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Nero with the Doctor, Vicki, Ian and Barbara
‘The Romans’ is my favourite ‘Doctor Who’ story from the William Hartnell era. Seriously! I love it! It’s a historical tale with a comedic flavour and serves the best of William Hartnell’s Doctor and his friends.
This is a four-part story by Dennis Spooner, who became the show’s new script editor after David Whittaker left. He injected some more humour into the ‘Doctor Who’ TV series to make it more fun.
The story takes place in Italy 64 AD. The Doctor and his companions enjoy a holiday, as they stay in a Roman villa. Soon, the Doctor takes Vicki to Rome whilst Ian and Barbara remain behind at that villa.
But whilst the Doctor and Vicki are away, Ian and Barbara get kidnapped by slave traders. They’re soon separated and sold into slavery. Will the four friends reunite with each other at the tale’s end?
I highly recommend watching this ‘Doctor Who’ story over at Easter time since it does it well for me. The story provides an intriguing insight into what Ancient Rome was like and how it’s depicted here.
Admittedly it’s not an accurate historical representation of Rome in this story, but Dennis Spooner balances both the horror and the luxury of ‘The Romans’ in this tale. I was completely taken in by it.
You’d think that the Roman way of life was luxurious and full of fancy free. But it’s easy to forget that the Romans did some pretty cruel and vile things in that time, especially to the Christian people.
But sometimes the horror aspects of the story are laced with humorous moments too for people to enjoy. This is especially the case in the third episode when the comedy is taken on a ‘Carry On’ level. 😀
William Hartnell is brilliant as the Doctor in this adventure. He’s clearly enjoying himself, able to perform the comedy as well as the drama in his role. He also gets to be a good fighter in this. Wow!!!
Maureen O’Brien is equally good as Vicki in this adventure. She spends a lot of time with the Doctor in this adventure and it’s nice to see that the two get on well with each other when they visit Rome.
The Doctor gets mistaken for a musician named Maximus Pettulian and has to perform the lyre for Caesar Nero at his court in Rome. The comedy for the Doctor and Vicki in that situation is fun to see.
But the joyous comedy part of the story is how the Doctor and Vicki keep missing Barbara and Ian when they too are also in Rome. It is by the end of the tale the TARDIS team gets reunited together.
William Russell is great as Ian Chesterton in this story. He has a hard time when he’s sold into slavery aboard a sailing ship. Thankfully he escapes and makes friends with Delos when they head for Rome.
Jacqueline Pearce is equally great as Barbara Wright in this story. Barbara gets sold into slavery to become one of Poppaea’s serving girls at Nero’s court. She unfortunately gets chased a lot by Nero.
The big guest star of ‘The Romans’ is Derek Francis as Caesar Nero. I love Derek Francis’ performance since he blends in the madness, humour and villainy of Nero, even when he’s chasing after Barbara.
The chasing around after Barbara by Nero is something of an integral part to the comedy in the third episode of the story. There’s also the Doctor’s silent lyre-playing that somehow impresses everyone.
The guest cast also includes Kay Patrick as Poppaea, Nero’s wife; Michael Peake as Tavius, an early Christian who helps Barbara; Brian Proudfoot as cup bearer Tigellinus and Peter Diamond as Delos.
The DVD special features are as follows. There’s the ‘What Has ‘The Romans’ Ever Done For Us?’ making-of documentary with cast and crew interviews. There’s also ‘Roma Parva’ with director Christopher Barry; the ‘Dennis Spooner – Wanna Write A Television Series’ documentary and a ‘Blue Peter’ item that I enjoyed a lot about the ‘Blue Peter’ team having a Roman banquet in the studio. There’s the ‘Girls! Girls! Girls! – The 1960s’ documentary with behind-the-scenes cast and crew interviews. There’s also a photo gallery of the story and a commentary with William Russell; Nick Evans (Didius); Barry Jackson (Ascaris) and director Christopher Barry, moderated by Toby Hadoke. There’s an info-text commentary option to enjoy and PDF materials including a ‘Radio Times Listings’ of the story. There’s a ‘coming soon’ trailer for ‘Attack of the Cybermen’ with Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant.
‘The Romans’ is definitely one of my favourite ‘Doctor Who’ stories from the William Hartnell era. I look back with happy memories of this story, especially for its humour and the historical adventure.
‘The Rescue’ and ‘The Romans’ have been very enjoyable stories to watch from ‘Doctor Who’. This was where ‘Doctor Who’ was beginning to peak at its best and with the introduction of new companion, Maureen O’Brien as Vicki, things seemed hopeful. What was next for the TARDIS team?
