Doctor Who - Documentary s02e11 Episode Script

What Has 'The Romans' Ever Done For Us

NARRATOR: The mighty empire of Rome was entering the final years of the Julio-Claudian Dynasty.
Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius and Nero, five emperors who oversaw a time of great expansion for the Empire.
DR MARK BRADLEY: In AD 64, the Roman Empire was larger than any empire had been previously.
It stretched from Libya in the south to Britain in the north, from Spain in the west all the way down to Armenia in the east.
So this is a very expansive empire.
It was mind-blowing when you think, the extent of it all, because it was so vast and we look at it now and we think how vast it is.
But think how vast it must have been then, when you think how long it took to get from point A to point B, and just how far away from home these people were when they were civilising us all.
CHRISTOPHER BIGGINS: The Roman Empire was so innovative.
They made roads.
They made central heating.
They created baths.
They created a whole, wonderful lifestyle.
They were really very much before their time.
So many positive things.
However, of course, there were so many negative things, too.
You know, it didn't take anything to go and kill somebody.
NARRATOR: Rome itself had developed into a city the like of which the world had never seen before.
BRADLEY: The city of Rome in the 1 st century AD is well over a million people.
And this makes it one of the largest cities in the Western world.
No city in the Western world reached a million people until London in the 1840s.
So what we have is the biggest city that the Mediterranean world had seen.
NARRATOR: The ruler of the Empire was the last of the Julio-Claudians.
Nero, adopted son of Claudius.
When he became emperor in AD 54, he was only 17 years old.
Very inexperienced.
The moment you start reading about him, you realise that he wasn't far from a normal person when he began.
Or at least that's the way that he appeared.
And he was very good-looking and he seemed to be the great new hope.
He was surrounded by a lot of domineering influential people, most significantly, his mother, who had been married to the previous emperor, Claudius.
One of the classic motifs of Nero that comes across very clearly in the Doctor Who episodes is that Rome under Nero becomes characterised by decadence and luxury and the sort of decline of morals.
The idea is that Nero embraced certainly Greek culture and brought elements of Greek culture, Greek drama and Greek material culture into Rome, which many contemporaries, such as the philosopher Seneca, see as undermining Roman morality.
ANDREWS: We are still learning the lessons of Rome.
And when you think of the ability that is so well illustrated by someone like Nero to, dare I say, lose it in the course of government from being a perfectly reasonable character to an incredibly unreasonable, rather evil character, it's not a million miles away from some of the leaders one can point out in today's political arena.
So I think we're still learning.
NARRATOR: At the BBC, exactly 1,900 years after the time of Nero, it was decided to take a certain time traveller and his friends into a world of slave traders, gladiators and a crazed lyre-playing tyrant.
(NERO LAUGHING HYSTERICALLY) The idea of taking Doctor Who to Roman times had been discussed by producer Verity Lambert and her team as early as April 1964.
Writer Dennis Spooner, who had just written a story about the French Revolution, was commissioned to write a four-part Roman serial in August.
I remember Dennis as a lovely person.
He was a really funny man.
Enjoyed his work, had a lovely approach to life, in the Threshold House where we lived on Shepherd's Bush Green, as part of the BBC.
And he'd walk up and down the passage and drop into our office and make amusing remarks and go away again.
And one just loved his work when it came in.
Dennis, who was a newcomer, really, to us, he created something that was comic.
It was more than usually humorous.
And some of the dialogue, I think, in the scenes between all of us was so much more easy, so much more natural.
You never told us you were going away.
Oh? Well, I don't know that I was under any obligation to report my movements to you, Chesterfield.
- Chesterton.
- Oh, Barbara is calling you.
It was nice to play, it was nice to act.
Dearest, you were on your way to see (EXCLAIMS) I'd always watched Doctor Who.
I loved it, I thought it was superb.
And this particular Doctor Who was very different inasmuch as it used comedy a great deal, almost like a Feydeau farce.
(NERO LAUGHING) Verity had said to Dennis, I think she'd recognised in Dennis, 'cause he was always making jokes and gags and things.
He was a funny man, so she said to him, "Bring it into the script, Dennis.
Let's have a bit of fun with it.
" Got you! Now, young woman, surely you wouldn't refuse me, Claudius Nero, a teeny-weeny kiss.
