Doctor Doctor Who Guide

“The Romans” is Doctor Who’s first real stab at historical humour. There were hints of it evident in “The Reign of Terror”, but nothing as full-blown as we see in this story. At times it works and at times it doesn’t, but on the whole “The Romans” entertains more than it annoys. The TARDIS crash landing at the start of the serial is superb; even the visual effects don’t look all that bad. After such a promising beginning though, the story slows down enormously as the TARDIS crew rest up in a villa outside Rome.

There is a lot in this story that made me laugh out loud, most memorably the Doctor’s wonderful ‘fisticuffs’ sequence and the trick he plays in front of Nero with the lyre – this story really is the William Hartnell show! Derek Francis’ Nero is also hilarious, although at times things almost descend into a ‘Carry On’ style farce as he chases Barbara around! In terms of the more serious side of the story, Vicki is handled well by Spooner who gives her the old ‘you can’t meddle with history’ treatment. Tavius (Michael Peake) is an interesting character and his affection for Barbara is touching, as is the camaraderie between Ian and the slave he escapes from the shipwreck with, whom he is later forced to fight. The story’s final scenes are particularly memorable, even if they are at odds with the general tone of the story; Rome burns around Nero as she stands alone, playing his lyre.

All things considered, I can’t help but feel that “The Romans” was a something of a wasted opportunity. So many things are lightly skipped over in this story that would have made for a brilliant, serious Doctor Who adventure à la “The Aztecs.” Nevertheless, on Hartnell’s exceptional performance alone Spooner’s story holds up reasonably well even today, forty years on, so I suppose it can’t have been that much of a waste. The verdict? Good, but could have been so much better!

Filters: Television Series 2 First Doctor