Doctor Who: Pure Historicals - THE ROUNDHEADS

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Christopher Morley looks at the real world history behind the recently reissued Second Doctor novel, The Roundheads.


You would perhaps be forgiven for assuming that The Highlanders represented something of a last stand for the pure historical format - but the Second Doctor's second outing wasn't his sole trip into his previous self's territory, in a roundabout manner! As the Doctor Who History Collection reissue of Mark Gatiss' The Roundheads shows, he would have the opportunity to show Ben & Polly, plus Jamie ( who they'd picked up at the conclusion of the last televised ''pure historical'') a little history in action.

As you might have guessed they find themselves dealing with the aftermath of the English Civil War. The Roundheads of the title have won the long-term battle but appear to be losing grip on power, and the Doctor will have a part to play in the course of events which will see the rise of Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland & Ireland. Meanwhile King Charles I, the monarch as played by Peter Capaldi in The Devil's Whore, is fated to die...........


We join proceedings in December of 1648- which actually makes this the Second English Civil War, the middle of three battles between the Royalists/Cavaliers & Parliamentarians/Roundheads. The end result, as you'll know if you paid attention in history lessons at school, was the abolition of the monarchy in favour of a more republican system- with the King arrested & awaiting trial. The English Civil War & Its Aftermath should paint a more concise picture!
"The king was delivered (1647) by the Scots into the hands of Parliament, but the Presbyterian rule in that body had thoroughly alienated the army. The army resisted Parliament's proposal to disband it by capturing the king from the parliamentary party and marching on London.

Army discontent gradually became more radical and the desire grew to dispose of the king altogether. Refusing to accept the army council's proposals for peace (the Heads of the Proposals), Charles escaped in Nov., 1647, and took refuge on the Isle of Wight, where he negotiated simultaneously with Parliament and the Scots.

In Dec., 1647, he concluded an agreement with the Scots known as the Engagement, by which he agreed to accept Presbyterianism in return for military support.

In the spring of 1648, the second civil war began. Uprisings in Wales, Kent, and Essex were all suppressed by the parliamentary forces, and Cromwell defeated the Scots at Preston (Aug. 17, 1648). Charles's hopes of aid from France or Ireland proved vain, and the war was quickly over. Parliament again tried to reach some agreement with the king, but the army, now completely under Cromwell's domination, disposed of its enemies in Parliament by Pride's Purge."
And Thomas Pride, the architect of that Parliamentary rout, features as a character in The Roundheads- history records him as later signing the King's death warrant. His Purge is a key turning point in the early part of the narrative, too. Under his command the New Model Army forcibly ejected those MPs who had not been won around to their way of thinking! As the history section of www.parliament.uk states-
"On 6 December 1648 Colonel Thomas Pride and his soldiers stood outside the entrance to St Stephen's Chapel ( http://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/building/palace/architecture/palace-s-interiors/st-stephen-s-hall/) and, as the Commons convened that morning, arrested 45 Members and excluded a further 186 whom the Army thought were unlikely to support its goal of punishing the King.

After this military coup a further 86 Members left in protest. Pride's Purge left a 'Rump' (as it came to be called) of barely 200 Members. Among these, a determined clique unilaterally forced through an 'Act' on 6 January 1649, establishing a court to try Charles I for high treason - ignoring the negative vote a few days before of the small number of peers still sitting in the Lords."
And what was the royal perspective on things?
"During the trial in Westminster Hall Charles I disputed the authority of the court and refused to enter a plea. Regardless of the widespread opposition to the trial, a verdict of guilty was pushed through.The death warrant was signed by only 57 of the 159 commissioners of the high court originally established by the Rump, and on 30 January 1649 King Charles I was beheaded outside the Banqueting House on Whitehall."
And it's at this point which we end- Polly having found herself in the midst of a plot to rescue him, ultimately doomed, Ben having a spell as a press-ganged sailor aboard HMS Teazer several years before he'd come aboard as a Navy man & the Doctor & Jamie being taken to the Tower of London accused of conspiracy in the meantime.

They won't hang about to witness the beheading, either- though the TARDIS has Cromwell wondering, as he asks his aide John Thurloe, ''Are we losing our wits?''. Thurloe, like Thomas Pride, had a very real part in Ollie's victory! By 1652 he was a secretary of state, & the following year saw him heading up Cromwell's early attempt at an intelligence network- serving as a point of contact for spies both at home & abroad in the eventual Lord Protector's service. Within two years he could lay claim to the title of Postmaster General. As the British Civil Wars Project says of him-
"When Oliver Cromwell was elevated to the office of Lord Protector in December 1653, Thurloe was involved in perfecting the final version of The Instrument Of Government ( http://bcw-project.org/church-and-state/the-protectorate/instrument-of-government) and was co-opted as a member of the Council of State. Thurloe was efficient and thorough in carrying out his duties. He was able to keep Cromwell fully informed of the plans of foreign governments through his system of "intelligencers" and agents, and through detailed correspondence with ambassadors abroad.

Thurloe's agents infiltrated Charles II's court-in-exile and he employed the mathematician and cryptographer John Wallis to break Royalist ciphers. Always apparently one step ahead of his enemies, Thurloe established a formidable reputation as a spymaster, particularly after he secured the services of the Royalist Sir Richard Willys as an informant.

In May 1655, Thurloe was appointed Postmaster-General, with authority to intercept the correspondence of suspected conspirators against the Protectorate. The following October, the government ordered the suppression of all newsbooks except the government-controlled Mercurius Politicus and The Public Intelligencer, giving Thurloe control over the dissemination of news.

Thurloe sat as MP for Ely in the Second Protectorate Parliament and was called upon to act as a government spokesman on various issues, though he was not an effective parliamentarian. He was among those who urged Cromwell to accept the Crown in 1657. Thurloe admired Cromwell as a ruler and was a personal friend, but he had no direct influence over the Protector's policies."
All of which might persuade you to consider the decision to scrap the ''pure historical'' format post- Highlanders something of a wrong move!



The Roundheads, and seven other classic adventures, were reissued by BBC Books on February 12th.
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