Tuesday, 14 April 2009

The Romans - April 2009: Week 12


  1. The Romans is one of those stories that I have never been able to work out if I like or not. I mean, a purely historical serial made as a comedy isn't what I think of as Doctor Who and there are many vagaries within the stories writing, acting and realisation. And yet....

    So what's good. Well, for a start, Hartnell is simply magnificent. Annoyed by the torpor of Ian and Barbara at the start, intrigued by the body on the road, indulging in fisticuffs with the mute assassin, sparring verbally with Nero and outwitting everybody and all this done not only with ease but relish. It makes you realise how underrated the First Doctor is in these modern times when we put together our favourite Doctor lists and how important to the early success of the show he was. What a guy!

    Maureen O'Brien as Vicki is much improved compared to her debut. She is a much more fun character than the intense (some have said neurotic) Susan and she has a marvellous time with The Doctor here and gives a lovely, relaxed performance.

    Ian and Barbara fare less well for me in this one I'm afraid. They are their usual excellent selves in the early scenes (which feel like something's happened between them or is it just me) and the more dramatic moments but are quite poor at the comedy. Compare the struggle when they are taken by the slave traders with The Doctor excellently trouncing the hired killer and it comes across as quite am-dram, culminating in the vase crashing on Ians' head.

    So our heroes reach Rome in two separate groups of two, and their paths never cross. Lovely touch that, I thought. Nero takes a fancy to Barbara (who wouldn't) which leads to some comedy lecherous chasing about which again doesn't work for me I'm afraid and at times makes Nero look like a bumbling idiot. Which is a shame because I like the darker, cleverer Nero of the Doctors storyline. Derek Francis is great when planning the performance in the circus and making Tigilinus drink the poisoned chalice.

    A word also for Michael Peake as Tavius. Creepy at first, you gradually come to see him as a good man trying to remove a tyrant. And when I first saw The Romans I was genuinely surprised when he was revealed to be an early christian. But again, the performance varies from sometimes subtle to terribly hammy in places.

    So I still don't know what to make of this. I don't think I've seen another story in the shows history that wanders so much in quality. There is much to enjoy but it is wildly inconsistent and occasionally annoying eg. those buckets of water being thrown during the galley sequence. I'll be fascinated to read you guys reactions. From me, a slightly confused 4/10

  2. It felt to me like this story never really settled down and decided what it wanted to be. It had assassinations and poisonings crossed with very broadly-played comedy.

    (I say comedy because it was played in the style of a farce, with people just missing each other and wildly mugging, not because it was actually funny.)

    And the first episode was slooooooooooooooooow. Ouch.

    Still, Vicki seems to be settling in now, teasing and manipulating the Doctor in a way Susan never did. And Ian certainly seems to have picked up a move or two since he started travelling in the Tardis, as he now manages to hold his own quite comfortably in a swordfight.

    Meanwhile Barbara's descent into stupidity continues as she manages to crack a vase over Ian's head instead of the bad guys. Oops! Silly old Barbara... Still, I'm sure they'll be able to laugh about it eventually.

    An overall grade of meh from me, I'm afraid. Passed the time well enough, but I'm not sure that I could actually recommend it to anyone else.

  3. Without sounding like a broken record, I have to once again say that this is not Doctor Who for me.
    I'm sure there are those who will point to the humor and the historical accuracy etc etc, but for me it's just not why I love the show.
    It all feels like I'm watching a light farce, with bits of drama thrown in for good measure.

    So, I think I'd rather pass on an in depth review of this one, as I suspect it will be me clutching at trying to find positives in a style of story that simply isn't my cup of tea.
    I'd file under Reign Of Terror, and offer a 3/10. mostly, for no reason other than I did manage to sit through it.

  4. Dennis Spooner follows up his tour of revolutionary France with a visit to Ancient Rome. Like The Reign of Terror, The Romans treads a line between broad humour and harsh violence. More remarkable is the way that the Tardis team, being split up, have adventures that never intersect, leading to some splendidly farcical “just missed ‘em” moments. I wonder if this story is a favourite with Mr Moffat?

    The Romans is clever, witty and edgy. It affords Hartnell a chance to revel in some full on comedy, particularly with Derek Francis as Nero, while Ian and Babs get to go on grim adventures as slaves and captives.
    Vicki meanwhile continues to be a dynamic addition to the team and a great foil for the Doctor, who has become quite the adventuring hero in the last few stories.

    Ian and Barbara seem a bit full on at the beginning. Did we come into that scene TOO late..?!

    Spare a thought for poor Vicki. After spending who knows how long being bored on Planet Dido, she’s now bored in Rome.

    We’re forced to reconsider the relationship between the interior and exterior of the Tardis. Well OK, not forced actually but we can if we’re the sort of person who likes to think about these things. Ahem. I’ve always accepted that the exterior is a bridge to another location/dimension (so in fact it isn’t bigger on the inside at all – there’s nothing on the inside!). This idea is sometimes challenged by events onscreen, and I think this is the first time. Why should travellers inside a Tardis be buffeted about by the rocking of the exterior? They aren’t literally inside the blue box, or are they? In normal flight the Tardis spins around on every axis without loosening any teeth so why should it matter if it falls off a cliff? Not that I mind, I love it when the old girl takes a tumble.

    Anyways... I’m a fan of The Romans (eek – I’m on my own here!). I think it’s an early example of the show flexing it’s muscles and realising it can be whatever it wants; this week comedy, next week edutainment drama, the week after that sf. Doctor Who is unique as it’s not just the settings that are different with each story. The whole style of the show can change. Isn’t that part of the reason we love it so much?

    Better than – Marco Polo

    Not as good as – The Aztecs