THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

The English Way of Death
The Well-Mannered War
Oh No It Isn't!
Virgin Publishing
The Romance of Crime

Author Gareth Roberts Cover taken from the excellent Doctor Who books home page
ISBN# 0 426 20435 2
Published 1995
Continuity Between The Creature from the Pit and
Nightmare of Eden

Synopsis: The TARDIS materializes aboard the Rock of Judgment, where the Doctor, Romana, and K-9 become involved in a mysterious investigation and encounter some old enemies.


Reviews

The Rock by Matt Haasch 3/6/00

Alcatraz in space. Here we have a Judge Dread of an asteroid acting as judge, jury and executioner. A bleak outlook on the future's judicial system, and a macabre artist who makes art of the soon-to-be dead. This is the setting the book has. The only one, TARDIS excluded. It works though, as does the barrage of great characters provided by Mr. Roberts. The Doctor here is on top form, being as Baker-ish as Tom himself. Romana is good on her own, and even K-9 is enjoyable, as is his interactions with outside characters. A whopper of a conspiracy, full of greed, betrayal, and all the stuff boys are made of. This is the mix of a good plot. Add an evil-upon-evil lady, hell bent on genocide, a brother-team of crooks, and a Judge who enjoys his power too much. Also along for the ride are: the macabre artist who becomes slowly likable as a coward eventually pushed to the physical and mental limit, and an interplanetary detective who acts like a futuristic Humphrey Bogart, swearing at his bad lot in life, while doing his job to ensure the safety of his planet. Not to mention his name is Spiggot (one of my favorite words-synonim for knob). His griping about life reminds me of myself- "...and that's how I lost Angie and the kids." A likable guy who's chips are down.

Throw in a bunch of ogrons who provide brute force and some great comic relief and you have yourself a fantastic book. Another great MA that has the feel of the era (Somewhat.)


A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 10/10/00

Arguably the most panned season of the Tom Baker era, Season 17 sees new life with a novel that is not only highly enjoyable, but also a great read as well.

PLOT: Arriving on a prison/courtroom in a space station, where criminals awaiting execution are immortalised in an art gallery, the Doctor and Romana struggle to prevent the rebirth of a vengeful maniac. Simplistic as befits the era it is set in, this is a good book to introduce to a new fan of Doctor Who.

THE DOCTOR: Spot on, although sometimes the humour does go a step too far; on the whole though highly representative of Tom Baker`s portrayal.

COMPANIONS: Romana is strong, her respect of The Doctor via her experiences with him and the fact that she shows him up being just two examples. K-9 is also good fun, if somewhat underused and his ability to pilot the TARDIS via the Randomizer is a joy to behold if somewhat unlikely.

OTHERS: Special mention has to go to Menlove Stokes, the artist who actually provides the villain with the means to live. Unfortunately, one the few negative points this book does have is that none of the other characters have enough depth or motivation.

VILLAIN: The exception is of course the villain Xais, but eventually she becomes another baddie out for revenge; still it fits the era however.

OVERALL: For the characterisation of the regulars, the use of comedy in the Ogrons and the simplicity of the book, which means you can reread it, The Romance Of Crime gets a deserving 9/10.


Season 17 (almost) lives again! by Tim Roll-Pickering 8/12/02

Gareth Roberts' contributions to the New Adventures were notable for his use of a level of humour on a scale not seen since Season 17, so it is unsurprising to find that his first Missing Adventure is set in that very season. Roberts' love of this period of the show is well known, not least due to him having written the 'Tom the Second' appreciation article in the Dream Watch Bulletin thirtieth anniversary special (reprinted in Licence Denied for anyone who wants a look).

Throughout the book there is a strong faithfulness to Season 17, with the Doctor being over the top and humorous, Romana highly intelligent throughout whilst the setting could easily have been reproduced on television to a similar standard of studio bound stories such as Nightmare of Eden. Throughout reading the book it is extremely easy to imagine Tom Baker and Lalla Ward in a televised version of this story, a strong sign of both Roberts' ability to produce a faithful Missing Adventure as well as of the book's immense readability. Never once does the narrative get so dense that it takes an eternity to read, a problem that several Doctor Who novels suffer from. Instead this is a highly fun story that can stand shoulder to shoulder with offerings such as The Horns of Nimon .

The characters are suitability outrageous, from Spiggot who is supposed to be a tough law enforcer but instead frequently lunges into periods of self-pity (to the point that K9 shuts down his audio sensors!) to Menlove Stokes, an artist driven by a determination to produced acclaimed pieces despite competition from younger efforts to the Nisbett Brothers, a futuristic parody of criminals such as the Krays who are so ludicrous that they defy belief. Even the more serious characters such as Xais are handled carefully, with the result that the whole book does make sense despite the events and characters in it.

