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The Romans was the fourth serial of season 2 of Doctor Who. It was the first story to have its main plot handled with strong comedic elements as well as dramatic. It was filmed in the same block as The Rescue, with the same production team working on both.

The Romans saw the first use of stock footage for a cliffhanger, in this case, a lion. Part three, "Conspiracy", was broadcast on the same day as Winston Churchill's funeral, explaining the dip in viewing figures.

David Whitaker was, by this time, seeing historical stories as a liability. Despite this, The Romans was intended as one of three historical tales, following the Spanish Armada and the American Civil War. It appears to have been Verity Lambert who convinced him and writer Dennis Spooner to script this story as a comedy. (REF: About Time 1)

This was also the first time a major actor requested to be on Doctor Who. Here Derek Francis was given the role of Nero.


Landing in Rome, A.D. 64, the travellers take a rare holiday. While Ian and Barbara are happy to relax, the Doctor and Vicki set off to pursue adventure.

However, adventure soon finds Ian and Barbara too as they are kidnapped by slave traders, and the Doctor's imitation of Maximus Pettulian sees him taken to the court of Emperor Nero where he inadvertently plays a part in deciding the course of history...


The Slave Traders (1)[]

The TARDIS falls from the cliff.

The four travellers materialise on the edge of a cliff. Before the Doctor has time to take off again, the TARDIS falls from the cliff, crashing to the ground.

A month later the four friends are in Rome living in the lap of luxury. The Doctor, Ian and Barbara are content, but Vicki is beginning to tire of the life of a Roman and seeks adventure. As she talks to Barbara about the adventures she was promised, a man lurks threateningly in the bushes. The two women find themselves in a market where they are seen by two suspicious looking Romans, Didius and Sevcheria. The men speak of some sort of crime they intend to do in the village. The two women are overheard talking about London by an old market stall owner. The two Romans bribe the woman for information about Barbara and Vicki. She states that they spoke of London and have been in the area for the last month house sitting for Flavius Giscard, who is away campaigning in Gaul. The two men set off with this information. As they leave, so does an old lyre player named Maximus Pettulian. He does not get very far before he is attacked on the road out of the village and killed by the sinister man who observed Vicki and Barbara earlier in the day.

Back at the house of Giscard the other travellers ask the Doctor if they should go back and check the TARDIS, but the Doctor says that the craft will be perfectly safe without it being constantly checked upon. The Doctor asks if they are getting restless and anxious to leave. Barbara and Ian state they are perfectly happy, but Vicki yearns for adventure. Spontaneously the Doctor states that he plans to leave for Rome as soon as he can and that Vicki can come with him. When Barbara asks to come, the Doctor reacts crossly, stating that he doesn't need a nursemaid. As soon as the two are packed, they leave Ian and Barbara alone in the villa. Didius and Sevcheria plot a siege on the villa later that night. As Ian and Barbara relax they are set upon by the two men. The two friends put up a gallant fight, but Barbara accidentally catches Ian on the head with a jug which was meant for Sevcheria and knocks him unconscious. Ian and Barbara are carried away by the two men.

On the road out of the village, the Doctor and Vicki come across the body of Maximus Pettulian. They are surprised by a centurion who has his sword drawn. He notices the Doctor is holding the old man's harp and asks if it belongs to him. When the Doctor answers noncommittally, the centurion states that he has been sent out to look for the lyre player by his master, Nero. Unable to resist the temptation, the Doctor passes himself off as Pettulian in order to meet Nero. The centurion leads him and Vicki away.

Outside the villa, Ian and Barbara are tied up to a slave cart as they discuss how to escape. Barbara's primary concern is the Doctor and Vicki not knowing where they have been taken and leaving on the TARDIS. Didius and Secheria do business with a slave owner who wants to buy Barbara, but they refuse, saying that the woman will get a higher price in Rome. The man says he does not plan to go to Rome but will take three men — including Ian. As Ian is led away a distraught Barbara is even more fearful now she is away from him.

In the camp of the centurion, the assassin is summoned to the centurion who berates him, saying that his orders were not carried out and that Pettulian lives. He says that he will give the assassin one last chance and directs him to where the Doctor is asleep. The assassin approaches the door with his dagger drawn.

