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Review of The Plotters by PalindromeRose

2 May 2024

Virgin Missing Adventures

#028. The Plotters ~ 10/10

◆ An Introduction

My love for the pure historicals have been well-documented online. The most successful of them teach you something about the chosen period, without coming across as patronising or mind-numbingly boring. They’re educational yet thoroughly entertaining, and a genre that the expanded universe has been making every effort to keep alive. Erimem has gotten involved with the beginnings of Christianity, with the religious debates and the blood spilt during the famed Council of Nicaea. Nyssa has found herself caught up in the horrific Peterloo Massacre, in what remains one of the most harrowing Doctor Who stories I have ever listened to. Mel almost perished during the volcanic eruption that devastated the ancient city of Pompeii. And let’s not forget when Hex attempted to minimise casualties during one of the worst atrocities in Irish history, and nearly got hanged by Cromwell for his troubles!

It’s time to take another deep dive into the history books, where a dastardly plot is unfolding beneath the Houses of Parliament. Remember, remember the 5th of November, gunpowder, treason and plot; for there is a reason why gunpowder and treason should ne’er be forgot.

◆ Publisher’s Summary

"If anyone tries to interrupt this opening of Parliament, there'll be fireworks!"

London, November 1605. The TARDIS materialises at a crucial moment in British history. While Ian and Barbara set off for the Globe Theatre, Vicki accompanies the First Doctor on a mysterious mission to the court of King James.

What connects the King's advisor Robert Cecil with the sinister hooded figure known only as "the Spaniard"? Why is the Doctor so anxious to observe the translation of the Bible? And could there be some dastardly plot brewing in the cellars of the Houses of Parliament?

As a history teacher, Barbara thinks she knows what to expect when she encounters a man called Guy Fawkes. But she is in for a very unpleasant surprise.


It’s unfortunate that Gareth Roberts continues to dig an even deeper hole for himself, but that will happen when you spout transphobic rhetoric all over social media. There is absolutely no excuse for bigotry. Please remember not to take any of my comments about his writing here, positive or negative, as condoning his frankly backward political beliefs.

◆ The First Doctor

This book perfectly captures the essence of William Hartnell. The dialogue is written in such a way that it includes all the stuttering and vocal tremors from his small screen performances. I get the impression that writing ‘The Plotters’ was a real labour of love for Gareth Roberts. A great deal of respect and affection clearly went into making this an accurate depiction of the First Doctor, and it really paid off.

Vicki had noticed before how the Doctor faked symptoms of ill health when bringing bad news or trying to conceal a mistake. His crabbiness was always aggravated by personal questions. Although he had what might be called a talent for adventuring, the Doctor could often be inspired when confronted by some abstract, intellectual challenge. Nobody sends him anywhere. He informs Cecil that he makes it a rule not to interfere. I love that the Doctor managed to get a palace guard off his back by feigning IBS, forcing said guard to run off in search of a chamber pot!

◆ Vicki

Vicki is spectacularly written in this book. Roberts makes damn sure to give her some hilarious scenes with the King that’ll have you in fits of laughter (especially if you enjoyed Barbara re-enacting a Benny Hill skit with the Emperor Nero).

Vicki sometimes wished she was cleverer. Often her own voice sounded so stupid, especially when she was asking questions. She felt an enormous debt of gratitude to the Doctor, and didn’t want to upset him. A part of her desperately wished for Ian and Barbara to find a way back home; another part hoped that they wouldn’t. It had occurred to Vicki to wonder why the Tardis was stacked with clothing from an incredible variety of times and places. She knew better than to ask the Doctor outright. Her own theory was that whoever had owned the Ship in its prime – and the Doctor had hinted it was not strictly his property – had taken such samples aboard as a matter of course, presumably for analysis, just as the first space travellers from Earth had done.

◆ Ian

‘The Plotters’ is a truly fantastic book for Chesterton, who gets to be the action hero we all know and love. Imbued with a great deal of bravado, and willing to protect Barbara no matter the cost, Roberts has shown that he perfectly understands the character.

Ian can think of a couple of other times they’ve landed back in England in the twentieth century. Perhaps it’s wiser if the Doctor didn’t raise their hopes. Experience gained on his travels had told him that only two things were universally respected: money and superior status. He had one, and it would be easy enough to fake the other. The Doctor did it all the time.

◆ Barbara

Barbara’s knowledge of history is used to great effect throughout the book, and she even ends up captured by Guy Fawkes and his conspirators!

