Yet this doesn't square with the Doctor's earlier [and untelevised] appearance on Dido, where violence was alien to the natives. So what made the Didonians warlike? While the leads are good, the story isn't much, serving only to introduce Vicki into the TARDIS crew, and Maureen O'Brien (Vicki) does well in her debut story. (Rating: 3)
We get a more comedic story in The Romans. Set in July 64 AD, the Doctor and Vicki, having rested up in a villa, decide to walk to Rome, while Ian and Barbara decide to live up the leisure life drinking wine and eating grapes. However, Ian and Barbara are kidnapped by two vicious slave traders, the former rowing aboard a slave galley, Barbara sold at a slave auction. They have a lot to worry about. "Have you any idea how the Romans treated their slaves or how many escaped?" she asks Ian.
The Doctor and Vicki have their share of adventures. The Doctor is mistaken for a murdered lyre player from Corinth, Maximus Pettulian, who was en route to play before emperor Nero (Derek Francis). The scene where the Doctor trounces an assassin, engaging in some martial arts is a highlight, with the Doctor putting up quite a fight. All the fun is at the court of Nero, where the emperor is quite an artistic ham who can be menacing and vindictive one moment, all charms if he's being flattered. But how does the Doctor get out of performing a concert, especially as he does not know how to play the lyre? However, Nero has fun chasing after the slave for his wife Poppeia, newly procured by Tavius, his court buyer. It's none other than Barbara, and he goes after her laughing like a schoolboy. He even has a pratfall which causes Vicki to cover her face as she laughs. However, his petulance is actually funny: "I'll have you both killed over and over again! I'll stick you two in an arena on an island with water all around, and in the water will be alligators, and the water level will be raised and the alligators will get you!"
Tavius (Michael Peake) is a key character here. He's the kindly man who buys Barbara because of her kind treatment to an ill fellow slave. "Most people under such circumstances would've looked after themselves." However, Tavius and the real Pettulian are clearly involved in some sort of intrigue, which the Doctor, mistaken for Pettulian, becomes caught up in. Tavius also has his comedic moment, as he hisses loudly for the Doctor when he wants a word. "Oh, it's our hissing friend again," says the Doctor.
Another interesting aspect is the ethics involving the role of the court poisoner. Vicki learns that such things are accepted, part of tradition. And she is lectured by the Doctor when she wants to wander around the court: "We must not interfere with the course of progress or try to accelerate man's achievements or progress."
Trivia: Episode 3 of this show aired later than the scheduled time due to coverage of Winston Churchill's funeral.
This is a spoof of a spoof, as writer Dennis Spooner based it on Carry On Cleo, which was itself a spoof of Quo Vadis?. The Romans is a fun episode clearly based on laughs rather than historical accuracy. Nero here is a portly middle-aged man, while the historical Nero was twenty-seven and at Actium, not Rome, when the fire started. And since when did Roman coins look like metal washers? (Rating: 5) Rating for this set: 4.
The Romans is just good. For historical episodes, I prefer the Aztecs personally, but the Romans is light and playful comedy and has some genuinely funny scenes (funny for comedy, not for a sci fi show) and the scene where the Doctor plays for the court of Nero (he polays no notes) and where he evades an assasination attempt by a mute assasin are some of the most fun Hartnell was given. I don't know if I'd recommend Hartnell to the uninitiated, but his years in the show are highly underrated these days and Hartnell himself is magical... pure magical!