C012 The Romans


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The Doc & Friends sport togas, eat grapes and commit murder, not to mention meet Emperor Nero himself, in this glorious serial



The Doctor, Barbara, Ian and Vicki crash the TARDIS off the side of a cliff in the Roman Empire, and leave it there to collect dust for a month while they lounge around, eat candied ants and drink fine wines. Soon enough, though, they decide a long enough time has passed without them being split up, so Doc heads off to Rome with Vicki, while Barb and Ian are kidnapped by ruthless slave traders and brought to the galleys and gladiator academy, and the palace of Emperor Nero himself, respectively.

They’re not the only ones to see some action, though. Doc and Vicki soon stumble upon a dead troubadour and then rob the stiff of its musical instrument, so that Doc may assume its identity and play at Nero’s court, while Vicki in a glorious display of cold-bloodedness smiles ear to ear. Think that’s it? Guess again. Because the elderly grandfather and his surrogate Susan are going to add murder, fraud and arson to their list of crimes that already covers trespassing and identity theft.

Gratias to Gina, JD, Kyle and Davis for their marvellous minis! Naturally, they’re all included on the podcast for your listening pleasure, and – for the benefit of your eyeballs – here below.

#DoctorWho #DrWho #ClassicWho

6 Responses to “C012 The Romans”

  1. Kyle Rath / @sinistersprspy

    Doctor Who
    Season 2 Episode 4: The Romans Review – The Short One

    I could go one for hours about this episode. But that’s why we have you guys. I digress.
    The TARDIS gang wind up in Ancient Rome, and after falling of a cliff, spend a sunny month idling in some poor vacationing family’s house eating grapes.
    In the spirit of Shakespeare’s “A Comedy of Errors”, the plot splits into two, then four, as the intrepid travellers weave in and out of each others paths on their journey through the court of Nero.

    Identity theft, murder, conspiracy, deceit are the order for the day. And thats just from our friends in the Good Ship TARDIS.
    This serial flows and twists with great comedic timing, many coming from Hartnell. Vicki is somewhat like wallpaper for the majority, just sort of hanging around, offering tidbits of composition as needed.
    Ian and Barb are given the usual task of all the heavy dramatic lifting, as they experience opposing points on the class spectrum that was Ancient Rome. There is little humour for Ian, unless he is with Barb at the beginning and end.

    The Doctor manages to bumble his way into the heart of power, Nero’s palace, all the while completely oblivious to the intent of man whose identity he stole. I’m amazed at just how blatant and open-handed the bullshit factor is in this serial. The Doctors performance on the lyre (or lack thereof) is priceless.
    The plot ties up the four threads as Nero gathers his soldiers, and plots to burn Rome (with a little help from the Doctor) so he can rebuild it to his desire. Ian and Barb escape back to the villa, and while fires rage, so do The Doc and Vicki.

    I was convinced at the end that Ian was going to give Barb the old rough and tumble for being knocked out. But it was 1965, and the BBC wouldn’t have allowed for such brazen sexual antics on TV at the time.
    The gang hops in the TARDIS (which is apparently fine?), and we get another pointless interlude to the next episode.

    Pros:

    Humour – This was a very funny episode. We were treated to some brilliant moments from The Doctor, with Vicki as his straight man.

    Specifically these:

    One:

    D: I think these should last me two or three days, hmm?
    I: You never told us you were going away?
    D: Oh? I don’t know that i was under any obligation to report my movements to you, Chesterfield?
    B: Chester-TON.
    D: oh, Barbara’s calling you.

    Two:

    The lyre performance. So good no one can hear it. And everyone is too civilized to complain!!

    Love – The relaxed relationship between Ian and Barb in those opening and closing moments were really wonderful. It is noticeable now that Ian was not just out to save his friend. But to rescue his girlfriend. It made their dialogue that much sweeter.

    History – A snapshot of Ancient Rome stretched out over a few days to encompass a Doctor Who story, without actually having to use too much history. The only significant event was the fire, right down to the rumour of Nero playing his lyre amid the fires. It was a well handled background, and the deft insertion of our favourite time travellers into the mix was fun.

