Doctor Who is a British science fiction television series which has been around off and on since 1963. The main character is just known as “The Doctor” and is a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. This means he travels through time to various places. One of his favorite places to visit is Earth. Typically, he has a companion traveling with him, usually female, sometimes male, sometimes one of each. He travels in a time machine known as a “Tardis” which is disguised as a British Police booth.
A Time Lord can regenerate if fatally wounded, which has accounted for all the different actors who have played The Doctor throughout the years. In these two story arcs included in the boxed set, The Doctor is portrayed by William Hartnell. His companions for the first story arc are Ian and Barbara (portrayed by William Russell and Jacqueline Hill).
These two story arcs are the first two following the departure of Carole Ann Ford as Susan. The Rescue focuses on bringing in a replacement for that character while The Romans is a surprisingly good historical story from the early years of the show.
This two-part story arc introduces Vicki (portrayed by Maureen O’Brien) as the newest companion in the TARDIS, replacing the Doctor’s granddaughter Susan. She is marooned on the planet Dido as one of apparently only two survivors from a crashed spaceship.
The Doctor and his companions land on the remote planet. Barbara and Ian begin to investigate the planet and soon encounter the Koquillion, a creature native to the planet. It pushes Barbara off a cliff, then traps Ian and the Doctor in a cave with a cave-in.
Barbara is injured and soon found by Vicki, one of only two survivors in a spaceship that crashed on Dido. The rest were killed by the Koquillion. She brings Vicki back to the remains of the ship and helps her, hiding her from the Koquillion. At the same time, the Doctor and Ian escape their tomb. They locate Barbara and the ship just after she has apparently killed the Koquillion.
Vicki is upset for despite being held captive by the Koquillion, she has developed something of a friendship with it that seems to be more like Stockholm Syndrome. The Doctor tries to comfort her and figure out what’s happened on the planet Dido, which he has visited before and was quite peaceful. He’s also wondering what happened to the inhabitants he met before.
For a two-part story, this isn’t bad. It’s serving a purpose which is to show how Vicki joins them in the TARDIS and does just that in a succinct way. The story moves along quickly rather than drawing out what’s happening. After watching it, the story is a rather simple one even for its time period.
The Koquillion is nothing more than an actor in a black outfit with a sort of mask/helmet over his head. Maybe back in 1964, it was an effective villain, but here it is pretty bad. This does play into the storyline a bit, but it’s really expecting a lot that Barbara and Ian are fooled as they are. Vicki is a teenager and I don’t think that she wouldn’t realize early on what had been happening. It’s easy to suspend disbelief in the series due to the time period. Let’s face it, we all know most of the aliens are humans in rubber suits. The problem comes when the series asks us to suspend disbelief that the aliens are humans in rubber suits, then has a plot point of a supposed alien actually just being a human in a rubber suit, or whatever the case may be.
Otherwise, the acting is fine and there’s nothing here to complain about. All of the actors are believable in their roles and this makes it easier for the audience to suspend disbelief where they have to. Hartnell is good as The Doctor, although I am beginning to believe that in these early years of the show he was bolstered quite a bit by the performances of William Russell and Jacqueline Hill. The story is set up in the usual way by splitting up the group, which is typical of creating suspense, but then it doesn’t drag it out, either. Hill does a good job being the first to encounter Vicki and endearing herself to her while Russell is something of a foil for Hartnell who continues to toss jibes his way.
The special features deal with the departure of Susan and the insertion of Vicki. This was because the actress who portrayed Susan (Carol Ann Ford) wasn’t happy with the character development and worried about being typecast. The commentary is good as well, with the only name unfamiliar among the cast being that of a big fan of the series who also happens to be a comedian in Britain.
• Commentary with Toby Hadoke, Production Designer Ray Cusick, William Russell, Director Christopher Barry
· Information Text
· Mounting The Rescue
• Photo Gallery
The Doctor is traveling with Ian, Barbara, and Vicki. They have arrived in ancient Rome almost a month before we catch up with them and have immersed themselves in the life and culture of the period. When the Doctor and Vicki go off to visit Rome, Barbara and Ian are kidnapped by slave-traders. The two are separated when Ian is sold off and the traders hang onto Barbara believing she will fetch a higher price in Rome. Through a variety of events, Ian also ends up in Rome, being trained to fight in the arena as a gladiator.
Meanwhile, on the way to Rome, the Doctor and Vicki stumble upon an assassination plot. The Doctor poses as a musician who was murdered so he can find out more about what’s going on. He is brought into Nero’s court and manages to side-step having to actually play the lyre in a quite imaginative way.
I liked The Romans a whole lot. It seems to me to be one of the best of the Hartnell era. Perhaps this is because the show was playing it for comedy over a serious drama. There are moments of levity throughout and even some dark comedy such as when Nero confirms that a drink was poison by having a servant drink it who keels over before him.
Much of this has to do with the fantastic performance of Derek Francis as Nero. He’s partially crazy and part megalomaniac which makes it interesting to see how the Doctor deals with him when he’s present in the court. William Hartnell really seems the most comfortable in the role when there’s a comedic edge to the setting he’s in and this story arc represents the best I have seen him so far.
There aren’t special effects needed for the most part. The sets are all constructed inside a studio and are of ancient Rome. Although it’s pretty apparent to the viewer it was in a studio, it’s nothing out of the ordinary for shows during this time. The costuming is good as well.
In the special features, it details how there were supposed to be a certain number of historical programs that were learning experiences that were supposed to qualify this as a children’s show. This is one of the shows that was crafted to satisfy that agreement, although there are many points that aren’t historically accurate. These are pointed out in the special features as some of them are just a matter of taking a license due to the resources available to them.
Speaking of the special features, there are plenty on the disc having to do with this story and more. Some, like the Blue Peter sequence, are all about Roman times and what a Roman feast would have really looked like without relating to the show. Other, like the Girls! Girls! Girls! sequence is about the female companions in the TARDIS throughout the 1960s and are a fun overview of the series. I can’t say how much I appreciate the extra effort to include these on Doctor Who DVDs especially when I watch some of the American series which have just had their episodes slapped onto discs with little to no thought of restoration or special features.
If you’re looking for a good story arc to appreciate the Hartnell era of Doctor Who, I highly recommend The Romans. It’s not a typical story with aliens in rubber suits, but one that works quite well regardless.
• Audio Commentary with Toby Hadoke, William Russell, Christopher Barry, Nicholas Evans, Barry Jackson, Ray Keurig
· Information Text
• What Has The Romans Ever Done For Us?
· Roma Parva
• Dennis Spooner – Wanna Write A Television Series?
· Blue Peter
· Girls! Girls! Girls! The 1960’s
• Photo Gallery