TOM SPILSBURY: The production team at that time, they were riding the crest of a wave.
It was almost as though they could do no wrong.
There was always a certain amount of comedy in Doctor Who even before that.
Maybe it becomes a bit more explicit with The Romans.
There are entire scenes which are purely there for comedy value.
- Poppaea, darling, hello.
- Enjoying yourself, dearest? PATRICK: It was great fun to do, but I know it's not something they did a great deal of.
I actually think looking back at it now, it's a bit like Shrek is now.
Not as rude.
'Cause we couldn't be as rude in those days as they can now.
But still had that sort of slightly over-the-top comic touch.
(STAMMERING) I wanted to have a word with you, Maximus.
But it can wait, Maximus, it can wait.
I know there are always complaints if the show does a comedy episode.
But you need that, you need some light relief now and again.
And you need to have a laugh, otherwise the show is going to be miserable.
- No ice, I'm afraid.
- Well, there's some in the fridge.
IAN McLACHLAN: There's lots of comedy with Ian and Barbara in the villa and so forth.
Particularly with that fridge, which is actually quite funny.
(LAUGHING) McLACHLAN: But that arises from character, and you can imagine these two characters sort of saying that.
That's totally within character.
The bit where they kept on in the third episode, where Nero kept chasing Barbara in one door and out the other, like a farce, and in fact, keeping missing the characters.
"Oh, dear, you've missed them.
" It's quite interesting because, I think, as a young person you would say, "Oh, you've missed them.
Oh, no!" And you'd actually be quite involved in it.
I think the mood of that piece forbade you to, you know, really sort of, make it very serious.
You'll have a chance of fighting for your freedom.
A chance? How? By putting on a good show in the arena.
And hoping Nero is in a benevolent mood.
RUSSELL: At the end of one of the episodes, I said, we're being thrown into the Colosseum to fight, and I think Ian says, "Fight? Fight who?" And then there's a (IMITATES ROARING) And then cut immediately to sort of MGM lion going (ROARING) That can be quite funny when you're doing it in the studio.
So perhaps that was not taken as seriously as it might have been.
NARRATOR: The comedic elements of the script were particularly welcomed by William Hartnell.
Well, I must say I got out of that one rather well.
Hmm? McLACHLAN: William Hartnell was very aware that he wanted Doctor Who to be for the young people, for the children particularly.
And I once got a very nice letter from William Hartnell where he said that part of the reason he left was he didn't like some of the direction that the programme was going in.
And so this programme, The Romans, although it had its sort of very strong scenes, there was also the humour bits to contrast with that.
He began in farce, Bill, he told me.
And he loved it.
It was strange, because in a sense his career never allowed him to develop that side of it.
You know, he was always, from Brighton Rock onwards, he was a rather sinister character.
The answer is, of course, is not to be caught playing it.
(CHUCKLING) Oh! So you want to fight, do you? BARRY JACKSON: If he dried on set, of course, in those days you couldn't stop the tape immediately, but he had a technique when he dried.
And he used to go, "What? What? What?" And so whoever was on with him, tended to cover.
That's what actors do.
You know, with getting him back on the right track again.
But, of course, with me playing a deaf mute, it was only, "What? What?" (GRUNTING) You know, I couldn't do anything.
You know, so he was stymied in that way, except that he didn't have very I think when I came to attack him, he said, "Oh, what's this? What's going on?" You know, and all that went on.
Caesar Nero.
Emperor of all Rome.
Nero! I'm going to see Nero! (FANFARE PLAYING) NARRATOR: At the centre of the comedy, particularly in the third episode, was the Emperor Nero, played by Derek Francis.
One thing that the Doctor Who depiction of Nero does, which perhaps you don't see in previous depictions of Nero, is they introduce an element of farcical humour into the way Nero acts and behaves.
Derek Francis is the larger-than-life, decadent, loud character who, a little bit like Benny Hill, he's chasing the female characters around.
I've been waiting for you.
He was, of course, very well known as a character actor.
It was a good catch to get Derek.
He was always on television.
He did films and so on.
But he was extremely kind and very patient.
He was well known for comedy timing.
And I think, in The Romans, you can see the comedy that he grew up with.
I have a surprise for you.
Guess what it is.
