Hello all, the Historian here. Along with Ketina, Ronelyn and Schmallturm, we return to the year 64. I'll warn you, there was a lot of physical comedy this week that simply won't translate into the summary at all. I'd urge you all to get a copy of "The Romans" DVD (packaged with "The Rescue") and watch it for yourself! That being said, let's get to the summary!
Episode summary: First aired 30 January 1965. Ian looks out the barred window of his cell, seeing the lions who he and Delos may be condemned to fight...In the palace, Nero wanders down a corridor with a lyre, followed by his slave, Tigilinus and others. As they move off, the Doctor appears and meets Vicki. They are attracted by a hissing Tavius, who tells them that he's gotten rid of the body, but leaves before answering any questions. The Doctor decides he must carefully sound out Nero to try to get to the bottom of this mystery, since he seems to be involved somehow. Vicki plans to explore the palace, but the Doctor warns her that she must not interfere with history! In Poppaea's bedchamber, the empress and Nero recline. Poppaea suggests that Nero hold a banquet in honor of "Maximum Pettulian" at which the guest of honor will play. Tavius enters to present Barbara as a new attendant to Poppaea...and Nero is absolutely captivated by her beauty, a fact that the empress is quick to notice. After Nero has left, Poppaea warns Barbara to stay away from Nero; she likes being empress and will not have anyone supplant her. Barbara, of course, agrees. She begins to clean up and takes some dishes out into the hallway...where a playful Nero has been waiting for her. She runs and he begins to chase her...and runs right into Vicki, who has been exploring and who just misses seeing Barbara run away. Trying to maintain his dignity, Nero backs away and falls. Vicki, stifling a laugh, enters another room as Nero continues the chase. The room Vicki has entered belongs to an imperious looking woman, Locusta. Meanwhile, Nero just misses Barbara and runs into the Doctor (who has also not seen his friend). The Doctor tries to talk to the emperor, but Nero has no time, they will talk later. He runs off, leaving a bemused Doctor behind him. Back in Locusta's room, Vicki has discovered that her new friend is the official court poisoner! Locusta explains that she merely prepares her potions, she has no say or care as to how they are used. People do not take revenge on her, but on the ones who she works for. Vicki watches, wide-eyed, as Locusta mixes up another poison. Nero has, meanwhile, cornered Barbara. Just as he catches her, however, Poppaea walks in and catches him. As Barbara flees, Nero tells his wife that the strange slave had been chasing him around all morning! In the cells, the old woman hears Delos call Ian by name. She asks him if he was supposed to meet a woman called Barbara. When he excitedly asks the woman where Barbara is, he is crushed to hear that she was taken to the auction and sold. Back in the palace, the Doctor and Nero are relaxing in a sauna. After some business with a slave and hot water, the two are left alone again and the Doctor takes the opportunity to ask Nero whether any intrigue is going on at court. Nero, however, knows nothing--though the Doctor covers up the emperor's dangerous embarrassment with flattery. Nero tells "Maximus" of the banquet in his honor that night--his first concert! The Doctor, who, of course, cannot play at all, is a bit nonplussed. Poppaea, meanwhile, has given Locusta instructions. She is to prepare two goblets, one of which will be given to the emperor and a poisoned one for the new slave. Hiding under the poisoner's desk, Vicki listens carefully. After they leave, she emerges and looks at the two goblets. As Barbara and other slaves prepare the banquet hall, Poppaea points her victim out to Locusta. The Doctor and Nero, leaving the sauna (fully dressed), meet Poppaea. She sends Nero to examine the banquet hall to make sure everything is perfect--and to set up her assassination of Barbara! The Doctor, meanwhile, meets Vicki, telling her about the coming feast and the entertainment he must provide! Far from being fearful, he seems amused. Meanwhile, Nero has sidled up to Barbara and given her a gold bracelet. As Nero is expecting a kiss in thanks, Barbara is relieved to see two goblets being brought towards them. She proposes a toast to thank the emperor and gulps her wine down! Vicki confesses that she might just have poisoned Nero by switching the glasses! The Doctor, horrified that she'd be changing history by killing an emperor to save an (apparently) inconsequential slave, rushes her off. Barbara, seeing a furious Poppaea (who is angry that her slave has not died!), rushes off before Nero can drink any of his cup. Just then, the Doctor and Vicki rush in, the Doctor yelling not to drink, that the wine is poisoned! After being thanked, they both leave, the Doctor saying he must practice for the evening. Nero decides to test the story and gives the wine to Tigilinus, who takes one sip and keels over. Back in the cells, Ian is trying to make plans to look for Barbara "when they get out of here," but Delos reminds him that he should be worrying about himself, not his friend! A furious Poppaea, meanwhile, has Locusta dragged away, her destination the arena! That night at the banquet, Tavius approaches the Doctor, saying things were "set for tomorrow." Maddeningly, he again leaves before the Doctor can ask anything. Poppaea catches Nero looking around for Barbara, which he denies and then calls for Maximus to perform. The Doctor tells his audience that his new composition is so subtle that only the most perceptive will be able to distinguish the music. He then mimes playing the lyre for a few minutes, to an appreciative audience. They applaud, not wanting to be thought unperceptive. A smiling Doctor tells Vicki that it was he who gave Hans Christian Andersen the idea for "The Emperor's New Clothes," after all! Nero, leaving, is furious; no one but he should get that much applause for playing! He enters Poppaea's chamber and finds Barbara cleaning. Nero grabs her and tells her they're going to see a fight--he wants to see someone get hurt. In the cells, Ian and Delos are handed equipment; they are to fight for the emperor's pleasure. Ian wants to refuse, but Delos reminds him that it's a chance for one of them to survive. He promises Ian that if he wins, Ian's death will be quick. Meanwhile, Nero, Barbara at his side, is telling Sevcheria (who is in charge of the gladiators) that he wants to arrange an appearance for Maximus Pettulian in the arena--with the lions released at the end of his performance! For now, though, he is content to see two men fight to the death. Ian and Delos appear. He and Barbara see each other, but there is nothing they can do--they fight is on! At first, Ian has the upper hand, but he refuses to kill his friend when he has the chance, to Nero's disgust. Then Delos gets the drop on Ian. Delos' sword is about to descend, cutting off Ian's head....
