Monday, 15 March 2010

Doctor Who: The Romans 2, All Roads Lead to Rome


Original 60s Doctor Who credits. Always awesome.

We pick up where we left off, with the Doctor and Vicki about to be murdered by the creepy dude with a knife because he thinks they're musicians. The Doctor successfully fights him off, however, and he goes out the window trying to avoid being hit over the head with a vase by Vicki, provoking the Doctor to wax lyrical about how much he enjoys the various martial/pugilistic arts. You wouldn't catch Ten saying that, even if he thought it. Vicki thinks they should get out while they can, but the Doctor is insistent that they press on for Rome anyway.

There's a rather nice overhead shot of a model of imperial Rome - not sure if it's Mussolini's, it might be a smaller one. Barbara is being kept in a small cell with another slave woman, who has a horrendous cough. Barbara is hoping that Ian will turn up, but is not feeling terribly optimisitc.

Lovely shot of a small sailing ship, and we see that poor Ian has become a galley slave - not nice. Gives him the opportunity to be all Charlton Heston about it, though it's only been five days so he only has some stubble, not a beard, and he's still got all his clothes on. He also has a cunning plan to escape, together with the guy next to him. It's the oldest trick in the book - pretending to be ill and trying to hit the bad guy over the head - and it doesn't work, the guard has seen it all before.

A man turns up wanting to buy Barbara and promising to help her, but he is told he'll have to bid for her at auction. The slave trader brings new clothes for Barbara, but says the other woman is to be thrown into the arena, since she's not valuable enough for the auction. Ian's ship runs into a storm and is wrecked. Meanwhile, the Doctor and Vicki, blissfully unaware of what has happened to their companions, are having fun exploring Rome itself, just missing the auction where Barbara is being sold to the same bloke who wanted her the night before.

Ian is washed up on shore, where his friend, who has freed them all and saved his life in the confusion of the shipwreck, uses some big rocks to get the chains off him (it looks painful). They are somewhere near Rome, so Ian says he must go there to find Barbara, who has attracted the rich but slightly creepy buyer by her help for the sick woman in her cell. He seems geuinely to want to help her and has bought her to be a slave to Pompeia, Nero's wife, presumably on the assumption that, as slavery goes, it could be a lot worse.

The buyer then leaves to greet the Doctor and Vicki and introduce them to Nero himself. Nero is tall, fairly heavy set, eating and talking with his mouth full, and speaking in that particular upper class British accent that actors use to convey utter selfishness combined with idiocy. There's then a lot of messing around with lyres, as Nero strums random strings and everyone pretends it's a new composition. The Doctor is very proud of himself for getting out of having to play the lyre, but as Vicki points out, this will hardly be the end of it.

The Doctor and Vicki are still nosing around - Barabara's buyer had referred to some trouble in the apodyterium, so they poke around until the find the body of the centurion who found them in the first place. Ian and his friend have reached Rome and are in search of somewhere to clean up when they run into some guards. As escaped slaves, they are taken to the arena to be thrown to the lions, and the episode ends with some nice shots of actual lions, presumably from the zoo.

This episode suffers a bit from middle-episode-syndrome, as a lot of the time is spent getting the characters from A to B, and the 'comedy' bit with the Doctor Nero and the lyre isn't as funny as the more gentle and less obvious humour from the week before, but there's some good stuff here. The Doctor and Vicki just missing Barbara in the street is a classic bit of just-missed-them plotting to increase the tension and Nero, in typical overgrown child crazy-mode, is how you might imagine Nero to be. The shots of Ian's ship and of the lions are very nicely done and the plot takes some interesting turns, especially in the form of the man who buys Barbara, who seems to be some kind of palace official and so far, seems to genuinely want to help, which is a nice idea in a slavery story. Stories about slavery are usually aimed at showing how utterly awful slavery is and while this certainly doesn't shy away from that - Ian is not having a nice time at all and the man has bought Barbara to protect her from worse masters - it is nice to see a few shades a grey and a bit of humanity in a slave owner, since, in this period, it would never occur to anyone not to own slaves if they could. Of course, I haven't yet seen the rest of the serial, so it's entirely possible that he is, in fact, totally evil, thus rendering this entire paragraph null and void.

Ian working the bedraggled-slave look

All in all, an enjoyable episode but a bit more plodding and less interesting than Part One, with less focus on characterisation and more on plot mechanics. The show is, however, doing a great job of showcasing several different aspects of ancient Rome for it's intended (child) audience, including slavery, daily life, the imperial court and the arena. Because Old Who doesn't feel the need to shove monsters into every historical story, the danger can come from within Roman society itself, which is rather nice and allows for a more intricate story.* On the other hand, apparently other viewers do not find basic historical stories as interesting as I do, since they stopped doing them for years, so I'll take New Who's historical stories with monsters over having no historical stories at all!

*This is one of the reasons that 'The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances' is one of my all-time favourite Who stories. There is a monster, and it is terrifying and thoroughly satisfies the sci-fi/horror element of the show, but the resolution is also absolutely tied in to the period, a resolution that could not work in other historical periods or in a modern setting. I love that!

1 comment:

  1. The earlier Doctors tended to be a little more active. Three was always trotting out his Venusian karate.

    'The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances' is the creepiest §(&$)& thing I've ever seen. (OK, I haven't seen Blink yet, and I've heard things, but...). My wife was in the other room while the kids and I watched it and even she got creeped out by it. *shudder*

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