Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Serial 12: The Romans

Doctor: William Hartnell (1st Doctor)
Companion: Barbara, Ian, Vicki

Written by: Dennis Spooner
Directed by: Christopher Barry

Editor's Note: Hey, kids! We're back again with another guest blog from friend-of-the-blog Cassandra. She's talking Hartnell this time. Next time it's Pertwee (spoilers!). Honestly, though, I just needed a break this weekend so we had to do some re-arranging. But that's all behind-the-scenes stuff and bureaucracy bureaucracy no one cares. I'll be here next week for... an interesting serial to say the least. Merits discussion. That's all I'm saying. So just sit back, relax and enjoy Cassandra talking about "The Romans".

Background & Significance: Who doesn't love Ancient Rome? No one, that's who. The history and mythology surrounding Rome, arguably one of if not the most famously recognizable ancient civilization, is vast and undeniably compelling. And when you have a show involving time travel, you'd be stupid not to cash in on that.

Fortunately, the crew over at Doctor Who was not stupid, which brings us to this week's serial "The Romans".

This serial stands out for a variety of reasons. There'd been talk of a four-part Roman adventure since the earliest days of the show. Late in Season Two this became a reality, and writing duties were handed over to Dennis Spooner, the newly appointed but not-yet-official script editor (interestingly enough, there's no onscreen script editing credit for Spooner since it was frowned upon at the time for the script editor to be writing for his or her own show). Instead of painstakingly recreating actual events (as was the norm with prior Doctor Who historical episodes), Spooner drew from both history and popular mythology; an interesting move and a break with the still-primarily educational nature of the show.

Another interesting break with the educational aspect was producer Verity Lambert's choice to try out a more comedic approach with the show and its format. Which I think works quite well here. The blending of funny happenstance (Barbara, Ian, The Doctor, and Vicki get split up at the beginning of the story and have shenanigans in Rome but never once encounter each other, for example) and drama (getting kidnapped by slave traders!) in such a familiarly foreign backdrop as Ancient Rome lends a certain charm to this serial that I found difficult to ignore.

And it's just plain fun. So let's take a closer look, shall we?


Part 1:

The TARDIS materializes on the edge of a cliff. And then proceeds to tumble precariously off it. The crew inside all jostle around. It’s probably pretty uncomfortable. I love how this happens the first thirty seconds into the serial.

Cut to the TARDIS lying at the bottom of the cliff, looking pretty worse for wear. Are those leaves growing all over it?

Now Ian’s in a toga eating grapes and the Doctor’s watering some potted plants. Uh….. Hang on, what just happened?

Oh, I guess they’re vacationing. Sounds pretty sweet to me.

Vicki and Barbara take a stroll to the village. For some reason Ian and Barbara have both gotten pretty lazy. Barbara looks pretty hot in a toga, but you didn’t hear it from me.

Hold on, they’ve been in Rome for almost a month? It’s been a month since the TARDIS fell down a cliff? And they still haven’t done anything about it? Damn, kids.

Some ponce in the bushes is lurking like a creeper and sharpening his sword menacingly to a menacing soundtrack. Barbara and Vicki walk by, but he doesn’t attack them. Whew. Crisis averted.

There’s some shots of the marketplace to show off the show’s budget. Two slave trading goons glance about and discuss potential victims commodities. They have their eyes on Barbara and Vicki and bribe one of the shopkeepers for information about them. And she is *hilarious*. Bitch knows how to get money.

Meanwhile, an old lyre player from the marketplace wanders along the road, instrument in hand. The guy in the bushes from earlier leaps out and attacks him! Oh noes! Now he’s dead, and then for some reason we get a shot of his feet.

We now join our favorite TARDIS crew at the elaborate villa they’ve been squatting in for a month. (Dude, yes. I wish every Doctor Who story was like this. Squatting’s okay, kids! Just don’t get caught.) Apparently Barbara can cook like nobody’s business, because the Doctor can’t stop raving about the meal and saying “Fabulous!” like a fancy lad.

