Sue has laughed, albeit unintentionally, at Doctor Who ever since we began this experiment. But how will she fare when she’s confronted with a bona fide comedy?
The Slave Traders
Sue: Have we skipped an episode?
Poor Sue. She simply can’t accept that yesterday’s cliffhanger could result in a luxurious timeshare holiday for four in Italy. When she learns that our heroes have lounged around in a villa for a month at least, she is taken aback by the abrupt change of pace.
Sue: Poor Susan. She would have loved a holiday like this. It’s so unfair.
There’s a wonderful moment where Hartnell pretends to forget Ian’s surname and this perfectly executed gag makes Sue laugh out loud.
Sue: Is this supposed to be a comedy?
Me: Yes, it is.
Sue: Seriously? It’s really a comedy?
Me: Yes, it’s a serious comedy. Just wait and see.
After a few minutes, Sue reiterates her preference for “real” stories over “futuristic” ones. Her reasoning is quite simple:
Sue: I can enjoy this more because they are enjoying it. Hartnell is having a great time and I don’t have to worry about him screwing it up. He’s a bit camp at times but he’s having some fun with this one and it’s rubbing off on others. I can relax. It looks great, too; is it just me or does everything feel bigger and better in season two?
Me: Well, they’ve moved from Lime Grove to the larger Riverside Studios.
Sue: You can tell. It’s so much better.
When the Doctor and Vicki head for Rome, Ian and Barbara are left alone to shag themselves senseless. Or at least that’s what I expected Sue to focus on.
Me: Go on. Say it.
Sue: Say what?
Me: Isn’t it obvious? Us fanboys like to believe that Ian and Barbara have just shagged.
Sue: They’ve been at it for months, if not years. And besides, they’re pre-coital, not post-coital. You fanboys need to get out more.
Sadly, before they can get down to it, Ian and Barbara are kidnapped by some unscrupulous slave traders (are there any other kind?).
Despite this bleak development, the witty wordplay continues to flow thick and fast (“Vicki keeps an eye on all the lyres” gets a big laugh from Sue), and by the time we reach the episode’s conclusion she has completely re-evaluated Dennis Spooner’s contribution to the series.
Sue: I take it all back. I like comedy Dennis. Stick the next one on.top
All Roads Lead to Rome
The opening scene to episode two plays havoc with Sue’s cerebral cortex. It’s probably the combination of comedy oompah music and brutal violence that pushes her over the edge.
Sue: That was very weird. Good but weird.
Maureen O’Brien continues to impress Sue (“Unlike Susan, I don’t worry about Vicki collapsing into a fit of hysterics”) but she’s still a little off-beam when it comes to her character. Bizarrely off-beam, in fact.
Sue: What age is she playing? When she stares at Hartnell like that I can’t tell whether she fancies him or not. There’s a strange sexual tension when she looks at him.
Me: I know this programme is bleak and edgy, love, but a love triangle involving Vicki, the Doctor and Ian isn’t going to happen. Besides, there are websites out there for weird shit like that.
While the plot in Rome unfolds comically, poor old Ian isn’t faring so well in his depressing stint as a galley-slave.
Sue: I’m sure this isn’t the sort of “in-out, in-out” Ian had in mind when he woke up this morning.
However, when Ian’s ship is wrecked by a bucket of water and some ill-fitting stock footage, Sue is surprisingly forgiving.
Sue: That was a pretty good attempt when you consider that they have no money or CGI. Who directed this one? He can come back again.
The highlight of the episode arrives when the Doctor and Vicki are introduced to Nero himself. When the Emperor calls for a footstool, and the Doctor attempts to sit on it, Sue declares it to be the best moment in the series so far.
Sue: That was brilliant. They should make every episode of Doctor Who a comedy.
Me: Just you wait until season 17.
As the end credits roll, after a very impressive sword fight (“that’s the best choreography yet”), Sue suggests that we watch the next episode straight away, but rules are rules and we opt to watch Charlie Brooker on Sky Plus instead. She doesn’t laugh half as much, it has to be said.top
Once again, the threat of sexual violence hangs over Barbara like a bad smell and Nero’s pursuit leaves a foul taste in Sue’s mouth (“It’s a bit too Benny Hill for me”). But what really shocks her is the Doctor’s casual reaction to Nero’s disgraceful behaviour.
Sue: He can hear a woman screaming behind that door and yet he doesn’t intervene. I’ve heard of “when in Rome” but that’s ridiculous. It’s a Carry On… film one minute and I, Claudius the next. And yet, somehow, they are getting away with it. I don’t know how they are getting away with it, but they are.
When the Doctor finally takes to the floor for his Emperor’s New Tunes routine, Sue is completely captivated by his cunning, if familiar, ruse and she is equally amused when the Doctor confesses to Vicki that he gave the original idea to Hans Christian Anderson (“So he does interfere in history!”); some very interesting foreshadowing that I’d never picked up on before.
When Nero proclaims that the Doctor isn’t a good musician but he’s not that good, Sue proclaims it to be the Funniest Moment (Intentional) of the series so far.
Sue is also taken by Ian’s new companion, Delos.
Sue: He’s a bloody terrible actor but also he’s very sweet. Maybe he can join them as a full-time companion? I bet he’s had a really shit life. I do hope Ian doesn’t kill him.top
The Romans continues to engage Sue and her comments eventually slow to a trickle, a clear sign that she’s enjoying the story. She’ll occasionally deliver a quick compliment – “It’s very brave of them to mix high farce with bleak drama in a children’s television slot” – but she’s too wrapped up in the drama to interrupt very much.
Some of the directorial choices are singled out for praise, though, including the horrific moment when a solider is stabbed by Nero and you believe – just for a second – that Barbara was the intended victim. Sue may have gasped. Or was that me? Either way, it’s not the first or last slap on the back for Christopher Barry.
In fact, the only moment that causes any real consternation for Sue arrives when Rome burns. It isn’t the cobbled together special effect or the lack of action that disturbs her. No, it’s the Doctor secretly taking pleasure from the growing realisation that he gave Nero the idea.
Sue: There must have been fatalities in that fire – you’d think he’d be horrified at the though of being implicated in it, if only by accident. He certainly shouldn’t be proud of it. I’m not very happy about this. Did Ian’s mate get out OK?
Thankfully, before Sue can get sidetracked by the episode’s morally ambivalent message, she is seduced by its rather whimsical conclusion and she embraces the conceit that the Doctor and Vicki assume that Ian and Barbara have sat around on their backsides (or shagging like rabbits) while they’ve been away adventuring. It could easily come across as contrived and forced but Sue is full of praise for the denouement.
Sue: It suits the tone of the story. It’s quite clever, really. Yes, we like Dennis Spooner a lot.top
The Final Score
Sue: I really enjoyed that one. I’ve got a problem with Hartnell taking the credit for burning down a city and killing hundreds, if not thousands, of people, but it’s definitely the best one so far. I’ll give it -
It’s her highest score yet. I’m ecstatic. When we began the experiment I didn’t expect any black and white story to rise above a mediocre five out of ten. The only thing that could spoil my mood would be a tedious six-part story involving giant insects and a tub of vaseline. But that would be silly, wouldn’t it?
The experiment continues…top
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