Monday 17 January 2011

056 The Romans Part 3: Conspiracy

EPISODE: The Romans Part 3: Conspiracy
TRANSMITTED: 30 January 1965
WRITER: Dennis Spooner
DIRECTOR: Christopher Barry
SCRIPT EDITOR: Dennis Spooner
PRODUCER: Verity Lambert
FORMAT: DVD: Doctor Who: The Rescue & The Romans

The Doctor is summoned by Tavius who tells him, still mistaking him for Maximus Pettulian, to put his plan into effect. The Doctor decides to figure out the conspiracy. Nero talks with his wife Poppaea about Pettulian playing: Poppaea suggests a banquet in his honour. Nero is very taken with Poppaea's new British slave, Barbara, which doesn't impress Poppaea! While clearing the food away she is "approached" by Nero who chases her round the palace, one thing on his mind, with Barbara narrowly missing meeting first Vicki and then the Doctor who are unaware she's there! Vicki stumbles into the chamber occupied by the official poisoner and chats to her about her role. Barbara returns to Poppaea's chambers but Nero corners her. She hides and narrowly misses the Doctor who knocks on the door. Nero is caught by his wife who isn't impressed, while Nero claims Barbara is chasing him! At the arena the female prisoner hears Ian's name and recognises it as the person Barbara was talking about during her stay. She tells Ian that Barbara was sold. The Doctor and Nero enjoy a sauna together until a slave accidentally spills water on Nero. The Doctor asks Nero about the intrigue in the palace but Nero says he knows of none. Nero tells The Doctor that he is to play at the banquet that night. Poppaea visits the poisoner and orders a poison for Barbara, but Vicki overhears and swaps it for the drink destined for Nero.

"Close your eyes and Nero will give you a big surprise!"

It turns out just to be a gold bracelet though! The Doctor saves Nero's life who gives the drink to Tigilinus, his hapless slave who's been bungling all episode who keels over the moment he tastes it. Poppaea has the poisoner taken to the arena. At the banquet the Doctor has to play for Nero and the court. The Doctor pretends to play a new composition claiming the music is so soft and delicate that only those with keen perceptive hearing will be able to hear it. And of course no one can, they just pretend to have heard it. Nero claims it's alright but not that good! Nero feels he's been made a fool of and goes to the Gladiatorial school taking Barbara. Ian is forced to fight against his former shipmate and now cellmate Delos for Nero's entertainment. Nero talks to the arena master and says he wants Maximus Pettulian, who feels he has humiliated him, to play at the arena and then have the lions set on him mid act! Ian, recognised by Barbara, fights for the emperor but is easily beaten. Nero bids Ian's adversary Delos to slay him....

More farcical comedy here with characters narrowly missing each other and the Doctor, acknowledging as much on screen, re-enacting the Emperor's new clothes with the Lyre playing.


  1. I think this is probably my favourite episode of this story. It is, as you say full of pure farce. All entrances and exists, the Doctor's glee at pulling one over on the sycophants of Nero's court. It also has Maureen O'Brien bringing a real sense of glee to her performance as Vicki. She really seems to be enjoying this incredibly dangerous situation in a way that would never have worked with Susan (indeed, the idea that Time Travel can be fun is something that seems to define Vicki as a character).

    At the same time there is a sense of real danger beneath the fluffy surface - Nero's wife is happy to casually have people poisoned, Nero himself has no problem in giving the poisoned chalice to a member of household staff with the air of a prank - and when he is in a bad mood he gets people to kill each other in the hope it will cheer him up. It may be all british farce and no trousers in the Palace but you can just as easily die laughing.....

  2. The farce elements don't exactly have me rolling in the aisles but I can see that they're funny and they do work, unlike some other (later) attempots at humour that just fall on their face.