scientific explanations.

Overall: This goes with Parasite and Toy Soldiers as one of the books I had to force myself to finish. I hope you realize how much I sacrifice for you. Actually, that's the problem: I do enjoy eighty percent of these books. But with The Highest Science, Tragedy Day, Zamper, and especially The English Way of Death, Gareth has managed to be the ONLY author who I'm not looking forward to again. Even Penswick had some poeticness in his crap. Gareth is just conventionally dull, and that's what disappointed me most about this book.

3/10.


"And stop all this unsporting walking dead palaver" by Graeme Burk 4/6/00

So many stories in the Graham Williams era emulated a certain genre or story (see The Androids of Tara, City of Death, Horns of Nimon). The greatest strength of this novel is that it utilizes this tactic as well. In particular, The English Way of Death utilizes a genre that hadn't been tried before even by Williams/Adams/Read-- namely, pre-WWII English farce.

Surprisingly, the meshing of Doctor Who with English farce (Doctor Who as written by Noel Coward and Robert Holmes perhaps?) works incredibly well. This is a very wry, and often outrageously funny book that works on so many levels. Gareth Roberts has demonstrated with this novel that he not only clearly understands Doctor Who, he understands a lot more about good writing than he has let on to date. (though the in-jokes derived from watching "30 years In The TARDIS" were a bit much!) This is what the MAs should be, quite frankly.

If you have an appreciation for the sort of English farce, Roberts is performing, the witty dialogue is nothing short of brilliant. (The Doctor/K9 dialogue in chapter one was priceless.) Lines, such as the one Percy delivers to the Doctor, after a Zodaal animated hand tries to kill him: "I say Doctor, shouldn't we look for another? I mean, don't they travel in pairs?" provoke either a smile or outrageous laughter depending on your tastes and interests.

Me, I was laughing out loud on a crowded train...All this of course pales in comparison with the exchange between Percy and Romana near the end of the book:

"You're not going to believe what's going on over there".
"A dissociated gaseous alien and his army of zombies are plotting to take over the world?"
"Perhaps you would."

And I loved Percy and Mrs. Chater, two of my favourite supporting characters in any Doctor Who novel, no doubt about that. I also loved the Colonel, although I was disappointed that Roberts used the supporting-character-with-a-crush on-Romana gambit that he already used in Romance of Crime. (And of course, once again, Romana is wearing the clothes of a boy/man in order to make the flirtation all that more vaguely homoerotic...another connection to English farce).

I don't think this is a novel everyone is going to like but I think those who appreciate the genre poaching Gareth Roberts is up to, and I'm certainly one of them, will be in awe of Roberts' astonishing achievement. This is, without a doubt, the best Missing Adventure. 10/10


A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 6/3/01

Your enjoyment of this novel largely depends on your appreciation of the setting, which is why great as The English Way Of Death is, it would still work better on TV.

PLOT: Zombies roaming around the English countryside, accompanied by a noxious green mist. Simple but effective.

THE DOCTOR: The farcical dialogue fits the era perfectly, complete with one liners. This could suit any Doctor, but only Tom`s could work this well.

COMPANIONS: It would seem to suit Lalla Ward`s Romana perfectly, but a lot of the time she irritates, whilst K-9 is merely functional, nothing more or less.

OTHERS: Percy, Harriet, The Colonel whilst being clichéd are great fun and add much to the tale.

VILLAIN: Zodaal is completely overblown but then this is set in an era when the likes of Soldeed ran amok.

OVERALL: This is great fun and better than The Romance Of Crime. Thumbs up to Gareth Roberts. 10/10.


The Best Missing Adventure by Richard Radcliffe 19401

This was voted the best Missing Adventure by the readers of DWM. It features the 4th Doctor, Romana 2 and K9. It's set in 1930's London. So is it really the best? For me it stands at the top of the tree along with The Sands of Time. Both evoke their eras perfectly, and both are compelling adventures.