Well, now, let me think.
- You want me to play in the arena.
Hmm? - You guessed.
BRADLEY: The one thing that I like about Derek Francis' portrayal is the kind of juxtaposition of this farcical humour with a darker side, because what we see is Nero is involved in this court, which deals with slaves, which deals with gladiators, which deals with intrigues and poisonings.
The first comedy death, really, is when he passes the poison goblet across.
- Caesar Nero, don't drink! - NERO: Why not? I have every reason to believe that drink is poisoned.
There's like this poisoned glass and they're switching them around.
And I was laughing away and then he calls his slave over and makes him drink it.
And he dies.
And I thought, "That's not funny.
That's really not funny at all.
" And it was just at that point you kind of think if they weren't playing this for comedy, this would be really, really horrific.
Give me your sword.
(SCREAMS) He didn't fight hard enough.
NARRATOR: Derek Francis' version of Nero owes much to previous screen interpretations of the emperor, that of Charles Laughton in 1932, and most famously, Peter Ustinov in the 1951 movie Quo Vadis.
I suppose the first time anybody really got a kind of mainstream glimpse of Nero in modern popular culture was Mervyn LeRoy's Quo Vadis in 1951, where you have the famous Peter Ustinov playing the overweight, decadent, slightly mad, slightly camp emperor.
Nero as this kind of decadent emperor surrounded by all these material luxuries and goods is symptomatic of 1950s consumerism in American culture.
And that was the one thing that struck me.
NARRATOR: In the 1970s, the Nero of the BBC TVseries I, Claudius was brought vividly to life by Christopher Biggins.
I, Claudius was made in the days when The halcyon days of the BBC, when the BBC had the most incredible costume department, the most incredible wig department, the most incredible props.
So all those things, which sadly no longer exist I mean, I was dressed as Nero in raw silk.
Raw silk undergarments, fantastic flowing robes.
Every day, fresh flowers were woven into my own hair.
I mean, it was extraordinary.
I mean, I really did feel like an emperor.
Christopher Biggins, a very young Christopher Biggins captures very nicely the influence and the manipulation that his mother Agrippina wields over him.
Very memorable scene where Nero sets light to a piece of paper and it goes up in flames and Nero sort of stares longingly at the flames and goes, "What a beautiful thing a flame is.
" Of course, foreshadowing the great fire of Rome that we get depicted in the Doctor Who series.
Come, Octavia, let's go and find your brother.
Perhaps we can pacify him.
You really had to be rich and very, very famous and very high up to succeed.
And, of course, the richer and the more high up and the more influential you were, the more difficult it was, because you were murdered.
I mean, we got rid of Claudius and someone got rid of me, and someone got rid of John Hurt, you know.
I mean, they were backstabbing all the way round, you know, so you had to be on your toes.
But, oh, God, it must have been wonderful.
NARRATOR: And in the 1980s, in a departure from the previous depictions, Nero appeared on TVscreens in the dashing form of Anthony Andrews.
BRADLEY: In the 1980s, we also have, of course, Anthony Andrews playing a decadent but relatively attractive characterisation of Nero in the series A.
D.
Anno Domini.
This role, for me particularly, was a great honour, because if you look at A.
D.
As a mini-series, which was quite an epic Italian-American adventure, where all the sets had been built in The whole Forum was built in all of its glorious detail in Tunisia.
He's an extraordinary package in every way.
The attraction was in the amount of distance one had to cover in the arc from the beginning to the grisly end.
So it was a gorgeous opportunity.
Made irresistible, of course, by some very attractive casting opposite me.
Brilliant! You are a genius.
A genius.
I will make you rich.
Rich! (LAUGHING MANIACALLY) NARRATOR: Although Doctor Who's initial brief had been for the historical stories to in some way educate the younger viewers, the factual accuracy had become somewhat questionable.
McLACHLAN: When the programme originally started, the idea was to have the future and alien planets and the past.
To go into history and do the educational kind of things and teach children about Marco Polo or the Crusades and these type of things.
They wanted it to be fairly historically accurate, but not too historically accurate that it spoiled the story.
And I think, as a lot of people would say, the story comes first.
NARRATOR: So to what extent didThe Romans adhere to documented history? Doctor Who's depiction of Rome was accurate in many ways.