All Roads Lead to Rome (2)[]

The assassin attacks the Doctor, who fights him off before Vicki comes in and tries to hit him with a vase but he jumps out of an open window. After the Doctor boasts of his abilities in fisticuffs, Vicki informs him that the centurion who brought them thus far on their journey to Rome has disappeared. The Doctor rightly assumes that he is the reason for the death of the real Pettulian and the recent attack. The Doctor assures Vicki that they are to stay there one further night and then go on to Rome to meet Nero themselves. Vicki is unsure if this is a good idea, but the Doctor persuades her.

Meanwhile, Barbara has already been thrown in jail in Rome, awaiting an auction wherein she will be sold to the highest bidder. She is put in the same cell as a woman who has a bad cough and is clearly ill. Barbara comforts her and speaks of Ian who will come and save them.

Ian himself is on a slave ship and has been for the last five days, manning the oars. He speaks to a friend he has made in the journey by the name of Delos. They have struck up a plan, and now that they are near land they try to put it into action. Delos plays dead and Ian calls one of the slave drivers. However, their plan is seen to be fake and they are forced to work twice as hard for the indiscretion.

Back in the prison, Barbara is approached by a well-dressed man named Tavius who wants to buy Barbara. He states that he will look after her. When Barbara asks if this means she will get her freedom, he says that she will still be a slave but a slave that is treated humanely. She turns this down. When the guard comes round, Tavius offers to buy her directly. The guard informs him that she is to be sold at auction and no amount of money will convince him otherwise. The guard gives Barbara a fine dress to wear for the auction. When she asks what will happen to the other woman, the guard says that she is to be given to the circus as she is useless for auction in the state that she is in. Barbara looks concerned.

Ian's ship seems to have hit a storm, and as the slave driver forces the men to row harder in order to get to land, the ship starts to take on water. As it does Ian and Delos break free and overpower the slave driver, but the ship sinks. Ian wakes on the beach alongside Delos. Delos states they are not far from the centre of Rome, and Ian intends to go and look for Barbara. Delos offers to come with him and they set off together.

By this time the Doctor and Vicki have arrived in Rome and are looking around. Vicki observes some kind of auction and asks the Doctor what they are auctioning. The Doctor sees that it is a slave auction and moves Vicki on so as not to explain to her what it is. As they turn and leave, Barbara walks onto the podium. She is the first to be auctioned. After a few negligible offers, the highest reaching 2500 sesterces, Tavius arrives and bids 10,000 sesterces, successfully buying Barbara. He explains to Barbara that he is a representative of Nero and, after seeing that she was kind and beautiful when she was looking after the ill woman in prison, he bought her to serve under Nero. Barbara expresses her thanks but says she intends to run away. Tavius warns her against such an action as an escaped slave is always sentenced to death. Barbara says she has to take that chance. Their conversation is interrupted when a messenger sends for Tavius, saying that Pettulian has arrived. Tavius hurries away and meets the Doctor, thinking him to be Pettulian. Looking suspicious, Tavius explains to the Doctor that the problem they have has been sorted out and that "he" has been put in the apodyterium. The Doctor goes along with this, not knowing to what Tavius alludes. Their conversation is interrupted by the entrance of Nero. Nero is introduced to the Doctor and instantly asks the "musician" to play for him. The Doctor says he would much rather hear Nero play first. Flattered, Nero does so and the Doctor copies him. Nero is flattered by this and says he will meet the Doctor later for a further conversation. The Doctor and Vicki explore and find their way to the apodyterium to discover what it was that Tavius meant. After some exploration, they find the dead body of the centurion that accosted them originally.

Meanwhile, Ian and Delos arrive in Rome. However, it isn't long before they are re-arrested and sent to the same prison where Barbara was held. They are informed that they are lucky as usually escaped prisoners are sent to death, but instead, they are to be trained as gladiators and fight for their survival. Delos and Ian wonder who they are to fight, and as they look out the window they see many lions feasting on flesh.

Conspiracy (3)[]

It becomes apparent to the Doctor that Tavius had the centurion murdered and that he too is expected to fulfil some sort of action. He goes along with Tavius' demands as if he knows all about the plans but remains clueless.

