Episode 23: The Romans

The First Doctor and his team go to ancient Rome and hang in Nero’s court.  But does the Daleks Aren’t Robots!? team feel this serial has the favor of the gods…or cast it to the lions?

Podcast Contents Include

Editor’s Note: The following are my original notes for the podcast, slightly edited for readability. They’re very far from the full contents of the pod, though.  – Kari


The Tardis falls off a cliff and the team LEAVES HER THERE to hang out in an Imperial-era Roman city as a vacation. The Doctor and Vicki go to Rome out of curiosity, the Doctor assuming the identity of a murdered lyre player on the way to Nero’s court. Meanwhile Barbara and Ian are kidnapped by slavers.

Ian ends up as an oarsman on a galley and Barbara gets creeped on and sold to Tavius, who works for Nero. An assassin tries to murder the Doctor, and gets his butt roundly kicked and tossed out a window by Vicki.

Nero creepily chases Barbara around and the show thinks this is funny (it is not), and Nero’s wife Empress Poppaea tries to kill Barb with poison. Vicki almost poisons Nero but the Doctor saves him and then fakes playing the lyre in a hilariouos Emperor’s New Clothes scenario. Nero decides to feed the Doctor to the lions because his playing is TOO GOOD.

Ian fights in the arena in front of Nero and Barbara and escapes, and then returns to rescue Barb. The Doctor accidentally sets Nero’s diagram of Rome on fire and Nero decides to burn Rome down so he can build it to his liking.

Tavius helps Barb and Ian escape and is revealed to be a Christian (because he has a cross around his neck). They all return to the Roman villa they were squatting in and then depart the era, the Doctor revealing that the Tardis is stuck somewhere and being dragged down.


This is so the Doctor‘s serial. He has SO many moments when he’s at his trickster best in this one it’s actually amazing.

  • When an assassin attacks him, he defends himself adequately and actually gets irritated with Vicki when she comes and helps him out because he was having fun beating the crap out of the hapless would-be killer.
  • He skillfully deflects an attempt to get him to play by buttering up Nero and deferring to him with great respect and admiration.
  • He pulls an AMAZING “Emperor’s New Clothes” stunt and plays “so delicately no one can hear him” and everyone admires it… and it works too well, convincing Nero to have him killed because HE’S TOO GOOD AT THE LYRE.
  • Finally he “accidentally” (it is not clear if it is an accident) burns Nero’s plans for a rebuilt Rome and inspires Nero to burn down the city himself. (Nero was accused of burning the city down but these accusations are not exactly reliable as Nero was hated by the upper class at the time. He also allegedly blamed Christians for the fire but that ALSO may not be correct. Honestly Rome didn’t need help to be on fire, it was on fire ALL THE FUCKING TIME regardless; there’s a reason Crassus got as ridiculously wealthy as he did, you know?)
  • And he has this amazing evil laugh when he realized HE CAUSED THE GREAT FIRE OF ROME at the end.

Vicki doesn’t do a LOT here but she has a couple good moments. I’m actually starting to like her!

  • She is demonstrably curious about Rome and excited to see new places and times, and has a bit of a mischievous streak like the Doctor’s. He’s probably a bad influence.
  • When the Doctor is being attacked she doesn’t hesitate to help him and ends up pushing the attacker out the window kind of.
  • When the court poisoner is going to poison a slave (unbeknownst to Vicki it’s Barbara) she switches the goblets to kill Nero instead, only stopped by the Doctor.

Ian has finally relaxed.

  • Barb changes his hair to look more Roman. He seems pretty happy and cheerful at the beginning of this, and also at the end, and he has a lot of great chemistry with Barbara, joking around with her. He doesn’t hesitate to fight at any point either so we get lots of Action Physicist here.
  • It super bugged me that he was wearing a TOGA and it appeared to be a toga with a stripe, too? That’s usually something fancy worn by someone of rank, OR A CHILD, like a toga praetexta would mean that you were an IMPORTANT PERSON IN THE GOVERNMENT, like a consul. They would not try to enslave an adult man wearing those clothes who spoke perfect Roman Latin. That is a posh person and you don’t wanna go there.

Barbara gets the short end of the stick in this episode.

  • She was much more proactive in the Aztecs, and while she doesn’t exactly lie back and think of England here, she’s slow to attempt escape and she isn’t as smart about it as she has been in the past. She does look great, and she does have plenty of pluck, but that’s it. She’s not as devious and ruthless as we’ve seen her in the past, and that’s a pity.
  • Her outfit is also a bit more of a Halloween costume than anything a Roman lady would have worn. There’d be about two more layers probably, and if not it would probably just be a tunic since she isn’t married.


