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"I have a surprise for you..."
―Emperor Nero
The Romans
Series: Doctor Who -
TV Stories
Season Number: Season 2
Story Number: 12
Doctor: First Doctor
Companions: Barbara Wright
Ian Chesterton
Enemy: Didius
Setting: Rome, A.D. 64
Writer: Dennis Spooner
Director: Christopher Barry
Broadcast: 16th January -
6th February 1965
Format: 4 25-minute Episodes
Previous Story: The Rescue
Following Story: The Web Planet

The Romans was the fourth story of Season 2 of Doctor Who. It was the first story to have its main plot played as a comedy.



The four time travellers are enjoying a rare holiday, staying at a villa not far from Rome in the year A.D. 64. The Doctor soon becomes restless and sets off to visit the city, taking Vicki with him. In their absence, Ian and Barbara are kidnapped by slave traders.

Having been mistaken for the famous lyre player Maximus Pettulian and asked to perform at the Emperor Nero's Court, the Doctor has to devise ever more elaborate schemes to avoid revealing that he cannot actually play the instrument.

Ian meanwhile becomes a galley slave, while Barbara is sold to Nero's slave buyer Tavius at an auction in Rome. Ian and a fellow slave named Delos escape from the galley when it is wrecked in a storm and make their way to Rome to try to find and rescue Barbara.

There they are recaptured and forced to fight as gladiators in the arena. Events reach their climax when, by accidentally setting light to the Emperor's plans for the rebuilding of Rome, the Doctor gives him the idea of having the city razed to the ground. Nero plays the lyre while Rome burns, and the Doctor and Vicki and a reunited Ian and Barbara make their separate ways back to the villa.



Episode 1 - The Slave Traders

With the TARDIS stuck at the bottom of a cliff, the four time travellers have ingratiated themselves into an unoccupied Roman villa. The owner, Flavius Giscard is away campaigning in Gaul. As the Doctor and Ian recline, Barbara and Vicki walk to the nearby Roman village. At the market 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 thus accompanies them to Assysium. Once stationed at an inn there, the Centurion makes contact with the mute assassin Ascaris, who killed the real Pettulian, and instructs him to kill the Doctor. The assassin draws his sword and heads off to the Doctor’s chambers.

Episode 2 - All Roads Lead to Rome

The Doctor overpowers the assassin and, along with Vicki, drives him away through an open window. It seems 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 onward to the city of Rome. Barbara is meanwhile already in the city and is soon sold in open auction for 10,000 sesterces to a man named Tavius, who is highly placed in the court of the Emperor Nero. She is to be a handmaiden to Nero's wife, Poppaea. Tavius is a kindly man but warns that if she tries to escape her slavery that she will be killed.

The Doctor and Vicki arrive at Nero’s court too 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. Further discussion is interrupted by the arrival of Nero himself, a laughable excuse for a leader who seems arrogant, vain and selfish. The Doctor cleverly avoids an extended lyre concert and they have the freedom of the court. They find the body of the Centurion who imperilled them earlier.

Ian has been confined to a galley in the Mediterranean but the craft soon runs into rough seas and is broken up. He is washed to the nearby shore and there is found by another survivor of the galley, Delos, who has saved his life and removes the last of his chains. They agree to head for Rome in search of Barbara. When they reach there, however, they are captured by some centurions. Taken to the arena they are set to be trained as gladiators – and their first opponents will be the lions.

Episode 3 - Conspiracy

It becomes apparent to the Doctor that Tavius had the Centurion murdered and that he too is expected to fulfil some sort of action. 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 Poppea, who decides to have her poisoned at the Pettulian banquet. Barbara has just left the banquet chamber when the Doctor arrives there, warning the Emperor that he has learnt his wine could be poisoned. It has been, as part of Poppea’s plan.

The Doctor is soon put to perform centre stage and 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 has created a climate in which no-one wishes to make themselves out to be philistines by not appreciating the music. Nero is not convinced, however, and in private fumes against the deception. He decides to have Pettulian fed to the lions.

Meanwhile, at the arena itself Ian and Delos have been trained as gladiators and are set to fight each other. With Nero watching them they are told to battle to the death.

Episode 4 - Inferno

Delos and Ian decide to fight their way out of the arena instead, and Ian is able to shout to the watching Barbara that he will be back to rescue her before he and Delos flee. The Emperor calls off his soldiers when it becomes clear they cannot be caught, planning to have him killed when he returns to rescue Barbara. A crowd of soldiers of arranged at the palace.

