Thursday, April 7, 2011

"The Romans"

Aired Jan 16 - Feb 6, 1965

Episode 1 – The Slave Traders
Episode 2 – All Roads Lead to Rome
Episode 3 – Conspiracy
Episode 4 - Inferno

Story 12

Written by Dennis Spooner

Directed by Christopher Barry


In the years 64 AD, the TARDIS crew are taking a break from their perilous adventures, staying in an empty villa not far from Rome. Restless, the Doctor and Vicki decide to head off to visit the famous city, while Ian and Barbara remain behind. However, the schoolteachers' bliss is short-lived, as they are shortly after abducted by slavers to be sold into forced servitude.

While on the way to Rome, the Doctor is mistaken for famous lyre musician Maximus Pettulian, who has been commanded to perform at the court of Emperor Nero. Taken to the court, the Doctor and Vicki must think quickly to avoid being discovered and avoid becoming entangled in palace intrigue.

Meanwhile, Ian has become a galley slave, though he soon escapes with the help of a fellow slave named Delos, and together they make their way to Rome where Barbara has been sold into Nero's service and has to fend off the Emperor's advances.
Once Ian and Delos reach Rome, they're recaptured and forced to fight as gladiators in the arena while Barbara watches. Meanwhile, as the Doctor and Nero talk about the Emperor's plans for the rebuilding of Rome, the Doctor accidentally sets Nero's plans on fire, giving the Emperor the idea of starting the great fire. As the flames engulf the city, Nero plays his lyre, the Doctor and Vicki flee, and Ian and Barbara manage to escape their bondage.
The entire TARDIS crew is reunited at the villa, each unaware of the adventures the other group had. They go back to the ship and head on their way, but are soon dragged off course by an unknown force…


The second season of Doctor Who benefited from the production team having gone through a first season of experimenting with the core concepts. Now, with the characters and their roles nailed down, they were free to experiment with the boundaries of those concepts. Their first real experiment occurs with The Romans, and the question, can Doctor Who do comedy?

The answer, in my opinion, is yes. The attempt here to do an out and out farce doesn’t always work, and the balance between the farcical elements and the more honest horrific aspects of life in ancient Rome is not an altogether comfortable one. However, there are a ton of very funny moments here, and clearly the cast totally embraces all the zany goings on. Hartnell in particular has a great time, delivering a cheeky and wonderfully energized performance. Maureen O'Brien isn't given a whole heck of a lot to do, but she's still a winsome presence, her choice to always play Vicki with a little twinkle adds a lot of charm. William Russell and Jacqueline Hill have to suffer most of the more brutal aspects of the story, but they do a great job.

The let down of the story is clearly the design, and that is mostly from what appears to be a lack of money. The opulence of Rome is not communicated at all, but this isn't for lack of trying, rather it's for a clear lack of funds and time.

I will admit that the style of humour on display in The Romans may not be for everyone, but it's funny to me, and the story is well-written and well-executed enough that the experiment to see if a comedic story would work must be called a success.

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