I have to say, this is my favourite Doctor Who tale so far! I found ‘The Roman’s’ to be a highly entertaining four episodes with a fair deal of comedy thrown in for good measure. It’s interesting and a lot of fun – and the cast members seem to be having a fair bit of fun themselves.
|The Doctor, Vicki, Barbara and Ian enjoy a relaxing, lighter moment.|
|William Hartnell and the gentle art of fisticuffs.|
The first episode ‘The Slave Traders’ is a very strong start, and the cast member who really shines is William Hartnell. He is really on song in this episode and doesn’t miss a beat. The same can’t be said for the remaining episodes where he appears to be really struggling at times, but nevertheless the first episode is his highlight thus far. It’s great to have Maureen O’brien in as his sidekick too – she does a wonderful job, is bubbly and intensely interested and amused by what the goings on. Quite the opposite of Susan.
William Hartnell in the title role has a ball. He even gets into a fight with a mute, and kicks his pants! There's an awful lot of hitting people over the head with vases - Barbara even knocks Ian on the scone.
|Ian rows for his life in a slace Galley Boat.|
Barbara and Ian each have separate storylines after being sold as slaves which are quite interesting. As in ‘The Dalek Invasion of Earth’, Ian (William Russel) finds himself paired with another similarly aged man, Delos (Peter Diamond). Ian leads the way here too, and the pairing works well. Barbara has less funny being chased by Nero (played by Derek Francis, who is excellent) and seems to always be the character who has to endure unwanted sexual advances (such as in ‘The Keys of Marinus’).
Highlights of this story include the Doctor pretending to play the Lyre, doing a whole ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ scene, and again William Hartnell in general showing glee in giving Nero the idea to burn Rome. Barbara and Ian have some wonderful moments in the first and last episodes in the villa they are ‘borrowing’.
Less impressive stuff? Well there’s a scene in episode two or three when two gladiators are practicing in a courtyard and they go at each other with the enthusiasm of a sleeping grandmother. Then we have the cut at the end of episode two where Ian looks out his cel window to see lions outside – clearly stock shots from a circus or zoo, or both! Not to forget when Ian and Delos are inside the galley, a well made set, they appear to have a bucket of water thrown over them from behind the camera instead of it coming from through the oar holes! Also, after episode one, despite a wonderful portrayal, William Hartnell does seem to really struggle on his lines for the remaining three parts. This was probably as bas as he's been thus far.
The limitations are a bit obvious, but despite them the story is effectively told. The sets belie the limited studio space, but also show what could be done. Simple, but very effective use of curtains and more curtains, balconies and columns equals authentic Nero-era Rome! J
The recycling of cast members is a little more puzzling. The rogue who is dealing in the slave trade suddenly appears as the captain of Nero’s guard! If so why did he need to sell Barbara to Nero via a third agent?
The models at the end when Rome is burning are rather well done. It’s hard to criticise the design when money and space were so scarce. It was interesting to learn that this story was in production around the time ‘Carry On Cleo’ was released in cinemas. Dennis Spooner, the writer, seems to have written a few gags and situations that wouldn’t have gone amiss in the Carry On series! I enjoyed the comic turn however, and thankfully he didn’t set too much of this one in prison cells (unlike his previous entry, ‘The Reign of Terror’.)
I can honestly say I think this is the best story so far.