There's a gratuitous appearance by the Ogrons which stands out as one of the few major anachronisms in the novel since the Williams era was not noticeable for return appearances by old monsters. This is perhaps the one element that lets the side down since otherwise only the length and detailing of the characters makes it stand out as different from the novelisations of the Season 17 stories (though if a novelisation of City of Death were ever to appear then even that would not be so different...). However the Ogrons are used to good comic effect.

There is a plot to the book as well, though it doesn't always take priority. The story of Xais' determination to survive and her manipulation of all those around her is told intensely, together with a wide arrange of scenes as the Doctor and Romana seek to stop her. Hardly any space is devoted to the ramifications of Romana's struggle to resist Xais' influence, which makes for a fine contrast with some New Adventures where such a conflict would take literally dozens of pages. The result of all this is a highly readable novel that really does make the reader feel as though they are experiencing a story from Season 17, and getting a highly traditional and enjoyable tale at the same time. As such it leaves the reader wanting more from Roberts. 9/10


Disappointing by Joe Ford 4/6/03

Undemanding and predictable, this was not the book I was expecting at all. The one word that would sum up my feelings turning the back cover would be 'over-hyped'. After reading Gareth Roberts' sterling The Plotters which faithfully re-created the Hartnell era and told a compelling, hysterical story to boot, I was expecting this to be just as good, if not better. It was not.

The biggest problem with the book was that I could tell you exactly what was going to happen early on in the book. Gareth Roberts has not quite got the Justin Richards knack of slipping in Agatha Christie type clues and springing shocking twists with that information later on. With Romance of the Crime, I KNEW we would get an appearance of both Xais and the Nisbett brothers the second they were mentioned (hell I even flicked forward to confirm my suspicions and hey! I was right!). And then with the mention of the Sentinel, the informant who turned the Nisbett brothers in I knew it had to be Pyerpoint as he was the least likely candidate. When these shock horror moments were revealed I was decidedly underwhelmed.

Second problem was the timing. I have recently re-read Mad Dogs and Englishmen and that is a far more effective comedy than this and annoyingly the BBC have published one their best PDAs in Festival of Death, a fourth Doctor, Romana and K.9. book that manages to brilliantly recapture the TARDIS team and tell a clever, involving and laugh a minute tale. Unfortunately The Romance of Crime is painfully simple in places, so much so I was shaking my head with the childishness of the prose. Gareth sure learnt his lesson and developed superbly as The Plotters contained some excellent passages that far outshone anything from this book. I can honestly say I have had more difficulty reading certain Target novels (Remembrance and Ghost Light especially) than this and found the shallowness of it rather disappointing. Season seventeen was certainly never as simple as this!

However all is not yet lost! A particular strength of the book is the wonderfully drawn TARDIS crew. The Doctor especially is written so perfectly you can actually hear the words bumbling out of Tom Baker's mouth. His apparent insanity and ambiguous relationship with Romana is all brilliantly done and any scene with him is instantly amusing. Not hysterical but amusing. However K.9. is the star here, teaming him up with the annoying Spiggot leads to some marvellous scenes of the tin dog snapping at the egotistical copper with some cutting remarks. Later when they are joined by Stokes things get even funnier.

Ahhh Stokes, there is always one character in a Gareth Roberts' book that I fall in love with and this melodramatic no-hoper was just the ticket for this type of story. His cowardess is never shied away from and his instant attraction to Romana (or should that be Ramona... giggle) is very funny. And as with The Plotters, his parting words to the Doctor are absolutely priceless, the best line in the book ("You are obviously as mad as you appear").

The other characters are okay but not really given much time to develop. A shame because one of the best features of the Williams' era was its well defined characters but Gareth Roberts seems to sacrifice that here for his concentration on the TARDIS crew. Both Xais and the Nisbett brothers are disappointing villains, oh we get to hear motives but they are never really expanded upon in any depth to suggest the lengths they go to here and they come across as needlessly camp in the later stages of the book (hey maybe they are from the Williams era after all!). Pyerpoint was such a uselessly predictable character, I never got involved with him at all.

Hmm, maybe my mind has been ruined by the more intelligence driven EDA's from the BBC range and that is why I didn't enjoy this fluffy book as much as I probably should. Or maybe storytelling has come quite far since this book was published (after I appreciated the mad as a hatter antics from The Crooked World, The Book of the Still, Trading Futures...). I was expecting a tightly plotted thriller with a sharp wit and characters to die for (like, as I keep saying, The Plotters!!!). What I got was a so light it would sail on the wind adventure that passed a couple of lunch hours amiably but gave me nothing to ponder or particularly admire.

