Doctor Who: Looking Back At THE PLOTTERS - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Doctor Who: Looking Back At THE PLOTTERS

Christopher Morley remembers, remembers....

As we get ready to once again welcome Bonfire Night, according to some the last time anyone entered the Houses of Parliament with honest intentions, let us light the fuse on a barrel left unlit since at least The Highlanders, though perhaps an equal point of comparison would be Mark Gatiss' The Roundheads, a last stand of sorts for the pure historical format seemingly swept under the rug during the early days of the Second Doctor.

Before it died a death, though, it had been a cornerstone of the First Doctor's adventures, recorded history given at least as much importance as science fiction - the scope of that remit taking William Hartnell's First Doctor to the Stone Age by way of an introduction to the format. Just two stories later it was time to meet Marco Polo as he made his way across the Asian “roof of the world” without the aid of a certain flying caravan. And where The Daleks & The Edge Of Destruction brought with them more than a little science fiction in between, The Keys Of Marinus would serve as nightwatchman for The Aztecs, a trip headlong into The Reign Of Terror to end that first season with a stroll through one of the young man trying so desperately to sound old & important's favourite periods of history similarly prefaced with The Sensorites.

But in consideration of The Plotters we can skip forward to the middle of Season Two & find the basic DNA of what will follow in print laid out! For Gareth Roberts has gone for a spot of literal Spoonerism in constructing his own take on the legend centring around gunpowder, treason & plot with a few borrowings from Dennis, scribe of The Romans.

For a start we have our major players. Susan has stepped outside Sexy's doors for a final time with a rather big shove from her dear old grandfather, Vicki taking her place as of The Rescue. The self described silly old buffer still hasn't managed to get Ian or Barbara back to 1963 & the classrooms of Coal Hill School yet either...though Roberts will later get the Doctor himself through its doors & onto the staff as caretaker, having also put him on work experience of varying degrees in both The Lodger & Closing Time.

But before he blotted his copybook by offering precisely nothing outside those parameters on telly, beyond The Shakespeare Code & The Unicorn & The Wasp his contributions to the Russell T Davies years, he wrote books, which you may or may not have guessed from the often literary slant of his small screen endeavours.

Acclaimed books, too, most of which featured the Fourth Doctor, The Plotters a bit of a busman's holiday between The Romance Of Crime/The English Way Of Death before he finished off that particular trilogy with The Well-Mannered War, having concluded his business in days long gone before a quick cheerio & return to playing with words for the fourth man Bill Hartnell retrospectively ushered in at the conclusion of The Tenth Planet.

Let us consider then those he writes here for Hartnell in the spirit of Spooner, hmm? Standing in for a Nero, who could've stepped straight from Carry On & indeed in a sense did, the Emperor played by Derek Francis (who would go on to appear in Carry Ons Doctor, Camping, Loving, Henry, Matron & Abroad after his guest appearance here), is King James, who welcomes a Doctor then far from the radical change of appearance he'll clap eyes on in The Witchfinders into his court in part as a means to get closer to Vicki. She reprises the whole “dressing up as a boy” bit from The Crusade to try & blend in, not that that stops old Jimbo from trying it on in much the same way he'll later do with Ryan!

Which would appear to have displeased the current royal favourite, a lad by the name of Robert Hay whose reasons for wanting to be near the seat of power & indeed the man sitting on it aren't exactly out of a sense of duty. Think back to The Masque Of Mandragora for just a moment & you might start to get the gist of it. With religious tensions so tight things could literally go up in smoke any moment, what better time for a grandmaster of a secret society to begin spreading a bit of muck than just before things start threatening to go the way of Nero's Rome?

And then we come to a twist partially excused by the author's own admission that historical accuracy wasn't necessarily as important as recreating the feel of a Hartnell Historical - for want of a better phrase. Consider this. The Guy Fawkes history records as having been killed in the nastiest of ironies by a neck breaking & indeed terminal fall from the scaffolding he was to be hung from wasn't the real one! Before he can even get that far here he's bumped off by Robert Catesby, the main man behind the plan to get rid of James & restore a Catholic to the throne, as an argument between the two gets rather heated......................

As Barbara rightly mentions, there'll be another bout of flame devastating London in but a few years time, the events of November 1605 giving way to a certain great fire in the September of 1666 spreading from Pudding Lane. By which time the fifth chap to in a sense move up the Doctorly batting order in Hartnell's stead will be revisiting old ground while at the same time riding roughshod over it!

Not content with doing so during the fourth story of Season 19, he'll stamp on it one more time & in so doing deliver the deadliest of blows just to make sure history as we knew it in Hartnell (& to a lesser extent Patrick Troughton's) hands is done & dusted in a similar manner during the events of its successor in the running order, a one-two which will then later on have far- reaching ramifications for both the historical story itself & how it's presented within the confines of Who.

Proof positive if any were needed that the past is indeed a foreign country?

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