Thursday, 25 May 2017

Inspirations - The Romans

David Whitaker has left the programme but, to ease the transition, he and his replacement - Dennis Spooner - have commissioned stories from each other. We looked at Whitaker's piece last time.
Spooner has decided that his adventure will have a high comedy quotient. At this stage of the programme, the format is still being experimented with, and producer Verity Lambert is happy with this. She sees The Romans as a suitable vehicle for her friend Derek Francis, who has asked to have a role in the show. Someone else keen to have some humour in the programme is its star, and Hartnell clearly relishes the comedic aspects of the story. The comedy is mainly in the form of farce, with characters continually failing to meet each other as they move around the palace.
The idea of a story set in the time of the Romans has been kicking around since the preliminary discussions about the show. The idea usually mooted was a meeting with Julius Caesar on the occasion of his invasion of Britain in 54 BC.
Spooner decides instead to set his story in a period well known to the viewing public - Imperial Rome during the reign of Nero. Most people would have seen the 1951 epic Quo Vadis, in which Peter Ustinov portrays the Emperor.
The real Nero was born Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus in December 37 AD at Antium. His mother, Agrippina The Younger, married the Emperor Claudius. She was the sister of Caligula, so you could see how that would work out. Claudius died after eating some mushrooms, generally accepted to have been poisoned by Agrippina so that her son could succeed him - and she gain power through him. He took on the name Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus. Initially mother and son ruled together - there are coins bearing both their portraits, of equal size. Nero tired of his mother's ambition and meddling in his affairs, and had her killed in 59 AD. In 62 AD, he married Poppaea Sabina.

The Doctor and his companions arrive on the scene two years later. The story begins in a country villa which the the travellers take over for a month or so. It is stated that the owner is away on campaign in Gaul. There were no campaigns under way in 64 AD. Spooner also seems to mistake the Roman villa for the kind he might rent for a month in Tuscany. Villas were huge estates, usually with a farm, and were staffed with many slaves and freedmen all year round. The Doctor and Co. would not have the run of the place as shown here.
To split the regulars up, the Doctor goes off to visit Rome, taking Vicki with him. Left on their own at the villa, Ian and Barbara get abducted by slave traders. Slavery was big business in the Empire - the economy depended upon it. Slaves could be obtained from a number of sources, and it really wasn't necessary to kidnap people from the countryside close to Rome itself - especially the inhabitants of a rich villa who would be missed and whose abduction would have serious repercussions.
We've mentioned Quo Vadis, but there are a number of other big budget Roman movies which Spooner would have been thinking about. 1959 saw the release of Ben Hur, and in 1964 we had The Fall of the Roman Empire. Then there was The Robe, in 1953. The other place to see Romans at the cinema around this time was in the Biblical epics, such as King of Kings (1961).
All of these movies feature Christianity to a greater or lesser extent - and the same is true with The Romans. Major Domo Tavius will be revealed at the end to be a secret Christian. The early Christians did not use the crucifix as their symbol. They would more likely have used the fish symbol - the Greek word for fish forming an acronym for 'Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour'. Some of the Apostles had been fishermen, and Christ claimed to be "a fisher of men".

Peruse those movies mentioned above, and you will find other story elements which Spooner has incorporated. Ian is first sold off to be a galley slave - just like Judah ben-Hur. (By the way, forget the recent remake, and even the Chuck Heston version, and try to get hold of the 1925 silent version, with Ramon Navarro). Ian and new friend Delos (presumably of Greek descent) then get themselves sent off to prison, where they are selected to be trained as gladiators.
Now, I recently read a review of this story in which the reviewer bemoaned the fact that the arena wherein Ian and Delos are forced to fight each other looked nothing like the Colosseum. The Colosseum wasn't built until after Nero's death, as I'm sure you knew. It is clear watching the episode in question that the fight takes place in a small arena in the gladiator school.
The only Roman cliche Spooner hasn't been able to squeeze in is a chariot race.
I've talked about the movie references, but these all had literary forebears. Robert Graves' Claudius books end at the start of Nero's reign, but he looked to the classics for his references - mainly Suetonius' The Twelve Caesars, and Tacitus' Annals of Imperial Rome.

