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012 – The Romans
Doctor Who serial
The Romans.jpg
The TARDIS crew relaxing in the Roman villa.
Guest stars
  • Derek FrancisNero
  • Michael Peake — Tavius
  • Brian Proudfoot — Tigilinus
  • Kay Patrick — Poppaea
  • Peter Diamond — Delos
  • Derek Sydney — Sevcheria
  • Nicholas Evans — Didius
  • Barry Jackson — Ascaris
  • Anne Tirard — Locusta
  • Dennis Edwards — Centurion
  • Margot Thomas — Stall Holder
  • Edward Kelsey — Slave Buyer
  • Bart Allison — Maximus Pettulian
  • Dorothy-Rose Gribble — Woman Slave
  • Gertan Klauber — Galley Master
  • Ernest Jennings, John Caesar — Men in Market
  • Tony Lambden — Court Messenger
Writer Dennis Spooner
Director Christopher Barry
Script editor Dennis Spooner (uncredited)
Producer Verity Lambert
Mervyn Pinfield (associate producer)
Executive producer(s) None
Production code M
Series Season 2
Length 4 episodes, 25 minutes each
Originally broadcast January 16–February 6, 1965
← Preceded by Followed by →
The Rescue The Web Planet
IMDb profile

The Romans is a serial in the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, which was first broadcast in four weekly parts from January 16 to February 6, 1965. The story is set during the era of the Roman Empire in the reign of Nero.





With the TARDIS stuck at the bottom of a cliff, the four time travellers have installed themselves in 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.

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, the Empress Poppaea Sabina. 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 then have the freedom of the court. On one walk around 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 up on 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.

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

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 are 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 complete 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 accidentally 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 are 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.


The events of this serial appear to take place between mid-June and 18 July 64 (see the Chronology for details), and are later obliquely referred to by the Tenth Doctor, in The Fires of Pompeii.


Serial details by episode
Episode Broadcast date Run time Viewership
(in millions)
"The Slave Traders" 16 January 1965 (1965-01-16) 24:14 13.0 16mm t/r
"All Roads Lead to Rome" 23 January 1965 (1965-01-23) 23:14 11.5 16mm t/r
"Conspiracy" 30 January 1965 (1965-01-30) 26:18 10.0 16mm t/r
"Inferno" 6 February 1965 (1965-02-06) 23:09 12.0 16mm t/r

The story is chiefly notable for its use of humor, a first for the series. The highpoint of the comedy is the third episode. The subplot involving Nero, the Doctor, and Vicki is played as a farce, with the Doctor and Vicki repeatedly missing Barbara in their wanderings through the palace, and accidentally giving Nero the idea to burn down Rome. An attempt to poison Barbara is played humorously, and culminates in Nero intentionally giving the poisoned wine to an annoying slave. In contrast, the subplot involving Barbara and Ian was played straight, with substantial dark elements. Their storyline emphasizes the brutality of Roman slavery and gladiatorial combat.

The BBC's test audience had a strong negative reaction to the story, complaining that it was unrealistic, "so ridiculous that it's a bore", and "suitable only for morons". Despite these criticisms, many later critics have praised the story's use of humor to contrast with the darker elements of the piece.

On the day of episode two's transmission, The Romans was praised as "flawless" by The Times newspaper's special correspondent on broadcasting, as part of a feature on children's television. "The strongest weapon in the BBC armoury... remains Dr Who," wrote the reviewer. "The departure of the Daleks has broken tiny hearts all over the country, but the new series, with Miss Jacqueline Hill and Mr. William Russell in the hands of the slave traders, promises well. Miss Verity Lambert's production is once again flawless."[4]

In contrast to many stories, where the Doctor demonstrates previously unseen skills, a major element of the Nero subplot involves the Doctor's inability to play the lyre. But he does demonstrate a surprising skill in brawling, defeating a would-be assassin so easily that he laughs during the struggle. He reveals to Vicki that he was once a trainer to the Mountain Mauler of Montana.

Doctor Who book
Book cover
The Romans
Series Target novelisations
Release number 120
Writer Donald Cotton
Publisher Target Books
Cover artist Tony Masero
ISBN 0-426-20288-0
Release date 16 April 1987 (Hardback)

19 September 1987 (Paperback)

Preceded by The Reign of Terror
Followed by The Ambassadors of Death

Commercial releases

In 1994, this story was released on a double VHS with The Rescue. On 8 May 2008, its soundtrack was released on Audio CD, with linking narration by William Russell. 'The Romans' again along with The Rescue was released on DVD in 2009. The DVD (which is a special value release) has a commentary track featuring William Russell, guest stars Barry Jackson (Ascaris), Nicholas Evans (Didius) and Director Christopher Barry, Moderated by Toby Hadoke.

In print

A novelisation of this serial, written by Donald Cotton, was published by Target Books in April 1987. It is unique among Doctor Who novelisations in that it is an epistolary novel, written in the form of transcripts of letters and ancient documents .


  1. ^ Shaun Lyon et al. (2007-03-31). "The Romans". Outpost Gallifrey. Retrieved 2008-08-30.  
  2. ^ "The Romans". Doctor Who Reference Guide. Retrieved 2008-08-30.  
  3. ^ Sullivan, Shannon (2007-12-24). "The Romans". A Brief History of Time Travel. Retrieved 2008-08-30.  
  4. ^ "Notes on Broadcasting - Keeping the Children Happy and Informed". The Times: p. 5. 1965-01-23.  

External links


Target novelisation


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