Doctor Who – The Romans. Episode Three – Conspiracy


Conspiracy opens with another clandestine scene between the Doctor and Tavius.  The obvious joke is that the Doctor still has no idea what Tavius is talking about.  Tavius imparts the following vital information “I haven’t got long, so listen carefully. I’ve managed to get rid of that body and I don’t think anyone suspects. But if you delay your action, it will be safer.”

Every time that Tavius appears he hisses in a most unsubtle manner (in order to catch the Doctor’s attention).  It’s interesting that this bit of business wasn’t present in the script, so presumably Hartnell and Michael Peake worked it out in rehearsals.  Much later, Tom Baker’s willingness to treat the rehearsal script as simply a jumping off point for his own improvisations and suggestions would become legendary, but there’s no doubt that the four days rehearsal each episode was given during this period did allow for a certain leeway which sometimes benefited the story.

This episode sees the farce quotient ramped up another couple of notches as Barbara is presented to Nero’s wife Poppaea (Kay Patrick).  Poppaea’s not terribly impressed with Barbara, no doubt because she’s witnessed Nero’s instant attraction to her.  This wasn’t the first time that Barbara had found herself the object of male lust, although the others – Vasor in The Keys of Marinus and El Akir in The Crusade – weren’t played for laughs like Nero’s pursuit is here.

There’s a level of innuendo in the script for those who want to look for it (for example, Nero tells Barbara to “close your eyes and Nero will give you a big surprise”) and the farce element is at its most obvious as Nero pursues Barbara through the palace (she just avoids bumping into the Doctor or Vicki each time).  That Barbara remains unaware that the Doctor and Vicki are at court (and vice-versa) hardly seems credible – but that’s the whole joke and it’s delightful to see how the actors throw themselves wholeheartedly into the swing of things.

Derek Francis is a joy to behold in these scenes, he plays Nero as a little boy who’s anxious not to be found out.  But his other, more ruthless side, is demonstrated at the end of the episode as he watches Delos and Ian fight as gladiators.  Delos gains the upper hand and Nero has no hesitation in ordering Ian’s head to be cut off.  Whilst this seems at odds with the amiable, befuddled ruler we’ve previously seen, it actually fits in very well – Nero (like most Emperors) had lived so long with the gift of absolute power that he could be either cruel or compassionate, depending on his mood.  That so much power could be in the hands of such an unbalanced individual seems remarkable – but for all the comic stylings of the script, that part of The Romans is probably historically accurate.

Ian’s rather sidelined in this episode.  Locked up with Delos for most of the duration, he faces an uncertain future as a gladiator.  These scenes are most notable for the shots of two gladiators practising – unfortunately the way they fight is so feeble that it’s hard to imagine either would be capable of punching their way out of a paper bag …

Back at court, Vicki confesses to the Doctor that she might have poisoned Nero(!) which leads into another scene which is comic and dark at the same time.  The Doctor warns Nero and he passes his cup to the unfortunate Tigilinus (Brian Proudfoot).  Tigilinus drinks and plummets to the floor, dead.  “He was right” deadpans Nero as he shrugs and moves off.  What’s remarkable is that Vicki nevers seem to realise or indeed care that her actions cost the life of the court poisoner Locusta (Ann Tirard).

It’s finally time for the Doctor to demonstrate his non-existent skills as a lyre player.  “I would like to play my new composition in honour of this occasion. The music is so soft, so delicate, that only those with keen perceptive hearing, will be able to distinguish this melodious charm of music.”  Delightfully, he then proceed to play not a single note aloud, but since nobody wishes to admit that they lack the perceptive hearing required, everybody (including Nero) pretend to be entranced.  “He’s all right, but he’s not all that good” mutters Nero testily.  Brilliant!

Doctor Who – The Romans. Episode Two – All Roads Lead To Rome

Although the main plot of The Romans is straightforward enough, the various palace intrigues which bubble below the surface are slightly more opaque.  At the start of this episode it’s confirmed that the Centurion we met in the previous episode wanted Maximus Pettulian dead and he’d commissioned a mute assassin called Ascaris (Barry Jackson) to do the deed.  The joke being of course that Ascaris is unable to tell him that he’s already killed Pettulian once!

