Meet our writers #3

Doctor, Go Roman. “The Romans”, Emperor Nero and Historical Comedy in Doctor Who.

BACareyThe writers of Doctor Who and History focus on a different aspect of history as it expressed thematically in the show. Carey Fleiner goes Roman for her chapter in Doctor Who and History.

Why is Nero always the ‘funny’ emperor in film and TV, especially considering his monstrous reputation? How long has he been associated with comedy? Did he have a sense of humour? Taking Nero’s historical reputation on the one hand, and his popular reputation as a dangerous buffoon, Carey Fleiner’s chapter looks at the portrayal of Nero in the Doctor Who episode The Romans (1965).

“The serial was intended to be a comic farce from the time of its commission,” says Carey. “And Derek Francis leapt into the role of the greedy, gluttonous emperor with aplomb”.

“For example, Appearing fresh from the baths at the end of Episode 2, Francis’s emperor sports a laurel wreath as he belches and gnaws on a joint of meat, then fussily wipes his hands on a servant. He lusts immediately for Barbara, pursuing her through the corridors and ambushing her in his wife’s bedroom, yet at the same time cowers before his imperious spouse.  Francis captures Nero’s moodiness and temper tantrums well with ghastly black humour. For example, following an homage to The Court Jester, when the Doctor saves Nero from a poisoned cup of wine, the emperor thanks him very kindly, then hands the cup to his servant. The man obediently downs the wine and dies. Shrugs Nero, “[The Doctor] was right”.


“Another example of Nero’s whimsical cruelty comes when he orders Barbara to accompany him to the gladiatorial school and asks her, “Have you ever seen a fight?” She says, no; he replies, “Then I will arrange one while we’re there…I feel like seeing someone hurt myself tonight”.

“A final example of black humor hinges on the main plot point of the music competition between Nero and Maximus Pettullian (Bart Allison), an expert musician. The real Pettullian had been murdered on Nero’s orders, so the emperor is shocked when the musician, that is, the Doctor, appears. Caesar is aggravated as he assumes Pettullian can outplay him — in fact, we hear Nero strike only a bad chord (which the Doctor attempts even more badly to imitate).  The emperor fumes when the Doctor plays the “silent” lyre piece that the audience admires (“It’s the Emperor’s new clothes, my dear! I gave the idea to Hans Anderson!” [sic]) knowing full well he is being mocked. Ever the showman, Nero decides the best way to enhance the Doctor’s/Pettullian’s performance is to set lions on the man in the middle of a command performance. Rightfully so, the Doctor suspects Nero’s choice of venue and asks, “You want me to play in the arena?… then I shall try to make it a roaring success…. something they can really sink their teeth into, hmmm?””

The chapter considers the background of the serial, its plot points, and its comedic bent and places the serial against both contemporary and modern reception of the last Julio-Claudian emperor.  Here you’ll find out what modern audiences think they know about Nero (he killed his mum, he fed Christians to the lions, he fiddled whilst Rome burnt) – or do they? ‘Doctor, Go Roman’ analyses how audience expectations have come to influence how the emperor Nero is seen on the screen.  The cruel and depraved emperor of historical record has been transformed by popular fiction and Hollywood into ‘that drunk uncle who shows up at Christmas and all the weddings…’




Doctor Who and History is available on Amazon UK  Amazon US  McFarland shop and also available on Kindle. Check out the McFarland catalogue.

When Sydney Newman conceived the idea for Doctor Who in 1963, he envisioned a show that would entertain as well as educate. Historical adventures were part of his vision-the Doctor and his companions would visit and observe, but not interfere with, events in history. That plan was dropped early on. Not only has the Doctor happily meddled with historical events for decades, his adventures-on television, in films, novels, comics, books and games-reflect how we regard our own place in history. This collection of new essays examines how the Doctor engages with history and inspires reflections upon it history. Topics includes reconstruction of lost historical serials, reflections on Britain’s colonial past, the subversion of nostalgia for village life, the depiction of Norse myths, alternate history, and the impact of historical decisions on the present.

Book Format Paperback
Number of Pages 193
Author Fleiner, Carey, October, Dene
Publisher McFarland & Company, Incorporated Publishers
Publication Date August, 2017
ISBN-13 9781476666563
ISBN-10 1476666563

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