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The Reign of Terror

by Ian Marter

Book review by Paul Scoones

Unlike The Ark, The Reign of Terror was a real thrill to read. It's highly likely that the novel's strong historical content won't appeal to everyone who reads it, and if you are one who is bored by even the best Doctor Who historical dramas, then this book will be of little interest to you. Not so for myself, however, as I am in the process of completing a University paper in history covering the French Revolution. Indeed, I am currently writing an essay on the subject.

Ian Marter has a certain knack for gritty realism in his writing - just read Earthshock, The Invasion, The Ribos Operation or Harry Sullivan's War to see this. Despite all reports to the contrary, there is still a certain amount of 'blood and gore' in The Reign of Terror; the description of Robespierre's horrific wounds making Ian Chesterton want to vomit - there are plenty of this type, but to give Marter credit, he does steer clear of the guillotine.

The late Dennis Spooner' s story dating back to 1964, when Verity Lambert was keen on every second story comprising a lesson in history, is not well known; the Programme Guide gives it only eight lines of plot description - but if the novel is anything to go by, it deserves better. The characters are great - all the way from the surprisingly major character of the drunken gaoler to the heroic Jules Renan, to the evil Colbert and the dashing ( yet very brief) Corsican General, a 25 year-old by the name of Napoleon Bonaparte.

The plot is very well constructed, and runs smoothly throughout without padding. Exactly how much of this is due to the late Ian Marter is impossible to tell, but I am sure he had something to do with it. My only quibbles are that the mainstay figures of the revolution - Napoleon, Paul Barras, Maximilien Marie Robespierre - have only small roles in the plot, and that the Doctor and friends are convinced that whatever they do, they can't change history - a fallacy later abandoned, but upheld in all the historicals of the early years of Doctor Who, notably The Aztecs and The Massacre. Novels like this make it even more tragic that Ian Marter is no longer with us, and I look forward to The Rescue - his last contribution to the Target range.

This item appeared in TSV 3 (October 1987).

Index nodes: The Reign of Terror