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Doctor Who story number 12
This story was used by the producer to test the boundaries of the programme's format. The idea of having a Roman setting was one that had been in the air for a while, but the humour was the test.
Dennis Spooner originally intended to make fun of the 1951 movie Quo Vadis, but when he learned that the upcoming Carry on Cleo was to make fun of it he opted for using the burning of Rome. The plan was to divert from any form of historical accuracy and just use the popular myths surrounding the fire.
The BBC novel Byzantium! by Keith Topping offers readers who are keen on Doctor Who a possible background as to how the travellers ended up in Rome....
This story has 4 episodes with individual titles:
- The Slave Traders
- All Roads Lead To Rome
The Story opens with the time travellers taking a break from their travels, occupying a villa outside Rome while the owner is away fighting in the Gallic wars. The year is 64AD and Nero is in power.
The Doctor and Vicki visit Rome, and while they are away some slave traders come to capture Ian and Barbara. In the struggle Barbara knocks out Ian and they are taken away. Ian is sold into slavery on a galley, and Barbara to the court of the emperor. Meanwhile the Doctor is mistaken for Maximus Petullian, a famous musician, and taken to the palace.
Nero spends much of the time chasing Barbara around the palace, while Ian and a fellow slave return to Rome after their galley is wrecked. The Doctor must devise schemes to avoid playing the lyre, eventually opting for an Emperor's New Clothes style trick (The Doctor can be forgiven for this, as the story was also his idea). He plays nothing, and says only those with excellent taste in music can hear it. Nero feigns hearing beautiful music, and plots to get rid of the Doctor.
Ian and Delos return to Rome, only to be thrown into the arena as gladiators, where they fight each other. Nero tries to have the Doctor assassinated, but the assassin is thrown out of a window. The Doctor sets fire to Nero's plans for his perfect city, inspiring him to burn Rome so as to have an excuse to rebuild it the way he wants. Under cover of the fire the travellers escape.
Derek Francis - Nero
Derek Sydney - Sevcheria
Nicholas Evans - Didius
Margot Thomas - Stall Holder
Edward Kelsey - Slave Buyer
Bart Allison - Maximus Petullian
Barry Jackson - Ascaris
Peter Diamond - Delos
Michael Peake - Tavius
Dorothy-Rose Gribble - Woman Slave
Gertan Klauber - Galley Master
Ernest Jennings, John Caesar - Men in Market
Tony Lambden - Messenger
Brian Proudfoot - Tigilinus
Ann Tirard - Locusta
Kay Patrick - Poppaea
- On original broadcast episode one managed to equal the previous weeks viewers (13 million), and this time ranks one higher, coming in 7th in the top ten programmes
- Dennis Spooner was the script editior when this story was made, and BBC policy of not comissioning their own script editors to write was circumvented because he had been comissioned before being appointed. No script editor is listed for this story.
He's all right, but he's not all that good. - Nero, "listening" to the Doctor play.