Barbara found it amusing when the Doctor treated Ian, like herself a schoolteacher, as a wayward pupil of his own. What if they were returning to Earth, and to the England of the 1960s? How long would it take to adjust back to the comparatively mundane life she’d lived there, after all of her adventuring? And what were Ian’s plans? She tried to force the questions to the back of her mind. Barbara – being a history teacher – uses her knowledge to figure out that they’ve landed during the turn of the seventeenth century. London in the Elizabethan and Jacobean ages has always fascinated her. She can’t let the opportunity to see it at first hand pass her by.

◆ Smoking Gun? Nah, How About Exploding Barrels!

“Remember, remember the 5th of November, gunpowder, treason and plot; for there is a reason why gunpowder and treason should ne’er be forgot.”

It’s a nursery rhyme embedded into the collective consciousness of every Brit. Though I believe that very few people could actually recount the specifics of the infamous Gunpowder Plot.

Robert Catesby and his conspirators sought to restore the Catholic monarchy to England following decades of persecution against Catholics. The plan was to blow up the House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament on the 5th November 1605, as the prelude to a popular revolt in the Midlands during which the King’s nine-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, was to be installed as the Catholic head of state.

I discussed some of the finer details of the Plot with my mam on the way back from work, and her response was that it basically boiled down to religion causing problems again. A somewhat reductive view of events, but I can understand her perspective on the matter. The history of Great Britain is littered with appalling atrocities committed for supposedly divine reasons.

Religious wars and infighting – especially within the Christian faith – were par for the course, once upon a time. The Tudor period was infamous for it. Mary I was given the nickname of “Bloody Mary” after having at least two hundred and eighty people burned at the stake for being Protestant. She was a devout follower of Catholicism who believed herself to be doing the work of God, thus cementing herself as one of the biggest religious nut-jobs in history!

Changes were all set to take place during the following Jacobean period. A born and bred Protestant ruler, James I wanted to do away with the barbarism of the previous era, even going as far as advocating for greater religious tolerance. These plans sadly fell through, leading to many English Catholics becoming disillusioned with the monarchy. Thus leading to the events immortalised in a nursery rhyme about gunpowder, treason and plot.

◆ Historical Accuracy Belongs In The Skip!

‘The Plotters’ contains a fair amount of detail relating to the Gunpowder Plot, though Gareth Roberts does make it abundantly clear at the beginning of the book that you shouldn’t expect total historical accuracy here. In his own words, he claims that this is as faithful a portrait of the final days of Robert Catesby’s plot as, for example, Dennis Spooner’s TV script ‘The Romans’ was of the burning of Rome.

I’m sure there will be some people that immediately shut the book upon reading that. Some very boring people, dressed in tweed, that don’t believe in the concept of artistic licence. Roberts wasn’t trying to help you pass your GCSE history exam. He was trying to create a good old fashioned historical romp that features a wealth of good humour and action. The comedy historical remains one of the rare occasions where the concept of historical accuracy should be rightfully thrown into the skip!

◆ Isn’t The Villain Basically A Femboy?

I think we should discuss the book’s main villain now, who appears to have been plucked directly from the realm of pantomime! The Spaniard is the true mastermind behind the Gunpowder Plot. A chess-master figure who manipulated both the Protestant Sir Robert Cecil and the Catholic plotters Catesby and Fawkes.

As part of the plot he took on three different personas, one of which we have already discussed. The second of these identities was “Bob Hay”, the lover of King James. The third was that of “Sybil”, a bar maid in Mother Bunch’s tavern.

The Spaniard is a gloriously theatrical villain who can switch between his personas with ease; sulking over losing the King’s affections one moment, threatening to torture Vicki the next!

◆ Conclusion

He intends to ignite Parliament using Catesby as the tinder and you as the flint!”

‘The Plotters’ could easily have been made on television, and would likely have cemented itself as an absolute classic had that been the case.

This has always been my favourite black and white era Tardis team, and Gareth Roberts clearly felt the same way. I could picture all the original cast members playing out the book’s scenes in my head. The writing for the Doctor is especially good, picking up on all of Billy Hartnell’s mannerisms; the vocal tremors and tics, the occasional fluffed line. The entire book is filled with memorable characters, like the cobblers who appear to be a Jacobean version of Glitz and Dibber!

I must also say that it was delightfully refreshing to see a writer take a sledgehammer to the topic of historical accuracy. Roberts set out to create a comedic romp whose backdrop just so happened to be that of gunpowder, treason and plot.

This is the written equivalent of comfort food; something that conjures up a sense of familiarity whilst still making you feel incredibly happy. I genuinely cannot recommend this one enough. ‘The Plotters’ is Gareth Roberts finest contribution to Doctor Who.

Review created on 2-05-24