Written by Dennis Spooner
Directed by Christopher Barry
Comedic hijinks ensue as Nero becomes smitten with Barbara. Meanwhile, The Doctor must prepare for his second lyre performance.
“Close your eyes and Nero will give you a big surprise!”
Ah, history jettisoned for humor. This episode is the most out-and-out comedic so far. Nero is portrayed as a ravenous womanizer and much of this episode is spent with him chasing after Barbara. This portrayal is a bit off. In reality, Nero is not portrayed as the true Nero, but more of a caricature of Roman Imperial excesses. Extravagant, lustful, gluttonous, and conceited. Yes, some of these traits define Nero, but gone is the tyranny. Gone is the cruelty. While this episode is a well-staged comedy, it lacks the tone of the previous historicals, which is a shame. I really liked them. However, this does not mean the episode is bad. It is quite well done. Although, comedy aside, the most unsettling moment is when Nero, suspecting his drink is poisoned, calls a slave and has him drink. The slave dies instantly.
The Doctor is forced once more to show his prowess on the lyre. Drawing inspiration from The Emperor’s Clothes, a story The Doctor claims to have told to Hans Christian Anderson in the first place, he claims that only the most refined ear can hear the music he will play. The Doctor then proceeds to mimic playing the lyre, to which Nero and his court applaud. However, Nero is quite upset that The Doctor received so much acclaim. He begins plotting The Doctor’s death.
The episode ends with the best fight we have seen thus far in Doctor Who. Ian and Delos, once enslaved together, must fight to the death for Nero’s amusement. They really go at it, and it is a joy, perhaps the best fight I have seen in classic Who. Predictably, Ian cannot bring himself to kill Delos. The episode ends with Delos poised to kill Ian.
A word on Tavius. He is probably the most interesting character in this story. Tavius holds a position of some power in Nero’s palace, but he has a position of some power. He was the one who bought Barbara based entirely on the kindness he saw in her. He has done what he could to make her time in the palace easy. He has also disposed of the dead centurion that had hired the assassin sent to kill Maximus in the first place. Tavius is the only character who seems to know everything that is going on, both in public and in secret. Again, he is the most interesting character in this story.