So we all settled down to watch The Romans at the end of our “Hartnell appreciation days”.
How did it go down on the forum?
It got a very positive review from everyone, an interesting story split into two parts. It proved the strength of having such a large TARDIS team as well.
The story was set just before Nero burnt down Rome, the TARDIS tumbles off a cliff and the TARDIS crew take a holiday in Rome. Well not quite in Rome… The Doctor and Vicki get split up from Ian and Barbara and all of them have a quite different adventure.
Whilst The Doctor and Vicki have it pretty easy, pretending to be would-be assassins (without knowing) and a world class lyre player. Their adventure is quite light hearted and fun.
On the other side of the coin Ian and Barbara are taken captives, Ian is to be a Gladiator and Barbara ends up as Nero’s wife’s slave. In a fit of coincidence the two of them are reunited before being able to escape Nero’s plans on murdering the both.
The two stories are very different, the darker story of Ian and Barbara is quite nicely combined with the much lighter Doctor’s story. The two balance each other out so that the story didn’t become too dark or too light. Not only that it gave the story much more time to show the two sides of ancient Rome. The slaves/Gladiators vs the royalty and upper classes. The way Nero acts to each character speaks a million words more then anything else. The four different stories are interesting to follow and the story ends up turning into something quite wonderful.
The biggest enjoyment of the whole episode was the relationship between Ian and Barbara, it is nice to have two people just be friends, they made the story and worked wonderful as companions. They didn’t just follow the Doctors every word and they both managed to get out of their predicament without anyone else having to save them. Their stories are two that are told everywhere, the Roman slaves and Gladiators but it wasn’t downplayed, OK it made light of and didn’t go into depth to what would have usually happened to someone like Barbara but it worked in its own way.
We also enjoyed the wonderful comic acting of Derek Francis as Nero, his timing was perfect and brought so much life to those little moments that would have been lost with anyone with a face with less character. Him and his wife Poppaea were wonderful characters, even if Nero played to the comedy and Poppaea to the darker side of the story it showed how little regard to life they had and how their ego’s were more important then anyone else.
It is hard to watch any Doctor and not compare them, I loved the dark humour of Hartnell, having a chuckle in the face of danger and not really letting the plot upset him. He just went from one random situation to the other, for him it was like reading a book, he was never really a part of it so none of the terrible things could happen to him. He didn’t mind upsetting Nero, didn’t run when told he was faced with the Arena… He just laughed it off and went along with it so that he could see history working. Vicki was the perfect companion for him on his quest.
None of us had really seen much of Hartnell so we were very much surprised at how much he’d mellowed out from the original stories where he was just rude and abrasive most of the time. Now, he still is a grumpy old man and still has his moments, he very much is in charge and wants everyone to know that, but he is much softer with Ian and Barbara, treating them more like his children then his prisoners. His relationship with Vicki is much like it was with Susan.
We all enjoyed the episode so much we went straight to watching another Hartnell serial that we hadn’t really seen (some of us had it tucked away for Christmas, others borrowed them off of friends) and it gave us a greater appreciation of the man who started it all.