And we're back! The Historian here, apologizing for missing last week. But this week Ketina, Ronelyn, Schmallturm and I are back to present another chapter of our adventure in 64 CE. On to the summary!
Episode summary: First aired 23 January 1965. Ascaris lunges through the curtain, sword drawn, but the Doctor is not taken by surprise. He uses his lyre to block the assassin's blade and then appears to have a delightful time attacking him with thrown wine, bedsheets, amphorae, etc. Vicki arrives just as Ascaris decides on the better part of valor and jumps out through the window. The Doctor bemoans being interrupted in his attempts to knock the man out, although he is delighted at being able to use his fisticuff skills, and explains to Vicki that he had been expecting this; obviously, someone had wanted to assassinate Maximum Pettulian, hadn't they? Vicki tells him the centurion has disappeared and the Doctor replies that he had thought the centurion had been behind the assassination from the start. It is not unusual to hire assassins in this day and age, especially dumb ones who cannot implicate you! The Doctor is tired; he tells Vicki to go to bed so they can make an early start for Rome in the morning. She is surprised that, knowing the danger, he wants to go on. But the Doctor is determined--they go to Rome! Barbara is already in the city, having been brought in with other slaves to be sold by Sevcheria. She is thrown into a cell along with a Gaulish woman who is too old and sick to fetch a decent price. Barbara tries to look after her new friend as best she can, hoping against hope that Ian will make it to Rome to help her. On a ship far up the Italian coast, Ian is rowing as a galley slave. He and his oarmate, Delos, have hit upon a plan to get away. Delos keels over and Ian calls to the galleymaster. When the man comes over to check, Ian and Delos leap up and try to grab the master's keys...but is not fast enough. The two are forced back into their seats and begin to row again. Back in the cells, Barbara is trying to get the old woman to share her food. Outside the bars, a well-dressed man watches her. He calls to her and offers to help her get out of there...but he can only do so by buying her. Barbara, angry at the idea of being bought by someone, turns away. Sevcheria approaches and addresses the man, Tavius, by name. Tavius offers to buy Barbara, but the slaver says she is to be sold at auction. If Tavius is interested, he can bid then. Angry, Tavius leaves. Sevcheria gives Barbara a new dress to pretty her up for the auction. When she asks what will happen to her friend, he tells her that the old woman would fetch no price; she is to be sent to the Arena. At sea, a storm rocks Ian's ship. The galleymaster grows increasingly frantic as waves begin to overwhelm the ship. A wave knocks him off his perch and into the slaves who grab at him for his keys as the ship founders...The Doctor and Vicki walk the streets of Rome. Vicki is excited and wants to explore, which the Doctor agrees to. But he reminds her that they cannot be too long; they must go to court and present themselves to the Emperor Nero! Vicki is amazed; even knowing the danger, the Doctor still wants to go? Well, he replies, he was invited, after all! Noticing that a slave action is being set-up near them, and not wanting to upset her with a painful reality of the period, the Doctor hurries Vicki away...just missing seeing Barbara thrust up onto the stage to the delight of the (male) audience. Sevcheria begins the bidding, which ends when Tavius offers 10,000 sestertii for her, amid gasps. Tavius smiles; he has bought Barbara after all. On a beach near Rome, Ian wakens. He is disheveled and covered with sand; he has obviously washed up on the beach. A figure approaches, carrying a rock in his hand...but it is Delos. He tells Ian that, after the ship foundered, he'd grabbed the galleymaster's keys, unlocked them from the oar and pulled Ian (who was unconscious) towards land. The rock is to strike off the chains still binding Ian's hands. Ian decides to set off for Rome, hoping to find Barbara, but Delos is fearful. Still, he agrees to go and help his friend. Tavis brings Barbara to his quarters in the palace. He tells her he was impressed by seeing her help her fellow slave; she responds that it is what anyone would have done, but he is not so sure. After seeing her care for another, he has bought her to be a slave in the household of Nero's wife, Poppaea, a far easier life than most slaves have. She thanks him, but warns him that she doesn't plan to stay. He reminds her that escaped slaves are put to death when recaptured. Just then, a messenger arrives and lets Tavius know that Maximus Pettulian has arrived. At first, Tavius makes to receive him there, but then decides to go out to meet the musician. Once again, Barbara and her friends narrowly miss each other. In the court, the Doctor and Vicki are waiting. The Doctor reassures Vicki that no one here knows Pettalian, so they will be safe from detection. That's fine, she replies, but what about when someone asks you to play? Tavius appears and attempts to get the Doctor's attention. He tells "Maximus" not to worry; there was trouble, but Tavius has "taken care of it." When the Doctor asks what he means, Tavius mentions that "he's at the apoditarium." Before he can give any more information, the Emperor Nero is announced. He arrived, flanked by servants and carrying a joint of meat. The Doctor attempts to introduce himself, but Nero angrily rebukes him for speaking before being spoken to. After Tavius introduces "Pettulian," Nero commands the Doctor to play. The Doctor immediately fawns over the Emperor, insisting that he cannot play first in the presence of such a great musician. After Nero plucks a few notes, the Doctor bluffs his way out of having to play, all the while complimenting the Emperor's playing. Nero takes his leave, telling the Doctor that they will play together later, after he has been fed--and after he (Pettulian) practices! The Doctor is delighted at his bluff, but Vicki is concerned. What will he do to get out of playing next time? The Doctor, for once, is at a loss. On the streets of Rome, Ian and Delos cautiously make their way. Ian knows Barbara must have been sold, but suggests they find a place to clean up a bit to be less conspicuous. Delos agrees, noting that their luck has been good so far...just before they walk into a group of soldiers. The Doctor and Vicki, meanwhile, have found their way to the "apoditorium." Both wonder what Tavius meant by his allusion to taking care of trouble, and a quick search appears to answer the question: behind a curtain is the dead body of the centurion who'd hired Ascaris! Ian and Delos are thrown into an empty cell next to the old slave woman. Sevcheria gloats at them and tells them things could have been worse. They will have a chance to win their lives in the Arena, if Nero is feeling merciful. After he leaves, Delos realizes they will be trained as gladiators. Yes, says Ian, but to fight what? The two look out their cell window and see lions in cages, waiting....