The Doctor has meanwhile 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 fulfil his mission and kill Nero soon. It seems that Pettulian was an assassin all along. The Doctor and Vicki decide to leave quickly but before departing set fire to Nero’s architectural plans. The Emperor notices this and decides to burn down the city, thanking the Doctor and deciding after all to spare his life. A rabble is bribed into starting the blaze and while anarchy rages 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, parting from his friend Ian. The Doctor and Vicki also escape the city, watching it burn from a nearby hill.

By the time the Doctor and Vicki return to the villa, Ian and Barbara have spruced themselves up, and the Doctor mistakenly assumes that they have not even left the villa. All four leave in the TARDIS but have barely begun to travel when a strange force starts dragging the ship to an unknown location.

Cast & Characters



  • The Doctor once taught the Mountain Mauler of Montana to wrestle and gave Hans Christian Anderson the idea for The Emperor's New Clothes
  • The Doctor recalls having visited Rome before.
  • The Doctor references this story in DW: The Fires of Pompeii when he mentions to Donna that he was not responsible for the fire.

Story Notes

  • This was the first story played as a comedy.
  • All episodes exist in 16mm telerecordings.
  • Negative film prints of both episodes exist and were recovered by the BBC in 1978.
  • Telesnaps of this story are held by private collectors.
  • The characters of Tigellinus and Sevcheria were both expanded during re-writes of the script.
  • 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 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)

Filming Locations

Discontinuity, Plot Holes, Errors

  • Nero was only 26 - 28 at the time this story was set and not middle aged as he is presented here. Perhaps the decadent lifestyle was catching up with him. Also, famous rulers, particularly ones history hasn't been kind to, in movies and TV shows are often depicted older than they really were. Richard III was only in his early thirties when he died, yet he's often depicted as being much older.
  • The swords used are not historically accurate and the assassin's blade tip is circular.
  • The events of this story while presented for comic effect deviate a great deal from accepted historical fact. Accepted history is sometimes inaccurate.
  • Ian and Barbara sit around a plastic lined fountain. The BBC's budget was very small at that time they couldn't afford better material.
  • Nero pays his fire starters in metal washers.
  • Why doesn't Barbara say anything about their trip to Rome when they are back in the TARDIS. She doesn't even react to hearing that The Doctor was actually the lyre player that she had helped save. She does say something, it just doesn't happen until the following episode, The Web Planet. She explains to Vicki that she didn't have the chance to say anything about it earlier.
  • Several technical errors are visible.
    • The camera on the boat is hit by falling wood during the storm scene.
    • During episode 2 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.


  • This story begins with the TARDIS having been in Rome for a long time - approximately one month, as indicated in dialogue - an explanation for this is provided in both PDA: Byzantium! and ST: Romans Cutaway.
  • PDA: The Eleventh Tiger takes place immediately after the end of this story.


DVD, Video and Other Releases

DVD Release: 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.

Special features
  • What Has "The Romans" Ever Done for Us? - production featurette which also examines how Nero has been portrayed in film and TV over the years.
  • Roma Parva - a look at the original model used to design the set.
  • Dennis Spooner: Wanna Write a Television Series? - Profile of the writer of The Romans and other serials.
  • Girls! Girls! Girls!: The 1960s - Retrospective on Doctor Who's female companions from 1963-69.
  • Blue Peter segment on a Roman banquet.
  • Photo Gallery
  • Radio Times listings (PDF format).
  • Production notes
  • Commentary by William Russell, Christopher Barry, Nick Evans, Barry Jackson; moderated by Toby Hadoke.
See The Rescue for additional DVD features on this edition.


Video Release: 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)


Main article: The Romans (novelisation)

See also

to be added

External Links

  • Official BBC Episode Guide for The Romans, including video clips
  • Doctor Who Reference Guide: Detailed Synopsis - The Romans
  • A Brief History of Time (Travel) entry for The Romans
  • Encyclopedia of Fantastic Film and Television entry on The Romans
Season 2
Planet of Giants  • The Dalek Invasion of Earth  • The Rescue  • The Romans  • The Web Planet  • The Crusade  • The Space Museum  • The Chase  • The Time Meddler
This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at The_Romans_(Doctor_Who). The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with the TARDIS Index File, the text of Wikipedia is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License 3.0 (Unported) (CC-BY-SA).

This article uses material from the "The Romans" article on the Dr Who wiki at Wikia and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License.


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