So he has to kill him again (in the shape of the Doctor) but the Doctor offers more evidence that he’s handy in a scrap.  The fight scene between Ascaris and the Doctor is a comic highlight of the episode and although it was designed to put as little stress onto Hartnell’s shoulders as possible, it still works very well.  When Vicki enters the room, Ascaris has clearly had enough and heads for the nearest window.  The Doctor’s rather disgruntled.  “Young lady, why did you have to come in and interrupt? Just as I’d got him all softened up and ready for the old one, two.”  Lovely stuff.

And what of Ian and Barbara?  Ian’s been sold as a galley-slave and quickly strikes up a friendship with Delos (Peter Diamond).  Although Diamond was a bit-part actor, he spent most of his time working as a stuntman/arranger (amongst his numerous film credits was the first Star Wars movie).  Delos performs much the same function as Larry did in The Dalek Invasion of Earth – he’s someone for Ian to talk to as he searches for the others.  Diamond’s a solid presence though and manages to be something more than just a line-feed.

Barbara’s landed on her feet as she’s been bought by Tavius (Michael Peake) and brought to the court of Caesar Nero.  Tavius is an interesting character – he’s someone who has an agenda of his own (which is connected to Maximus Pettulian) although his ultimate aims remain nebulous for a while.  And is he Barbara’s friend or foe?  Peake had an imposing physical presence and would clearly have found no difficulty playing the heavy, but we’ll see that there’s more to Tavius than meets the eye.

Nero (Derek Francis) makes an impressive entrance (he belches loudly).  “Royal felicitations” murmurs the Doctor.  Amongst a host of sparkling performances, Francis’ is the jewel in the crown and his byplay with Hartnell is delightful.  From their first meeting, the running gag of Maximus Pettulian’s skill (and the Doctor’s total lack of skill) as a lyre player is established.  Nero is keen to hear Pettulian play, but the Doctor manages to cleverly sidestep this potentially awkward moment by asking Nero to go first.  Another nice comic moment occurs when Nero calls for a stool – the Doctor begins to sit down on it, but it quickly becomes clear that Nero wanted it to balance his leg upon, causing the Doctor to rise again with a disgruntled expression!

Doctor Who – The Romans. Episode One – The Slave Traders

The literal cliffhanger from the previous episode (which saw a lovely model TARDIS falling down a ravine) is negated here in the most offhand way – although this very much fits in with the tone of the episode.  We open on a close-up of Ian, apparently unconscious, but it then becomes clear that he’s simply closed his eyes for a moment – he’s relaxing on a couch and is decadently maneuvering a whole bunch of grapes towards his mouth.

The Doctor has shamelessly moved into a villa on the outskirts on Imperial Rome (luckily for them, the owners are away).  It’s clear they’ve spent a few months here, doing nothing but overindulging in both food and drink (quite where all this comes from is a mystery that’s never solved – either the unfortunate householder had an extensive larder and wine-cellar which they’ve ruthlessly plundered or the Doctor has a large supply of Roman currency aboard the TARDIS).

Although Ian and Barbara are enjoying this unexpected lull, Vicki is bored. Vicki’s written here as rather more childlike than she’d later become – for example, she’s so keen to get to the market she tugs Barbara along and later reacts with glee when the Doctor agrees to take her to Rome – but as she’s such a novice time-traveller, that’s reasonable enough.

As for the Doctor, he also seems to be tiring of this inactive life and, with Vicki in tow, heads for Rome.  The Romans was Doctor Who‘s first overtly comic script and it’s clear that Hartnell’s in his element.  It would have been a story that demanded even more concentration from him than usual – the interplay between characters only works if the dialogue is delivered accurately (something that he sometimes had trouble with) but there’s no real problems in this episode.

After the Doctor and Vicki depart for Rome, Ian and Barbara remain behind at the villa.  William Russell has the chance to essay a few lines of Julius Caesar and narcissistically preen at his appearance, whilst Barbara is able to get in a few decent gags (like asking him to get some ice from the non-existent fridge).  As per the rest of the episode this chugs along comedically but events soon take a darker turn.

Two slave-traders, Sevcheria (Derek Francis) and Didius (Nicholas Evans), capture Ian and Barbara and intend to make a healthy profit out of them.  The fight scene is a comic one – Barbara accidentally knocks out Ian, rather than Sevcheria – but after that the reality of their situation hits home.  Chained up together, then separated, Ian and Barbara face an uncertain future.

Meanwhile the Doctor and Vicki find a murdered man in the bushes at the side of the road leading to Rome.  It clearly wasn’t robbery as his lyre wasn’t taken, so it remains a mystery (for a while at least) what the motive could have been.  The man was Maximus Pettulian from Corinth, whose skill as a musician was talked about even in Rome.  As luck would have it, he bore a certain resemblance to the Doctor and so the Doctor decides to assume his identity – since Pettulian was en-route to play for Nero, it’s a golden opportunity to meet the emperor.

