Doctor Who: The Rescue and The Romans (UK - DVD R2)
The Wilson Brothers check out a Who double-bill from William 'Fluff' Hartnell
The TARDIS materialises on the planet Dido; the Doctor is expecting a warm welcome from the planet’s indigenous people, but quickly discovers that they have all seemingly been wiped out.
Despite still moping over Susan’s decision to remain on Earth in the mid twenty-second century and help to rebuild civilisation after the Daleks ravaged the planet, the Doctor, aided by Ian and Barbara, decides to investigate the cause of the disappearance of Dido’s population.
A crashed ship, a wounded crew-member, a masked menace named Koquillion and a recently-orphaned girl named Vicki are all parts of a mystery that will take the Doctor’s mind off his granddaughter and solve the mystery of what happened to the inhabitants of the planet.
Onboard the crashed spacecraft, Vicki is tending to the injured Bennett, who spends most of his time confined to one area of the ship and the two of them live in fear of the villainous Koquillion, a masked being who does not want either of them to leave when the rescue ship arrives.
Replacing a companion was always a tricky thing on Doctor Who, but with the departure of Carol Ann Ford in the previous story, The Dalek Invasion of Earth, there must have been tremendous pressure on the production team to find another young actress to follow in the footsteps of the very popular character of Susan. The original plan was to have actress Ann Davies reprise her role of freedom fighter Jenny from that previous story, but this ultimately fell through and it was decided to introduce a new character entirely.
Many, including Colin Baker, have cited just how instrumental it was when William Hartnell left the role that his successor be right for the part and allow the show to continue with a slightly fresher perspective, but retaining the original flavour; one could argue that Ford’s exit from the series was an interesting precursor to this, as fans who watched the show from the very beginning would have counted all three of the original companions to be as integral to the show as the Doctor himself.
Sadly, the decision to create what was essentially a pale imitation of Susan didn’t really work. If we have to be totally honest, Vicki wasn’t exactly our favourite companion—Susan was intelligent and interesting, playing an integral part in solving mysteries and mixed other-worldly wisdom with a sense of childlike wonder. Vicki, on the other hand, always comes across as a bit of a thickhead with three purposes in life…
2) Tripping over and slowing down the rest of the group
]3) Generally being annoying.
Granted, Maureen O’Brien is a talented actress, but she could only really work with what she was given as far as characterisation is concerned. Vicki is quite possibly one of the weakest companions in the history of the show—even though Adric was a whiney little shit at the best of times, at least he had a degree of intelligence that saved the day once or twice. Vikki often seemed to be dimmer than a five watt light-bulb and was more often than not a burden to the rest of the TARDIS crew—she certainly wasn’t smart enough to put two and two together to work out the screamingly obvious alter-ego of Koquillion.
Hartnell turns in a good performance, with his opening scene being particularly memorable as he wakes from a nap and forgets that his granddaughter is no longer a member of the TARDIS crew. He is also involved in the hand-to-hand fight sequence near the end of the story, which he seems to do single-handedly, without the use of a double—quite impressive, really, given his age and the complexity of the moves involved.
Hartnell himself is not immune to fluffing his lines in this story—there are no major fluffs like the hilarious ‘radiation gloves’ in The Daleks, but even the usually reliable Jacqueline Hill trips over her own dialogue here. Hill also narrowly avoided having her face burned off when a stunt involving combustible materials went wrong.
The ever-dependable William Russell is also good, being something of a rock for the Doctor as his universe is still recovering from the departure of Susan. Jacqueline Hill is as good as ever, but due to necessity of the story, her character is required to do kill an innocent creature without even giving it a warning beforehand, which is completely out of character for the usually compassionate Barbara.
It would be childish to point out that the name of the adversary in The Rescue probably had some of the more analytical children sniggering in playgrounds up and down the land when the two-part story was broadcast (Cock-Willy-in).
The ‘twist’ regarding the identity of Koquillion is not exactly going to come as an astonishing surprise to anyone over the (mental) age of six, but it is fun to see the way that the good Doctor goes about deducing the man behind the mask.
Despite The Rescue being the story that unleashed Vicki onto an unsuspecting world, there is still much to like about it. Ray Cusick’s production design is very nice, with models shots of the crashed spaceship and the interior of the ship being particularly impressive—there is a great sense of perspective whenever the camera moves past the window, helping to sell the idea of there genuinely being an alien world outside the ship, rather than just a backdrop in a studio.
As Charles Hawtrey once sang…
’Wherever I wander, there’s no place like Rome…’
It has been said that as far as early Doctor Who is concerned, the historical stories have aged better than most of the ‘futuristic’ ones, as the BBC’s reputation for period/costume dramas meant that authentic-looking props and costumes were easier to accept than anything constructed from bubble-wrap and corrugated cardboard.
The Romans sees the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and new companion Vicki materialising in ancient Rome, during the tyrannical reign of Nero. The TARDIS has slipped down the side of a mountain, but this is of no concern to our heroic Timelord and his crew, as they decide to take a well-earned break and do as the Romans do.
