055 – All Roads Lead to Rome (The Romans Part 2)

Written by Dennis Spooner
Directed by Christopher Barry

Ian finds himself a slave on a Roman ship.  Barbara is sold to Nero’s wife, and The Doctor must somehow pretend to be a famous lyre player without actually playing the lyre.

Somewhere out there, beneath the pale moonlight....

“I am constantly outwitting the opposition I tend to forget the delights and satisfaction of the arts of fisticuffs.”

The episode starts with a rather entertaining fight sequence.  The assassin tries to kill The Doctor, only to find that The Doctor is a surprisingly good fighter.  Apparently this incarnation of The Doctor also knows Venusian Akido.

One of the strengths of these early stories, a strength that I never realized until watching them in order, is how well-developed Ian and Barbara were as companions.  I think it becomes striking in The Romans due to the comedy aspect of this story.  While I enjoy the show trying something different, I prefer the slave story to the comedic story.  I think this is largely due to the comedic story making some significant changes to history, particularly where Nero is concerned.  What Spooner gets right is Nero’s love of performing on the lyre.  The actual portrayal of Nero does not quite reflect who he was.  Yes, he was self-involved but he wasn’t the idiot this story makes him out to be.  With all the potential of setting a story in Rome, it seems a mild shame that they focused primarily on comedy.

But back to the well-developed characters, one of the clichés of the Hartnell era is that the companions were often split up.  Each character pursued their own story, often involving them trying to get back to The TARDIS.  I don’t mind this format so much because it forces the writers to create strong characters.  If each character must sustain their own sub-plot, then they need to be strong enough to carry it.  Ian and Barbara were.  Susan and Vicki…sadly, not so much.  I think Vicki has a bit more charm than Susan, but she is not strong enough (at this point) to be on her own.  In this story, she is paired with The Doctor, which works rather well for her.

I loved this story when I first watched it.  This time around, it isn’t impressing me as much.  I find myself most interested in watching Ian be the adventuring hero.  The rest of the story, I could do with out.

6 thoughts on “055 – All Roads Lead to Rome (The Romans Part 2)

    1. This is true. It has actually made me wonder how to reconcile the violent tendencies of early incarnations with the “pacifism” of later incarnations. Although, sometimes it seems that pacifism is an ideal The Doctor strives for rather than something he holds to adamantly. Almost similar to someone who tries to give up smoking, but lapses every now and then when things get stressful.

      1. I think you would be hard pressed to find much evidence of pacifism in the First and Second Doctors.

        I think we see a maturing of the Doctor. The big mistake of the first two multi-Doctor stories was the assumption that the First Doctor was older and wiser than the others. That was a complete misunderstanding of the Hartnell Doctor. It seems obvious to me that the First Doctor is a teenager in an old man’s body. He is the least moral, the least responsible and the least mature.

        The Doctor seems to mature in his second incarnation, taking more moral responsiblity, but his default response to a threat is physical violence.

        For some reason, the Third Doctor has a change of values and adopts a pacifistic philosophy. It is possible that his exposure to the carnage of various human wars in The War Games had this impact, but this would be problematic if one believes that The Two Doctors is set in a hypothetical Season 6B (The Second Doctor in the Two Doctors is clearly the gung-ho, death-dealing Second Doctor). If we accept a probationary Season 6B, perhaps this was a time of penance for the Doctor that amended his ways.

        Perhaps being on earth, surrounded by humans that he cared about brought about the Third Doctor’s moral awakening.

        For whatever reason, the Doctor loses this pacifist streak in his fourth incarnation and becomes more prone to violence. His amorality might be linked to his lack of stability and human thought (this regeneration occurred in the TARDIS which might be crucial).

        The Fifth Doctor regenerated on earth among humans, which might explain his more human tendencies, as well as the much greater sense of moral resonsiblity than the Fourth Doctor.

        The trauma of the Fifth regeneration seems to explain why the Sixth Doctor reverts to the imaturity of his first incarnation and his tendency to cowardliness and violence.

        It is suggested in the NAs that the Doctor deliberately arranged his sixth regeneration into the Seventh Doctor in order to achieve a more stable personality.

  1. I love how the Doctor tell’s Nero the wine is poisoned, then simply watches as the servant is given the wine to taste, then dies. True, humorous, but very irresponsible of the Doctor.

  2. @Matthew

    I’m not sure why, but I’ve never really considered the idea of The Doctor maturing along the way. I like this. Viewing the first Doctor as a teenager really seems to work.
    This idea is also brought up in the Companion Chronicle “Here There Be Monsters”, which will go up on Monday.

  3. I don’t know why but your lead picture with Barbara and the lyrics from “An American Tail” is the funniest caption to me so far! Totally makes me laugh!

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