He’s also dressed like this. I think it suits him.

Ian says the first sensible thing I’ve heard said in this serial and asks whether they should go check out the TARDIS. But the Doctor is pretty nonchalant about the whole thing and it’s kinda weird. Ah well. They have a story to tell.

The Doctor decides to be a crotchety old grandpa and complain about how much they worry, saying he’s glad to be rid of them for a few days. Uh, Doctor, you’re the one who chooses to travel with companions all the time. Just sayin’.

There’s some pretty funny repartee between them all, and it’s pretty obvious they’re trying to infuse more humor into the show. But again, I think it works quite well.

The Doctor announces that he’s going to Rome, Vicki begs to come along with him, he agrees, and Vicki squees. No joke. It’s the most adorable thing ever. I love Vicki.

The Doctor gets all offended that Barbara and Ian offer to come with him because it would be safer, and ditches their asses right then and there with Vicki. They get to have a moment to themselves, which is quite charming and a little flirty.

I love this because I hardcore ship Ian and Barbara. Seriously. Love these two.

And *then* Ian recites Shakespeare. Is there anything this man can’t do?

We join our friends the slave trading goons at their encampment outside of the village in a remote area. There’s lots of slaves all crying because they’re slaves. Don’t blame them.

Ian and Barbara are busy lounging about and getting drunk when there’s a noise. And then another. And then this happens.

Ian pulls some of his typical James Bond antics and there’s a short struggle, but Barbara accidentally smashes a vase against his head instead of hitting her attacker. Nice one, Barbara. Way to get yourselves all nice and kidnapped.

Meanwhile, the Doctor and Vicki are on the road to Rome, and Vicki has “are we there yet?” face. They happen to discover the body of that poor old lyre player from the village just in time for a Roman centurion to drop by and ask them what they’re doing.

The centurion is looking around in the bushes and, seeing the Doctor with the dead man’s lyre, mistakes the Doctor for Maximus Pettulian, a famous and skilled musician. Not exactly able to get out of this mess with little questions asked, the Doctor pretends to be Maximus (in case you missed it, that’s the name of the dead guy).

Apparently the centurion went out looking for this guy because he was late for an appointment to play for Caesar Nero and his court. Sweet!

Vicki’s all like, “dude, we can’t go with him” but the Doctor’s all like “but I want to!” and it’s settled. The centurion escorts the two to Assisium, on the way to Rome.

Elsewhere, this creeper wants to buy Barbara, who is now a slave.


Nah, but Barbara’s hot, so she’ll be going to Rome. The creeper changes his mind, says he wants three men and then laughs maniacally whilst Barbara and Ian try to escape and fail. They fret and worry as to whether or not the Doctor will wait for them or if he’ll just ditch them.

One of the slave trader’s comes out and pimp slaps Ian across the face. Oh sh*t! He’s been sold!

Ian promises Barbara he’ll meet up with her again in Rome and is marched off.

The Doctor and Vicki have reached Assisium with their centurion escort. The same ponce from the bushes who killed the old man earlier shows up and the centurion smacks him around for botching the job. Too bad he’s a mute, or else he could say that he did, in fact, kill the right guy. But ah well.

The centurion tells him to go upstairs to the Doctor’s room and fix his mistake. And so, he creeps up to the room and… cliffhanger!

Part 2:

We’ll start off with a youtube, because what ensues is quite funny.

See what I mean about the humor? And the end bit is just quintessential Hartnell, including the part where he messes up his line (ohhh burn).

Vicki voices her concerns about staying where they’re staying for the night, but the Doctor’s pretty chill about it. What’s this? The centurion ditched them after hiring the assassin? Oh well. They’re still going to Rome in the morning.


We’re in Rome with our dear friends, the slave traders. They toss Barbara and this other woman who doesn’t look too healthy into a cell. Barbara looks after her cuz she’s a good person. They talk about Ian and how he’s supposed to meet up with her in Rome. But where is he?