Amongst the many nice little touches peppered throughout this episode, watch for the look between Hartnell and O’Brien after the Doctor confides to the Centurion (who’s appeared to escort Pettulian to Rome) that Vicki “keeps her eye on all the lyres”!

Until Nero appears in episode two the story never quite kicks into first gear, but there’s still plenty to enjoy in The Slave Traders.

Doctor Who – The Rescue. Episode Two – Desperate Measures

The Rescue was the first story of Doctor Who‘s second production block, but it was touch and go for a while as to whether the series would continue after The Dalek Invasion of Earth.  During the last twenty years or so a considerable amount of information has come to light concerning the lengthy birth pains of the series – most of which flatly contradicts the accepted view of Doctor Who‘s history which had formed during the 1970’s and 1980’s.

Back then it was generally believed that the success of the second serial, featuring the Daleks, had secured the series’ future, but the truth was rather more complicated.  To begin with, Verity Lambert was only offered a four week extension after DIOE.  She countered that if that was all that was on offer they might as well just go ahead and cancel the series.  Lambert wanted a firm commitment for thirteen weeks with an option for another thirteen.  This was eventually agreed and Doctor Who‘s future was further strengthened when Hartnell’s agent insisted on a confirmed twenty six weeks before his client would re-sign.  The BBC agreed again and so planning for series two could begin in earnest.

The most pressing requirement was for a story to introduce the new companion and that was The Rescue‘s main function.  There was also a minor mystery to be solved (Bennett = Koquillion and it’s revealed that he’d murdered all the inhabitants of the spaceship – including Vicki’s father – in order to escape justice) but Maureen O’Brien is the focus of the story.

In episode two we see some further examples of Vicki’s hysterics – especially when Barbara kills Sandy the Sand Beast.  Vicki’s penchant for giving things pet names was retained, although it’s just as well that her hysterical outbursts weren’t (Vicki certainly spends less time collapsing at the drop of a hat than Susan did).  Her anger with Barbara for killing Sandy allows her character to be developed a little further – Vicki’s extreme emotions demonstrate that she’s been isolated from human contact (apart from the surly Bennett) for too long.  It takes the gentle words of the Doctor (a lovely scene from Hartnell) to start to break down these self imposed barriers.

Although the focus of the story is on Vicki, the Doctor has a key scene as he confronts the mass-murderer Bennett.  It’s another opportunity to see an aggressive Doctor – although his fight with Bennett is naturally brief (and could be said to be motivated by self-defence, as it seems obvious that Bennett intends to murder the Doctor in order to preserve his secret).

Given the short running time, The Rescue is obviously not the most complex of stories, but the fact that there’s only five speaking parts means that each character has a decent amount of screen time.  Vicki and the Doctor come off best, although Ian and Barbara also enjoy some entertaining scenes (Ian gets to tussle with the unconvincing spikes of death whilst Barbara gets a little gung-ho with Sandy) and Ray Barrett is imposing in his duel role.

Doctor Who – The Rescue. Episode One – The Powerful Enemy

Following the epic nature of the previous serial, The Rescue is a much lower-key story.  The brief running time (two episodes) is one of the reasons why – a fifty minute slot doesn’t allow time to develop a particularly complex story.   But that doesn’t really matter as it mainly exists to introduce the new companion,  Vicki (Maureen O’Brien).

The initial shot of the model spaceship is impressive (even if it does look a little too much like a model).  We then get our first glimpse of Vicki – a young, eager and somewhat naive girl.  O’Brien would tone down this characterisation once she settled into the role, but based on what we see during this episode it does seem strange that the production team had decided to replace Susan with a character who’s so similar.

The moment when the Doctor asks Susan to open the TARDIS doors before remembering that they left her behind on Earth is a touching one, as is the way that Ian and Barbara rally round to subtly support and comfort him.  There’s also a lovely comedic feel to this opening TARDIS scene.  Barbara, referring to the ship, tells the Doctor that the trembling’s stopped and the Doctor, completely misunderstanding, pats her cheek and tells her he’s glad she’s feeling better!

Vicki and Bennett (Ray Barrett) are the only survivors from a crashed ship.  They live in fear from a mysterious creature called Koquillion.

