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The Romans

Reviewed by Jamas Enright

[Cover]

'The music is so soft, so delicate, that only those with keen perceptive hearing will be able to distinguish the melodious charm of music.'

When people rave about The Romans, they always talk about Derek Francis, and his portrayal of the Emperor Nero. Not to be out-done, I add my admiration to the wonderful Mr Francis. Nero is easily the best character of the story, so fickle and yet so eccentric (remember, don't call those in authority insane, even if it is correct). It may not necessarily be an accurate interpretation of Nero at the time, but that is by-the-by when watching this comedy.

And it is comedy. Doctor Who doesn't try slapstick humour, understandable in a show that is supposed to be science fiction, but this is a marvelous exception. The writer, Dennis Spooner, also did some of the other historicals, namely The Reign of Terror and The Time Meddler (and wrote some of The Daleks' Master Plan, probably the episodes set around the Egyptians and the Meddling Monk), but this is the only time he lends his hand towards humour, but it works remarkably well. (The other intentionally humorous stories, The Gunfighters and The Myth Makers, both written by Dennis Cotton, didn't make such a favourable impression on fans.)

We have William Hartnell fighting it out with Barry Jackson (Ascaris), William Hartnell playing a wonderful melody on the lyre, and Jacqueline Hill being chased by Derek Francis, just managing to avoid bumping into William Hartnell, and Maureen O'Brien. By the way, Maureen is a lot better in this story than she was in The Rescue. A far stronger role, and a real use of her character, other than second fiddle to the Doctor, even going as far as attempting to assassinate Nero.

However, in the midst of all this wonderfulness, there is something that totally fails to come across as real in any way shape or form: William Russell in action. He's all right when he's with Jacqueline in the villa, but once he teams with Peter Diamond (Delos), he loses all ability to act in a fight. Couldn't get more staged than if you used amateurs. Shame, but believability can only be suspended so far, and this is too fake to be believable.

This is the only stain, and, once all of those scenes are ignored, the rest of the story is, in every sense, a classic. Cheers, but be careful for the poisoned goblet.

This item appeared in TSV 49 (November 1996).

Index nodes: The Romans