    The Doctor Did It – I think this was the first major historical event (correct me if I’m wrong) where the Doctor had a direct and visceral influence on Earth history. And his delightful giggle at that realization was kind of a guilty pleasure.

    Cons:

    Nero – For such a formidable historical figure, I expected more than some buffoon in a toga. He was more like a spoiled kid.

    Neros Wife – What was her point for being there again?

    Promotion – In Ancient Rome, you can go from Slave Trader to Roman General in four episodes. Apparently.

    The Cliff – Seriously, what was the point of that? It served no purpose for plot or anything else. Just say they are taking a vacation and be done with it. I could have bought that.

    Overall I absolutely loved this episode. Hartnell was dynamite throughout, and we finally moved forward with Ian and Barbaras relationship. Vicki, much like Susan, was a bit of a wet blanket, but it didn’t detract from the humour and creativity of using existing history to tell a story in the background.

    I give this a 4.0 out of 5.

    Reply
  2. John David (jD) / @mariuskane

    The Romans

    Time has passed since the TARDIS fell of a cliff and The Doctor, Susiki and the practically married Barbara and Ian are squatting in a villa feeding each other grapes. The Doctor, Barbara and Vicki go to Rome and we get “Lyre Lyre Pants on Fire” for 4 episodes, while Ian get trapped in Les Miserables & Gladiator.

    The Good

    The first scenes in the villa are very good, especially between The Doctor & Ian, and Ian and Barbara – they are now a family and the scene with Barbara doing Ian’s hair is incredibly well done.

    The Doctor, when fighting the assassin is obviously enjoying it far too much, and gets really angry when Vicki interferes because he didn’t get to spill blood himself. Hartnell has really changed, and this has to rate as one of his best performances.

    Barbara, this week is eyed up by a fat old emperor and obviously loving every single minute of it, running round Nero’s bedroom like she’s auditioning for a Carry On Film.

    Ian, is given more to do in this episode than this season to date, Galley Slave, Shipwrecked, Gladiator and back home in time for tea and crumpets at the villa.

    The Bad

    Vicki’s emotions this episode are “Boredom” and “Excitement” and her irritation level is a 4.2

    Overall

    4.3 – It is FAR better than I expected or hoped for.

    Reply
  3. Davis Williams / @ShrubThe

    I must say, I greatly prefer the sci-fi elements of this show more than the historical episodes. Too bad. It could’ve been the Edge of Discusichshiuhiuh, so I’ll look on the bright side! 

    Here we go: Vicki seemed to be much less annoying in this story arc. Although, maybe she just didn’t talk that much. Also, was it just me, or was the main plot for about half this story about different people wanting to “have some fun” with Barbara? A notable part of this episode is that they finally completely broke the Davis Principle! They stayed in Rome just for fun. They didn’t really want to leave. Finally, I loved how the Doctor got his first taste of messing with history. He would learn to enjoy it even more later on.

    This story definitely deserves a higher mark than The Rescue, as it was a real story. I would have to say that it is a good 3.4, mainly marking it down because it’s a historical. I realize it deserves a much higher marking than The Rescue, but I don’t want to be as easy on my scoring from now on.

    Reply
  4. Gina Guerrero / @GinaGuerrero1

    I enjoyed this episode for what it was trying to do: balancing comedy and drama. I was hopeful because the author of this story Dennis Spooner, wrote The Mind Robber which is a great 1st Doctor story. The Ancient Roman sets and costumes were beautiful and I loved Nero, who was both campy and sinister.
    Some stray observations: Although I found most of the humor unfunny and forced, the Doctor calling Ian, “Chesterfield” actually got a genuine laugh from me (I’m not proud). I found it interesting and a little pervy that the Doctor wanted to take only Vicki to Rome, while blowing off Barb & Ian. And just to remind us that we are watching 1960’s Doctor Who, Barb is chased by the rapey Nero, Benny Hill style.