Whew! A question for those who have read this far: Ketina has told me that these are less summaries than retellings. She has a bit of a point; what do you guys think? Do I give too much information, especially for the episodes that are readily available? Or do you like the point-by-point? Let us know in the comments!
This episode was a lot of fun--and very, very funny! We've left the wit of the first episode behind and have entered into full-on ridiculous farce. The "near-misses" have gone from funny to out-and-out ridiculous, especially in the chase scene. And we loved it! I think that the silly never quite overwhelmed the fun, although Derek Francis' mugging as Nero certainly came close. It really was hard to convey the humor in simple text; I hope you got some of the gist.
I'd been waiting for this episode, which I remembered chiefly for Nero's pursuit of Barbara. Of course, not everything is fun and games; the fate of Locusta (fyi, there wasn't actually an official Court Poisoner at Nero's court, although Locusta was a real person, per Apuleius) is actually a little disturbing. Vicki may not have poisoned Nero, but she certainly did cause her new friend's condemnation. While it's true that poisoning people isn't pleasant, it's not like she was doing it maliciously. Her arrest is just an accidental consequence. And then there's the other at least semi-serious thread: Just what is Tavius up to, and what was Maximus Pettulian's part in the plot? Leaving aside the humor, there was enough of this plot to keep our attention and pique our curiosity for next week.
Of course, there were a few unintentionally funny moments; the boom gets into shot for a moment early in the episode, William Hartnell badly Billy-fluffs a line ("We must not interfere with the course of progress. Or try to accelerate...man’s achievement’s or progress.")...and then there's the slow pan up Nero's legs in the sauna scene. Ok, that might have been intentional, but certainly Ronelyn's reaction of "no, no, make sure he has his robe pulled down, please...!" amused the hell out of us! I'm sure there was a lot more, but I can't recall it at the moment. Hopefully, Ketina will remember.
Speaking of whom, I think I'll turn things over to her. Until our final visit to Nero's Rome next week, I remain
Well, the Historian seems to have left me with a bit more of the commentary responsibility this week. Let's go back to an older format for this:
The Good: um...
The Bad: er...
The Silly: There we go! How about nearly the entire episode. Seriously, I think this one was about as silly as things ever get on Doctor Who. You've got the crazy of Nero, the trouble making Doctor, more near-miss encounter's than in a Shakespearean Comedy, and Barbara and Nero's run through the hallway was funny enough to leave nearly anyone in stitches. This was just an overall very fun, goofy episode.
You want details?
- Let's see, it leads with another stock footage shot of those lions, thankfully much shorter this time.
- That long shot of Nero in the sauna starts at his feet. His toes, actually. Which I swear had toenail polish on them!
- The fantastic toying with the sword between Nero and the Doctor in the sauna. The Doctor's just casually gesturing with the sword, narrowly missing poking Nero with it several times. Then he cradles the blade in his arms as Nero leans forward towards him conspiratorially, then almost getting poked again. Nero nudges the sword away time and again only to narrowly get poked with it again and again as he moves around the room.
- There was the memorable and fantastic scene that I referred to as "the Emperor's New Clothes" gambit. I think the director of episode deliberately had the mics turned off for most of the scene, making the Doctor's "magical" musical yet soundless performance all the more bizarre and comical.
- Early in the episode we see what appears to be very poorly choreographed fighting between two gladiators -- probably my second biggest laugh out loud moment during the episode. But then, at the end of the episode, there's a fantastic scene when Ian and Delos battle. I was like "where was the guy who choreographed this scene during the first one?" The Historian did point out that the gladiators shown earlier were probably just supposed to be practicing, but I've seen better practice done by 6-year olds in the back yard with sticks.
- And the funniest moment, by far, was Nero chasing Barbara all around the palace (and nearly right into the background matte painting several times). Sure, they tended to rerun over the same territory, but the scenes were still incredibly well done, despite the tiny set. Nero's lechery combined with Barbara's franticness was wonderfully performed. In particular was a scene where they were separated by just a bed, with Nero all grabby hands. Awesome stuff.
The high moments definitely outweighed the low points this week.
Screams: While there was nothing exactly scream worthy, there were shrieks and yipes aplenty, and a significant cry at the cliffhanger. I guess Barbara was resting her voice.
Until next week!
NEXT WEEK: "INFERNO"