There’s a bunch of gross shirtless men rowing the ship. Ian is not shirtless. I have a problem with this.

Ian and his new friend Delos are lamenting their plight as slaves. Ian mentions the fact that it’s been five days. Wait a minute. That doesn’t hold up with the timeline at all… (STOP, DON’T THINK ABOUT IT TOO MUCH JUST KEEP WATCHING.)

Sheesh. Okay, I will.


Ian vows to get away from the ship. Delos spots some land in the distance. Awesome! They have a plan.

Delos fakes keeling over and dying (it’s pretty great), and Ian calls the galley master over. When he gets close, Ian tries to take the keys, or something, but the galley master catches on to their devious plan and yells at them to row some more.

Back in Rome, some guy named Tavius is checking Barbara out. He says he wants to help her, which gets her attention. But in order to do that, he needs to buy her from the traders.

Ahh, but she’s going to be auctioned off. Rough. At least she scores some new clothes to look all pretty in.

Out at sea, there’s a pretty crazy storm. You can tell from all the stock footage and lightning flashes and chromatic scales played by flutes.

I like getting screencaps of lightning just to prove that I can. >.>

The ship starts capsizing or something? Lots of water starts pouring in and the galley master falls over hilariously (maybe not intended to be, but douchebaggy people falling over is always hilarious). They mob him for his keys and there’s more water and creaking of wood!

Oh look, The Doctor and Vicki have made it to Rome.

They hear the noise from the slave auction Barbara is about to be sold at, but they pimp out of there before they see her.

Poor Barbara gets leered at and felt up and bid on and it’s all very degrading. Finally Tavius, the guy who offered to help earlier, makes a bid for ten thousand. Damn, kids. He must really like her.


Meanwhile, Ian gets washed onto shore.

Turns out his pal Delos saved him from the shipwreck and swam them both to shore. Woo! Delos tries to break the chains around their hands with a big rock. Ian looks away and winces every time the rock hits the chains, but I can’t figure out why; it’s not like it’d hurt him or anything.

Oh hey, they’re near Rome? How convenient! Delos wants to stick together and says it’d be better to go north, but Ian’s going south to Rome to rescue Barbara. And so the great and epic bromance road trip to Rome begins.

Speaking of Barbara, Tavius is telling her that the reason he decided to help her out is because she was being so nice to her fellow slaves. As it turns out, Tavius works for Nero, and he’s brought Barbara to the palace to be a servant girl to the Empress Poppea. Sweet deal.

Another servant drops in to announce the Doctor’s (as Maximus Pettulian) arrival, and in another one of those funny happenstance moments, Barbara just misses meeting up with the Doctor: instead of having him come into the room, Tavius goes out to meet him. He acts all funny and suspicious when talking about Nero, as if the Doctor should be in on something but is clearly missing the point.

And then Nero himself shows up. Eating a turkey leg.

Nero commands the Doctor to play his lyre, but the Doctor flatters him and gets him to play instead. There’s a bunch of back and forth and pleasantries and buttering up the Emperor’s ego and it’s all very amusing.

Ian and Delos sneak around Rome til they’re captured.

Vicki and the Doctor snoop around the palace and find a body. Incidentally, the body of the centurion who tried to have them killed.

Ian and Delos are brought to the slave traders where we learn that Ian’s gonna be thrown into the arena to fight for his life. He’s gonna be a gladiator?! YES! (Oh, and the cliffhanger is some stock footage of some roaring lions and it’s all very silly.)

Part 3:

Nero is a petulant child and goes around in the morning beating people up with musical instruments.

Tavius meets up with the Doctor and tells him that he managed to get rid of the body and that it’d be safer for all involved if he “delayed his actions”. Clearly something is going on here, and the Doctor has no idea what, so he decides to investigate while Vicki explores the palace.

We join Nero in his bedroom and meet the Empress Poppea for the first time. She’s blonde and pretty and a little bitchy. Nero complains about Maximus; Poppea suggests a banquet that night to hear the musician play. Tavius shows up to introduce Barbara, and Nero circles her like a hungry dog til his wife kicks him out. Apparently everyone thinks she’s hot.