Onto the Great Fire then. Rome had suffered many destructive fires throughout its history. Augustus introduced the first fire brigade of sorts - the Vigiles Urbani. He built a massive, thick wall to protect his new Forum from the nearby overcrowded, lower class Subarra district as a form of fire wall. It can still be seen today. On the night of 18th / 19th July, 64 AD, a great fire broke out in storehouses between the Caelian and Palatine Hills. It was extremely dry and there was a strong wind which fanned the flames. It took 6 days for the flames to abate. The Romans has Nero deliberately starting the fire - inspired by the Doctor's accidental setting alight of his plans for a new Rome. He is upset that the Senate won't approve this. He is in the city, playing his lyre, as the fire breaks out.
There were rumours at the time that Nero caused the fire to be set, so that he could get land for the building of his new palace - the Domus Aurea, or Golden House. He was said to have watched the fire from a tower in the Gardens of Maecenas, on the Esquiline. Tacitus claims that he was away from Rome at the time, in Antium, and this is now generally accepted, and criticism is mainly that he failed to act on the disaster quickly and effectively. Part of his own new palace (the Domus Transitorium, designed to link the old palace on the Palatine with the Domus Aurea) had been destroyed in the blaze.
Wherever he was, he wasn't fiddling. He was an accomplished lyre player, and won many competitions at home and abroad - sometimes even when he didn't actually perform.

To avert rumour away from himself, Nero blamed the conflagration on the Christians, and so launched the first of many persecutions. The Romans were incredibly tolerant of other religions - usually incorporating local deities into their own pantheon. The problem with the Christians was that they, like the Jews, were monotheistic - at a time when Emperors were deified.
Nero lived only another four years, taking his own life at the age of 30 when threatened by a coup. Poppaea died just a year after the events of The Romans - kicked to death by Nero in a rage whilst she was pregnant. Nero went on to marry a boy named Sporus, whom he had castrated, as well as a freedman named Pythagorus. Nero dressed as the bride for this wedding.
We see a hapless servant named Tigellinus, who dies after drinking the poisoned wine prepared by Locusta. The real Tigellinus was commander of the Praetorian Guard, and outlived Nero. He switched sides too often during the Year of the Four Emperors, and met his end in 69 AD.
Locusta also survived Nero, being executed by the short-lived Emperor Galba along with all Nero's favourites in January 69 AD.
History 101 over for now. Next time, we head back off into outer space, and inspiration will come from a bit finger.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

B is for... Brethren of the Wolf

Around the year 1540, in the reign of James V, something fell to Earth near the Glen of St Catherine in the north of Scotland. The Glen was home to a monastery. An alien creature, which manifested itself as a wolf during the full moon, survived the crash. This caused the monks to become corrupted in their faith. They began to worship and cultivate it. They would abduct boys from the local area to become hosts for the alien. Over the centuries, legends grew of a werewolf stalking the region, devouring local crofters.
The monks - now Brethren of the Wolf - developed oriental fighting skills, so that they could better serve the entity. They protected themselves from the creature by giving it an aversion to mistletoe.
By the late 19th Century, conditions were right for the Brethren to help the creature gain dominance. Technology had advanced enough, and the reigning monarch - Victoria - often visited the area. The wolf would harness this technology, and establish itself in the royal bloodline in order to take over the planet. The Brethren were led by Father Angelo at this time. He ensured that the Queen's train would be halted by an obstruction on the line, so that she would be forced to travel by carriage instead whilst on her annual visit to have the Koh-i-Noor diamond recut in Aberdeen. This had been an obsession of her late husband's, and he regularly stayed at the MacLeish home at Torchwood House when he made the trip.

The Brethren arrived at the house and overpowered the servants, locking them in the cellars with the latest Host. Sir Robert MacLeish was forced to co-operate with them as his wife was held hostage.
Fr Angelo assumed the guise of the butler, with his Brethren as servants, as a trap was laid for the Queen.
Fortunately for Her Majesty, the Doctor had joined her party en route to the House. He worked out that Prince Albert and Sir Robert's father had set up a trap of their own already, involving the Koh-i-Noor diamond. Fr Angelo was shot dead by Victoria, and the alien creature was later destroyed. Presumably the monastery would have been shut down by Victoria. The fate of the Brethren is unrecorded, though they may have fallen foul of the new institute set up by the Queen, named after Torchwood House.

Appearances: Tooth And Claw (2006).

B is for... Brendan

Brendan Richards was the young ward of Sarah Jane Smith's Aunt Lavinia. When Sarah went to stay at her aunt's country home to write a book, she found her relative missing, whilst Brendan turned up early from his boarding school for the Christmas break. He announced that he was thinking of giving up the school to pursue more practical studies - perhaps helping Lavinia run her market garden business.
Sarah unpacked a crate that had been transferred from her Croydon home whilst she had been abroad, and discovered that it contained a present from the Doctor - K9 Mark III.
Brendan quickly bonded with K9, having a keen interest in science and computers. He tasked K9 with analysing soil samples from Lavinia's gardens.
The local area was home to a pagan group who worshiped the Goddess Hecate. Intent on overturning a run of bad harvests, they decided to make a human sacrifice - and Brendan was abducted for the purposes. He was rescued by Sarah and K9, and the Hecate worshipers were taken into police custody.