  1. Nero is the emperor, and for the most part it’s a pretty good rendition if it weren’t for the fact that he’s presented as a silly buffoon. He does personally kill one person and chases Barbara around which is EXTREMELY horrifying but the show doesn’t seem to realize it. He’s a lot less gay than he should’ve been too. At one point Nero married a man and played the bride.
  2. Tavius is a servant of Nero who purchases slaves for the household and also encourages an assassin to come and kill Nero. And he also seems to kill someone himself in order to keep the assassin (who the Doctor is masquerading as) safe. This is not really in keeping with the Christianity of the time! Yes, he is revealed to be a Christian by a cross around his neck (which was not a symbol Christians used at that time IIRC). Tavius is an interesting character, kind of the Varys of the piece, but it is not super clear what his goal really is or why.
  3. Poppaea, Nero’s wife, who is jealous of slave girl Barbara for SOME UNINTELLIGIBLE REASON when in real life I would think she’d be glad someone ELSE had Nero’s attention. Then again IRL she and Nero were both married to others when they got together so…. sure, I guess? Later she died, either because Nero killed her or in childbirth, who knows.
  4. Locusta, the court poisoner. Supposedly she helped kill the previous emperor, Claudius. She is eventually executed by Nero’s successor Galba so good on her!
  5. Some dumb, evil slavers and the guy the Doctor masquerades as, and Ian’s slave friend who helps him out a couple of times.


  1. Imperial Rome in Nero’s era. I don’t know how accurate the geography is since they’re kind of vague about a lot of it. The costumes aren’t great, though they do look nice for the most part. The mores aren’t especially well-represented either, but that’s probably because it’s a kids’ show and that much gay and sex and violence wouldn’t be great for them (though apparently implied attempted rape is OK).
  2. Nero has painted toenails I think? Is that realistic?
  3. Also he uses thumbs down to indicate a gladiator should be killed, which is PROBABLY wrong. Thumbs up is killing them and a closed fist is sparing them.


  1. Hartnell flubs a line or two here but he’s magnificent overall. How was his health doing at this point?
  2. Did any stuff from the Greekish part of Keys of Marinus get reused here?
  3. What did Vicki, Maureen O’Brien, think of her first full serial?



Interviews with cast and crew


Nail Varnish

Episode 22: Inferno

We return to the Third Doctor to finish his first season with a bang!  The Doctor battles nuclear werewolves, evil counterparts, and evil scientists in this classic serial.

Podcast Contents Include

Editor’s Note: The following are my original notes for the podcast, slightly edited for readability. They’re very far from the full contents of the pod, though.  – Kari


The Doctor goes to ANOTHER nuclear facility, this one powering a drill attempting to pierce the earth’s crust so that they can access a mythical magic gas that would provide essentially free energy for the world. (Bull butter.)

Stahlman, the scientist in charge of the project, is the obvious bad guy and is maniacal about getting through the crust ASAP regardless of safety. Hot green goo starts coming up during the drilling; a guy touches it and starts turning greenish-blue and growing hair, like some kind of Dracula in a low-budget foreign film. He kills someone and acts like an animal.

The Doctor tries to get the Tardis console to work with the power from the reactor, and argues with Stahlman when the power is taken away from him, then fixes it on the sly. During his second attempt to use the console it takes him to an alternate universe where the Brigadier DOESN’T have facial hair but an eyepatch and a scar, and where Liz has a dark bob and isn’t a scientist. Also fascists, they are all fascists.

In the evil mirror universe the drilling is further along and they pierce the earth’s core despite the Doctor’s attempts to stop them. This begins a chain reaction of lava or something that will inevitably destroy the world. The Doctor can’t save it but persuades some of the survivors of the Turkish Dracula Disease (which has become the Turkish Werewolf Disease) to help him get back to the other world to save THEM.

He gets back and averts the disaster (barely). Then he tries to use the Tardis console again to escape, but ends up in the garbage dump. WHAT IS DIGNITY