The people behind the scenes had certainly done their research.
The props and the setting were accurate.
The various themes of slavery, gladiatorial combat, decadence, depravity, they were very prominent in the series in a way that's very credible.
Silence! One inaccuracy was a banquet scene.
Where, in fact, you have all the characters in the imperial court sitting around tables as we do, eating their dinner.
Whereas we know in Roman banquets that what they did was they reclined on big sort of sofas.
And they never ate while they were sitting up.
BARRY: That was simply because we could not get all the people we needed in that scene in the studio space if they were lying out on chaises.
(CHUCKLES) It was explicable purely by that.
I wasn't terribly happy about it from a historical point of view, but that's what had to happen.
NARRATOR: Designer Raymond Cusick had the task of recreating the greatest city of ancient times, on a design budget of just £450 per episode.
Doctor Who and The Romans was the first historical story I did.
The only one I did.
Rome was mostly done with a few flats and a lot of drapes.
And solid props for furniture.
Luckily, the BBC had at that time a vast collection of stock scenery.
So it meant that your actual building of new scenery was kept to a minimum, luckily, because I couldn't afford to build too much.
It was very like a stage play.
Of course, again, in these days, television was seen as theatre in your living room.
Armchair theatre.
That's what it was about.
So you kind of were used to the conventions of that being like a stage play.
The sets actually were often a lot better than some of the sets that would be used in a theatre.
I'm sure he kept running up and down the same corridor.
I think that's something I remember.
And suddenly appearing from around corners and different corners to make it look like a different corridor.
BARRY: He managed to make the corridors double-ended, so that I was able to shoot first one way and have someone coming in from the left and then the other way and have them coming from the other direction.
Made some of our chases round corridors much longer than they might have been.
You never really kind of think it's just two sets, it's three sets and like 20 feet of a corridor.
It never really occurs to you 'cause you just get caught up in the story.
The same bush kept coming into shot.
When we were out of the city, on the way to the city.
I mean, once or twice it was meant to be the same bush, when the chap was found dead in the bushes, but sometimes it wasn't meant to be.
(LAUGHING) That's better, my dear, now they really are fighting for their lives.
NARRATOR: In an effort to bring some authenticity to the programme's action sequences, Christopher Barry brought on board two experienced fight arrangers.
Peter Diamond's already impressive CVincluded From Russia with Love and Carry on Cleo.
And he would go on to perform stunts in Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark, among many others.
BARRY: I first met Peter Diamond in my Ealing Studio days, in a film calledThe Love Lottery, with David Niven.
And he had a few lines as well and I'd worked with him since then on other things.
And I thought that for the amount he had to do in this, he'd get away with it.
And I think he did.
Well, here we are, Ian.
Rome.
Now what? RUSSELL: Peter was very good.
I mean, he really could, in a few minutes, do the fights for you.
And we didn't have to spend hours, you know, rehearsing and everything.
It was just what was easy, what was good and what could be done in the time.
Because fights, as one knows from today, exist entirely on cuts, and cuts were very expensive in those days.
And so we had about three cuts per fight.
So you didn't see the result of the blow or the delivery of the blow, you just saw a general sort of feeling.
It was very difficult, too, for the cameras, to make the fights look more brutal.
NARRATOR: Barry Jackson brought his skills as a tumbler and fight arranger to the part of Ascaris.
I was an actor, but actors have to supplement their income, you know, when you're starting.
So I started to think, "I've got two hats, really.
" Jack Barry, who was the fight arranger or the tumbler, and Barry Jackson.
If I win, I'll make it quick for you.
JACKSON: Peter Diamond, I think he'd originally taught me when I was at drama school in '54.
And he probably had suggested me for this part, since it required somebody to be gentle with the Doctor.
I remember going for him with the gladius, the little sword.
And waiting for about four minutes while he turned around with his lyre.
So I'm endlessly going (GROANING) Hurry up, you know, before he turns around and They broke something over my head, didn't they, at one point.
We used to use sugar glass for that.
Or sometimes wax if it was a bottle.
But it seemed to go fine.
I mean, I just threw myself around.
Made it look as if I don't think it's a terribly good fight.
Barry, I got to know quite well, and he told me that his surname was really Barry.
And that we were probably therefore somewhere distantly related.
