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Category:    Home > Reviews > Science Fiction > Action > Adventure > Time Travel > British TV > Doctor Who: The Rescue/The Romans (BBC DVD)

Doctor Who: The Rescue and The Romans (BBC DVD)


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: B+     Episodes: Rescue: C+/Romans: B+



There is a pivotal moment early on in this excellent 6 episode issue of the early Doctor Who adventures that will affect all the Doctors and their future history to come.  It is a simple moment, based in part on the Doctor’s aged appearance, when turning to his new companion, Vicki, he says “Susan … er …”


Placed as it is in the transitionary two episode adventure “The Rescue,” it sets the tone for many relationships with the Doctor’s future companions.  It is at once touching and strange, allowing William Hartnell’s Doctor a personal dimension not often highlighted in those early years and prefiguring developments that have come full circle with the most recent Doctor’s many varied companions.


The set under review contains stories 11 and 12 of the 1st Doctor, the aforementioned “The Rescue” and its follow up, “The Romans.”   6 episodes in all, they are really apiece.  “The Rescue” is the third story of Season 2, the first story to introduce a new companion, Vicki, after the departure of Susan, the Doctor’s granddaughter, in the previous episode, “Invasion of the Daleks.”   As is mentioned in the excellent extra “Mounting the Rescue,” this episode primarily serves the purpose of introducing the new companion, who joins the established team of the Doctor, Barbara, and Ian.   The team crashes on planet Dido, where they discover another shipwrecked pair, Bennett and Vicki, who live in fear of the inhabitants and particularly Koquillion while they await rescue from a soon to arrive spaceship.  In a relatively transparent plot, the Doctor reveals that Bennett and Koquillion are actually one and the same, the Koquillion persona being used by Bennett to keep Vicki in check while they await rescuing.  In fact, the plot is so transparent, that a fake name is used for the actor playing Koquillion in the credits to Part I, so as to throw viewers off the scent.  Bennett ultimately pays with his life for crimes against the inhabitants and with nowhere to go, Vicki, whom the Doctor takes an immediate shine to, heads off with the crew at the episode’s end.


Since the story takes a mere two segments to play out, its relative transparency is a minor annoyance.  The new companion is intriguing and the bridging between Susan and Vicki will serve as a model for companions throughout the series’ long history. The story segues immediately into “The Romans,” a high point of the 1st Doctor’s tenure.  It is alternately played as historical fiction and comedy, with farcical elements akin to theater, and is in fact the first comedy episode of the Doctor. The Tardis crew arrives in ancient Rome in 64 A.D. and takes a vacation of sorts.  The restless Doctor takes Vicki and sets off for Rome and Barbara and Ian are promptly kidnapped by slavers.  Barbara is enslaved to the wife of Nero and Ian takes a Ben-Hur like turn as a galley slave.  The Doctor is mistaken for a famous lyre player (whom Nero, no slouch on the lyre himself, sees as a rival and tries to have assassinated).  All three story threads lead to, er, Rome, where through an amazing series of coincidences, Barbara, who eventually reunites with Ian, manages never to meet up with the Doctor and Vicki, who are sometimes in the same room, the next room, or down the hall.  Both sets of companions escape separately after the Doctor apparently gives Nero the idea to set Rome on fire, which he promptly does.  This is an early introduction of the on-going series theme of changing history, which has been treated variously throughout the Doctor's long, storied history.  “The Romans was referred to very recently by the 10th Doctor (David Tennant) in the episode “The Fires of Pompeii”, when he mentions he was not responsible for the burning of Rome, "Not really."  The Doctor's characteristic waffling on the point perfectly reflects the writers slightly varying attitudes over the years toward meddling with history.


The extras, as with many of the Doctor Who reissues, are really worth the price of the package.  There are the excellent making of featurettes "Mounting the Rescue" and "What Has 'The Romans' Ever Done For Us," which chronicle how the stories developed and the relationship between the two story arcs, while examining the growing Who mythos early in its inception.  There is also the usual photo galleries for both episodes, with "The Rescue" having a PDF accessible via DVD-ROM showcasing the original design drawings of Raymond Cusick.  A number of longer featurettes relate to "The Romans," including one on Dennis Spooner and writing for television and "Girls Girls Girls” - a retrospective of the Who girls of the 60's.  There were so many "girls" during the 60's, as companions turned over with alarming regularity, that each featured companion barely gets a minute (though Jean Marsh, of Upstairs Downstairs, does get considerably more “face” time) in this 17 minute extra, a sort of Cliff's Notes to 60's companions.  The recreation of a Roman banquet on the BBC show Blue Peter has some farcical elements of its own and is thankfully brief.


This set is a fine addition for both the Dr. Who completist and for those recent fans who wish to delve in a little deeper than familiarity with just Messers Tennant, Eccleston, and Baker will allow.



-   Don Wentworth


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