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The Romans

By Donald Cotton

Book review by Paul Scoones

I am of two minds over The Romans novel - on one hand it has only a vague accuracy as far as retelling the original 1965 serial goes, and it doesn't conform to the usual narrative form of the rest of the range. For these reasons alone, I'm sure many fans will rate this as one of the worst in the entire range. On the other hand, though, this is a highly amusing book, possibly the funniest of Cotton's trio of Doctor Who novels, and as such, well worth a read.

The Romans is Cotton's first and only novelisation of someone else's script - The Myth Makers and The Gunfighters were both his own, but this originated from the pen of the late Dennis Soooner. Spooner never really subscribed to the Doctor Who school of serious scripts, and instead injected broad veins of humour through most of the serials he wrote, especially the historicals. This was a wise move, as let's face it, the Hartnell historicals were never very exciting; without the humour they'd have been dead boring. Donald Cotton also wrote amusing historicals, but his serials were less popular with viewers. The Romans was an attempt at full-blown farce, inspired largely by the Carry On films. Cotton then, was the obvious choice to adapt it to novel form, 22 years later.

The book is refreshingly original in its narrative form - The Myth Makers was written with Homer recalling what happened years ago, and similarly, Doc Holliday recalls the past just before his death in The Gunfighters, though the narration is through one 'Ned Buntline' who interviews the aged gunfighter. As if these ideas weren't original enough, Cotton then goes even further: The Romans is a collection of 29 documents - extracts from the Doctor's diary, Ian's journal, Barbara's letters to Nero, Nero's scrapbook, Poppea Sabina's commonplace book, Locusta's autobiography, and Ascaris' letters to Locusta (his mother). All these are held together by the historian Tacitus, years after the event (again), under the reign of Hadrian (he of the wall).

The documents, especially those by Ascaris and the Doctor should be taken very tongue in cheek, as this book has lost none of the serial's humour, and in fact builds on it. I say this with confidence, having viewed an episode on video. It is, however, a very different book front the late Ian Marter's novel of that other Spooner historical, The Reign of Terror which immediately proceeded this one in publication. My only regret is that The Romans is only 128 pages, a lot shorter than most recent novels.

This item appeared in TSV 4 (February 1988).

Index nodes: The Romans
Reprinted in: Special Reprint Edition