Nero decides the Doctor must fulfil an obligation too, and organises a banquet in his honour at which he must play the lyre. He also takes a shine to Barbara and starts to pursue her romantically — and literally — much to the anger of Empress Poppaea. She warns Barbara off Nero, stating that she has been the Empress for many years and does not intend to see a competitor take the role. However, when she sees Nero manhandling Barbara later, she decides more drastic action is to be taken.

Meanwhile, Vicki has befriended the court poisoner Locusta, who informs Vicki that she is in constant use as there is always intrigue going on in court. She also alludes to the fact that she feels her greatest calling will be one day to poison Nero himself.

The Doctor has taken Nero to a sauna to try to extract some information from him about the conspiracy in which the Doctor appears to have embroiled himself. Nero knows nothing of this. He informs the Doctor that he is ordered to play at the banquet tonight — much to the Doctor's dismay.

Vicki's conversation has been interrupted by Poppaea. As Vicki hides under the desk she learns that Poppaea is jealous of a slave girl and wants her poisoned. As Poppaea takes Locusta out to show her the slave girl, Vicki climbs out from under the desk and switches the cups so that it will be Nero who receives the poison.

In the banqueting hall, Nero is flirting with Barbara and gives her a gold bracelet, hoping for a kiss in return. They are interrupted by a servant presenting two goblets of wine for the pair. In another part of the hall, Vicki has informed a shocked Doctor that she has poisoned Nero as he and Poppaea are an evil couple and should be stopped. He informs her that rewriting history is strictly against the rules of time travel and swiftly stops Nero from drinking the wine. Nero is most thankful to the Doctor for saving his life. However, Nero has a slave drink the wine to test it.

Poppaea is furious with the mix up which sees Barbara stay alive and, thinking it a mistake of Locusta's, sends her to the jail.

The Doctor "playing" the lyre to the assembled crowd.

Later that evening at the banquet Tavius explains that "all is in place for tomorrow" to the Doctor, to which he responds cryptically. The Doctor is soon called upon by Nero to play the lyre. The Doctor explains to the gathered masses that the style of music that he plays is so fine and so delicate that only the most sensitive and cultured ears can appreciate it truly. He then proceeds to mime the process of playing the lyre whilst the conceited masses pretend to be able to hear it. When the Doctor finishes, his performance is met with wild applause. When he sits down he explains to Vicki that it is similar to The Emperor's New Clothes, a story idea which he claims to have given to Hans Christian Andersen. The reception given to the Doctor has made Nero insanely envious of him, and he intends to give him his comeuppance. He rushes off to his room to change but encounters Barbara and takes her with him. He explains that they are going to the arena as he has a plan — but also wants to see a fight to make him feel better.

At the jail, Ian and Delos have been informed that they are to fight each other to the death at the next fight. Delos regrettably informs Ian that he will kill him if he has to as some slaves are freed from captivity if they impress Nero in battle.

Outside in the arena, Nero and Barbara are in place for the fight and Nero explains to Sevcheria that he wants Maximus Pettulian to play at the arena. However, halfway during the show, the lions will be let loose on him due to the fact that Pettulian is the only man in Rome to prove a larger spectacle than Nero. This conversation is interrupted by the arrival of the combatants. Barbara is shocked to see Ian as one of the gladiators. The two men fight. Ian disarms Delos but refuses to kill him. They fight again, and Delos disarms Ian. While Nero gives Ian a thumbs down, Delos raises his sword to cut off Ian's head...

Inferno (4)[]

Delos has a change of heart and turns on Nero, attacking him instead of slaying Ian. Nero's guards fight with Delos and Ian, who manage to escape with Ian telling Barbara that he will come back for her. Nero overhears this and plans to use Barbara as bait to catch the two renegade gladiators.

Meanwhile back at the palace, Poppaea orders Tavius to dismiss Barbara, stating that she is a nuisance. When Tavius says that Nero is fond of her, Poppaea slaps him. As he leaves the room he comes across Barbara, who says that her friend Ian is coming to pick her up. Tavius states that he was under orders to let her go anyway so all will be well. As they talk Barbara notices that guards are being placed around the palace in order to wait for Ian. Tavius says that he will find a way of smuggling Ian in safely. Barbara also mentions to Tavius that a musician by the name of Maximus Pettulian is to be assassinated by Nero at the arena tomorrow and asks whether he could stop this from happening too. He agrees to do so.