Gareth Roberts perfectly captures this TARDIS crew. Tom Baker says those lines, Lalla Ward likewise. The story is rich in humour and incident. The 30's setting perfectly portrayed. The supporting characters terrific. The stand out is Percy and his Time Circle friends. His rapure with the 4th Doctor is great. The villain of the piece is Zodaal, and is nicely drawn, a very alien menace.

So many BBC 4th Doctor books are a disappointment these days. The best Doctor gets the worst books. Back then he got the best, mostly thanks to Gareth Roberts. It's the funniest and most delightful of DW books. 10/10


Well the last one left me asking for more... by Tim Roll-Pickering 12/12/02

Gareth Roberts' first Missing Adventure, The Romance of Crime, was a wonderful example of how to bring to life an era and make it flourish wonderfully, even when the period itself is hugely maligned, as Season 17 traditionally has been. It left the reader wanting more... and he delivered the goods in this book. This time the Doctor, Romana and K9 visit London in 1930, for no better reason than to return some library books, and get caught up the mysterious goings on involving the head of a biscuit manufacturing firm, a groups of immigrants from another time period and a strange beach hut. These elements would be utterly ridiculous if poorly handled, but Roberts skilfully manages to weave them together to produce a coherent tale that never once manages to lose itself.

It is surprising that prior to this book there had been no attempt at all to do a Jeeves and Worcester style farce in Doctor Who. The book perfectly catches the sense of ironical self-detachment of many of those type of tales, with the sense given that what is more important is that the normal course of events has been interrupted than that the world is potentially in danger, as shown by chapter headings such as "Tea is interrupted" or the Colonel's reaction to Romana wearing clothes more normally seen on an Oxford male undergraduate.

There's a plot too but as ever Roberts makes sure that it doesn't interrupt what's more important. The real delight of the book are the bigger than life characters such as Stackhouse, Percy Closed or the Colonel all send up various stereotypes in their own way. The Doctor and K9 join in too, leaving Romana as the one sensible one focusing on getting down to the job at hand, just as in many Season 17 adventures.

As before Gareth Roberts once more describes the events and locations in such a way that it's easy to imagine the story as though it were a television series. Furthermore he keeps the descriptions of the space capsule and other sets down to simplicity to the point where they could have been achieved on a 1979 budget. Combined with a brilliant grasp of how to write for all three of the regulars, both individually and when together, the result is a highly readable and enjoyable tale that benefits all the more from his returning to this era. 10/10


A Review by Terrence Keenan 25/9/03

"To get something that badly wrong takes real talent. Well done."
Picture a tall, shaven headed man sitting in a Starbucks laughing his fool head off in front of a bevy of strangers and not giving a shit.

That's the quick view of The English Way of Death.

I'm a big fan of Season 17. It's my entrance route into the show. The English Way of Death would be a perfect fit in between Creature from the Pit and Nightmare of Eden.

Gareth Roberts is a bigger champion of this era than I am. And he knows how to pull it off. In spades. Not only does he manage to capture this era with aplomb, but he also manages to combine Farce with a Zombie story seamlessly. And that is the real treat of EWoD.

Somehow, Gareth Roberts manages to top his Doctor, Romana and K9 from The Romance of Crime. The guest cast are loads of fun, with Percy Closed, Felicity Chater and the Colonel being exceptional. Zodaal is a hoot, a proper villain for the era.

The Humor:

There are some writers who try to be funny, but aren't. Other writers are hysterical, but don't realize it. Roberts is that rare breed of Who writer who is genuinely funny. Even Xmas on a Rational Planet didn't make me laugh this much. I had to put down the book and take breaks in order to let the laughing fits pass. And if you need to ask, none of the humor is forced. You could imagine Tom and Lalla and the rest of the cast having a field day with EWoD.

The English Way of Death is THE comedy classic of book Who. Nuff Said.


