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.
“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.