Whilst the Doctor and Vicki make their way into Rome itself, with our irascible Timelord masquerading as a lyre-playing assassin, Ian and Barbara fall afoul of a group of slave-traders and find themselves being carted off towards bleak futures…
Dennis Spooner’s script for The Romans is a little more light-hearted than many other historical Doctor Who stories, but still retains a grittiness that helps to ground the story in a sense of historical reality. There are many moments where there is a palpable sense of drama amid Dennis Spooner’s vaguely campy script—the wrecking of and subsequent escape from the slave ship is one particularly strong example.
It was little unfortunate that The Romans emerged around the time that Carry On Cleo unleashed itself on the British public, as there are many scenes in Doctor Who’s take on Roman times that instantly bring several sequences from Gerald Thomas’ epic—the galley scene and the slave trader’s market being the most obvious ones.
The heroic Ian is pitted against fellow slave Delos at the end of the third episode and the ensuring dust-up is pretty exciting stuff—you know that you’re in for an exciting and well-choreographed fight sequence when the person you’re battling to the death with is legendary stunt coordinator Peter Diamond. The late Mr Diamond would go on to face the losing end of a sword two decades later, when up against Christopher Lambert in Highlander.
There are several instances during the second episode, All Roads Lead to Rome, (this was back when each episode had its own individual title) where the predicament that our heroes find themselves in could easily have been resolved if, say, the Doctor had been a little more observant with regard to his surroundings, or if events had happened a few seconds earlier than they did. This method of writing can be looked upon as either an interesting way or ratcheting up the tension in an audience, or annoying them through contrivance—it is down to the individual to decide which.
There are several farcical scenes during one episode that have many of the characters darting in and out of doors and corridors, narrowly missing each other, the results of which wouldn’t looks out of place in an episode of Scooby Doo. There are obviously some that consider such light moments amusing, but most would probably be groaning and wanting the story to advance.
The violence in The Romans is handled quite tastefully, but was probably considered quite shocking at the time—there are a couple of deaths at the hands of Emperor Nero, both of which are done in a very sadistic manner, which helps to underscore just what a twisted individual Nero became during his rule.
One cannot help but notice that immersing themselves in ancient Roman culture seems to have rubbed off on Ian and Barbara—there is a scene just after the Doctor and Vicki leave for Rome that has our former schoolteachers in a distinctly post-coital mood. It would be pretty easy to imagine how the scene before the departure of the Doctor and Vicki could have gone…
The Doctor: ‘Come along, Vicki, let’s go and explore the delights of the Eternal City.’
Vicki: ‘Coming, Doctor—but what about Ian and Barbara?’
Ian: ‘That’s OK, Vicki—we’ll just stay here and relax.’
Vicki: ‘But we’ll have LOTS of fun and adventures!’
Barbara: “No, no—you two run along and we’ll find some way of keeping ourselves occupied…’
William Hartnell is far from fluff-free in this story, but he makes up for his occasional flubs by turning in a very amusing performance—with Spooner’s script to work with and such an imposing comedic figure as Derek Francis ( Carry On Camping – ‘By gum, you’ve got a nerve!’) to play off, Hartnell is delightful, as the Doctor has to transform himself into a seemingly fawning and subservient yes-man to Emperor Nero. Francis plays his Emperor as a truculent man-child, who concerns himself with chasing women and killing men on a whim, which wasn’t all that far removed from the truth, apparently…
The Romans is a fun story and proves that not all of the historical Hartnell stories were almost designed to be endured rather than enjoyed; it’s an entertaining romp that adds a little more mystique to the character of the Doctor and the conclusion would have almost certainly been brought up during the Sixth Doctor’s trial as a prime example of his meddling—if the writers had been bothered to cross-reference these things.
The Restoration Team have worked their magic once more, presenting The Rescue in a manner that has not been seen since the original transmission. We used to own the VHS release, which included The Romans (there was a dealer near us who had a copy in his collector’s emporium with a price-tag of £75—bet he’s just about to amend this) and these were unrestored. The difference is quite startling—yes, there are still imperfections that were caused when the film copies were generated.
Whilst not looking as good as The Rescue, The Romans is still light-years ahead of the old VHS release. The VIDFire process really adds to the feeling of watching the episodes as they were broadcast—even though there are some hardliners out there who consider any sort of restoration to be a form of blasphemy. We can assure you that we’re not among their number and the Restoration Team have come up trumps yet again
The sound on these two releases has been worked upon to improve fidelity and whatnot—the results, much like the image quality are much better than the old VHS releases, but there are times when some of the dialogue is a little tricky to discern – maybe we’re just getting old…
Mounting The Rescue: This twenty-one minute documentary takes a look at the production of this two-part story. Whilst many involved are no longer have a lease in the land of the living, the remaining survivors make for a pleasing bunch of interviewees. The cast are represented by the ever-reliable William Russell (looking more sprightly here than on one or two other interviews), Maureen O’Brien, who appears open, but still a little guarded when it comes to talking about her time on Doctor Who and Aussie actor Ray Barrett, who has a couple of nice memories about his guest shot and about Hartnell, too.Ray Cuisick is also on hand to reminisce about the production design (also mentioning that Shawcraft—the company that was sub-contracted to build some of the models—couldn’t pick their noses without written instructions). It’s also nice to see the reappearance of long-time Doctor Who fan Ian McLachlan, who offers an entertaining insight into how the fans and the public viewed the show at the time. This is a great little documentary and the pretty much covers everything you would want to know about this often overlooked First Doctor story.