In another section of the palace, the Doctor and Vicki have stumbled across the plans that Nero has made for a new Rome. Tavius comes to them, warning them of Nero's plans. He also states that the assassination of Nero will have to be pushed forward to tonight. The Doctor is bewildered by this, and Tavius alludes to the fact that Pettulian was coming to Rome in order to murder Nero. A bewildered Doctor states that he and Vicki must leave that night in order to avoid both his and Nero's assassinations. They are interrupted when Nero enters, stating that the Doctor must play at the arena the following night. The Doctor agrees. However, he is holding his spectacles at such an angle as to set fire to the plans of new Rome on the table. Nero is initially furious and says the Doctor will be eaten by alligators, but then he realises that by burning down Rome he would be able to build his planned version. He congratulates the Doctor for giving him this idea. Nero decides to set this plan in action that night. He summons a group of men to the palace. As they make their way in, Ian and Delos, who have been hiding in the bushes, join them in order to sneak past the guards. The men are informed that they will be paid handsomely to run through the town and burn Rome to the ground. As they are receiving this information, Tavius gets Ian and reunites him with Barbara. As the men run from the palace to wreak havoc, Ian and Barbara slip out with them to return to the villa and Delos kills Sevcheria with a torch.

The Doctor and Vicki have also escaped and are heading across the fields when they see Rome burning. Vicki makes the Doctor realise that he has had an effect on history and inspired Nero to burn down Rome. This concept genuinely shocks the Doctor as he realises that his time-travelling has had an effect on Earth's history.

Ian and Barbara arrive back at the villa first and change back into some more comfortable clothes. They soon fall asleep, only to be awoken by the Doctor, who assumes they have been lazing around since his departure. He refuses to let the couple get a word in edgeways before heading off to the TARDIS.

Once there Vicki fills Ian and Barbara in on their adventures, with neither of the party aware of how closely linked their two adventures were. Vicki asks Ian and Barbara where they are going next. They answer that the Doctor doesn't necessarily have full control of his ship so their destinations are all but random. Vicki doesn't believe them and goes with Barbara to get changed. Ian approaches a puzzled Doctor who informs him that something appears to be dragging them down to an anonymous planet.


Uncredited cast[]



  1. It is unknown who provided the lighting for "The Slave Traders", as Howard King, who was to light the whole serial, was away on leave with flu[1].

Uncredited crew[]


Story notes[]

  • This was the first story played for comedy as well as drama.
  • All episodes exist in 16mm telerecordings.
  • Negative film prints of all episodes exist and were recovered by the BBC in 1978.
  • Telesnaps of this story are held by private collectors.
  • It was originally thought that Richard Martin would direct. However, it was agreed that The Rescue and The Romans would both use the same production team so that they could essentially be made as a six-part serial. The director's job, therefore, went to Christopher Barry who was also directing The Rescue.
  • Dennis Spooner's original idea was to spoof the film Quo Vadis (1951), however the release of Carry On Cleo at that time, which took inspiration from the same film led him to choose the time of the Great Fire of Rome as his setting.
  • The characters of Tigilinus and Sevcheria were both expanded during re-writes of the script.
  • In the original script, it was Sevcheria who knocks Ian unconscious rather than Barbara.
  • 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.
  • Brian Proudfoot (Tigelinus) is credited as "Tigilinus" for "All Roads Lead to Rome" and as "Tigilinus (Cup Bearer)" for "Conspiracy". He is billed as "Tigilinus" for both episodes in Radio Times.
  • This story begins with the TARDIS having been in Rome for a long time — approximately one month, as indicated and explained in dialogue.
  • The Rescue leads directly into this story.
  • This is the second story in a row in which the Doctor is given a surprisingly physical fight sequence. In fact, his brawl with Ascaris recalls similar fights involving the Third Doctor, including the Doctor judo-flipping his opponent.
  • The title of the fourth episode — "Inferno" — was later also used as the title of an entire Third Doctor story, Inferno.
  • The Doctor's line about the Mountain Mauler of Montana was an ad-lib by William Hartnell.
  • The creation of Tigilinus the cup-bearer was, in fact, a late addition to the scripts. Originally, the Doctor saved Nero from being poisoned by accidentally knocking over Caesar's goblet.
  • Director Christopher Barry hinted that the story went overboard with the comedy and William Hartnell and Verity Lambert thought so too, the latter claiming that the audience disliked the comedy.
  • Dennis Spooner was inspired to write the story because he lived near Jim Dale, who was currently starring in Carry On Cleo and went to some of the filming.
  • Dennis Spooner had envisioned a different actor for Nero; Christohper Barry had also considered Paul Whitsun-Jones, George A. Cooper and Dick Emery.
  • William Hartnell felt at ease with the story, as it allowed him to perform some comedy; it similarly became a favourite for William Russell.
  • Derek Francis was a friend of Jacqueline Hill and her husband Alvin Rakoff; he had been promised a role in the series since it started.
  • Edward Kelsey, who portrayed the slave buyer, was a long-term friend of Christopher Barry's, as the two had entered the television industry at the same time.
  • A one-fifth scale model was used for the model falling, and a one-third scale prop was used for the shots of the TARDIS in the overgrown gully; the props were made by Shawcraft Models.
  • Model shots of the burning Rome were filmed using a model also built by Shawcraft; the construction was rushed, and Raymond Cusick was unhappy with the height of the flames.
  • Kay Patrick was reluctant to slap Michael Peake as she did not wish to hurt him; Peake insisted that she should, telling her to imagine that they did not know each other.
  • William Russell sustained a small cut to his left wrist while rehearsing a fight sequence.
  • Jacqueline Hill missed rehearsals on 6–7 January to film sequences for the following serial, The Web Planet.
  • Miss M. Vetta, a visitor from Amsterdam, visited the camera rehearsal as part of the show's European publicity drive.