Director Christopher Barry uses a similar inlay shot here to one he used in The Dead Planet.  Ian and Barbara look down from the caves and see the crashed ship in the valley below.  Although it’s a basic effect, it works very well.

Barbara meets Vicki.

BARBARA: Tell me more about this Koquillion .

VICKI: He just keeps us here, Bennett and me. There’s a rescue ship on the way. He doesn’t know about that. But he’ll find out. I know he will.

BARBARA: But why does he keep you here?

VICKI: They…they killed all the crew. We…when we landed we, we made contact here. Everyone on board was invited to a grand sort of meeting. I couldn’t go, I was ill, a fever or something. I stayed here that night. I remember waking up, a thunderstorm I thought, but is was an explosion. Bennett…Bennett…dragged himself back. I was ill for days, I didn’t know about it ‘til later. I came around and…found Bennett. He can’t walk.

There scenes almost play out as an audition piece for O’Brien.  It’s fairly overwrought stuff, but she handles it pretty well.

The Rescue is the first time we see the Doctor land on a planet that he’s visited before.  Last time he was here he was struck by the friendliness of the locals, so the bloodthirsty antics of Koquillion baffles him.

There’s a literal cliffhanger as the Doctor and Ian are trapped by some highly unconvincing metal spikes which emerge from the rockface.  It’s all good b-movie stuff.

Doctor Who – The Dalek Invasion of Earth. Episode Six – Flashpoint

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Flashpoint is an episode of two halves – the Daleks are defeated and the Doctor bids farewell to Susan.

After five episodes (and countless unseen years prior to the events of World’s End) it’s undeniable that the Daleks are dealt with rather quickly.  But the major niggle I have is how the destruction of the mine is assumed to signify the end of the Daleks’ rule.  This was an invasion of Earth, remember, nor just Britain.  So are there no Daleks in any other country?

It’s hard to be too critical of Nation though, since this would be a problem the series would encounter again and again over the years.  Subsequent invaders, be they Cybermen, Autons, etc would (for all their meticulous planning and strength in numbers) always have to be vanquished totally just before the end of the final episode.

When done badly it can feel like the Doctor’s simply flicked a switch to turn the story off.  Perhaps DIOE would have felt more satisfying had the Doctor left Earth with the humans holding the upper hand but still facing a long struggle to completely irradiate the Dalek menace.  But due to the way that stories tended to be neatly wrapped up by the concluding episode it’s not a surprise this option wasn’t taken.

There are a few bright spots during the first half though.  I love Barbara’s attempt to bamboozle the Black Dalek with news of a non-existent rebellion led by numerous famous figures from history!  She’s been rather sidelined during the last few episodes, so this was a nice moment.

A realistic touch is how shabby Ian’s clothes have become.  We’ve seen this before, An Unearthly Child for example, but it’s not something that would happen very often – later Doctors and companions would tend to look spotless, irrespective of the traumas they’d been through.

The Doctor’s in a proactive mood which is best demonstrated when he penetrates Dalek control.  His stand-off with a Dalek – seen from the eye-stalk of the metal meanie – is an impressive directorial flourish.  Hartnell, clutching his lapels, strikes a typically iconic pose.

The Dalek voices are rather inconsistent throughout the serial – at times it sounds like there’s little ring modulation used at all.  Most bizarrely, several times in this episode we hear Dalek voices over the tannoy and they sound for all the world like Peter Hawkins and David Graham have simply clamped a hand over their mouths!

The destruction of the mine is shown via stock footage, which is as convincing as stock footage usually is.  But the shot of Jenny, Tyler and the Doctor looking down on the devastation does almost makes up for this.  Both Ann Davies and Bernard Kay are immobile and expressionless as Jenny and Tyler begin to process the news that the war is over.  The joy of victory can come later, for now there’s just a weariness as they reflect how many lives have been lost over the years.

This still leaves ten minutes, which is a generous chunk of time to devote to Susan’s departure.  It’s interesting that neither Susan or David featured in the attack on the Dalek mine (was this an intentional sidelining of Susan?).  Given Ford’s unhappiness with the way Susan had been underused since the start of the series it’s ironic she wasn’t given a chance to shine against the Daleks in her last episode.

But at least she’s given a decent send-off (something that several future companions will be denied).  Grubby and tear-stained, we come to see that Susan loves David but can’t bear the thought of leaving her grandfather.  So the Doctor makes the decision for her and locks her out of the TARDIS.  Hartnell’s close relationship with Ford was well known (he’d come to look on her almost as his real granddaughter) and it’s plain that Hartnell, just as much as the Doctor, feels the pain of their separation.  Fifty plus years later it’s still touching stuff.

