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Doctor Who: The Rescue/The Romans

1/12/2010. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Doctor Who: The Rescue/The Romans boxset in the USA - or Buy Doctor Who: The Rescue/The Romans boxset in the UK

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Doctor Who: The Rescue/The Romans boxset. pub: BBC BBCDVD 2698. Price: about GBP11.00 (UK) if you know where to look. 146 minutes 2 DVDs. Details per volume below.

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The Rescue – 49 minutes 2 episodes with extras

stars: William Hartnell, William Russell, Jacqueline Hill, Maureen O’Brien and Ray Barratt

In the original run of ‘Doctor Who’, there were only two stories that were two episodes long. ‘The Rescue’ is the second of these and is the introduction of Vicki (actress Maureen O’Brien) to replace the departed Susan in the previous story, ‘The Dalek Invasion Of Earth’ (the review of which can be search engined on SFC).

There is a lot packed into this story. Bennett (actor Ray Barratt) and Vicki are marooned on the planet Dido with the mysteriously masked creature Koquillion menacing and them and keeping them from harm from the native inhabitants. Although their rescue ship is some 63 hours away from arriving, the derelict spaceship’s proximity alarm goes off but what it really picks up is the arrival of the TARDIS.

Through the actions of Koquillion, Barbara (actress Jacqueline Hill) is separated from Ian (actor William Russell) and the Doctor (actor William Harnell) who have to find a different way out of the cave where the TARDIS is trapped. It is then up to the Doctor to solve the mystery of Koquillion.

As this is the start of the second year of ‘Doctor Who’, it was interesting to note continuity being explored with a reminder that Susan had gone and Ian had a preference to which alien species he would rather face. The story is very much character driven and the focus was obviously on establishing Maureen O’Brien in the viewer’s eyes. What I found odd in the audio commentary is no one there commented on the shortness of Vicki’s dress which would make a mini-skirt look long. The insights from William Russell, director Christopher Barry and designer Ray Cusick is enlightening for the time. A small point for ‘Thunderbirds’ fans is that Ray Barratt is the voice of the Hood and a multitude of other voices if you haven’t picked up on his other major role on DVD, ‘The Troubleshooters’.

The structure of the story has some similarities to the old Hammer film, ‘The Abominable Snowman’ (1957), right up to the beings leaving the Doctor at the TARDIS door at the end. But then, the same could be said for similarities to the first Daleks story and journeying along a cave edge.

Having said that, this is also the first significant story with a change in companions on-board the TARDIS and worthy of your attention.

The Romans - 97 minutes 4 episodes with extras

stars: William Hartnell, William Russell, Jacqueline Hill, Maureen O’Brien and Derek Bond

Rather oddly, the climax at the end of ‘The Rescue’ is practically ignored with ‘The Romans’, with all four of them having a month of luxury in a deserted villa in the Roman Empire. The Doctor (actor William Hartnell) is restless and he and Vicki (actress Maureen O’Brien) head off to Rome and inadvertently gets mistaken for the slain lyre-player Maximus Petullian and doesn’t realise until much later his purpose is to assassinate the Emperor Nero (actor Derek Bond). We do get to see the original Petullian before he is killed and it does raise an interesting question how such an old man could do such an act but I doubt if anyone was supposed to register on his appearance in the original 1965 showing. In the meantime, Ian (actor William Russell) and Barbara (actress Jacqueline Hill) are attacked and taken as slaves. Ian is sold on quickly as a galley slave while Barbara is taken to Rome and sold to the Royal Palace.

Ian and another slave, Delos (actor and stunt arranger Peter Diamond), survive when the galley ship is wrecked in a storm and head on to Rome to rescue Barbara only to be captured. As escaped slaves, they were originally to go to the arena and the lions but instead end up having to fight each other for the pleasure of Nero and his companion, Barbara. Well, there was no telly in those days. They manage to escape and Ian is still intent on rescuing Barbara, who herself is in unknowingly danger from Nero’s wife when her husband takes an interest in her. Anything else has to be considered spoiler.

In many respects, ‘The Romans’ practically turns into a farce. Scriptwriter Dennis Spooner has the split pairs almost meeting on occasions but just miss each other. At the same time, there is an interesting glimpse into Roman culture on a budget that is actually very effective. It’s also one of those rare times that the Doctor fulfils an act of time requirement that ends up in a touch of arson.

It was also great to see Barbara with a different hairstyle compared to the stern cut she normally wore. There’s a lot of violence in this story, often under-played because it was shown in a children’s hour but it also served as a stark reminder how dangerous it was in Rome at that time.

The audio commentary ends up being a turnstile of various people who appeared in this story as well as director Christopher Barry and set designer Ray Cusick, with an interesting note that this is his only historical work on ‘Doctor Who’. When you consider that after a week’s rehearsal that most of each episode is recorded in a couple hours in a single take on a Friday night, you really have to admire how good the cast is. There was some comment on having a poisoner in the royal palace as to whether it was accurate or not but considering the later BBC series ‘I, Claudius’, also had one then either one was borrowing off the other or writer/historian Robert Graves confirmed it was going on. Duly makes notes not to eat there without seeing the food being prepared if I go time-travelling.

If the original production was seen as a means to educate youngsters then the extras on this DVD certainly does this. ‘What The Romans Did For Us’ looks at any presentations of Nero and the Romans in other productions, especially ‘I, Claudius’. Even ‘Blue Peter’ gets in on the act by showing the kind of meal the Romans ate, although I think I’ll pass on the snails doggie bag, especially as they were using the common garden variety rather than the larger snails existing in Italy. The feature looking at all the female companions for the Hartnell/Troughton era gives a lot of mileage and how they represented the changing trends over the 60s. The tribute to the late Dennis Spooner not only shows how he affected ‘Doctor Who’ by bringing in some humour into the scripts but also the rest of his career. Sorely missed.

Despite a little trepidation of watching another history-based ‘Doctor Who’ story, I was probably amongst the people back in the 60s who preferred the SF variety, ‘The Romans’ is actually quite fun to watch in a black-humoured way, and certainly gives good character interplay even if they aren’t all together. If anything, it also demonstrated the problem of having too many people travelling in the TARDIS. Lend me your ears.

GF Willmetts

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