Poppea is not stupid, nor is she blind, and she tells Barbara up front that she likes being Empress, so back the hell off. Well, at least she’s honest. And I don’t blame her, really. Barbara is gracious and polite the whole time, naturally.

And here we have our second youtube, because it’s slapsticky and hilarious. You can see what I mean about funny happenstance and all the main characters being in the same place but never once meeting up.

In the interlude between all of that nonsense, Vicki meets Locusta, the Court Poisoner. She looks a little like a creeper, doesn’t she?

I like how Vicki just hangs out with nefarious folk like court poisoners and the like.

Ian’s hanging out in his cell with Delos, waiting to become a gladiator and all that jazz, when the woman in the cell next to them overhears their conversation. If she looks familiar, she should; she’s the one Barbara was taking care of before she got auctioned off to Tavius.

The woman gives Ian the bad news about Barbara having been sold recently. He gets all depressed and looks like a sad little puppy dog.

Back at Caesar’s palace— Oh god, my eyes!

Yes, the Doctor and Nero are in a steam room together. If that doesn’t say bromance, I don’t know what does. Nero gets all upset cuz that stupid servant of his who keeps following him around pours hot water on him, and he draws his sword (for some reason Nero’s armed? Where was he keeping that thing?? Best if you just go with it, and don’t think too much about it).

The Doctor tells the guards to take the servant away and banish him (harsh). That settled, he asks Nero about any potential intrigue that might be going on, but of course Nero has no idea even though he’s “always informed of intrigues.”

In the meantime, Vicki is busy eavesdropping on Poppea instructing Locusta to poison the Empress’ new slave (i.e., Barbara). When the two leave, Vicki puts on her “I have a sneaky idea” face.

Barbara and the other servants are making preparations for the banquet. Nero comes out to see the progress, spies Barbara, gives her a shiny bracelet and makes kissy faces at her.

That retard of a servant shows up with two goblets, one of which is supposed to be poisoned, according to Poppea’s instructions. Barbara chugs one because she is secretly an alcoholic and hasn’t had a drink since she and Ian were captured.

Vicki and the Doctor are having a nice little chat about their day and she casually says she might have poisoned Nero by switching the goblets around. Straight-faced and everything. Seriously. Have I said how much I love Vicki?

The Doctor gets all up in her grille about interfering with history and runs to tell Nero not to drink from the goblet just after Barbara runs away to talk to the Empress. Nero thanks the Doctor, who pimps out of there again, and then Nero gives the goblet to his stupid servant, who falls over dead after drinking it. Macabre humor? Awesome. I approve.

Ian and Delos chill out in their cell and Poppea throws a hissy fit and has Locusta arrested for screwing up. And then it’s banquet time! Nero makes out with some grapes. Tavius tells the Doctor to be ready for tomorrow, but the Doctor still has no idea what he’s talking about. But he has more pressing things to worry over, like how he’s going to get out of playing in front of all these people at the banquet.

So the Doctor gets up and announces that the tune he’s about to play is so soft that only those with the sharpest hearing can make it out. In reality, he’s just pretending to play. But he somehow manages to pull off Emperor’s New Clothes on them (which, as it turns out, was his idea anyway that he gave to Hans Christian Anderson), all to a resounding applause. I love the Doctor. He wins.

Nero storms off because he’s jealous and does a Shakespeareean-esque soliloquy all about how he’s the best and how he’s gonna show the Doctor what’s what. But first, he and Barbara go on a date to the gladiatorial school to see some good ol’ fashioned bloodshed.

Tonight, the main attraction: Ian and Delos! And they don’t really have a choice. Quite the obstacle to their blossoming bromance.

Oh, hey, Nero wants to have Maximus play his lyre in the arena for the people and then have him get eaten by lions. Hope that’s okay.

Barbara recognizes Ian just before the fight starts. As it turns out, he is a badass.