A great shame then but I'm still looking forward to the remaining chapters of The Well Mannered War on BBCi, now that is a book that has already piqued my attention.


A Review by Terrence Keenan 13/9/03

Initial thought.....

mmph... tee hee... mmph... BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Gareth Roberts is my new favorite writer.

The Romance of Crime is a season 17-esque comic adventure filled with a whole boatload of interesting characters, a nasty villain, double and triple crosses and enough wit and humor to make a depressive smile and giggle.

Roberts gets this TARDIS crew to a T, topping Jon Morris's version in Festival of Death (not an insult to Morris's talents by any means). The Doctor, Romana and K9 are all brilliant and deliciously in character. The Doc is both fool and hero, dropping one liners and quotes. K9 is so much fun, especially with his interaction with Spiggot. Romana is that wonderful mix of haughtiness and cool ice queen, but also getting a couple of Doctorish moments as well.

Xais is one of the better book villains. Pyerpoint is a git, but we don't see it right away -- a nice touch. Spiggot is the future generation of Duggan, and just as fun. Then there's the annoying, but endearing Menlove Stokes. And I haven't even mentioned the Nesbitt brothers and the Ogrons.

I won't say much more. Go out and get a copy. It's brilliant to the core.


A Review by Finn Clark 20/10/04

It's funny. There's not much more to say about it, really.

The Romance of Crime is so rooted in Graham Williams's TV era that it sometimes feels uncomfortable as a novel. Its plot is very "three corridors and some BBC special effects". Its supporting cast are hamming it up for all they're worth. There's no real attempt at depth, theme, meaning, profound emotion or any of the traditional novelistic virtues. It's a romp, for what that's worth, but so unswervingly dedicated to this aim that I'd almost feel I'd missed the point if I criticised it for not doing those other things.

Gareth Roberts succeeded completely in his chosen aims. He's like the storytellers' equivalent of a megalithic shark: untouched by millions of years of evolution but almost perfect at what it does.

The 4th Doctor and 2nd Romana perhaps don't quite reach the level they would reach in The Well-Mannered War, but they still explode from the page with laugh-out-loud jokes. "But as the Doctor was six foot four and was wearing a multi-coloured scarf that was twenty-six feet long, his attempt to appear inconspicuous failed." Let's not forget that until Gareth Roberts actually did it, many would have said that writing a successful Season Seventeen novel was impossible. Of all the Who regulars one might try to recreate, Tom and Lalla must be the most terrifying. Other TARDIS crews may have had more nuance or subtlety, but none can rival their "overload the cathode ray tubes" incandescence. The energy, the insanity, Tom Baker at the height of his power... Gareth Roberts nails it all and makes it look easy.

This overbalances the book somewhat. If you didn't like the Graham Williams era on TV, you'll find this recreates its faults. However if you're looking for a Doctor-centric comic romp Like Wot You Remember Off The Telly, look no further.

Spiggot is the funniest incidental character. Stokes isn't bad either, but I'm slightly surprised that he got the nod for a return in The Well-Mannered War instead of Spiggot. The Ogrons are less hilarious than I remembered them, but they're pretty entertaining. The villains are colourful too, though the attempt to give Xais a motivational backstory and explain her atrocities is too casual to make us really feel anything on her behalf. I suppose it's better than nothing, but it would have been easy to make Xais a more rounded character than the one-dimensional sadist we see here.

However is that what Gareth Roberts wanted to do? If a character detail would have got lost in the performance of a self-indulgent ham in 1979, it has no place in this book. These people are all surface... but that doesn't mean they're not also lively and funny.

Even K9 gets plenty to do, as always in Gareth's books. Many would call this book trivial nonsense, but it's actually something far more subtle: a note-perfect homage to trivial nonsense! It's also wonderfully entertaining. Forget about "too broad and deep for the small screen"; this is a faithful evocation of a 1970s BBC TV adventure series told in 25-minute episodes. In addition it summons up the joy and vivacity of Doctor Who's two most effervescent entertainers. Too many Who novels are dull and worthy, but this is the complete opposite. A lot of fun.


A Review by Brian May 29/10/04

Gareth Roberts delivers another of his trademark yarns with The Romance of Crime. It's what you've come to expect from his writing - nothing deep, profound or mind-boggling, with no earth-shattering implications for the series' continuity. What Roberts does best is tell an entertaining story, and this is good pulpy sci-fi fare. The first of the Missing Adventures set in the awkward season 17, it manages to capture the spirit of this much maligned year in the series' televised history.

