The Romans (Doctor Who)

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012 – The Romans
Doctor Who serial
Romans (Doctor Who).jpg
The Doctor, Vicki and Ian relaxing in a Roman villa.
  • Derek FrancisNero
  • Michael Peake — Tavius
  • Brian Proudfoot — Tigellinus
  • Kay Patrick — Poppaea Sabina
  • Peter Diamond — Delos
  • Derek Sydney — Sevcheria
  • Nicholas Evans — Didius
  • Barry Jackson — Ascaris
  • Anne Tirard — Locusta
  • Dennis Edwards — Centurion
  • Margot Thomas — Stall Holder
  • Edward Kelsey — Slave Buyer
  • Bart Allison — Maximus Pettulian
  • Dorothy-Rose Gribble — Woman Slave
  • Gertan Klauber — Galley Master
  • Ernest Jennings, John Caesar — Men in Market
  • Tony Lambden — Court Messenger
Directed by Christopher Barry
Written by Dennis Spooner
Script editor Dennis Spooner (uncredited)
Produced by Verity Lambert
Mervyn Pinfield (associate producer)
Executive producer(s) None
Incidental music composer Raymond Jones
Production code M
Series Season 2
Length 4 episodes, 25 minutes each
Date started 16 January 1965
Date ended 6 February 1965
← Preceded by Followed by →
The Rescue The Web Planet

The Romans is the fourth serial of the second season in the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, which was first broadcast in four weekly parts from 16 January to 6 February 1965. The story is set during the era of the Roman Empire in the reign of Nero.


With the TARDIS stuck at the bottom of a cliff, the four time travellers have installed themselves in an unoccupied Roman villa. As the Doctor and Ian recline, Barbara and Vicki walk to a nearby Roman village. They are spotted by two slave traders, Didius and Sevcheria. When they return to the villa the Doctor announces that he is off to Rome, some miles away, and will travel there with Vicki. Later that evening Barbara and Ian, now alone, are relaxing when the two slavers burst in upon them. They are soon overpowered and taken prisoner. Ian is sold to one slave owner, while Barbara is to be traded with another and sent to Rome.

The Doctor and Vicki are en route for Rome when they find the murdered body of a lyre player named Maximus Pettulian. The Doctor is holding the man’s lyre when a centurion arrives and mistakes him for the dead man who is late for an engagement in Rome. The centurion accompanies them to Assisium. Once there, the centurion contacts the assassin Ascaris, who killed the real Pettulian, and instructs him to kill the Doctor.

The Doctor overpowers the assassin and drives him away. The centurion has fled, and the Doctor concludes the soldier was in league with the assassin. He decides to maintain his alias as Pettulian and head to Rome. Barbara is already there and is sold Tavius, who is highly placed in the court of the Emperor Nero. She is to be a handmaiden to Nero's second wife, the Empress Poppaea Sabina.

The Doctor and Vicki arrive at Nero's court and encounter Tavius, who seems to imply to the Doctor that Pettulian is part of a secret network in which he is also a player. They find the body of the centurion who imperilled them earlier.

Ian has been confined to a galley in the Mediterranean but the craft runs into rough seas and is broken up. He is washed up on the nearby shore and there is found by another survivor of the galley, Delos. They agree to head for Rome in search of Barbara. When they reach there they are captured by some centurions and taken to the arena to be trained as gladiators.

It becomes apparent to the Doctor that Tavius had the centurion murdered. Nero organizes a banquet in his honour at which he must play the lyre. He also takes a shine to Barbara much to the anger of Poppaea, who decides to have her poisoned at the Pettulian banquet. However, Vicki switches the poison goblet. Barbara has just left the banquet chamber when the Doctor arrives, warning Nero that his wine is poisoned.

The Doctor picks up his lyre with the warning that only those with the most sensitive and perceptive hearing will be able to discern its subtle melody. He then creates absolutely no sound but no-one wishes to make themselves out to be philistines by not appreciating the music. Nero is not convinced and decides to have Pettulian fed to the lions.

At the arena Ian and Delos are set to fight each other. However, they decide to fight their way out of the arena; Ian shouts to Barbara that he will be back to rescue her. The Emperor calls off his soldiers, planning to have him killed when he returns to rescue Barbara.

The Doctor has found the architectural plans for Nero’s new Rome, and deduces that since the year is 64 AD that the Emperor is planning to destroy the city. Tavius arrives and warns the Doctor that the Emperor is planning to kill him too, advising him to complete his mission and kill Nero soon - Pettulian was an assassin all along. The Doctor accidentally sets fire to Nero's architectural plans. Nero notices this and gets the idea for the Great Fire of Rome, thanks the Doctor and decides to spare his life. A rabble are bribed into starting the blaze and Ian is helped into the palace by Tavius, who reunites him with Barbara. Under Tavius' eye the two are allowed to escape and make their way from Rome and back to the villa. Delos helps them get clear of the palace. The Doctor and Vicki also escape the city, watching it burn from a nearby hill. All four leave in the TARDIS but have barely begun to travel when a strange force starts dragging the ship to an unknown location.


The story is notable for its use of humour.[1] In episode 3, the subplot involving Nero, the Doctor, and Vicki is played as a farce, with the Doctor and Vicki repeatedly missing Barbara in their wanderings through the palace, and appearing to accidentally give Nero the idea to burn down Rome. An attempt to poison Barbara is played humorously, and culminates in Nero intentionally giving the poisoned wine to an annoying slave. In contrast, the subplot involving Barbara and Ian was played straight, with substantial dark elements. Their storyline emphasizes the brutality of Roman slavery and gladiatorial combat.

