DOCTOR WHO Pure Historical's - THE ROMANS

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Christopher Morley continues his look back at the 'pure historical' stories from Doctor Who, and this time we're off to Rome.


We come now to the Doctor's first visit to Ancient Rome- he'll be back in ten incarnations' time for The Fires Of Pompeii - but here the First's focus is most definitely on arguably the greatest empire known to man. The Egyptians might argue the toss, but retrospectively we've had only a series of brief glimpses of the land of the Pharaohs- the Osirians having shaped its culture according to Pyramids Of Mars, the First himself interrupting the construction of one of the great pyramids while pursued by the Monk & the Daleks as part of The DaleksMaster Plan & the Eleventh Doctor saving the great Queen Nefertiti from weapons-bearing locusts as an introduction to Dinosaurs On A Spaceship. Oh, and there's the small matter of River Song impersonating Cleopatra in The Pandorica Opens.

Here, though, the focus is on the Emperor Nero. The First, Barbara, Ian & new arrival Vicki Pallister (The Rescue) are enjoying the fruits of an all too rare holiday from the pressures of time travel after 'Sexy' materialises atop a cliff, promptly crashing to the ground (the lead-up to which, as with many smaller events established in this episode, is detailed in the short story Romans Cutaway, from the More Short Trips literary anthology). 

They've chosen Rome in AD 64 as an agreeable destination, looking after the villa of one Flavius Giscard - who's off on a military campaign in Gaul (modern day France) presumably under the command of one Julius Caesar. Traipsing off to the market with Barbara, the two ladies are watched by slave traders Didius & Sevcheria...this can't possibly end well.


Meanwhile Maximus Pettulian, a lyre player scheduled to perform for the Emperor (as well as plot to kill him) is assassinated. Back at the villa, the Doctor's friends badger him as to whether or not they should check on the TARDIS (which has most likely been parked somewhere nearby). Assuring them that all will be well, he's perhaps sensed Vicki's yearning to get out & explore - he allows her to accompany him into Rome while Ian & Barbara stay on at the villa, Ms Wright's offer to join them snubbed with the First telling her he doesn't need a nurse. Charming!

All of which leaves the place open to a surprise attack - & boy, do the two slave-drivers deliver. Breaking in when Chesterton & his lady friend are at their most relaxed, they take advantage when she shows how much she loves him by accidentally whacking him with a jug while aiming for Sevcheria. Unsurprisingly this results in capture for both. Things aren't exactly dull for the Doctor & Vicki, either. They've found Pettulian's body..& with the Doctor having picked up the poor chap's lyre, he's accosted by a centurion. Turns out he's on the lookout for the musician on Nero's behalf, an easier task than grammatically correcting 'Romans Go Home' graffiti, for sure.

Gagging to meet the Emperor, the Time Lord promptly pretends he's Maximus despite not previously demonstrating even the tiniest jot of musical ability - something he'll have to deal with a bit later on, hmm? Ian is quickly bought as a slave & separated from Barbara – leaving her all alone. If he's not careful the Doctor might struggle to live much longer (getting himself out of the ' no discernible musical talent' pickle at least) as an assassin waits to snuff him out while he sleeps, no doubt dreaming of Cameca - that saucy minx.


Ably fighting off the intended killer with a little help from his friend, they start to solve the developing puzzle. Deciding to make their way to meet Nero themselves, they've no clue that poor Barbara's currently languishing in prison waiting for someone to snap her up at auction while Ian is an oarsman on a slave ship.

He's at least made a friend, though - a man by the name of Delos. Their initial escape attempt flounders - just when it looks like Barbara might be bought. Tavius is a representative of the Emperor, & quickly moves to secure her services at auction (the sight of such a spectacle deemed too much for Vicki by the Doctor, both unknowingly missing the chance to save her).

The Doctor finally gets his meeting with Nero- the Emperor insisting he must play at a banquet organised in his honour. Trying to remember the exact tricks Jimi Hendrix had taught him during a guitar lesson back in the then-present days of the Swinging Sixties - playing with his teeth, behind his back, while the instrument's on fire etc - he buys some time by asking his host to play first, a chance he seizes upon. 

