Written by Dennis Spooner
Directed by Christopher Barry
All road lead out of Rome in this episode as our heroes attempt to escape Nero’s newly secured palace. Nero also hits upon a plan for urban redevelopment.
“I shall try to make it a roaring success!”
Ah, this episode begins with the Nero I was wanting to see. When Delos refuses to kill Ian in the fight, choosing instead to go for Nero, the centurions rush in to protect their emperor and kill the two combatants. “Now they are fighting for their lives!” shouts Nero with glee. Ian and Delos are forced to escape without Barbara. Nero then decides to use Barbara as bait to lure them back, at which point they will all be killed. He then executes a centurion who “didn’t fight hard enough.” This feels like the Nero I have read about. I think this story finally hit its stride!
Barbara confides in her only ally in the court: Tavius. He agrees to help Barbara escape. Barbara also passes information to Tavius about Nero’s desire to murder Maximus by loosing the lions on him during a performance in the arena.. Tavius takes this information to The Doctor and we have a wonderful twist. It seems that Maximus had planned to assassinate Nero. The Doctor is rather amused at this news.
So, it seems the fire of Rome was inspired by The Doctor. He inadvertently sets fire to Nero’s rebuilding plans, which give the emperor the idea to burn the city, thus forcing the senate to approve his plans. While the inclusion of The Doctor in this scheme is a bit of fun, this particular theory for the fire is one that is bandied about. Granted, this is only a theory. There are conflicting accounts of Nero’s location at the time of the fire, some place him in Rome, other in Antium. And of course, there is no real evidence that Nero played the lyre in costume while the fires burned. All we really know for sure is that about a tenth of the city burned. Within the context of Doctor Who, this does raise some interesting questions. First, Rome burned, which is an established fact. So, did The Doctor inspire the fire or did he change history? I like to think back to The Reign of Terror, where Barbara mentions warning Napoleon of the future. Susan says that time would re-adjust. My thoughts are that Rome burned as it always did, but when The Doctor arrived, history started to shift to take his presence in to account. The fire would always happen, the details are less important so long as they fit. The Doctor now becomes partially responsible, but it would have happened anyway. This brings up questions of fate and free-will, which isn’t really a part of the story. Sadly, this is what happens when analytical minds try to create a coherent meta-narrative for a show that had no such intent and crafted a scene for the sole purpose of humor. Granted, in this regard, perhaps new Who hasn’t wandered too far from its show of origin. In recent months on The Sarah-Jane Adventures, Russell T. Davies wrote a throwaway line for The Doctor regarding the number of regenerations for a Time Lord. This contradicted a line written in the 1970s that addressed the same issue. Fan uproar from certain quarters was quite passionate. But it was a throw-away line, never meant to be taken seriously. The Doctor burning Rome is essentially the same thing. Just laugh at it, and move on.
After a bit of a slow start, I can say that I still enjoyed The Romans. Difficult days at work and fighting a cold have probably hindered my enjoyment somewhat, but this final part was both fun and immensely entertaining. I’m glad for the renewed joy at the episode because the next six, if memory serves, are going to be a bit difficult.