‘The Romans’ rating – 10/10
‘DOCTOR WHO – THE ROMANS’
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Letters and Diary Entries From ‘The Romans’
I was hoping for this ‘Doctor Who’ novelization to be better than it was.
‘The Romans’ is one of my favourite ‘Doctor Who’ stories from the William Hartnell era (possibly my absolute favourite). I know this is something many ‘Doctor Who’ fans won’t share with me on, but I gained such pleasure and happy memories from watching this ‘Doctor Who’ story first time on DVD.
After reading/listening to so many ‘Doctor Who’ novelizations/audiobooks recently, it’s only fair that I should check out the novelization of this classic historical ‘Doctor Who’ story. It was by chance that I came across a copy of ‘The Romans’ novelization whilst I attended the ‘Carlisle Comic Con’ in 2018.
I purchased the novelizations of ‘The Romans’ and ‘The Chase’ when I attended the ‘Carlisle Comic Con’. I was so looking forward to reading this novelization when I got the chance to between April and May 2018. It’s such a shame my expectations of ‘The Romans’ novelization were sadly crushed.
I was pleased Donald Cotton was the author who novelized Dennis Spooner’s scripts into prose. Donald Cotton is known for writing comedic stories in the William Hartnell era of ‘Doctor Who’ such as ‘The Myth Makers’ and ‘The Gunfighters’. He seemed to be a right choice to novelize ‘The Romans’.
Beforehand I read a novelization of ‘The Myth Makers’ by Donald Cotton and found it to be particularly good. It was all taken from Homer’s point of view during the events of ‘The Myth Makers’ but it kept to the dialogue featured in the original TV scripts which was what I had expected.
This isn’t really the case for this one. For one thing, Donald Cotton doesn’t even try to keep to what was in the original Dennis Spooner scripts, as he paraphrases everything and doesn’t include the familiar wonderful dialogue that was spoken by many of the characters featured in that lovely story.
He also takes the approach of having the story told in letters and diary entries given by certain characters in the tale. This is an odd way to write a novelization, since characters like the Doctor, Ian, Barbara, Poppea and Nero give summaries of what happened to them instead of dialogue-y scenes.
I wouldn’t be against this approach to a ‘Doctor Who’ story if it was an original work by an author. But this is a novelization and I would have expected certain dialogue from the TV story to appear in this. Was Donald Cotton not permitted to have any dialogue from the TV scripts by Dennis Spooner?
Did Donald Cotton deliberately choose not to do a direct adaptation of Dennis Spooner’s story for his novelization of ‘The Romans’? Not that I don’t admire Donald Cotton’s attempt to tell the story through diary entries and letters. But it makes it less of a novelization of a TV story we know very well.
I recall there being a ‘sort-of’ children’s novelization of ‘Spider-Man 2’ published in 2004 called ‘The Daily Bugle Stories’. That had the story told in newspaper articles by some of the characters in the movie. I didn’t read that book. I lost interest in it and I actually prefer the official movie novelization.
This is a similar situation with ‘The Romans’ novelization. I would have preferred a novelization where we have the story told in a linear order with actual dialogue being given to us, rather than summaries in letters and diary entries. It makes it less enjoyable for me, as I love ‘The Romans’ a lot.
The book was published in 1987. It’s divided into 31 chapters, or rather one prologue; 29 documents and one epilogue. The 29 documents vary in terms of whether they’re letters or diary entries given by the Doctor, Ian, Barbara, Poppea and Nero. And there’s also Ascaris and Locusta that give entries.
The book begins and ends in the prologue and epilogue with epistles/letters to the Keeper of the Imperial Archives in Rome. I didn’t feel invested in these parts of the book as it’s all about the person who has kept these letters and diary entries featured in ‘The Romans’ which have been left behind.
Also, I’ve noticed that each chapter/document in the book is pretty short containing the summaries of certain events in the story by the characters. I know that doesn’t seem shocking considering they’re letters and diary entries, but it made me drift as I was reading the novelization in its entirety.
I do feel the characterisations of the Doctor and Ian don’t match to the ones featured in the TV story. For one thing, why would the Doctor keep a diary of his time in Rome and leave his entries behind for someone to pick up? Surely the First Doctor wouldn’t be so careless to leave things lying around.
