Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Romance of Crime by: Gareth Roberts: Doctor Who Meets the Mask

Let’s go over the novel history of Gareth Roberts to get a feel for my emotions going into The Romance of Crime.  His debut novel was the eleventh Virgin New Adventures novel The Highest Science which was a good enough novel with some good ideas, but it was nothing special and improved by an audio adaptation.  His second novel was Tragedy Day, also for the Virgin New Adventures, which was a pretty bad novel.  So I was apprehensive when approaching this novel as on its cover it depicts that this is the return of the Ogrons which are a rather one note villain and the novel is set in the middle of the Graham Williams/Douglas Adams era of Doctor Who where everything was played for comedy and Tom Baker had a larger than life ego and was madly in love with Lalla Ward.  I find the era to be a bit weak to the Philip Hinchcliffe stories that came before so going in I had lowered my expectations which I shouldn’t have done.  The Romance of Crime is by far Gareth Roberts’ best novel yet.  Roberts writes in a very comedic style which really helps fit within the era, but he isn’t afraid to put in clever ideas to keep the dramatic intrigue high for the story.


The plot of the novel sees the Doctor, Romana and K9 landing on the Rock of Judgement which is a prison where a seemingly dead criminal, Xais, has been resurrected through a mask worn by a warden on this prison, Margo.  Xais, being a villain wants to take over the galaxy and uses the Nisbitt gangster brothers and a group of Ogrons to try and accomplish her goals.  Throw in a cast of colorful characters and you pretty much have the novel.  Remarking on the plot it is very traditional for the era and it feels like it could have been made on TV.  The opening scenes in the TARDIS where the three travelers are playing Monopoly along with the Doctor’s exit from the TARDIS are filled with comedic dialogue which could have easily been done on television.  That even bookends the novel very well as you build up to the joke.  The plot is not flawless however as while Xais is a terrifying villain as she can kill you with one glance, her plan is not developed except that she is going on a crime spree with these gangsters because crime is romantic and she is a very one note villain which doesn’t help me remember her much except something that happens near the end of the novel which I won’t spoil here.


Xais enters the novel by infecting the security warden Margo through a death mask made out of helicon which makes Margo suffer as all we know about her is that she is already a very hardened character.  I have no real comments on her character except that her body is going through a power struggle once she puts on the mask.  The mask was made by Stokes, who is an artist who has painted the criminals being sent to execution on the Rock of Judgement.  Stokes is an extremely camp character who in some scenes I like, especially when he is paired up with Romana, but on other occasions there is something about him that I just find boring.  Also the running gag that he cannot remember Romana’s name gets old really quickly and I just can’t stand it.  The Ogrons are also characters used well for the comedy of the story as they are idiots.  This allows the Doctor, Romana and K9 to easily outwit and manipulate them into doing what they want which comes in handy when they are inevitably captured.  The only other real character of note is Pyerpoint whose twist you can see coming from a mile away and Spiggot who is basically Duggen from City of Death.


The Doctor, Romana and K9 are all extremely well written by Gareth Roberts.  Roberts obviously understood their dynamic and why that dynamic worked so well on television without making it too exaggerated.  Romana is never too egocentric, K9 is always logical and the Doctor is using the façade of an idiot to look really smart.  Every line of dialogue and action done by these three characters I can see done by Tom Baker, Lalla Ward and John Leeson which really explains why this novel was chosen to be adapted into audio by Big Finish.  The biggest faults with the novel is that when its comedy misses, it misses hard and it just makes you cringe, but still that doesn’t happen that often.


To summarize, The Romance of Crime is a great novel for you to read if you want a feel for an era of Doctor Who.  It knows just when to tone down the comedy to have moments of dramatic tension.  Most of its characters are on point and it is able to fix some of the era’s predominant problems which makes it much easier to enjoy as its own entity.  80/100

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