Whew, that was a heck of a summary. (You guys are still reading them, right?)
Honestly, I don't have a lot to say this week that won't sound a lot like what I said last week. The writing and acting, while a little less with the witty banter, still works wonderfully, both in its humorous moments and its more serious. (Barbara's continued fear/anger at her slavery worked especially well.) There were even semi-comedic moments, such as Ian and Delos being captured by the soldiers. (No! Never talk about your good luck! It's as bad as asking what could be worse!) And, of course, I loved the "Action Doctor" and all the interactions between the Doctor and Vicki--who seem an excellent team. True, the stock footage was...well, stock footage, but I thought the sea and storm scenes were really well integrated into the episode. The lions in the zoo worked less well, but I can't honestly see what alternative they had.
As for their portrayal of Nero...well, it's a comical version of Suetonius' madman, of course. There's no question he was mad, bad and dangerous to know. What's important for our purposes is that he's funny, and apt to get even funnier, but with an edge of significant menace. I enjoyed the portrayal, historical or not. How did I put it last week? "BBC Costume Drama Rome"--fun!
All right, I know Ketina wanted to cover some things I probably would have talked about, but I'll just turn things over to her. I'll try to have more to say next week! Until then, I remain
This week I enjoyed the story, yet I mocked the stock footage and effects. Am I being too critical or was I just in a silly mood? Probably a little of both.
So, starting off we get to see the Doctor deftly beat the snot out of a generally incompetent assassin. It echoed the end of last story "The Rescue" when he fought the evil spiky bad guy, yet this time the Doctor was even more proficient. Where was this confident brawler when Ian was getting his butt kicked in "the Aztecs"? He went from frail old man to fist swingin' bad ass in one season. It was a fun and relatively well choreographed fight scene, although you need to consider that the assassin is a moron. However, this awesomeness was countered by lots of "Billy fluffed" lines this week from the Doctor - significantly more than usual, which alas took me out of the story quite a bit.
Let's see. I found the scene on the boat particularly funny as well. Shouts of "in.. out" from the Galley Master to the slaves, yet very few of them were in sync with the directions. Then the buckets of water thrown from somewhere to indicate the storm, gave me the giggles. For once it wasn't the stock footage of the sea that I found distracting -- no, that came later when we see the stock footage of the lions at the end of the episode.
Even given all my complaints, however, I still found the plot really fun. I especially liked the many near misses that the Doctor and Vicki have almost seeing Barbara. And the Doctor tricking Nero and delaying his musical performance was fun to watch, if a bit tense. But I don't feel that Nero threatening enough by being so easily fooled, given that he probably should be as the evil emperor of Rome and all.
The danger faced by both Ian and Barbara feels solid, although I can't help but to be reminded of "The Reign of Terror" (same writer I understand) with either Barbara or Ian once again locked in a dirty cell for half the episode. I loved Barbara's interactions with Tavius, and the way she refused to look him in the eye. He's trying to be nice to her, yet there's still something off putting about him that just makes him more interesting to watch. Which lead nicely to his cryptic message to the Doctor and the discovery of the dirty kneed body found behind the curtain (it's probably not mentioned in the summary, but dude, the body behind the curtain totally had dirty knees! I'm not kidding! Who has dirty knees?).
Anyway, I'm digressing, so I suppose that wraps up my review for this week.
Until next time!
NEXT WEEK: "CONSPIRACY"