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Doctor Who: The Romans

"Romanii ite domum"
aka "Carry On Caesar"

Season 2, Story L

Starring William Hartnell as the Doctor
With William Russell (Ian), Jacqueline Hill (Barbara) and Maureen O'Brien (Vicki)
Written by Dennis Spooner
Directed by Christopher Barry
Produced by Verity Lambert

Broadcast Dates and Episode Titles
  • The Slave Traders – 16 Jan 1965
  • All Roads Lead To Rome – 23 Jan 1965
  • Conspiracy – 30 Jan 1965
  • Inferno – 6 Feb 1965

How To Watch

"The Romans" is available to stream on Britbox (subscription required) and is in rotation (as of May 2022) on Pluto.tv

Plot Summary

The Doctor and company are enjoying a holiday, squatting in an empty villa outside ancient Rome. Barbara and Vicki draw the interest of two slave traders while shopping in the market. After the Doctor and Vicki set foot for a visit to Rome, the traders kidnap Barbara and Ian. Ian becomes a galley slave while Barbara is sold to the court of Nero. Ian and a fellow slave named Delos are washed ashore following a shipwreck, and are recaptured and fated to become gladiators at best, lion food at worst. Barbara quickly attracts the amorous attention of Nero, much to the chagrin of his wife Poppaea. The Doctor is mistaken for a famous lutist Maximus Pettulian, which would be flattering were it not that Nero had already ordered the real Pettulian murdered, and is quite dismayed at his arrival. Vicki meets the court poisoner and assists her in concocting a brew, commissioned by Poppaea, intended for Nero's mistress, not realizing it's Barbara. The Doctor further humiliates Nero with a unique performance on the lute, but later accidentally inspires Nero to set Rome ablaze to make room for his new grand architectural vision. Our heroes all meet up and escape the inferno. They head back to the villa, excavate the TARDIS, and set off for new adventures.

Analysis and Notes and Stuff

So... the Historicals in the b/w era fall into two categories. Sure, they all basically have the same plot: get separated from the TARDIS, encounter historical events and/or famous people, and attempt to get back to the TARDIS without dying or changing history, but some historicals focus on drama and historical accuracy (viz "The Aztecs" or "Marco Polo") while others occasionally become farces, the majority of which were written by script editor Dennis Spooner. "The Romans" is the latter. This would never pass muster with Edward Gibbon, nor Robert Graves for that matter. Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas might be a more historically accurate rendering.

It may be Doctor Who's first (intentional) foray into comedy, but the humor is on a knife's edge. There's a surprising amount of death, menace and violence for what's largely a sex comedy in togas. Some deaths are even slapstick, which must've been a shocking change of tone barely weeks after Daleks were menacing the streets of London. One cannot deny the incongruity. (Though note, comedy and Daleks would hook up later...)

"The Romans" lets the characters relax, for a little while at least. They've been enjoying days if not weeks of lounging around draped in togas, indulging in the old trope of eating grapes. Even Vicki eventually calls them out; she was promised adventure and seeing the universe! And this is no AirB&B, they've been squatting, no less. I hope they at least left a note when they left.

It also allows the actors to have what they appear to have had very little of until then: fun! Watch Hartnell exhibit some uncharacteristic spryness when dispatching a would-be assassin, sputtering some nonsense about taking fisticuff lessons from the Mad Mauler of Montana. Ian gets some decent swordplay, Barbara avoids Nero, Vicki... does whatever Vicki does. And it even features a notable guest star with Derek Francis of the Carry On film series hamming things up as Nero.

Viewership stayed high; at an average of 11.6 million, this was by far the most-watched historical in Who history. The momentum would carry into the next serial, which would definitely be a test.

Haven't I Seen You Somewhere In The Future?
  • The mute assassin Ascaris was played by Barry Jackson, who would also appear in "Mission to the Unknown" as Garvey, plus the Cockney renegade timelord Drax in "The Armageddon Factor."
  • Peter Diamond (Delos) regularly worked on Doctor Who as either a performer or stunt arranger.
  • Kay Patrick (Poppaea) would appear as Flower in the lost Hartnell adventure "The Savages."
  • Gertan Klauber (Galley Master) would appear as Ola, head of security, in "The Macra Terror."

Rating: Three out of four uniquely played lutes.
John Geoffrion is a semi-retired semi-professional thespian, a professional data guy, and a Dad. He usually falls asleep to the Classic Doctor Who channel on Pluto.tv


  1. Let's just be up front about it. Ian and Barbara are clearly post coital after The Doctor and Vicki have left for Rome. It's coming off of them in waves.

  2. This is a fun one and caught be surprise in my journey through all Doctor Who, Torchwood, Sarah Jane Adventures, and even Class(!), up to Jodie's first season and special. I didn't expect this, but it's a fun romp and the fact that it does combine humor with some rather dark background makes the contrast between them so very obvious, and make this one quite a good 1st Doctor story, and one of my favorite historicals.


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