Watching closely, he then copies Nero note for note. Clearly nothing Hendrix taught him has stuck in his memory! Perhaps mercifully for him the Emperor doesn't really notice- with Barbara now among his slaves, its all gone a bit Carry On, He wants her bad - despite the small matter of already being married to the Empress Poppea. 


She quickly warns Babs off trying any funny business, though its already quite clear she's not remotely interested in stealing her husband.

Vicki's managed to befriend a new chum, too - Locusta, the court poisoner. She's pretty sure that one day soon she'll be asked to 'do in' her imperial employer - who the Doctor's taken off to a sauna in the hope he'll actually be able to work out what's really going on all of a sudden. 

One of Vicki's chats with her new buddy is quickly cut short by the Empress, who wants a certain slave girl poisoned..working out who it is, Ms Pallister ingeniously switches the wine goblets so that it'll be Nero who shuffles off this mortal coil. Telling the Doctor of her brilliant scheme, he's horrified!

Still taking the 'you can't rewrite history' line, he quickly makes sure Nero doesn't have a drink after another slave's given he & the reluctant object of his affections some wine. His wife's furious at the failure of her plan to give her husband the ultimate lesson in marital fidelity & sends Locusta off to jail, thinking it her fault that everything went belly-up.


At the banquet that evening ' Pettulian' is once again called upon to show everyone how brilliant he is at playing his lyre - which he does, only by explaining that his music is so well-crafted only the highest-attuned ears can actually hear it (covering up the fact that he's forgotten the chords to Purple Haze).

Amazingly everyone buys that outrageous lie & pretends to be able to hear him pretending to play. Which makes Nero jealous all of a sudden- maybe he's forgotten that he's Emperor? Taking Barbara with him, they're off to see a gladiatorial scrap, with Ian & Delos as opponents - after being thrown in jail they're selected to fight in perhaps the hardest arena of all, the legendary Coliseum. Chesterton eventually manages to disarm his opponent but honourably refuses to kill him...

Commendable but seemingly quickly proved a stupid decision when the tables are turned. With sword ready to lop off Ian's head, Delos for some reason (compassion?) changes his mind & instead goes for the watching Emperor. 

The two friends fight off the attentions of the Praetorian Guard - Ian telling Barbara that he'll be back for her during a brief reunion. Nero hears them, though, & hits on the bright idea of using her as collateral in a bid to recapture her beloved & his pal, who've probably failed their audition for further pugilistic training by now.


In the confines of the imperial palace, Poppea is busy ordering the luckless Tavius to 'sack' Barbara. Learning that Ian's intending on coming for her anyway he promises to help find a way to smuggle him in as well as doing what he can to stop 'Pettulian' from meeting a nasty death. The Doctor & Vicki make something of a shocking discovery, too - Nero's planning to build a new empire!

But how to get rid of the existing version? The First by unhappy accident gives him the perfect idea- burn it down. Initially absolutely fuming at this, the Emperor quickly becomes convinced of its brilliance & resolves to bring everything down with a healthy dose of fire. 

A group of men, including Ian & Delos (who join them merely to sneak past the guards) are told they'll be paid well to have a little flaming fun. Tavius quickly reunites Ian with Barbara & by now our awesome foursome are legging it in their original pairings back to the villa. It might be too late, though, as the Doctor & Vicki see the first flames....


Its at this point that the Doctor begins to realise his time-travelling might just be starting to have an effect on Earth's history. His pondering probably slows them up, as Ian & Barbara make it back first & change into something approaching their normal clothes - the grump from Gallifrey presuming the other two have just been lazy while all this has been going on.

Putting together the stories of their individual adventures in Rome, course is set for the next TARDIS stopover- The Web Planet. During the journey the Doctor might approach Chesterton with regard to a band he's considering putting together - can the science teacher play drums or bass alongside his host on lead guitar, hmm?

Previous Pure Historicals

The Reign Of Terror
Warped Factor
Words in the key of geek!