Swordfights: making everything at least 82% cooler than they already are.

Ian gets the upper hand but doesn’t have the heart to kill him, and then Delos overpowers him. Nero commands that Ian lose his head! Noooo!

Part 4:

Things aren’t looking too good for our Ian.

It looks like Delos is about to kill him, and then he runs and tries to attack Nero instead! Good man, Delos. There’s a short fight and some crazy shenanigans with some guards. Ian and Delos manage to escape, but Barbara can’t get away from Nero. Ian promises to return for her.

Back at the palace, Poppea orders Tavius to get rid of Barbara. When he agrees but says he needs to find a replacement first, she gets all upset, slaps him in the face, and then walks off. What a bitch.

Barbara then talks to Tavius and asks him for help in her escape. Having just been ordered to get rid of her anyway, he agrees. As they talk, the guard is posted around the outside of the palace to trap Ian and Delos when they come looking for Barbara.

Elsewhere, the Doctor and Vicki are taking a gander at Nero’s plans to rebuild Rome.

Apparently this is around the time when Nero lights Rome on fire. Sweet. Maybe we’ll see some crazy, a bit of fiddle playing…

Tavius comes to warn the Doctor what Nero has in store for him at the arena. In the ensuing conversation, we finally find out that Maximus Pettulian’s intention in coming to Rome was to murder Nero. Awesome. I looooooove political intrigue.

Vicki and the Doctor arrange to leave Rome that night. Nero meets up with them. And we get our third youtube. Puns! Crazy people! Accidental arson! Enjoy.

Nero runs into Poppea and gushes in his crazy way about how he’s gonna burn Rome and start the fires tonight and it’ll be awesome. He also mentions that the guards are stationed outside to prevent Barbara and Ian from escaping and that they’ll all be killed, which makes her pleased as punch.

Ian and Delos manage to sneak into the line of laborers recruited to light Rome on fire and they get past the guards. Nero dumps coins on the floor for the men and gives his rousing speech of instructions on how exactly he wants the fire started. Tavius miraculously finds Ian in the crowd and leads him away to Barbara.

Yay! Hugs!

Outside the palace, the Doctor and Vicki are snooping around and almost get caught by some guards. Nero sends his men out to commit mass arson. Delos helps Ian and Barbara escape the palace successfully, and we find out Tavius is a Christian, which is a nice touch.

Away from the city, the Doctor and Vicki observe the blaze. Vicki calls the Doctor on messing with history and he gets all defensive. I love how the Doctor has a history of being responsible for huge fires.

Barbara and Ian are back in the villa, looking around to see if anyone’s home. Turns out they got back before them. They totally flirt some more. It’s adorable. Til Barbara lets slip that she accidentally knocked Ian in the back of the head with the vase back in episode one, and he gets mad. In fact, he threatens to throw her in the fountain til she agrees to clean up the mess. It’s pretty nuts.

The Doctor and Vicki show up finally, and Vicki is babbling on about their adventure but the Doctor, under the impression that Barbara and Ian have been lounging about the whole time, keeps cutting Barbara off mid-sentence when she tries to tell her story. What a jerk.

Ian steals some of the wine from the villa (no joke) and they all head back to the TARDIS to go on their next adventure.

Final Thoughts: So, this was fun.

I was worried about this serial before I started it, actually. While I simply love history, historical Doctor Who adventures are not necessarily some of the best, nor are they my favorite. I watch the show for the sci-fi and the characters and the adventures, not to learn about history.

But this was a pleasant and fun surprise. I loved how they were playing with the format and making the show more comedic while still being able to retain the drama and the character relationships. That's called good writing, and I enjoyed it a lot. Just goes to show you how versatile and adaptable Doctor Who really is, which makes me love it all the more.

Next Time!: 4th Doctor! Romana! Sacrificial teenagers! A Somewhat-Labyrinth! And melodramatic overacting! Matt's back next Tuesday for "The Horns of Nimon"!

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