Episodes 52, 53, 54, 55, 56 & 57: The Powerful Enemy, Desperate Measures, The Slave Traders. All Roads Lead to Rome, Conspiracy & Inferno

Written by David Whitaker (The Rescue) and Dennis Spooner (The Romans)
Directed by Christopher Barry

Doncha just love things that shouldn’t work well together like apple and cheese, or Charlie Brooker and Konnie Huq. I was pretty sure that those two were different species, Homo Vulgaris and Homo Goodietwoshus respectively, but they seem intent on proving otherwise.

Or The Rescue and The Romans. These two stories have repeatedly been shoved together for no earthly reason, firstly by the producers of Who, treating them basically as one story, (hence the same director on both of them), then by 2 Entertain, releasing them as a boxed set, and most recently by me right now in this blog.

The Rescue is a two parter with one purpose: introducing the new companion, Vicki. Later in the series the Doctor would get through companions like Chris Moyles gets through Kleenex*, and the very idea that each one could get a story to themselves seems ludicrous, but swapping companions was still a brand new idea back then, so we get The Rescue.

Given this, The Rescue has a surprisingly good story, particularly since there’s only one guest actor, one voice actor (making noises) and two extras beyond the core cast.. Essentially it’s a whodunit, but with only one suspect. This would be a dreadful idea if it were obviously a whodunit from the start, but in the context of Doctor who you don’t really realize until after it’s finished, so the big reveal is actually quite a good shock moment. Doctor Who is often accused of having villains that look like a guy in a bad monster costume. Its nice to see a story where that’s what the villain actually is.

The Romans is a bit of an odd artifact. Up until this point, and for most of what would follow, Doctor who was a reasonably serious show, though not completely devoid of humour. Its a bit strange, therefore, to see it descend into farce. Some aspects of it work really well. William Hartnell, for example, really outdoes himself as a even more tricksteresque Doctor, bluffing his way through a potentially very dangerous situation. Other parts, such as Derek Francis’ pratfall laden performance as Nero, feel completely out of place.

This more humorous aspect of the show was probably because the personnel changes were not just limited to companions. The (initially) slightly less obvious change was script editor David Whitaker leaving, to be replaced by Dennis Spooner. Years later, Terrance Dicks persuaded robert Holmes that it was tradition for the outgoing script editor to write the first story in their successor’s run, and although Dicks has subsequently admitted that he was making it up, it did at least happen here, on the first Who script editor changeover.

In both these tales Maureen O’Brien does a great job as Vicki, despite the character’s awful fucking name**.she manages to play it in a way that does not feel like a replacement for Carol Ann Ford, even though that’s clearly what the character is. Also, its nice to have some companions that are not from contemporary earth. Unlike now, in the classic series only about half the companions were from the same era as the viewers. The rest were from the far future or past. Vicki was the first of these non contemporary characters to travel with the Doctor

.Though this was nothing compared to what would come, the show had demonstrated that it could withstand pretty drastic changes to both its cast and core writing staff. Without that adaptability there’s no way that it would still be around now.

In other news, I just found a fucklad of classic Who episodes in a local charity shop. Score! I only bought three of them, but there are at least another six that I don’t already have. I’m looking forward to watching the notoriously dreadful 90s made for TV movie, something I’ve never put myself through before, mostly because I really love Paul McGann in the Big Finish productions, but the same part of me that loves cheap-ass 1950s B-Movie Horrors can’t wait to see it.

*Wank joke.
**It’s not as bad as some of the dreadful things they wanted to call her. Who the fuck calls a character Lucky? Cunts, that’s who.

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