Please don't hate me but... by Joe Ford 14/12/03

...where has Gareth Roberts' almighty reputation come from? I have now read each and every one of his books for Virgin and cannot for the life of me see why people are spending hundreds of pounds trying to secure them (although I myself paid a good ten quid to get this so I'm just as guilty!). His books are fun, fluffy, undoubtedly funny but they are also simple, predictable and shallow. Rather than exploiting the era and telling some dense and fascinating stories he seems willing to limit his books to obsessing over the TARDIS crew, writing in a few bizarre eccentrics and some obvious villains. His plots never surprise me, you can pretty much guess the second half of the book after reading the first few chapters.

God what a party pooper I am!

The English Way of Death encapsulates Gareths work as far as I'm concerned, readable, funny but undeniably throwaway. Maybe I have been too corrupted by the mind bogglingly plotted EDAs of late, maybe I don't think season seventeen is as great as Roberts, or maybe I like my humour to emerge from the plot rather than hold it up.

I cannot deny there are some good things happening in this book, Gareth's characters are as dazzlingly funny as ever. Felicia, Percy and the Colonel are all marvellously captured, their dialogue and internal thoughts being as funny as each other. Percy was probably my favourite because of his hysterical sense of urgency that nobody seems to share. But the Colonel's obsession with Romana is equally good, how he tries to rationalise all the strange things that are happening (which becomes increasingly difficult as events spiral, literally, to another dimension) is hysterical. And Felicia and her obsession with capturing a man to while away the days with has some disturbing but laugh out loud funny thoughts on how each of the men she meets would be a suitable suitor. Oh yes as far as these three are concerned Gareth is right on the ball, their dialogue sizzles with wit and humour and their marvellous reactions to the absurdities in the plot make the book.

Also I have to commend the man for his attempt at mimicking his season of choice's idea that monsters do not have to come in the humanoid variety. Like blobby Erato and the top heavy Nimon or even the pepperpot Daleks, Zodaal, the smell monster is an extremely innovative idea. Unfortunately it is the only one in the entire book, which annoying deals in clichés all the way... zombies, the misguided baddie (Julia), London in danger, vortex travel... yawn, if it wasn't for the amusing guys taking part in this plot you would fall asleep a few chapters in.

The regulars are, as reputation would believe you to expect, as though they have leapt from the telly. True, the Doctor is mindlessly off his head, Romana is authority incarnate and K.9. is a right smug little bastard. Together they make a formidable team but this time they are swamped by the larger than life characters they interact with. The Doctor might be witty and clever but Felicia is bitchy and conniving, far more interesting. Romana might understand all this blah about Zodaal sending himself off to find some brains to munch on but the Colonel is hopelessly besotted and brave and polite (at the same time) and in trying to cope with zombies and space travel and evil smells he is far funnier and more engaging. And I don't remember K.9. ever being this pedantic, except with the Doctor which is where, in all honesty, he belongs and their time apart is most unsatisfying. Indeed the gag about the Doctor trying to save face about needing K.9. is one of the best in the book. And frankly Percy with his "Oh crumbs!" and his "Give it a whack... don't just tap it!" and especially brilliantly "While i'm trussed up here you were planning to go out? Very nice I must say! Where we thinking of spending the afternoon, Bloomingdales? Or perhaps tea at the Ritz?" steals every scene he is in.

The best thing about the book is its voice. Gareth Roberts has a superb and engaging writing style that sees you through despite his underwhelming plot. The locations are evocatively described, the characters all get their chance to delight with their internal thoughts and the Target style chatty voice he uses can be quite atmospheric. I found myself being drawn into the book superficially, enjoying how Gareth paints his picture even if the complete result was lacking.

I feel as though I am being too harsh but when I think that in a recent poll this won as the best Past Doctor adventure ever when I have read in the past few months other works that are far more worthy of that title (The Shadow in the Glass, Who Killed Kennedy and The Tomb of Valdemar were all superior to this) and my judgement stands. What the book needs is a better plotter, someone to help hide away the obvious clues and twists and someone who can remind Gareth that some of us don't just read these books to get a cosy and accurate depiction of a particular period of Who but to experience a good novel with it, a decent, interesting story.