One day I shall come back. Yes I shall come back. Until then there must be no regrets, no tears, no anxieties.  Just go forward in all your beliefs and prove to me that I’m not mistaken in mine.

Doctor Who – The Dalek Invasion of Earth. Episode Five – The Waking Ally


We see a little more of the Slyther at the start of The Waking Ally, but not for long as Ian bashes it with a rock and sends it plummeting to its death down the mineshaft.  As it falls, it makes a rather pitiful cry.  Am I the only one to have a tinge of regret at the Slyther’s passing?

After spending the early episodes as exterminating baddies, the Daleks we see at the mines are slightly less exciting.  They come across as a group of middle-managers, worrying about work parties and the like.  It’s interesting that eight years later, in Day of the Daleks, they’re very similar.  Had Day been written by Nation it would have been an obvious retread, but that one was scripted by Louis Marks.  Possibly Marks had been influenced by these episodes or maybe he was just drawing on a similar theme.  After all, you can only exterminate so many people – if you kill them all then you’ll have no labour force left to carry out your nefarious plans.

Hartnell’s back and he’s in fine form – we see the Doctor give one of the Robomen a damn good thrashing.  For those who believe the Doctor is a pacifist it might be somewhat unexpected, but in reality he’s never been averse to using force.  It’s rarer that he actually gets physical (unless he’s being played by Jon Pertwee) but there’s countless occasions when the Doctor is shown to be quite happy to wipe out large numbers of whoever he considers to be the enemy that week.

Barbara and Jenny, whilst looking for shelter, find a tumbledown house in the middle of the woods.  The original plan had been for the house to contain three old women who would have resembled the witches from Macbeth (was it budget problems that ensured only two made it to screen?!)

One of the women reacts with polite pity to the news that London is no more.  “Destroyed? Well I never. Oh, when I went it was beautiful. There was the moving pavements and the shops and the astronaut fair.”  This sort of world-building via dialogue would later be a hallmark of Robert Holmes and although Nation’s brief effort is somewhat cruder it does give us a brief glimpse of 22nd Century life.  The women betray Barbara and Jenny to the Daleks.  In Nation’s first draft, one of them tells Barbara that “we’re old, child. Times are difficult. There’s only one law now – survive.”

Larry injures himself after he and Ian reach the bottom of the mine.  This is a sure sign that he won’t be around much longer, which is a shame as I’ve enjoyed Graham Rigby’s performance.  He manages to deliver lines like “who knows what the Daleks are up to? I told you what my brother Phil said – all they want is the magnetic core of Earth” with aplomb.  I like the contradiction inherent in this statement – who knows what they want? Oh, it’s the magnetic core of Earth that they want …

His death is so bleak.  He finds his brother, but discovers that he’s been turned into a Roboman.  Larry’s efforts to find some spark of humanity still remaining in his sibling (“Phil…it’s Larry, your brother Larry. Think Phil! Remember me! Angela…Your wife, Angela! I’ll take you to her”) comes to nothing and Robo Phil kills him.  As Larry dies, so does Robo Phil and the final (unscripted) recognition of Larry by Robo Phil just before he draws his final breath simply adds another level of tragedy to this scene.

How does the Doctor work out that the Daleks’ mine-works in Bedfordshire are the centre of their operations?  For all we know there could be similar Dalek mines dotted all around the globe.  The others ask the Doctor what the Daleks’ intention could be. He’s not sure, but the cat’s already been let out of the bag by Larry – his assertion that the Daleks are keen to extract the Earth’s core turns out to be 100% accurate. Perhaps it would have been better to snip this earlier line out, that way the mystery would have lasted a little longer.

Later on, the Black Dalek helpfully explains exactly what their ultimate plan is via the intercom. “This is the Supreme Controller. Our mission to Earth is nearly completed. We were sent here to remove the core of this planet. Once the core is removed, we can replace it with a power system that will enable us to pilot the planet anywhere in the universe.”  This is breathtakingly bonkers.

The scene with the Black Dalek is a good example of the chaos that can occur when you choose to pre-record Dalek dialogue. This didn’t happen that often – probably for the reasons you see here.  Mid-way through the scene, the cues begin to go hopelessly out of sync which gives us a bizarre moment when three Daleks are all taking at once and making very little sense!