Saturday, 6 June 2009

Doctor Who: The Romans

The Slave Traders

"There's a great difference between resting and... being sort of bone idle."

So, falling off a cliff can be felt inside the Ship. No doubt this will be adhered to with absolute consistency from now on.

The early scenes are fun, and do the important job of establishing Vicki very quickly by having a whole month pass. One comment by Barbara to Vicki raises an eyebrow though- "Are you any good at dressmaking?". 1964 suddenly feels a long time ago- I'm reminded of the episode of Torchwood with the time travellers from the 1950s.

Hartnell mispronounces Ian's surname for the first time in ages, but generally spends the whole story being superb. If there's one thing he does really well, it's comedy. It's also noticeable how differently he acts towards Vicki than towards Susan- much more fond and indulgent, with none of the friction we're used to, continuing the process of the Doctor becoming ever more likeable.

Dennis Spooner seems to have officially founded Ian and Barbara shipping here; they're clearly a couple by now. I love the "fridge" line. It's very noticeable that Spooner has produced a much more overtly comedic script than with The Reign of Terror, using tragic elements to counterbalance the comedy rather than vice versa.

All Roads Lead to Rome

"You know, I'm so consistently outwitting the opposition, I tend to forget the delights and satisfactions of the art, the gentle art, of fisticuffs!"

The Doctor's fight with Ascaris is hilarious, played with perfect comic timing by Hartnell. With this episode it becomes clear that the story is to be a tightly plotted farce, with the TARDISeers forever just missing each other. The story is not without a sense of threat, but it never loses the sense of being a comedy, and ends up being fun and undemanding to watch.


"Now, close your eyes and Nero will give you a big surprise!"


Vicki's very innocent, isn't she? She's the only character forever protected from any threat or unpleasantness, able to walk around completely impervious, casually poisoning Nero along the way. Not only Maureen O'Brien but the entire cast plays it brilliantly- Hartnell, the actor playing Tigillinus with such brilliant physical comedy, and Derek Francis as Nero. The scene with Nero forcing Tigillinus to taste his poisoned drink is comedy gold, as is the entire scene with the Doctor's lyre playing.

Another namedrop from the Doctor here, this time Hans Christian Anderson.


"I've got a friend who specialises in trouble. He dives in and usually finds a way."

I'm not sure the business about Nero setting fire to Rome is good history, but it's certainly good farce. The fun doesn't let up in the final episode- my favourite bit is the Doctor's punning to Nero on his imminent mauling in the arena. Of course, the Doctor, in changing history, seems to contradict what we were told in both The Aztecs and The Reign of Terror. But it's worth it for the moment when the Doctor starts chuckling insanely and the laughter then segues into Nero's.

The end is priceless, with the Doctor believing Ian and Barbara to have been carousing in the villa all this time. Once again Ian and Barbara seem very couply.

Overall, it may not have been big or clever but it was fun, and an admirably constructed farce. 4/5.

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