  1. The Doctor, as usual, is great in this one. He’s arrogant and rude to Stahlman, who deserves it, but it bites him in the butt when Stahlman reacts by pulling his power. He’s still trying to use the Tardis to escape Earth, so he hasn’t given up on that.
  2. The Doctor does say that he has heard the weird sound the creatures make early on at the eruption of Krakatoa, but this doesn’t really ever get explained. Probably for the best.
  3. He gets to make some great faces in this one, particularly when he kind of has a bad “splinching” experience early on trying to use the Tardis.
  4. Liz is great in this one and it’s a real bummer that this is her last serial. Though the real Liz spends a lot of her time running a couple spurious errands for the Doctor intended to get her out of the way, Caroline John also gets to play Evil Liz, who has a short, dark haircut and is in the fascist military of her world. She’s still scientific minded, though, and studied physics in college–she comes to believe what the Doctor says and is good enough to help him get back to the other world to save it, knowing she and all her world is doomed.
  5. Briggie also really shines in this episode. He’s his stuffy, mostly-harmless-seeming self in the normal world, showing the Doctor a picture of himself without a mustache which comes back later when his evil self is mustacheless. Evil Briggie is a great villainous type–he’s still brave and stalwart and does not flinch when he has to defend the others against the Turkish werewolves. However, he’s super fashy and shouty and also looks exactly like Arnold Rimmer. He also tries to force the Doctor to take him and Liz with when he goes back to the real world, likely because he doesn’t trust that the Doctor is telling the truth about the other world being destroyed if they go.
  6. Benton! Is a character here at last. He’s kind of just a UNIT mook, but he has a name and he does some stuff, and his evil counterpart is brutally turned into a Turkish werewolf.
  7. Bessie exists in the alternate universe. Is she any different, I really couldn’t tell.
  8. The Tardis console is still dismembered and unfed but she still tries, poor girl. At least she’s in a garage now and not that HIDEOUS room of grandma’s awfullest knicknacks.


  1. Stahlman, the very obvious villain, who is obvious. He’s hellbent on getting the drill through the crust. Why is never really explained other than that it’s his project. He’s even worse in the evil world, and beardless there just like Briggie. Both versions turn into Turkish werewolves and die.
  2. Petra, the assistant director of the drilling project, a pretty blonde girl who is extremely competent, professional and loyal to Stahlman. When Sutton hits on her she enforces her boundaries with no equivocation, but after that he starts treating her with respect and she ‘s into him. The evilverse Sutton also hits on her, she enforces her boundaries there too and they also are super into each other.
  3. Sutton, an oil guy brought in on the project who wears a horrible ascot and hits on Petra. I thought he was just going to be a pig and that the story would be OK with it, but he isn’t. He helps out at one point and then tells Petra there is SOMETHING she can do for him… and we all went OH NO, but he follows it up by 1. call me by my first name, and 2. help me convince Stahlman about safer drilling procedures. His evil version is actually also good and helps the Doctor escape to save the other world.
  4. Sir Keith, the bureaucrat who’s barely in the show. He tries to reign Stahlman in but isn’t successful; his evil world version dies before we see him.
  5. The Turkish Draculas, who then evolve into Turkish Werewolves. They are hilarious, with greenish-blue faces and loads of hair. They’re bestial so they’re not really characters, just menaces. It’s not really explained what the hell is going on with them and it’s also just assumed they can’t be fixed or cured.


  1. Earth of the 1970s, specifically a nuclear facility drilling down through the earth’s crust.
  2. The lab is a garage now, MUCH better than the hideous granny knicknack room.
  3. THE EVIL WORLD. We don’t see a ton of it, but it’s clearly fascist. There are some nice nods immediately that tip us off we’re in a different world, with barrels being in different places. It has a dictator–who is it? UNIT goose-steps in it, and is if anything slightly less quick to shoot people here. People have fashier titles too. Love that!
  4. The Tardis console ends up on a trash heap. 😦


  1. Caroline John’s last episode. We’ve talked about it a little before but what happened?
  2. Venusian Karate, what prompted that? It’s pretty hilarious looking but it works and it’s not as overtly violent as… most of the rest of the show at this point honestly! Is it inspired by anything real?
  3. I see a lot of Third in Eight–from the outfit to the actiony orientation to the VIBE to even the doctor Companion.
  4. The science is hilariously garbage on this, and mostly that’s OK, the magic slime doesn’t bug me. But people at a nuclear facility find an object that’s hot and don’t reach for a Geiger counter? Really??? They don’t check ANYTHING for radioactivity, not even once!
  5. Generally I’m noticing a pattern here too, there’s a “science” facility powered by nuclear stuff and something goes wrong, sometimes because Man Should Not Meddle (this one) and sometimes because Man Sucks (Ambassadors of Death) and sometimes we Dug Too Deep (this one and Silurians). Is that going to keep being a thing? Is that the show now?


Other stories considered as season finale

Project Mohole

Cast and crew interviews

Caroline John/Liz Shaw retrospectives

Jon Pertwee as radio announcer cut scene from British broadcast

Pertwee Intelligence agent meeting Churchill and Ian Fleming


When the World Screamed by Arthur Conan Doyle