That sort of gave us a bit of a bond.
It was sad giving him a part and unfortunately he didn't speak.
He made noises, 'cause he'd had his tongue cut out, poor chap.
You fool! I went to where the body should have been and there he was alive.
JACKSON: During that period as Jack Barry I had a gladiatorial act.
Very hairy stuff, you know.
Sharpened spears and swords and people in the audience trying to avoid sparks and things like that.
But, yes, it's quite interesting in a sense that it was a Roman character I played.
We're in the middle of this fight, crowds of people outside and he has a belt for me to kill him at the end, hitting him really hard.
And it's reinforced with steel at the end.
But it slipped just as I hit him.
And this was the first show, we had another show to do.
I cut him through to his hip bone with the sword.
And he was amazing, 'cause somehow we strapped him up and we did a later performance in the afternoon.
Extraordinary, yeah.
So these were mad days, really.
Pardon me, madam, I must go about my NARRATOR: Nero's wife was played by Kay Patrick.
I knew something about Poppaea, but only, I'm ashamed to say, through Quo Vadis, who had a very glamorous woman playing her, with two cheetahs, which I thought was wonderful.
And I hoped I might have two cheetahs as well if I got the part.
But I didn't.
Dearest, which one do you think I should wear? - Oh, that one.
- Oh, really? I would have preferred the other, but if you insist.
NARRATOR: The story of the real Poppaea Sabina is one of ambition, ruthlessness and horror.
BRADLEY: Poppaea Sabina was Nero's second wife.
She was about seven years older than him.
And she represents yet another domineering female figure in Nero's life.
Of course, Nero was already married at the point when he met Poppaea.
He was married to the daughter of a previous emperor and the daughter was called Octavia.
And Octavia was executed in 62 AD.
Perhaps at the instigation of Poppaea.
PATRICK: I wasn't there for the comedy, I was there for the nastiness.
So, I think, you know, the fact that she could quite easily arrange for someone to be poisoned in case she caught Nero's eye was captured well in the script.
- There's no answer to failure.
- But I would have sworn I'm tired of your feeble excuses.
Guards, guards.
Take her.
BRADLEY: Poppaea was a very important influence on Nero, but what happened in the end to Poppaea is very interesting because Poppaea, when she was pregnant with Nero's child in 65 AD, a year after our episodes, Nero kicks her to death while she's pregnant.
And that's the end of Poppaea.
I'm not able to give you your freedom.
You'll still be a slave.
NARRATOR: The character of Tavius was played by Michael Peake.
And in a striking scene is revealed to be an early Christian.
Michael Peake, I heard about him from one of our production assistants.
I looked him up and thought, "Oh, what a wonderful face.
"Just right for a sort of double-dealer.
" And so I was very happy to cast him.
I think he was excellent.
I had to slap Tavius.
And I can remember being very worried that I might hurt him.
And he said, "Just go for it.
" So I did.
(PATRICK LAUGHING) And I think he lived to tell the tale.
Good luck, my child.
Good luck.
We know from several sources that Christianity, even 30 odd years after the crucifixion of Christ, had already made its presence felt in Rome.
We think they were mainly women and slaves.
Figures in Roman society that perhaps didn't have a good life for various reasons and the promise of an afterlife was something that appealed to them that wasn't part of any kind of current state Roman religion.
So you see, young woman, that's the whole story.
I saw you with that poor woman slave and it was then that I realised by the way that you were looking after her that I should have to help you.
It added another dimension to it, because Interesting.
I mean, why was Tavius so nice to Barbara? Obviously because he had become a Christian and so on.
And because he could recognise Barbara as a kind woman, as a caring person.
And therefore he was prepared to do something for her.
Now, don't worry, I'll think of something, I promise you.
Everything will be all right.
It's possible that a member of the imperial court could have been converted to Christianity.
Although, I think perhaps fairly unlikely at this stage, certainly later on.
You know, 100, 200 years later, the imperial court would certainly have been infiltrated by people with Christian sympathies, if not people who had identified themselves as being Christians.
How many sesterce am I bid for this fine female example BRADLEY: In many ways slavery is thought to have been the economic bedrock of the Roman Empire.
Without slavery, the Roman Empire could not have sustained itself.
