Friday, September 6, 2013

The Romans - "You know, I am so constantly outwitting the opposition, I tend to forget the delights and satisfaction of ... the gentle art of fisticuffs."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - The Romans - Details

Season 2, Story 4 (Overall Series Story #12) | Previous - Next | Index

Coach of the Montana Mauler in action via Doctor Who GIFs
Pertwee's Doctor wasn't the only one with some hand-to-hand combat skill.
Watching "Aliens of London / World War Three" with a 7-year-old seemed to have a positive effect on the overall enjoyment factor of watching a story I didn't rave about when it was new; so, being skeptical that "The Romans" has much going for it based on what I've read, I'm enlisting the kiddos to watch this one with their Dear Old Dad to see if it has goofy charms that will elicit some laughter.

And, well, not so much. The Doctor, Vicki, and Barbara's part of the story owes as much to the stage production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (which hadn't yet been made into a movie) as it does to actual history, though the bawdiness was toned down for the family tea-time viewership. Not completely though. Nero's pursuit of Barbara seems to delight in the same sexist creepery, but there's only a mild level of attempted sexual assault and the murders are bloodless, even played for laughs so it's all still within our tolerances for family viewing. Well, if we have Addams Family viewing habits, I suppose. Occasionally the humor worked, probably more for me than for the kids, though they got a few chuckles out of it.

Nero has a new favorite slave in Barbara.
Ian, on the other hand, is in a story more like Ben Hur; he makes a buddy on a slave galley and, after their ship is wrecked in a storm, they make their way to Rome where they eventually end up gladiators fighting for Nero. The special effects were game effort, but never did a storm look so much like people having buckets of water tossed at them, and you could be forgiven for thinking the arena looked about the size of a living room. Still, we make allowances.

Vicki is charming and, if we're blunt, a vast improvement over Susan. Barbara and Ian have some charming moments in this one. And, of course, Barbara is kidnapped and stalwart Ian is doggedly heroic in going to rescue her.

Nero's casual cruelty, Barbara's enslavement, the stabbings and poisonings don't quite ruin this one ... but, there were two moments where this had me grinding my teeth. There's a cross-stroking scene where the kind conspirator, Tavius, who hired the man the Doctor ended up impersonating to come to Rome to kill Caesar Nero, fingers his Christian jewelry as he watches Ian and Barbara escaping. Yes, yes, the good Christian saves the day. One imagines the intent was to have kids doing an arts and crafts project about the wicked pagans and the noble Christians of 1st century Rome in Sunday School the day after the conclusion of the story was broadcast. Gack.

Worse still was the Doctor's self-satisfied cackling as he watched Rome burn and took delight in Vicki wanting him to get credit for inspiring Nero to have it done. How many people died and how many more lost their homes in the Great Fire? Hundreds? Thousands? In any event, more than zero on both counts. You have to forget the history, not easy since you're watching a historical, and imagine the Great Fire of Rome in the Doctor Who universe was a harmless conflagration in order to not find the Doctor a repellent sociopath in that scene.

Look at those Romans burning alive. It's lovely that I had a part in that, isn't it, my child? Hmm?

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