  • "The Slave Traders" - 13 million viewers
  • "All Roads Lead to Rome" - 11.5 million viewers
  • "Conspiracy" - 10 million viewers
  • "Inferno" - 12 million viewers


  • It was Dennis Spooner's idea to make a comic episode of Doctor Who. (It was actually Verity Lambert who wished to try a new angle for the series.)
  • It was supposed to feature Jesus but didn't due to ethical disagreements. (This was never the case, but fan myths believe this. There is no reason for this, as Jesus didn't live in AD. 64, as he died around AD. 33-35)
  • This story was originally a six-parter, but because The Rescue was pushed into schedule, it was reduced to a four-parter. (This was never the case.)

Filming locations[]

Production errors[]

If you'd like to talk about narrative problems with this story — like plot holes and things that seem to contradict other stories — please go to this episode's discontinuity discussion.
  • When Barbara turns around to hug Ian after they are reunited in "Inferno," a long zipper is clearly visible down the back of her dress.
  • The camera on the boat is hit by falling wood during the storm scene. This causes a wide white line to cross the screen.
  • During the third episode, a boom mike drops into the shot during the scene in which Nero and his wife pick out jewellery (this is also visible in the DVD featurette What Has The Romans Done for Us?).
  • During the scene in which Nero chases Barbara around, one of the studio lights is captured by the camera, causing a noticeable lens flare.
  • In episode one, Didius, while talking to Sevcheria about capturing the travellers, makes four attempts to put his sword in his scabbard. After the fourth attempt, the actor realises his mistake and puts it firmly in the scabbard.


Home video and audio releases[]

DVD releases[]

This story was released on DVD alongside The Rescue in February 2009 (UK) and July 2009 (North America). For the release, the episodes have been reprocessed via computer to restore the original videotaped look of the production.


See The Rescue for additional DVD extras on this set.

Rear Credits:


  • Editing for the DVD release was completed by the Doctor Who Restoration Team.
  • There is an error on the back cover of at least one version of The Romans DVD: David Whitaker is credited to have written this story, rather than Dennis Spooner.

BritBox availability[]

This story is available for streaming through BritBox (US) as part of Season 2 of Classic Doctor Who.

VHS releases[]

This story was released as Doctor Who: The Rescue/The Romans.

UK Release: September 1994 / US Release: March 1996
PAL - BBC Video BBCV5378 (2 tapes)
NTSC - Warner Video E1313 (2 tapes)
NTSC - CBS/FOX Video 8338 (2 tapes)

Audio releases[]

External links[]