Good, undoubtedly, but great? Unfortunately not, this delightful window to the past might pass a few hours better than Zamper and The Romance of the Crime but it will still be forgotten in a few days time. Once again Gareth's sterling work with The Plotters cannot be bettered.


A Review by Finn Clark 1/11/04

Here's an odd thing. The first time I read Gareth Roberts's Season 17 MAs, back in the mid-nineties, this one was probably my least favourite of them. It had a plot! What I loved about these books was their note-perfect recreation of a sparkling era of the TV show, to the point where I was reading them on a scene-by-scene basis and vaguely resenting anything that pulled me out of that.

These days Gareth Roberts's dazzling evocation of Tom and Lalla seems less remarkable, which perhaps indicates one way in which the BBC Books have surpassed Virgin. The books got more playful, more experimental. (Then after the 2002 cutback they got much less playful again, but that's a whole other bucket of cold water.) Tomb of Valdemar or Festival of Death stand up to anything Gareth Roberts wrote, while also being astonishing novels in their own right. I still enjoyed The English Way of Death, but in comparison it seems almost staid. One pays more attention to its story these days.

Sadly I enjoyed Gareth Roberts more in 1996. Ah well. It's the price of progress.

Unlike The Romance of Crime and The Well-Mannered War, this book isn't just a random runaround with a plot that's little more than an excuse for comedy scenes with the Season 17 regulars. In fact Zodaal is so nasty that the laughs fade in his presence... at least until the end, when he's reunited with his sense of humour. (I'm not speaking metaphorically, by the way.) His methods and his employees have none of the goofiness of other Roberts villains like the Nisbett brothers, Crispin from Tragedy Day, etc. To be honest, I'm not sure this works. There's no reason why murder, cannibalism and zombies can't be a laugh a minute, but there's no real attempt to use them for black comedy. No, we simply have a funny book that occasionally lurches into slightly jarring scenes of brutality.

Mind you, the result is one of Gareth Roberts's more effective villains. I have a lot of time for the heavies of The Highest Science, but they don't have to sustain a whole book solo like Zodaal.

The other characters are funny, but they're all the same kind of funny. If you like that joke, you'll like this book. Gareth's other MAs had random grab-bags of characters, taking the piss in a hundred different directions at once, but this novel is set in 1930 and is spoofing "teddibly proper" upper middle class English manners and emotionally repressed (but unfailingly polite) halfwits. It's barely a stone's throw from Wodehouse territory. We meet Felicia Chater and Colonel Radlett, two planks whose idea of good marriage involves separate beds, a little breakfast conversation when unavoidable and a spouse with the decency to stay out of the way. Naturally they fall in love with comic effect (albeit not with each other).

There's Percy Closed, a "more English than the English" eccentric who's been hard at work and is justly proud of his grip on society's rules. You know, the important ones. Never ask for a second bowl of soup, that kind of thing. Oh, and Zodaal blackmails England's foremost geologist into helping him destroy the world by threatening to vandalise the man's rose garden.

Oddly, I think my favourite character in the book is the Stackhouse of the prologue. He's not around long, but unlike the others he manages to be an entertaining English stereotype who's not just Bertie Wooster with half an extra brain cell.

Here's an odd thing: this book has zombies, but not just any zombies. Nope, they're specifically the versions from the Return of the Living Dead trilogy. They talk, think and eat brains. They're vulnerable to electrocution. They're animated by green gas, except that here it's Zodaal's radmium vapour instead of 2-4-5 Trioxin. (One might rationalise 2-4-5 Trioxin as a degenerated version of Zodaal's radmium that's barely self-aware and has simply gone on the rampage, infecting everything it touches instead of having the intelligence to be more selective about it.)

Overall, I wasn't swept away by this book. I enjoyed it, but it has a hint of those jarring tone shifts that so marred Gareth's NAs. However that aside, The English Way of Death is a bubbling piece of cheerful nonsense with one of Gareth's happiest endings. (Too often the man seems to be trying to be Jim Mortimore.) Not everything is explained (e.g. who created the time corridor in the first place) and the bad guy isn't beaten very convincingly, but you could do much worse. It even has internal illustrations by the late Phil Bevan! Good fact. Recommended, I suppose.


