The Romans: Inferno
Broadcast on February 6th 1965 @ 5.40pm (12 million viewers)
Inferno is the fourth and final episode of ‘The Romans’, an excellent example of a historical story that became the backbone of the early years of Doctor Who and one we can still enjoy today with all four episodes still in the BBC archives. Creator of Doctor Who Sydney Newman wanted the stories to be entertaining but also educational of real historical events, this strategy already resulting in ‘The Reign of Terror’, for example, which featured the French Revolution. The portrayal of Nero, Caesar at the time period that the time travelers visit, consists of drama but also comedic elements and is played by character actor Derek Francis, who is thought to be the first major actor to request a role on the show. Ancient Rome is broadly presented, with luxurious villas, slave traders and gladiators fighting in the arena, covering the educational requirement. The serial also presented an interpretation of one of the major events of this period, The Great Fire of Rome.
Memorable Moment (Spoiler Warning)
Despite the famous line in ‘The Aztecs’ that history cannot be changed, this episode is one of the first occasions where the Doctor clearly impacts on a piece of history. It is purely by accident, his glasses igniting a plan on a table behind him, that gives Caesar Nero the idea that setting fire to Rome would allow him to build the new capital he wanted. When Vicki mentions to the Doctor that he was actually responsible for giving Nero the idea he is at first very defensive but soon gleefully chuckles, showing Hartnell’s lighter side but it also alludes to a previously unmentioned aspect of the Doctor’s past. As we know now his people, later called the Time Lords, have a very specific policy of non-interference in the history and future of other planets. So when it seems that the First Doctor has in fact shaped future events it is no wonder that he savours and enjoys the moment.
Doctor Who – William Hartnell
Barbra Wright – Jacqueline Hill
Ian Chesterton – William Russell
Vicki – Maureen O’Brien
Nero – Derek Francis
Poppaea – Kay Patrick
Sevcheria – Derek Sydney
Tavius – Michael Peake
Delos – Peter Diamond
Director – Christopher Barry
Producer – Verity Lambert
Writer – Dennis Spooner
Watch as the Doctor unwittingly sets Nero’s plans alight.
Also first aired On This Day…
- The Mind of Evil: Episode 2
- Torchwood: Meat