With Ian, I feel that his voice as a character didn’t match to the words he wrote in his letters to his Headmaster in Coal Hill School in 1963. It sounds very formal and not as relaxed and good-humoured as you would expect Ian to be. It also doesn’t add to the emotional impact Ian had as a character in this.
There is a chapter/document by Ian Chesterton that I felt engaged with and enjoyed from the book. It’s when Ian and Barbara receive Sevcheria and Didius as guests at their Roman house before getting captured and turned in for slavery. This is a better version of the scene depicted in the TV tale.
Ascaris has an extended appearance in the novelization compared to the TV story. For those of you who don’t remember, Ascaris was the assassin who tried to kill the Doctor/Maximus Pettullan and apparently lost his tongue. Intriguing he has lots of letters to write to his mother in this novelization.
Also it isn’t mentioned that Ascaris is tongue-less in the novelization. In fact, it seems clear that he can actually talk in this story. I wonder why Donald Cotton changed that aspect to the story compared to Dennis Spooner’s TV scripts. Ascaris also happens to be the son of poison slave Locusta.
Hey?! Ascaris was Locusta’s son the whole time? Hmm. Goodness, there are details about ‘The Romans’ I’ve never come across had I not read this novelization. Ascaris’ appearance in the book lasts to him ending up in the gladiatorial fight with Ian and Delos and fleeing Rome in the Great Fire.
Delos’ character has changed in the novelization compared to the TV story. Instead of being Ian’s friend in the story, Delos abandons him after the gladiatorial fight to head off north as he intended. No disrespect to Donald Cotton, but I prefer the Delos featured in the TV tale compared to the book.
Some characters get reduced roles in the story. This includes Sevcheria who doesn’t get a promoted appearance as he did in the TV story since he disappears after re-capturing Ian and Delos. Tavius’ appearance is also limited, which grates me since I felt he was a good Christian character in the tale.
There’s also no scene where Locusta is sent away to her death. In fact, the actual drink poisoning scene with Nero and Barbara isn’t included in the novelization. I’m not sure what happens as it’s rather garbled with the Doctor interfering and being in the room with Vicki entering with the drinks.
But here’s the thing that really annoys me about this novelization of ‘The Romans’ by Donald Cotton. Instead of having the Doctor and Vicki missing Ian and Barbara in Rome throughout the story, Donald Cotton decides to have the Doctor actually encounter Barbara and help her and Ian to escape Rome.
WHY?! One of the comedic joys of ‘The Romans’ was having our main leads separated from each other and missing each other before being reunited at the story’s climax. It ruins the structure of what was featured in the TV version. I feel my love for ‘The Romans’ TV story has been crushed here.
I could talk about how the Great Fire of Rome is depicted in the novelization, but honestly I felt that the climax was so rushed with lions being released and the fire being accidentally started that I missed it completely. The Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Vicki’s departure also feels so hurriedly handled in prose.
If I haven’t made my point clear in this review, I found ‘The Romans’ novelization unfortunately very disappointing. I was really looking forward to reading this novelization of ‘The Romans’ as it’s one of my favourite ‘Doctor Who’ comedy dramas. But I feel my expectations of this were severely ruined.
I do admire Donald Cotton’s attempts to write the story in the form of letters and diary entries, but why couldn’t he have written in the way he wrote ‘The Myth Makers’ novelization? The paraphrasing of dialogue and summaries of events takes away the comedy moments that were featured in this story.
And that’s what I feel is sadly lacking in this book. There are times when the characters can sound humorous in the way they write their letters and diary accounts. But most of the time I felt the comedy moments swept me by and there was not anything recognizably funny from the TV story to enjoy.
I certainly hope I’m wrong about this when it comes to the audiobook release for this ‘Romans’ novelization by the BBC. I don’t know who will read it. I hope it’ll be either William Russell or Maureen O’Brien. But I at least hope I’ll salvage something when coming to re-read the novelization.
All in all, ‘The Romans’ novelization wasn’t what I hoped for. This is such a shame as it seemed like a good purchase at the time when I found it at the ‘Carlisle Comic Con’ in March 2018 with ‘The Chase’. Maybe ‘The Chase’ novelization might make up for my disappointment. I certainly hope so.
There are two saving graces to reading this book however. I enjoyed reading it whilst also reading ‘Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen’ at the same time. I also enjoyed reading it whilst I was away attending the ‘Folkestone Film, TV and Comic Con’ in 2018. If those aren’t good reasons to enjoy it, I don’t know what is.
‘Doctor Who – The Romans’ rating – 3/10
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