Played by: Ian Sears. Appearances: K9 and Company (Pilot) - A Girl's Best Friend (1981).

B is for... Brazen

Mr Brazen had been the second-in-command on the human colonist ship which crash-landed on the planet Frontios in the far distant future. He was right hand man to Captain Revere, helping to enforce discipline in the harsh environment in which the colonists found themselves. Brazen ensured that the colony was never informed of the true circumstances surrounding Revere's "death", and he took on the role of mentor to his son - the new leader, Plantagenet.
As the young man grew, Brazen kept his grip on the fragile colony. He took action whenever anyone tried to delve too deeply into the planet's secrets. His control was upset by the arrival of the TARDIS crew on the planet, followed soon after by Plantagenet's apparent demise - sucked down into the earth like his father before him. Brazen insisted on going into the tunnels beneath the colony when the Doctor elected to investigate. He learned the truth about what had been happening - of how the planet was infested with gravity-influencing Tractators, who used human bodies to drive their mining machines. This had been the fate of Captain Revere, but Brazen was able to help Plantagenet escape a similar fate. Brazen was ensnared by the mining machine, and was killed when it went out of control and exploded - allowing the others to escape.

Played by: Peter Gilmore. Appearances: Frontios (1984).

  • Gilmore is best known for his long-running title role in the nautical drama series The Onedin Line.
  • He also has the distinction of appearing in more of the Carry On... movies than any of the so-called regulars.

B is for... Brannigan

A Catkind from the planet New Earth, encountered on the Motorway by the Tenth Doctor. Thomas Kincade Brannigan, who spoke with a pronounced Irish brogue, and who dressed like a WWII fighter pilot, was travelling with his human wife Valerie to a new home when the city of New New York was struck by a deadly virus originating from a mutated Bliss mood enhancer. The Face of Boe, assisted by Novice Hame, was able to seal off the Motorway and save the millions travelling on it. The drivers and their passengers were oblivious as to what had happened.
Brannigan's children were born on the Motorway, as he and everyone else drove round for years seeking an exit. He had a number of friends whom he could contact - such as the Cassini sisters, whom he refused to acknowledge were really a same sex couple. He also had many tall tales to tell about life on the Motorway, and knew of the danger that lurked in the Fast Lane on the lowermost level.
The Doctor helped the Face of Boe open the Motorway, so Brannigan and Valerie could finally reach the city and make their new home.

Played by: Ardal O'Hanlon. Appearances: Gridlock (2007).

  • O'Hanlon has recently become the third person to take the lead in the popular crime series Death in Paradise, but he will forever be best known as the nice-but-dim Father Dougal in Father Ted. He featured in Russell T Davies' series Cucumber.

B is for... Bragen

Head of Security for the human colony on the planet Vulcan. He harboured ambitions to take over the running of the colony from Governor Hensell, and planned to use the Daleks to help him. Concerned that a small but active rebel group was growing in strength, whilst Bragen's troops seemed ineffectual to stop it, Deputy Governor Quinn called in the assistance of an Examiner from Earth. He was assassinated soon after his arrival, and the newly regenerated Second Doctor came to be mistaken for him. He was more interested in stopping scientist Lesterson's experiments with a Dalek he had found in a spaceship, buried in the mercury swamps. When it became clear that the Daleks could be used as a weapon, Bragen took the opportunity of Hensell's tour of the outer regions of the colony to stage his coup. He had been the secret leader of the rebels all along. He had Hensell exterminated on his return. Fearing the rebels might then turn against him, he was content for the Daleks to kill them as well as any others who stood against him. He soon found that they would obey no human. His own men were cut down. The rebel Valmar shot Bragen dead when he learned of his plan to kill all the rebels.

Played by: Bernard Archard. Appearances: Power of the Daleks (1966).

Sunday, 21 May 2017

May's Figurines

Two figurines this month, both from the Classic Series, and both representing leaders of their respective races.
The earliest figure is the Black Dalek, from The Dalek Invasion of Earth. Not much to say about this. We have already had the Saucer Commander variant, with the alternate black and silver skirt sections, which formed a halfway house to the first of the Dalek Supremes. The accompanying magazine confirms that this was unintentional.
Then we get the Cyber-Controller, as it appeared in Attack of the Cybermen. It has to be said that they have allowed a little artistic licence with this figure, as he is much more svelte than he appeared on screen. The part was originally offered to David Banks, but he decided to stick with the Cyber-Leader role.
Next month, we have the Roger Delgado Master and a Tetrap. The following month sees the release of Alpha Centauri (Curse of Peladon version) and a blue Voord. The next special edition will be Azal, the Daemon.