The Romans

Region 1

Region 2
VHS Video
(Doctor Who Story No. 12, starring William Hartnell)
  • written by Dennis Spooner
  • directed by Christopher Barry
  • produced by Verity Lambert
  • music by Raymond Jones
  • 4 episodes @ 25 minutes each:
    1. The Slave Traders
    2. All Roads Lead to Rome
    3. Conspiracy
    4. Inferno
Story: After a month of decadent lounging in an abandoned Roman Empire mansion, the Doctor and Vicki decide to enter Rome itself in hopes of meeting Emperor Nero. While they become embroiled in a web of courtly mischief, Ian and Barbara find themselves in a more deadly predicament.... Will the two parties be able to find each other and help each other out in the ensuing comedy of errors?

DVD Extras include:

  • Audio commentary by actors William Russell (Ian Chesterton), Barry Jackson (Ascaris), Nick Evans (Didius),
    director Christopher Barry, designer Raymond Cusick (episode 4 only), and moderator Toby Hadoke.
  • Reality/Fantasy making-of featurette (34 min.) with Russell, Jackson, Barry, Cusick, Kay Patrick (Poppaea), and future writer James Moran.
  • Featurette on writer Dennis Spooner (18 min.)
  • "Roma Parva" featurette (2.5 min.) demonstrating camera blocking and planning using a model of the studio set
  • Featurette on 1960's Doctor Who girls (18 min.) with Carole Ann Ford (Susan), Jean Marsh (Sara Kingdom), Anneke Wills (Polly),
    Deborah Watling (Victoria Waterfield), Honor Blackman (Professor Laskey), plus William Russell, Chris Barry, Peter Purves (Steven),
    Frazer Hines (Jamie), and future script editor Donald Tosh.
  • Pop-up Production Note Subtitles
  • Photo Gallery
  • Blue Peter Roman Banquet (7 min.)
  • bundled with the previous story: "The Rescue"

Buyers' Guide Review

by Martin Izsak

(A more in-depth analysis, containing "SPOILERS" and intended for those who have already seen the program, can be accessed here.)

Christopher Barry remains in the director's chair, and turns out four more of the season's best episode offerings. Yet another Dennis Spooner script weighs in heavily on the humorous side, and why not? It makes great entertainment. Inspired by "Carry On Cleo", was it? Well I happen to like "Carry On Cleo" a lot (it even features a Jon Pertwee cameo), and this story is definitely very different from "Cleo" and original.

Like many fans, I don't typically look forward to the purely historical stories, yet in the show's first two years these seem to be better done in the dramatic sense than their futuristic science fiction counter-parts. This is certainly the case with "The Romans".

Contrary to the novelization's practical abandonment of the Doctor's time-space vehicle, the TARDIS is handled very satisfactorily in this story, and some new insight is gained into its abilities and vulnerabilities - a planet's gravity can affect both the exterior AND THE INTERIOR of the TARDIS. Remember that when "The Curse of Peladon" (story no. 61), "Castrovalva" (story no. 117) and especially "Frontios" (story no. 133) have their turn.

The main characters become involved in the story for all the right reasons, and in a very humorous and unusual way as well. A clever method is used, giving us a few scenes of friendly, humorous banter between the four main characters which not only does an excellent job of introducing them to any casual viewer, but also gives them time and space to relax between adventures and allow them to age at the same rate as the audience. (A lot of stories stretch two days of adventure over six or seven weeks of transmission, and then thrust the main characters immediately into their next two day adventure, which often makes me wonder when the Doctor had time to gain several hundred years of age throughout the show's history.)

Finally, the Doctor and Vicki's curiosity overflows, and exploration is swiftly underway. Good! This is what the show is all about. Where "Planet of Giants" (story no. 9) has the four characters explore as practically one character, all with interchangeable lines, "The Romans" clearly defines four separate characters with a very enjoyable and humorous interaction.

The Doctor and Vicki set themselves a goal for this time-space location: they want to meet Nero. Excellent way to arouse the audience's curiosity and anticipation for the rest of the story as well. Ian and Barbara's involvement is less original, but it is all particularly well done this time around, with humorous twists aplenty, so entertainment value is still high.

Raymond Jones turns in an exceptional score containing a separate well-done track for each of a palette of different moods, but it is a pity that there was only one for suspenseful creeping about, as this one gets a tad overused near the beginning of the story.

The cliffhangers are okay in this story, but nothing too spectacular or memorable.

So, you think the first Doctor is a helpless old man, do you? Always in need of Ian Chesterton, Steven Taylor, or Ben Jackson to do his physical fighting for him, eh? Not so, as this story amply proves the Doctor can still hold his own at this point in his first incarnation, and enjoy himself at it to boot. The directing during this action is very believable as well - indicating a lot of pre-planning and an on-the-mark execution. "The Romans" thus begins to show us a Doctor with heroic traits, embroiling himself in the thick of things, and being able to handle it for once as well. Ian, for all his greater dexterity and physical strength, cannot perform as believably in his fights in this story. You'll never hit your opponent if you continually aim for his sword. Thumbs down. The Doctor is your man of action in this one, and it's about time.

At this point, I'll have to refrain from discussing further details and possible spoilers, which you can enjoy in the In-depth Analysis version of this review after you've seen the story. Suffice it to say that there is plenty for the Doctor to do, as intrigue and mysteries combine with humour to continue to make the tale enjoyable. And the story has a climactic event for its conclusion that satisfies on many levels and fuels healthy character growth.

"The Romans" is a fine wine of a Doctor Who story, to be sipped slowly, savoured, and relished for the fun romp that it is.

This story has become available on DVD and VHS video.
Click on the Amazon symbol for the location nearest you for pricing and availability:

DVD NTSC Region 1
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
in Canada
DVD PAL Region 2
for the U.K.
VHS Video
NTSC A for North America
NTSC B for North America
PAL for the U.K.

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Read the Buyers' Guide Review for the next story: "The Web Planet"

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