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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- Some dumb, evil slavers and the guy the Doctor masquerades as, and Ian’s slave friend who helps him out a couple of times.
- 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).
- Nero has painted toenails I think? Is that realistic?
- 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.
- Hartnell flubs a line or two here but he’s magnificent overall. How was his health doing at this point?
- Did any stuff from the Greekish part of Keys of Marinus get reused here?
- What did Vicki, Maureen O’Brien, think of her first full serial?
Interviews with cast and crew