A Review by Brian May 8/3/06

Gareth Roberts must have decided that if you're onto a good thing, stick to it. The English Way of Death is his follow-up to The Romance of Crime. Not only does it take place immediately after, the story is pretty much the same. The theme of possession is there, as an other-worldly being (Xais/Zodaal) sets to achieve its plans by taking over people's bodies/minds/psyches. There's a cowardly, at times weaselly, but never unlikeable individual (Menlove Stokes/Percy Closed); a hardened (he likes to think), none too bright but similarly affable cop/retired soldier (Spiggott/Radlett). And the monster role originally filled by the Ogrons is here played by a hoard of mindless, brain eating zombies. It's another tribute to season 17: Romance of Crime made it obvious this is Roberts's favourite era of Doctor Who and this adventure reinforces that fact. The over the top, buffoonish Doctor, the cool, sometimes arrogant, Doctor-ish Romana II, and the ever so upper crust David Brierley K9 return, just as present and correct - the TARDIS ensemble so beloved of the author.

So how does it compare to The Romance of Crime? Is it better or worse? Unfortunately I think it has to be the latter. That's not to trash it completely: there are some much better characters, what with Percy, Radlett and Felicia. The colonel and the widowed writer are delightful individuals; their romantic fantasies are as wistful as they are charming, but they're also a bit sad, for we readers know how deluded they are whilst they remain dreamily oblivious. Percy is great, and the whole idea of the Circle is inspired, with some nicely whimsical members who provide some diverting moments. On the other hand, there are some walking clichés: Julia is too much of a hackneyed femme fatale/fallen woman, and like all of her ilk can only redeem herself through sacrificing her life. The rest are all quite forgettable. Xais was not incredibly an engaging villain, but was far more memorable than Zodaal; the latter's possession of K9 is intriguing, I must admit, but overall it's not a spectacular entry in the catalogue of Who adversaries.

The twelve chapter book/three chapters an episode Terrance Dicks Target template works here, both structurally and just for nostalgia (as do the illustrations; I wish there had been more). But the story meanders and dithers too much; "part three" is particularly padded, and the prologue is overlong, as the focus is on characters who are as yet unfamiliar - even Percy hasn't had a chance to ingratiate himself with the readers. The remainder is not really that spectacular, either. It tries to do too much, blending the zombie theme with the world destruction plot in a clumsy way. There's no sense of urgency concerning the latter, and dialogue such as the "destroying the world on Tuesday" exchange, bizarrely showcased on the blurb, is meant to be clever, but it's just exasperatingly bad. Why should we care about the end of the world if the Doctor doesn't, and instead makes bad jokes? It merely reflects one of season 17's major problems: the blurring of the serious and the flippant, which did a story like Nightmare of Eden no favours at all. But on the other hand, look at the great scene in that story when the Doctor tells the drug runners to "Go away." Although it's a season earlier, The Pirate Planet is still Douglas Adams and Graham Williams, and it features one of the fourth Doctor's most angry and passionate tirades against mass murder. This televised period wasn't all flippancy and hijinks; perhaps Roberts could have taken some similar inspiration?

The climax is overlong, but thankfully the final chapter redeems the book. It's a great way to finish, primarily because the story is over and the focus is on the best attributes: Percy, Felicia, the Colonel and the oddballs from the Circle. There's even a bad joke/forced laughter Scooby Doo moment, the K9/Rufusa gag, but it's actually quite amusing, although it may not have been the case had it been done for television. But on the whole I found The English Way of Death very unsatisfying - and I've always enjoyed Gareth Roberts' work (I seem to be one of the few who likes Zamper!). It's never terrible, but it just seems tired; Roberts tries to continue his love affair with season 17, but it's growing stale. His prose is as good as always, and there are some wonderful characters, but it's tired, trite and not very funny. If you're onto a good thing, sometimes it's best to quit while you're ahead. 4/10