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on 21 November 2001
I must say I expected this novel to be something of a send-up when I saw it described as 'I, Claudius meets The Life of Brian at the pub'. This almost persuaded me not to buy it! Thankfully I did, and avoided missing the wonderful passages where Dr Who (yes I will call him that if I want to) criticises the three pompous scribes for robbing St.Mark's writing of its soul as a side-effect of their translation. The book is influenced by I, Claudius in a way I found hugely enjoyable, and the input from The Life of Brian was happily understated. I did find it difficult to imagine that schoolmaster hero of my childhood, Ian Chesterton, stripped naked and being chased around a bedroom by the lascivious Antonia, though I felt confident throughout that Barbara would be never be betrayed by her champion to the extent of Ian actually bedding this strumpet from antiquity. I didn't like the top and tail of the novel with its glimpses at a future, henpecked Ian, but then I never have cared for this sort of inclusion: it disrupts the flow of the adventures, especially if one tries to read them in their logical order. Overall, though, a delightful little tome, and its content a welcome change from one new alien race after another being trotted past us, often the case in post-Hartnell Dr Who.
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on 19 January 2011
Coming between TV stories The Rescue and The Romans, this novel sees the TARDIS travellers arrive slap-bang in the middle of Roman-dominated Greek life, and with detailed descriptions of crucifixion and torture this is no Frankie Howerd giggle-fest.
Keith Topping has a good pedigree as a Doctor Who writer: Doctor Who: The Hollow Men being arguably the best BBC books original novel published between the end of the Virgin range and the beginning of the new TV series in 2005. Historically fascinating and written in a fluidly gripping style, the novel isn't perfect but is as near as dammit.
The Doctor's companions: Ian, Barbara and Vicki are all drawn into the sadistic and raw world of early Christianity and brutal oppression, and The Time Lord himself becomes involved with a group of Christians; scenes handled sensitively and efficiently by Topping.
Overall this is a highly enjoyable story and a worthy addition to any Doctor Who fans' library.
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on 29 September 2014
The life and death of Imperial Rome is brought to vivid life in Keith Toppings Byzantium!.

The First Tardis Team has a previously unpublished adventure set in the several weeks between the End of the previous Televised Adventure "The Rescue" and "The Romans".

A fantastic atmospheric tale , with several comedy moments (Ian being chased by Saucy Roman ladies!) as well as an outraged doctor "advising" on the writing of the gospel when the scribes fail to live up to the poetry of the original.

Many fine moments and a wonderful tale to immerse yourself in.