Audio Commentary: On The Rescue you will hear designer Ray Cusick, director Christopher Barry and last, but by no means least, actor William Russell. This commentary is moderated by Toby Hadoke and it’s a fun listen, with Hadoke asking questions to which he knows the answers in order to gently tease memories from his interviewees.
Photo Gallery: This runs for eight minutes and features many images of the impressive sets for The Rescue, along with numerous pictures of Maureen O’Brien posing in various ways alongside Koquillion. All of these images are set to music and sound effects from the show.
Info Text: The Restoration Team, as ever, provide a constant and exhaustive set of text-based information, bombarding you with more facts and figures than you could possibly want about this story. Great stuff—as always!
PDF Materials: This feature allows you access to designer Ray Cusick’s designs for The Rescue, including refurbishing the TARDIS, plans for the wrecked spacecraft and even Sandy, the loveable sand-monster. There are also the Radio Times listings for the two episodes, along with a vintage article on the introduction of Vicki to the series.
Coming Soon: As is now standard with Doctor Who releases on DVD, there is a little trailer for what’s up next on the schedules—all we will say is that seeing this Sixth Doctor adventure on DVD will be ‘excellent’…
Audio Commentary: For The Romans, actors William Russell, Nick Evans & Barry Jackson join in the fun, with designer Ray Cusick dropping in for the final episode. It’s a fun and breezy commentary, with much of the usual nostalgic reminiscing and back-slapping. There’s a fun little factoid that one of the Romans who appears in the story also appeared in Carry On Cleo, playing Spencius opposite Warren Mitchell’s Markus.
What Has The Romans Ever Done for Us?: This thirty-three minute documentary provides a fun look back at the making of this historical romp. There are interviews with almost many people involved with the story, along with almost every actor who has performed in BBC dramas about Rome you could ever wish to hear from—oh, and Christopher Biggins. This is a great documentary, mixing in anecdotes about the making of the show, historical information about that period of Roman history and also a nice way of bridging the gap between the original Doctor Who and ‘New Who’.
Roma Parva: This short feature has director Christopher Barry gives a fun little demonstration on how models were used to plan how the cameras work positioned in the studio for productions like The Romans.
Dennis Spooner: Wanna Write a Television Series?: This is terrific fun, as the viewer is taken on a breakneck journey through the life of the gifted TV scribe. Though it concentrates on his Doctor Who work, this featurette presents a nice little introduction to the life and work of Dennis Spooner; with some particularly touching remarks from Brian Clemens. The title sequence for this documentary is absolutely hilarious, utilising the title theme to Jason King!
Blue Peter: This fun little gem from the Blue Peter archives is a short look at the intricacies of a Roman banquet, with Val Singleton, Peter Purves, John Noakes and Leslie Judd all filling young minds full of just how the denizens of Rome used to chow down. It’s interesting to note that the props, costumes and furniture seen here are more authentic-looking than the in the Doctor Who story. Oh, and Val looks quite fetching in a plunging neckline.
Girls! Girls! Girls!@ The Sixties: This is presumably the first in a series looking at the Doctor’s female companions over the decades. All of the female companions are remembered here, with some of the actresses themselves interviewed. It’s interesting to note that the usually amenable Wendy Padbury is conspicuous by her absence. With the non-participation of Jackie Lane in this documentary, coupled with her not having anything to do with the recent release of The War Machines, it means that the only chance for Who fans to have any contribution from Ms Lane is on the eventual DVD release of The Ark—here’s hoping that she’s persuaded to break her silence…
Photo Gallery: This is another gallery that presents slowly zooming-in images accompanied to incidental music from the story. There are some nice glimpses of the sets to be had here.
Info Text: Once again, there is more information about the shooting of this story than you can shake a stick at—for those of you capable of multitasking, try listening to the audio commentary and reading the info-text at the same time. Man, it can be a rush…
Radio Times Listings:For those of you able to get this feature to work, this provides you with a nice little nostalgic look at the listing in the Beeb’s publication (other listings magazines are available).
The Romans and The Rescue make for fun, nostalgic viewing—it was a nice touch to put them together in a set in the same way they were released on video (doubtless there are fans who would rather have seen The Sontaron Experiment and Genesis of the Daleks coupled in the same way) and the restored picture and sound really elevates these stories. William Hartnell is a delight in both and the lightness of touch will help to change the perception of some who think that most sixties historical Who stories are dull and boring. Great stuff!
Review by Wilson Bros
Suitable for all
Release Date: 16th February 2009
Aspect: 1.33:1 Full Frame
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono English
Subtitles: English HoH
Extras: Featurettes, Coming Soon Trailer, Information Text
Easter Egg: No
Director: Christopher Barry
Cast: William Hartnell, William Russell Jacqueline Hill
Length: 168 minutes
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