The slaves were thought to be responsible for the production of most of the agriculture and most of the craftsmanship in the Roman Empire.
If you think about servants then, think about machines today.
And that literally was.
I mean, Nero would have somebody wake him up.
Then he would have someone else help him out of the bed.
Then he'd have someone else take his night clothes off.
Then he'd have someone else wash him.
BRADLEY: But it's also fundamental socially, because slavery is very widespread.
It's not just the, kind of, imperial court, the emperor and the aristocrats that have slaves.
It's thought that everybody with a little bit of money would be able to afford a slave to do their kind of mundane, day-to-day tasks.
So slavery is a very important social element for Roman society, as well as being a crucial economic factor.
It's nice that they don't pull away from that and brush it under the carpet.
You know, it's right up front.
There were slaves in those times.
And it wasn't particularly nice.
BIGGINS: Someone like Nero would have had hundreds and hundreds of servants, like we have hundreds and hundreds of machines to make our lives go.
And so I love that.
(LAUGHING) I love servants.
If I was rich, I'd have everybody.
Everybody would be a servant, I love it.
NARRATOR: The climax of our story features the infamous great fire of Rome.
The fire burned fiercely for five days.
Large parts of Rome were built from wood.
And 4 of the 14 districts were completely destroyed.
BRADLEY: The great fire of Rome in AD 64 is one of the most infamous events in Nero's life.
We don't know why it happened.
The kind of later interpretation is that Nero started it on purpose in order to clear a vast area of Rome in which to build a new palace.
The Senate wouldn't pass my plans, eh? Wouldn't let me build my new Rome.
In all likelihood, the fire probably started accidentally.
There were fires all the time in Rome.
Rome was built partly out of a lot of wooden huts and wooden constructions.
And fires were not unusual and we know there were very, very bad winds in this period, in 64 AD, that would have spread the fire far and wide.
RUSSELL: I was a bit disappointed in the fire of Rome.
(LAUGHING) I mean, the fire of Rome was not a great hit, was it? It was just sort of lights going on and off, behind a sort of cut-out of a city somewhere.
This was a last-minute request.
Not only was it last-minute, there was nothing left in the kitty to pay for it.
So it was a question of talking to the special effects people, Shawcraft Models, to see what they could do, you know, for a few pounds.
I thought it looked awful.
I nearly walked out of the studio in disgust.
I expect Ian and Barbara will be wondering when we are going to get back.
Doctor, look.
You can't possibly accuse me of that? All right, you have it your way, I'll have it mine.
Now, look here, young lady, let's settle this.
Insinuating that all this is my fault.
Hmm.
My fault.
NARRATOR: Although the viewing figures forThe Romans were very good, the audience appreciation was somewhat mixed.
MAN 1: "This program gets more and more bizarre.
"In fact, it's so ridiculous" WOMAN: "The performances were nothing to write home about.
Hamming is the" MAN 2: "Not my cup of tea, but the kids seem to like it.
" NARRATOR: Maybe it was because of this reaction that it took over 40 years for the Doctor to return to the Roman Empire.
Ancient Rome.
MORAN: When I first got the job and they told me it was Pompeii and all that other kind of business, I just thought, "Let me just double check.
"I'm sure they all know, but I just want to double check "that I'm not going to say anything that contradicts something.
" So I went and looked back and there's a whole kind of timeline of everywhere he's been.
And I looked and it was like, "Oh, he was actually in Rome.
" And then I looked up, and I read the whole synopsis of the story.
And I thought, "I've got to mention that, I've got to put a little reference in.
" It's nice actually, they're set quite close together.
The Romans is set in AD 64.
In The Fires of Pompeii, of course, eruption of Vesuvius, AD 79.
There's a nice little nod to The Romans at the start of The Fires of Pompeii.
You been here before, then? If you've never heard of The Romans, it works as a joke, if you have heard of The Romans and you know the story, then it works on that level as well.
Before you ask, that fire had nothing to do with me.
Well, a little bit, but I never got the chance to look around properly.
Colosseum.
- Is that your lyre? - Why? Have you lost one? RUSSELL: I thought that Dennis Spooner really brought a fresh look to the show, and he created something which was light and amusing, and yet it was still dramatic, it was still an exciting story.
What is going to happen? Is Ian going to get out? I thought his combination was very successful.