Doctor Who: The Romans 1, The Slave Traders

I'm going on holiday this evening, to celebrate passing my viva etc etc etc, so there won't be any new posts for a week or so - see you all then!

This four-part Doctor Who serial is an early one - featuring the First Doctor, still with Ian and Barbara, though Susan has gone and been replaced by Vickie. I haven't seen it before (so I don't yet know what's going to happen next, though Wikipedia and Google Images have told me that the Great Fire of Rome will be involved) but I've heard it's supposed to be a lighter, comic one. In that respect, this episode is mixed - there is comedy, and I found it funny, but there is a more serious storyline concerning slavery which develops towards the end, and which I would expect to be rather less light than the parallel plotline.

The TARDIS lands, rather amusingly, teetering on a cliff edge, just like the bus at the end of The Italian Job. Then it falls off.

We see someone Ian playing at being a Roman, by eating grapes and wearing a toga. The Doctor is wearing a rather exciting spangly outfit - shame we can't see the colours. Barbara and Vickie have gone down to a nearby village, along a road that for some reason seems to be paved with crazy-paving, rather than the more usual rounded, neatly laid cobbles. Apparently they've been there for a month and are doing their best to have a nice rest - Vickie wants adventure, and Barbara points out that this tends to happen automatically sooner or later. They are ebing watched by a creepy man with a knife.

At the market, two equally creepy slave traders are planning a raid (and wearing some rather nice furry cloaks). Barbara and Vickie are buying material for dress-making, and Barbara insists on giving Vickie a bit of a history lesson, which is a bad idea since the stall owner then tells the slave traders all about them, mentioning that they're living in a villa whose owner is away while she explains, and telling them that our heroes are Britons.

Creepy dude with knife on the road assaults an old man carrying a lyre and runs off. No idea why as yet.

Barbara has been cooking for everyone, and they seem to have chosen to eat sitting up at a small table rather than reclining properly, possibly because by the 60s we all knew that lying down does not help digestion. Ian is concerned about the fact that they've abandoned the TARDIS in a heap in the countryside, though not because he actually wants to leave, he and Barbara are thoroughly enjoying ancient Rome. The Doctor doesn't like being pestered and goes off in a huff saying he's going away for a few days, and Vickie says she doesn't blames him because it's so boring there.

The Doctor is going to Rome and agrees to take Vickie, but is not impressed when Barbara and Ian imply that he needs them around to stay safe. He basically tells them to bugger off and go by themselves, and wanders off with Vickie. Barbara and Ian flirt a bit, which is rather sweet, and she combs his hair into a more 'Roman' style (by pulling it forward, mostly). Since she has a full 60s beehive, this is a tad hypocritical. Ian starts quoting Shakespeare, which is funny but does make me expect to see Kenneth Williams and hear Sid James muttering 'countrymen!' in his ear.

One of the creepy slave traders is a centurion, which is odd - where is the rest of the army, if he's a centurion? Maybe these two are deserters.

Barbara and Ian are lying around in the villa, thoroughly drunk (Ian has forgotten that they have no fridge). When the slave traders break in, they're pretty helpless and Barbara accidentally hits Ian over the head with a vase.

The Doctor and Vickie, wandering along the road in the middle of the night (not a good idea) find the dead old man with his lyre, which the Doctor nicks. They encounter a soldier who seems to be waving his sword around for the fun of it, who is looking for the old man, who was a famous musician and who is supposed to be in Rome to play for the current emperor, Nero. The Doctor pretends that he is the musician, and he and Vickie go with the soldier, over Vickie's protestations that they don't even know what his name is supposed to be. The Doctor seems very keen to meet Nero - I know Nero is very famous, but it seems a bit weird to be that keen to meet him in person, meeting Nero was a bit of a dangerous thing to do.

Barbara points out to Ian just how much trouble they're in, asking if he has any idea how Romans treated their slaves, or how many escaped. Jacquline Hill delievers this line very well, her tone and expression conveying much, espeically to the adult viewer who knows just wat sort of thing she's talking about. Ian is sold, but the traders insist on taking Barbara to Rome to get a higher price for her.

It turns out the random soldier is in league with the creepy dude with the knife, who was supposed to kill the musician because Nero pays well whenever anyone kills a musician who is better than him. Soldier guy is not impressed at apparently finding the man alive, and the creepy dude can't explain that he really did kill him because his tongue has been cut out. Soldier guy tells him where the Doctor is and tells him to make sure he kills him this time. The episode ends as creepy dude approaches a curtain behind which the Doctor and Vickie are messing about with the lyre.

I really enjoyed this episode. Barbara's history lessons can be a bit irritating in their obvious desire to impart history to the kids in the audience, but then, that is the entire purpose of her character, a history teacher, so it's not surprising. Her comment to Ian about slaves is well handled, since it's clearly part of the story and osignificant to the characters, but even the little lesson about 'Londinium' is part of the plot, so these aspects are really as well incorporated as they can be. I found the jokes genuinely funny and I liked the idea that our heroes have actually hung around and had a rest for pleasure for once. The Doctor here is grumpy, unpleasant (to Ian and Barbara anyway) and really very silly (meeting Nero is never going to be a good idea, especially if you're pretending to be a musician - I think the bit about him wanting better musicians dead may actually be accurate) but I'm not very familiar with the Willian Hartnell era, so this may simply be how he was characterised at that time. I know his characterisation was very different in the early series to the better known middles ones or the modern version.

This episode left me wanting to see the next one, so it did its job! I'm looking forward to seeing how the series deals with Nero himself, and Rome (matte painting version, persumably). Barbara and Ian's story is interesting too, and the split, although the Doctor's sulk which caused it seemed rather OTT, allows the series to follow the upper class and the emperor through the Doctor and Vickie on the one hand, and Ian and Barbara among slaves on the other. This should be a nice contrast (unless Ian and Barbara both get sold to the emperor right away of course) and should allow the series to teach kids about Roman slavery in an exciting, not too obvious way.

I used this picture to illustrate the lost serial 'The Myth Makers' a while back, but it's actually from 'The Romans'


  1. "Barbara and Vickie have gone down to a nearby village, along a road that for some reason seems to be paved with crazy-paving, rather than the more usual rounded, neatly laid cobbles"

    I'd be interested to see a screenshot of this.


  2. Can't find any at the minute, I'm afraid. 'Crazy paving' is perhaps a bits excessively mean, but it looks like flat, irregularly shaped tiles, not the rounded cobbles I would expect.

  3. Can you post any direction where I could view online or download this episode?


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