Doctor Who #56: Conspiracy

"The music is so soft, so delicate that only those with keen perceptive hearing, will be able to distinguish this melodious charm of music."TECHNICAL SPECS: Part 3 of The Romans. First aired Jan.30 1965.

IN THIS ONE... Nero runs around after Barbara, only putting his wife in a poisonous mood, and the Doctor puts on a concert so good, the Emperor wants to have him killed. Also, Ian becomes a gladiator.

REVIEW: Doctor Who actually becomes a bedroom farce in this episode! Barbara becomes the object of Nero's affections (she better stay out of his wife's way!) and from there, it's Marx Brothers hallways and come here my dove. If it works at all, it's because Derek Francis plays him as a petulant child, so it rather looks like he's trying to tickle Barbara more than, well, rape her. It's the kind of harmless sex game kids might have seen their parents play, and no more. And so, Barbara enters the comedy. Of course, it's a very black comedy, as Nero's wife Poppaea soon visits the official poisoner to get rid of the meddlesome slave. Vicki meets the poisoner too, and the woman paints a matter-of-fact picture of a family constantly trying to kill one another. I was reminded of I, Claudius, which of course, wouldn't be filmed for a while yet. That Vicki switches the poison cups and seems to know full well she's spelling Nero's death just goes to show how the comedy always comes first. As it turns out, not only does she save Barbara's life completely coincidentally, but the Doctor manages to save Nero too (ironically, the man he's pretending to be was meant to assassinate Nero). Vicki IS responsible for poor Tigilinus' death, but it's a comic death almost out of Merry Melodies. A man dies and we're laughing. And of course, Vicki probably gets the poisoner killed too, but it's all part of the Roman shtick.

The Doctor gets a wonderful scene in which he pulls "The Emperor's New Clothes" on the whole Court, playing music that only the most noble ears will hear. So of course everyone makes like they hear it, the posers! Nero even forms an opinion that it wasn't that good, and humiliated by the applause the Doctor gets, decides to have the rival musician killed in the circus. Before the concert, the Doctor relaxes in a sauna with Nero, and it gives credence to all the name-dropping he's been doing lately. It's that easy for him to cozy up to historical celebs. And it's lovely how, at the end of a scene, he contemplates his upcoming performance AND the sword point. The script, direction and acting are all being clever.

Only Ian hasn't been allowed to enter the comedy, and he's still in danger, doomed to face his only friend, Delos, in mortal combat. The characters have all been kept separate (except for the Doctor/Vicki double act) by circumstances, but Ian and Barbara's paths finally meet when Nero drags her along to watch gladiators kill each other. It's a dramatic counterpoint to the way they were both thinking about each other at the start of the episode, like star-crossed lovers. And may I say how good the sword fight is? It's fast-paced and brutal in a show that's usually had slugging and badly staged action in the past (and will, in the future). It's a highlight in a production full of technical flaws, from booms appearing in frame to even worse stock footage of lions than in the previous episode. You might also raise an eyebrow at how Sevcheria has gone from slave trader to gladiatorial fight arranger (and might even be sporting a different personality). But these are minor complaints in an otherwise stellar episode.

REWATCHABILITY: High - A black bedroom farce with a fairy tale scene in the middle and a rapid-fire sword fight at the end? Ecclectic is what Doctor Who does best.


Anonymous said...

"not only does she save Barbara's wife"

Ian is going to get a nasty surprise! :o :p

Siskoid said...


What happens off screen, STAYS off screen.


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