    I noticed that Ian & Barb were becoming a bit more flirty in this story, maybe it was all the wine they were drinking in the first episode. Once again we get the Doctor fighting and bragging about his excellence in the “art of fisticuffs”, or Venusian Aikido (3rd Doctor style) , which I didn’t really buy. One thing that bothered me was the Doctor seeming bemused (and incessantly giggling to himself) through most of the story, not even batting an eye when he’s informed that he is to kill Nero. Lastly, was it just me or was anyone else hoping that we were going to get a shirtless Ian on the slave ship…probably just me. I did not enjoy the story as much as I hoped, so my rating is 3.7. Love you guys!!!

    Reply
  5. Peter Zunitch

    What a fun romp. You can tell everyone here is thoroughly enjoying themselves. In the past I mistook Viki’s personality as playful childish amusement, but after listening to your podcast, you’re right, she does have a bit of a sadistic side to her. It shows in other series as well. I think that makes her more interesting to be sure.
    Ian and Barbra’s relationship finally comes to a head here. The co-dependency, caring and playfulness has been hinted at and gradually building all along, something I particularly noted on my own since my re-watch of the series from the beginning. After this you could see them arriving back home and remaining together. I’d love to see modern Who make it official and explore their children (or would it hurt to put William Russel on screen again BBC?, please! Man did you miss out on an opportunity when Clara was working there.)
    The scene of playing the lyre in front of Nero’s court has always annoyed me. Less so now because I understand everyone’s arrogance, but still romans, how daft are you? On the other hand I love the chases, the overlapping scenes, and the coincidental missing each other. It was all brilliantly choreographed.
    When it’s time for this story to get serious, it does, and makes a good break from the comedy. Yet the ending felt a little rushed.
    This is a prime example of the Dr learning that while he cannot change some history, but he can influence it, or indeed become a part of it. Personally I think that was a pivotal and crucial element to the survival of the series. If they can never change time, then what’s the point of travelling it and trying to do good?
    This brings us back to the start, which is indeed how the story ends. Everyone arrives back at the beginning no worse for wear and with their own stories to tell. They are all part of a bigger picture that they never even knew about, until they get back in the Tardis and fly away (which at this point they do tell each other their tales off camera – it makes sense – and makes what happens at in the final scene more logical and relevant).
    How to improve: I never know if the Dr deliberately sets fire to the plans or if it’s an accident. I would clarify that. I would also give Nero hints of a sadistic side so when the burning comes it’s a little more serious. The riot scenes seemed poorly staged compared to the rest of the story.
    The needless mcguffin cliffhanger of the Tardis falling off the cliff and the playing in the court scene stand out to me as bothersome, but the relationships and intertwining scenes make this story. 4.1

    PS. I’m not bothering to balance my ratings against the other stories I’ve seen. I give my number rating based on how I feel at the time and hopefully it fits in with the rest of my reviews. I feel it’s unfair to lower or raise my feeling of a story because of how I felt another story is in relation to it unless I’m going to rate every story all at the same time.

    Reply
  6. The TARDIS crew are enjoying a decadent life of luxury in a Roman villa. Taking unscrupulous advantage of the owner’s absence, our heroes have broken in and have taken up residence. They lounge around eating grapes and swanning about in togas until the Doctor loses patience. Deciding to head off on a sightseeing trip to Rome, he is swiftly mistaken for the celebrated Corinthian lyre-player Maximus Tertullian.

    Thinking it fun to play along, the Doctor finds himself embroiled in an assassination plot. Meanwhile Ian is kidnapped and sent to the galleys; Barbara becomes the slave of an exceedingly amorous Ceasar Nero and Vicki just giggles along and gets in everybody’s way.

    THE MAJESTY
    The sense of humour in this story carries it along. From the relaxed tone of the bickering holiday scenes in episode one, to the slapstick buffoonery in Nero’s mansion, there is always something to have a little chuckle over. The relationship between Ian and Barbara is undisguisedly romantic in this story, which is rather nice, given how restrained their relationship is portrayed elsewhere.

