Vicki, thus far unimpressed with the promise of adventure aboard the TARDIS, gets more than she bargained for when the time machine touches down on a steep ledge and takes a tumble with its time travelers inside. When they come to, they find themselves in Roman Empire at its height, and take advantage of the hospitality and indolence offered to them – for weeks. The Doctor and Vicki go to explore Rome itself, but in their absence, Ian and Barbara are captured and sold as slaves. Ian manages to escape, but he is recaptured and dragged back to the dungeon, where he learns that Barbara has been sold while he was gone. The Doctor and Vicki happen upon the body of a murdered man, but before they can do more than pick up the victim’s lyre, a centurion appears and assumes that the Doctor is a musician en route to Rome. When the Doctor and Vicki arrive, they find that the Doctor has assumed the identity of a court musician whose personal patron is the Emperor Nero – who, unbeknownst to them, has bought Barbara as his newest slave. And unknown to any of the others, Ian awaits his fate as a gladiator…
Guest Cast: Derek Sydney (Sevcheria), Nicholas Evans (Didius), Dennis Edwards (Centurion), Margot Thomas (Stall-holder), Edward Kelsey (Slavebuyer), Bart Allison (Maximus Petullian), Barry Jackson (Ascaris), Peter Diamond (Delos), Michael Peake (Tavius), Dorothy-Rose Gribble (Woman slave), Gertan Klauber (Galley Master), Ernest Jennings, John Caesar (Men in market), Tony Lambden (Messenger), Derek Francis (Nero), Brian Proudfoot (Tigilinus), Ann Tirard (Locusta), Kay Patrick (Poppaea)
Notes: This early adventure is alluded to very vaguely by the tenth Doctor, who asserts – in The Fires Of Pompeii (2008) – that he had nothing to do with Rome burning, and then backpedals a little bit from that statement.
Broadcast from January 16 through February 6, 1965
LogBook entry & review by Earl Green
Review: One of the first attempts in the history of televised Doctor Who to do an all-out comedy as the primary storyline, The Romans can be quite a crafty story to get one’s head around. It puts the characters in dramatic, potentially life-or-death scenarios…and then proceeds to poke fun at the utter absurdity of those scenarios. There’s also a comedy-of-errors element running through the plot, in which one or more of our intrepid time traveling heroes exits a scene just as another – whom they would surely help if they only knew the dire straits their friends were in – which is subtly amusing. It’s light years away from the slapstick comedy that would overtake Doctor Who some 22 years later.
It helps that the regulars are certainly up to the task, and the guest stars are as well; there are priceless comedic moments where William Hartnell’s facial expression speaks volumes. Unlike the deadly serious avoid-involvement-in-history message of The Aztecs, The Romans puts the TARDIS crew hip-deep into history, and watches them try to wade out of it for laughs.
The Romans probably isn’t going to top the favorites list of any modern Doctor Who fans, but it’s quite sophisticated in its own way, with a nod to the humor of the Carry On… film series, and fine moments in a more dramatic vein. Pretty entertaining stuff.