Monday, February 09, 2015

Watching Everything Burn - The Romans

The Romans
This is a bit of an odd moment. “The Rescue” ended with promise of adventure for Vicki, but we find the TARDIS crew on holiday in Ancient Roman times. It makes sense. They've just been through the Dalek Invasion, and upon finding yourself in the Italian countryside you'd absolutely take the chance to put your feet up. Obviously Vicki's bored.

It also happens that we join them as the Doctor's inquisitive nature kicks in, so they bugger off to Rome just in time for Nero to start getting some pyromanic thoughts in his head. This should be a barrel of laughs...

Well actually it is. Or at least it tries to be. Either the writer or director decided that this rather terrible part of history should be told as as farce. It's almost a comedy of errors, culminating with the Doctor accidentally being responsible for giving Nero the idea of putting Rome to the torch. When he and Vicki are stood outside of a now burning city, they laugh about the mistake, not the horrible situation as below them hundreds of people burn. Yes, he had to let it happen for history, but it shouldn't be amusing. And it's this contradiction that seems to run through all of “The Romans”.

Nero as a petulant child just because he's not getting what he wants is wonderful imagery, and the almost casualness he decides to throw the Doctor to the lions is great. The Carry On style running around the palace trying to steal a kiss from Barbara a lot less so.

There's even some really odd music in the worst of places too. Comedy light hearted tunes as the Doctor and Vicki find a body. The music in the old series was never the best, but at least it fit. Here it just immediately takes you out of the moment.

Meanwhile our other two travellers are bundled off to do their own thing. Both are captured as slaves, Barbara taken to the imperial court, while Ian gets the full on hard life with slave boat rowing and gladiatorial fights (almost). It's an emotional rollercoaster as none of Ian's plight has the same silly air about it that the rest does, and just further removes you from what's going on.

However, the two scenes – one at the start and the other at the end – of Barbara and Ian alone in the villa require some more consideration. Bearing in mind I have massive gaps in my Classic watching, it seems like Ian and Barbara are an actual thing now. No more potential copping off with random Thals anymore. The scene where they are left alone, and again when they' return to the villa screams of two people being incredibly comfortable and close with one another. It may never get properly addressed. I can imagine at this time a solid reference to them being a couple would be a big no-no. Of course this is a bit more notable for me, as this watch is going up to our two teachers departing the TARDIS, and meeting their replacement, but here its setting up that they will at least be happy together when they get back home.

Amongst all this nonsense, the writing is starting to do something quite clever with Vicki. To the Doctor she is clearly on-board just as a Susan substitute, yet Vicki herself has been imbued with a far greater sense of curiosity and adventure. She's starting to become the traditional companion. A role that one day will be taken Zoe, Sarah-Jane, Ace, Rose et al. I think I might like her.

“The Romans” itself is a horribly mis-judged affair. It doesn't even feel like a Doctor Who adventure. It's not ridiculously bad, just not right.

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