054 – The Slave Traders (The Romans Part 1)

Written by Dennis Spooner
Directed by Christopher Barry

After a few weeks relaxation in a Roman Villa, Ian and Barbara are captured by slavers and The Doctor is mistaken for a famous lyrist.

Drunken Stupor

“You could easily kill someone.  Swords are dangerous, you know.”

There are two things guaranteed to get my attention in history or historical fiction:  Nazis and Romans.  Hence, it is with great enthusiasm that I watch this story.

This story is a bit odd as it starts with the previous cliffhanger in which the TARDIS falls off a cliff.  We skip ahead about a month to find the crew relaxing in a Roman villa.  Ian and Barbara are happy for the relaxation, even The Doctor seems to be enjoying not doing anything.  Vicki, however, is eager for excitement.  She joined The TARDIS crew after the promise of adventure and new sights and now she has become very bored.  Fortunes are about to change, however, as two slavers set their sights upon the time travelers.  Learning that the four men and women are not from Rome and are staying in a villa that is temporarily abandoned, the slavers see their chance to get some choice product.  Ian and Barbara are quickly captured.  The Doctor and Vicki avoid capture because they have left for Rome.  The Doctor is itching to do something, and rather than jump in the TARDIS for the next adventure, he decides to go to Rome with Vicki.  They soon become involved in their own adventure when they discover a murdered lyrist.  As The Doctor ponders the murder, he picks up the lyre and is mistaken for Maximus Pettulian.  Maximus is, of course, the murder victim.  He is also a renowned lyrist who was traveling to Rome to play for Nero.  The Doctor, seeing he will meet the emperor, decides to impersonate Maximus, despite not having any skills on the lyre.  He doesn’t realize that Nero actually wanted Maximus dead in the first place and paid a servant to have him killed.  So basically, The Doctor is walking into the most dangerous place he could go.  Typical.

Having reached the fourth story of this season, it seems that the production crew is now playing with the format.  While The Romans is definitely an historical, it is staged much like a comedy.  There are moments of slap-stick, one scene where The Doctor exits one door and re-enters another, and plenty of instances of verbal jokes.  Indeed, this is probably the most comedic episode to date.  It isn’t uncommon for some shows, when they are known primarily as dramatic or even dark, to have an episode that is out-and-out comedy.  And yet, while The Slave Traders starts out establishing a comedic tone, there are still dark elements.  An old man is brutally murdered.  Ian and Barbara are captured by slavers and split up.  And let’s not forget that Nero is not one of the better emperors of Rome.  Granted, it could be worse.  There’s always Caligula.

All in all, The Slave Traders is a good start to the story.  We have our heroes separated once more and, with Ian and Barbara in particular, the situation seems quite hopeless.  The Doctor is actively encouraging mistaken identity, claiming to have a skill he doesn’t have.  This will set him against the most powerful man in the Roman Empire.  This looks to be a fun story.

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8 thoughts on “054 – The Slave Traders (The Romans Part 1)

  1. I find this story difficult because it keeps switching tone. You have the silly ‘Carry On Cleo’ bits with Nero and the Doctor and you have the really dark stuff with Ian and Barbara being taken as slaves. I don’t think the subplots work well together.

    Why do all Roman films make out Nero to be a buffoon. In real life, he was a pretty smart chap.

    As I understand most slaves were taken in the various wars going on. Was it really that common for people in Roman Italy to be kidnapped and sold as slaves? I would think that a rather risky enterprise.

    Ian and Barbara do an awful lot of fooling around in this story, suggesting to many fans that they must have been up to adult tricks, if not in the TARDIS, at least here at the Roman villa. There is certainly a lot of fan fiction dealing with Ian and Barbara’s relationship. What do you think?

    1. To the best of my knowledge, slaves were primarily taken during wars, so it would be quite dangerous to go after four Britons. If they turned out to be Roman citizens or well connected in Roman society, there could be horrific consequences. Not that the slavers in this story seem to care much about do things legally.

      There are many places where Ian and Barbara seem to have developed a great fondness for one another. I don’t know if they have been up to “adult tricks”, but I think we are witnessing a budding romance. If nothing else, these few weeks of relaxing in the villa would have given them time to reflect upon their experiences in The TARDIS and grow closer in a more relaxed environment. Besides, Ian and Barbara falling in love just feels right. The classic show didn’t always handle romance well, so I want to believe these two fell in love just to say the show got it right at least once.

  2. This episode is probably the closest Ian and Barbara come to making out. I always believed back in London they became involved intimately but the series certainly never points to this. As far as I recall the last mention of them was in the Sarah Jane Adventures where it’s mentioned they are both Professors at Cambridge, but no word about them being married.

    I actually liked this story, and recently watched it myself. It certainly had a comedic feel to it. Loved how the Ian & Barbara / Doctor & Vicki stories always came close to merging, but never did. Well written and enjoyable story if you ask me.

    1. The chemistry between Ian and Barbara continued to grow throughout their time in The TARDIS. I think most fans would believe the two would one day get married. I believe the New Adventures novels said something about the two getting married, but I’m not sure which.

      Thanks for the comment, Jeffrey.

      1. According to the Virgin Missing Adventures, they married and died within days of each other. I consider the Virgin books to be more canonical than the Sarah Jane Adventures.

  3. @Matthew Oh yea. The trouser bit. That was when he was trying to save her wasn’t it? LOL

    As for the Missing Adventures, I’m afraid I’ve not read any of those. Sadly, I have little time for reading lately.

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