    Derek Francis is brilliant as Nero – he takes a larger than life ‘Carry on Cleo’ approach to the role, and whether he is chasing Barbara around the palace, manically waving his burning maps, poisoning his servant Tittylinus or simply eating a chicken, he steals every scene he is in. Perhaps it’s childish – his first action in the story, after entering the great hall to the sound of trumpets, is to release an almighty belch – but I’m not minding that!

    THE MISERY
    The humour tends to work against the drama. There is never any sense of peril or danger, even when are characters are in genuinely life-threatening situations. Ian faces beheading, Barbara faces rape (again), the Doctor faces being torn apart by lions; and everything is played for laughs. It’s entertaining, but it’s not dramatic.
    Also, the Doctor is all over the place with his lines. It’s charming in its own way, of course, but it’s missing a little of its potential sharpness.

    MAGICAL MOMENTS
    – The TARDIS falls over after landing on the edge of a cliff. It’s never happened before. It’s rarely happened since. Kudos points to the story for being original.
    – The crew rejoice over their meal. Hartnell achieves his campest moment yet, when he refers to the ‘Peacock in an Orange & Juniper Sauce, garnished with lark’s tongues’ as “Absolutely Fabulous!” He is less impressed by the ‘Ants Eggs in Hibiscus Honey’. (“What do you think I am? A goldfish?”). Great acting, and Barbara must be an amazing cook!
    – The moment where Barbara is styling Ian’s hair is rather charming, as is the moment where she thumps him over the head with a priceless vase.
    – “Is that your lyre?” belts out the gruff centurion. “Why, have you lost one?” asks the Doctor.
    – The Doctor engages in the ‘gentle arts of fisticuffs’, taking out an assassin and throwing him out the first floor window while laughing hysterically all the time. I’m not quite sure whether this is funny or just plain weird, but it’s pleasantly nonchalant in comparison to the Doctor’s contemporary hand-wringing over the ethics of physical force.
    – “Ten Thousand Sestertii!”, bellows the slave master as Barbara is sold. No wonder the crowd go quiet. It’s worth about £92,000 in todays money…
    – We see more of the Doctor’s flesh than we ever imagined, as he and Nero have a sauna session together!
    – Nero goes on the rampage when some numpty of a servant pours boiling water directly on his feet. “You maniac!” he screeches – the epitome of indignant fury!
    – “We’ll never catch them now…” shrug the Roman soldiers, after Ian and his pal have nipped into the corridor outside. No wonder Nero stabs one of them for being ‘not very good’. It’s definitely half-baked security around the Emperor.
    – Hearing that Nero wants to throw him to the lions, the Doctor rattles of a sequence of the most outrageous puns. “I shall make it a roaring success. I shall play something they can really get their teeth into. If I go down well, I might even make it my farewell performance. I’ve always wanted to be considered as an artist of some taste; generally regarded as palatable, hmmm? But we should not stand here chewing the fat”
    – Nero delivery the daftest death threat in Dr Who: “I’ll have you both killed over and over again. I’ll have you tied out on a stake in the arena. On an island with water all round. And in the water there will be alligators, and the water level will be raised and the alligators will GET YOU!”
    – The Doctor indulging his pyromaniac tendencies once again, cackling as Rome burns. We cut to Nero, laughing hysterically and playing the lyre, surrounded by flames. I’m not sure what exactly we are saying about the Doctor in this scene, but no parallel with Nero can be good.

    IN SUMMARY
    In some ways it’s another conventional historical adventure, but The Romans is definitely an outlier in terms of tone. This is about 90% slapstick comedy, with 8% drama and 2% sci-fi. It’s not alone in having comical elements, but it’s probably the most obvious ‘comedy’ in the history of Doctor Who. Treated as a serious historical study, it’s a disaster; treated as a solid building-block of the Dr Who Universe, it’s disappointing; but treated as it is – a light Vaudeville comedy – it’s highly entertaining. It’s one of the greatest strengths of the Dr Who format that each story can have it’s own genre – I’m still waiting for the ‘musical’! The days of the First Doctor were fantastic for exploring the potential of the series and pushing the envelope this way and that way. Taken on its own terms, ‘The Romans’ is brilliant fun.

    OVERALL: 4.3

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