Highly recommended.
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on 6 June 2013
This book starts out brilliantly and I really enjoyed it however the book seemed to lose my interest from just after half way through. Everything happens so quickly and I found it hard to finish. Still it is a good read with many good points.
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on 28 July 2001
In the television Doctor Who story The Romans it appeared that when the TARDIS brought the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Vicki to land that they went straight to a Roman villa for a holiday. Not so according to the latest Past Doctor Adventure by Keith Topping, which goes on to tell a dark tale of conflict within the Imperial City of Byzantium.
After a rather neat prologue which continues to establish the development of Ian and Barbara's relationship after their departure from the TARDIS, the tone of Byzantium! is set immediately with a vivid, if rather gruesome, description of a crucifixion. Anyone expecting a 'romp' in the style of The Romans will be disappointed as Byzantium! is a historical that deals with serious issues revolving around the growth of a new religion and the attempts of the Romans to stop it spreading, but the subtle humour that featured in Topping's The King Of Terror is still there, albeit not as predominant. Byzantium is a city suffering from the turmoil of upheaval and change and into this come the travellers from the TARDIS and with historian Barbara expecting the pomp and majesty of the Roman Empire she is in for quite the shock.
There are a number of parallels with The Romans in the way that the TARDIS team is split early on, and in some of the aspects of the story itself, such as Ian, rather than Barbara, being lusted after by the Roman Antonia. Dividing the Doctor and his companions is a well used tactic in Doctor Who stories, but Topping uses it well to examine the situation in Byzantium from four different viewpoints. The Doctor finds himself with the Christians, Ian with the Romans, Barbara with the Jews and Vicki with the Greeks. This allows the narrative to flow quickly and also by using each of the characters as a way of interpreting the events and the differing factions.
Topping really characterises the First Doctor well here, capturing William Hartnell's magnificent performances well by getting the balance between the humour of the character and his cantankerous nature just about right, demonstrated by the way that he berates Barbara for her expectations of what the Roman Empire will be like contrasted wonderfully by his reaction later in the novel when he realises that his companions aren't dead after all. Some of the best Doctor scenes though are the ones where he believes his TARDIS to be lost to him after it's disappearance and he contemplates life on Earth alone without his home or his friends. Those scenes in particular are some of the novel's finest.
Topping takes great care to ensure that Ian and Barbara speak using phrases that people from the 1960's would use and this gives their characters a quality of authenticity that is occasionally lacking from their characterisation in other novels featuring them. Topping's characterisation of these well loved characters is very good, although on occasion, particularly with Ian, he says something that doesn't sound like something you'd expect Ian to say, although given the circumstances Ian finds himself throughout most of the novel then it is actually quite appropriate for him to act slightly out of character as a result of the sense of loss that he feels.
Possibly the best use of the companions though is Vicki. Making only her third appearance in print (the first two being the Missing Adventures The Plotters and The Empire Of Glass) and her BBC PDA debut, Keith Topping really uses her character well, building her up to something more than was seen on television as she views the darker side of Byzantium through her young eyes.
Topping's writing has improved since his last solo novel, and this really shows through the writing. Whereas his previous one The King Of Terror was an enjoyable novel, Byzantium! manages to be much more with richer characterisation and doesn't pull any of it's punches. One of the most rewarding things about Byzantium! is that it is a purely historical story (in the sense that there isn't an ancient alien power lurking anyway or manipulating events) and this type of story works superbly well in the context of Doctor Who fiction (David A. McIntee's New Adventure Sanctuary being the best example of this in action) but which seems to be a sadly underused concept in practice. Topping demonstrates the excellent potential of the genre within Doctor Who here with a well written, highly enjoyable novel which gets a strong recommendation.
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VINE VOICEon 3 July 2003
Playing as a prelude to the TV story The Romans, this is a decidedly different historical story for the 1st Doctor and co. Less emphasis is made here of throwing the TARDIS team into 'adventures', instead we experience the various factions squabbling over Byzatium through the experiences of the split regulars. Quite a serious and downbeat story, but despite Ian's occasional wandering dialogue this is probably a superior story to the 'historical romp' that inspired it...
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on 24 February 2008
....this one tops the list.The book feels in keeping with the 1st Doctor series but also keeps the reader engrosed until the end, the only question I have (and this crops up regularly on TV and in books) is how far away does the TARDIS need to be before the telepathic circuitry stops working????
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on 3 September 2001
I'f fairly certain that Keith Topping never expected a Greek to read his novel! Although I agree with Simon Catlow's review about this being an excellent story, I'll have to subtract one star for the hopelessly incorrect naming of the Greek characters who appear in the story. The story takes place at a time when Greeks only had first names, but the first names the author gives to all but one of his Greeks are modern family names that cannot date before medieval times. In particular, there is a character named Papa-whatshisname, which literally means "son of the christian priest whatshisname", while the story clearly takes place before such a priesthood had been established. As for the one Greek whose name is not a family name, Panathaikos, this is too close for coincidence to the tong-twisting name "Panathinaikos" (meaning "of all Athens"), the name of one of Greece's top sports clubs, whose basketball team usually appear each year in one European championship or another...
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on 29 July 2001
Having arrived on Earth in a less-than-gracious fashion, the crew of the TARDIS travel to the city of Byzantium to see the sites. After a brief stay there, the four are separated when riot breaks out in the marketplace...
In this novel, the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Vicki get strewn amongst the different cultures in the ancient city, giving the readers the opportunity to learn more about the different cultures and lifestyles (Roman, Jewish, Greek and Christians) of the inhabitants. The author appears to have researched life in the period extensively, and convincingly portrays the different inhabitants of the city with a deft hand.
But hanging over the entire thing is a simple message: life is cheap in Byzantium, and the possibility of death never far away...
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