This was the last story on which Mervyn Pinfield would serve as associate producer, although he would return to the series to direct The Space Museum and some of Galaxy 4.

Cast notes[edit]

Barry Jackson later played Garvey in Galaxy 4 and Mission to the Unknown. He also played Drax in The Armageddon Factor. Edward Kelsey later played Resno in The Power of the Daleks and Edu in The Creature from the Pit. Gertan Klauber later played Ola in The Macra Terror.

Broadcast and reception[edit]

Serial details by episode
Episode Broadcast date Run time Viewers
(in millions)
"The Slave Traders" 16 January 1965 (1965-01-16) 24:14 13.0 16mm t/r
"All Roads Lead to Rome" 23 January 1965 (1965-01-23) 23:14 11.5 16mm t/r
"Conspiracy" 30 January 1965 (1965-01-30) 26:18 10.0 16mm t/r
"Inferno" 6 February 1965 (1965-02-06) 23:09 12.0 16mm t/r

The BBC's test audience had a strong negative reaction to the story, complaining that it was unrealistic, "so ridiculous that it's a bore", and "suitable only for morons".[5] Despite these criticisms, many later critics have praised the story's use of humour to contrast with the darker elements of the piece.[6][7]

On the day of episode two's transmission, The Romans was praised as "flawless" by The Times newspaper's special correspondent on broadcasting, as part of a feature on children's television. "The strongest weapon in the BBC armoury... remains Dr Who," wrote the reviewer. "The departure of the Daleks has broken tiny hearts all over the country, but the new series, with Miss Jacqueline Hill and Mr. William Russell in the hands of the slave traders, promises well. Miss Verity Lambert's production is once again flawless."[8]

Retrospective reviews have also been positive. In a 2008 review for Radio Times, Mark Braxton praised Spooner's insertion of "playful" comedy into a story with dark elements, noting that the story was "well-rounded and neatly structured" even if it "may not get it exactly right". He also praised Hartnell's acting and his interactions with Vicki, as well as the moments between Ian and Barbara.[6] Christopher Bahn of The A.V. Club noted that the story was less interested in historical accuracy but succeeded in comedy. He particularly praised the characterisation of the Doctor and Nero, who he felt was "played to the hilt by Francis" by balancing the character's darker and lighter sides.[1] DVD Talk's Stuart Galbraith praised the serial for being ambitious and different, writing that it was "unusual for its darkly humorous tone".[7] Den of Geek wrote that "The Romans does comedy well" with "witty dialogue, character moments, slapstick, and drama".[9] Dreamwatch gave The Romans a score of 9 out of 10, calling it a "genuine treasure" in which Hartnell displayed his comedic side.[10]

Commercial Releases[edit]

In print[edit]

The Romans
Doctor Who The Romans.jpg
Author Donald Cotton
Cover artist Tony Masero
Series Doctor Who book:
Target novelisations
Release number
Publisher Target Books
Publication date

16 April 1987 (Hardback)

19 September 1987 (Paperback)
ISBN 0-426-20288-0

A novelisation of this serial, written by Donald Cotton, was published by Target Books in April 1987. It is unique among Doctor Who novelisations in that it is an epistolary novel, written in the form of transcripts of letters and ancient documents.

Home media[edit]

The Romans was released on VHS with The Rescue on 5 September 1994.[11] In May 2008, its soundtrack was released on Audio CD, with linking narration by William Russell.[12] The story was released on DVD in on 23 February 2009, again with The Rescue.[13] The Region 1 release followed on 7 July.[7]


  1. ^ a b Bahn, Christopher (30 September 2012). "The Romans". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 16 December 2012. 
  2. ^ Shaun Lyon; et al. (2007-03-31). "The Romans". Outpost Gallifrey. Archived from the original on 2008-05-30. Retrieved 2008-08-30. 
  3. ^ "The Romans". Doctor Who Reference Guide. Retrieved 2008-08-30. 
  4. ^ Sullivan, Shannon (2007-12-24). "The Romans". A Brief History of Time Travel. Retrieved 2008-08-30. 
  5. ^ David J Howe and Stephen James Walker (1998). "Extract from Doctor Who, the Television Companion". episode guide on BBC website. Retrieved 2010-05-04. 
  6. ^ a b Braxton, Mark (14 December 2008). "Doctor Who: The Romans". Radio Times. Retrieved 16 December 2012. 
  7. ^ a b c Galbraith, Stuart (28 August 2009). "Doctor Who: The Rescue/The Romans". DVD Talk. Retrieved 16 December 2012. 
  8. ^ "Notes on Broadcasting - Keeping the Children Happy and Informed". The Times. 1965-01-23. p. 5. 
  9. ^ "Doctor Who: The Rescue/The Romans DVD set review". Den of Geek. 29 January 2009. Retrieved 16 December 2012. 
  10. ^ "Doctor Who: The Rescue / The Romans". Dreamwatch. 17 February 2009. Archived from the original on 14 June 2010. Retrieved 20 December 2012. 
  11. ^ "Doctor Who - The Rescue / The Romans (1964) (VHS) (1965)". Retrieved 5 August 2013. 
  12. ^ "Doctor Who: The Romans". Big Finish Productions. Retrieved 23 November 2012. 
  13. ^ Brew, Simon (9 February 2009). "Doctor Who's 2009 DVD Releases". Den of Geek. Retrieved 31 March 2013. 

External links[edit]


Target novelisation[edit]