This "spirit" - what made the season memorable - emanates from the team of Tom Baker's Doctor and Lalla Ward's Romana. Indeed, Roberts's own article on Baker, Ward and this season (reprinted in Licence Denied and referred to above by Tim), is a great piece of work. True, he wears his heart on his sleeve in regards to this era, but it's easy to see why. I myself have also always enjoyed the feel of this season. Of course, the on-screen realisation often fell short of expectations, with accusations of flippancy and pantomime blamed on the Graham Williams/Douglas Adams partnership - and not without warrant at times. A serious story like Nightmare of Eden was given unnecessary (and unsuccessful) stabs of attempted humour, and as for The Horns of Nimon... But City of Death captured this essence. It's a wonderful story, and the most representative of the season's strengths - and its potential.

It's this "spirit" that Roberts incorporates into The Romance of Crime. It has the whimsical fourth Doctor, stumbling in and out of situations, taking a wide-eyed, carefree approach to all that goes on around him. It's very much the season 17 Baker that says "You're standing on my scarf!" to an Ogron. However, not everything he says is as convincing as this. There are a lot of lines that feel uncomfortable - that you cannot imagine Baker delivering at all. No specific quotes, just slabs of dialogue. However, Roberts has Lalla Ward's Romana delightfully captured on paper. She's very much a female Doctor, takes the initiative on many occasions and delivers witty putdowns to Stokes's advances. The exchanges between her and the Doctor are also delightful, including gems like:

"Don't worry, Doctor. I imagine you've set off quite a few nervous breakdowns in your time."
"Really? How kind of you to say." (p.37)

"Romana," he said gravely. "I know everything."
"I already knew that, Doctor." (p.47)

[The Doctor] "This asteroid is heading straight for that planet and I'm the only person aboard who can stop it."
Romana coughed. "Well, perhaps not quite the only person..." (p.172)

And many others. You can tell that Roberts is in season 17 heaven. Of course, there's K9 as well, and he's put to good use and doesn't need to be sidelined, as he would in season 18. However, I'm not sure if Roberts is writing for John Leeson or David Brierley. Of course it should be the latter, and I did "hear" Brierley's almost snooty voice at times. However, most of K9's quips and one-liners are very much Leeson.

The other characters are varied. The best are Stokes and Spiggot, the latter being a futuristic version of Duggan from City of Death, although not quite as thick. He's a cynical, sarcastic and occasionally arrogant man who likes to think of himself as hardened, so it's great to see him upstaged by the Doctor and Romana. His interactions with K9 are fun to read as well - a rip-off of the robot's exchanges with Drax in The Armageddon Factor, but despite his flaws Spiggot is a hundred times more endearing than that Cockney git. Stokes is the cowardly contrast to Spiggot's gung-ho man of action, but he's a lot more intelligent than the police officer and more sympathetic - although he should have enough sense to realise Romana isn't interested in him!

The Nisbetts are so obviously a take on the Kray brothers, and thus they become walking caricatures, and not in a "deliberately so" way. Roberts tries the Tarantino angle in Charlie, making him a violent thug, but at the same time intelligent and cultured. Attempts at humour such as his sipping tea from a dainty little cup just fail. The other supporting characters are bland but functional, and Xais is a fairly standard villain, her situation a bit too Brain of Morbius to be completely original. However her possession and slow takeover of Margo are creepy, unsettling scenes, and the idea of her living through the helicon mask is intriguing. Her attempted takeover of Romana is dramatically underdone - much more could have been made of this. It's stated that, as a Time Lord, Romana has more resistance than Margo, but there could have been a lot more tension - a real sense that she's in danger. However, the under-utilisation of dramatic scenes has often been one of Roberts's weak points, especially in his early works.

However, the pacing is fast, the plot moving forward steadily. The concept of an Alcatraz in space is an interesting and well realised. The relative lack of subplots makes it a fairly straightforward adventure, but this feels more like a positive aspect than a negative one. Xais, Pyerpoint and the Nisbetts' constant double and triple crossing of each other gets a bit tiresome in the end, and it's very obvious that the High Archon is in fact Sentinel. Another fault with the book - and this may not be Roberts's doing, but that of somebody higher up in the editorial chain - is the question on the back cover: "And which old enemies of the Doctor are aboard the unmarked spaceship...?" And on the front cover we have a rampaging Ogron! Their first appearance is a chapter ending, cliff-hanger like moment, although the chapter we've been reading is titled "The Ogrons Invade"! However I think they're an enemy worthy a return appearance, and I especially liked seeing the fourth Doctor encounter them.

However, when all is said and done, there's a lot to enjoy in The Romance of Crime. Romana is a delight to read, and Lalla Ward is easily imaginable in every scene she's in. It's resplendently filled with the "spirit" of season 17. I've referred to a few negative points here and there, but overall it's a light-hearted, non-taxing few hours of reading. 7/10