Tag Archives: The Romans

The Peculiar Case of Vicki’s Quick Exit

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I have to admit I really liked Vicki. Young, perhaps no more than 17, she had a vibrancy that had been missing in her predecessor, the Doctor’s grand-daughter, Susan.  As a former secondary school teacher I envied the way she was schooled. In The Web Planet Vicki incorrectly assumed that Barbara had taught at a nursery school because they “worked upwards from the three Rs.”  The curriculum of Coal Hill School in 1963 seemed like child’s play to her.  At the age of 10 she took a certificate of education in medicine,  physics and chemistry.  When asked by Barbara how long she spent in the classroom Vicki was totally perplexed.  She’d spent almost an hour a week with a machine.  Life in 2493 must have been a child’s dream existence!

A rare photo of  Maureen O'Brien as Vicki in colour

A rare photo of Maureen O’Brien as Vicki in colour

Vicki was a member of the Tardis Crew  in episodes which screened from 2 January 1965 until 6th November 1965.  In just under 12 months Vicki had gone from an orphaned girl stranded on the planet Dido to the love interest of Troilus, son of the King of Troy. During that time, however, there was little in the way of character development. Save for when we met Vicki in The Rescue and she was clearly suffering from the effects of Bennett/Koquillion’s abuse, she remains a vibrant and forthright young woman throughout. As I have previously lamented, it was a shame that the opportunity wasn’t taken to examine the long term effects of this abuse on Vicki, however my concern for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder plainly comes from a 21st century perspective.

Koquillion and Vicki

Koquillion and Vicki

This absence of character evolution says much about the 1960’s perception of women, particularly young ones.  In the 1960s the median age of first marriage for women was around 20 years of age.  Career opportunities  were limited and pay was not equal.  Although unable to locate figures for the United Kingdom, Australia as a Commonwealth country would have been reasonably similar. Until 1966 the Australian Public Service required single women  to resign from their positions on the eve of their marriage. Equal pay was not granted until 1972. Is it any surprise, therefore, that women were portrayed as either children or mothers?  With women having perhaps only five years between leaving school and marriage, this period between childhood and motherhood was marginalized and frequently forgotten.

Maureen O'Brien

Maureen O’Brien

When we first meet Vicki she is in a stereotypical role as carer for Bennett.  As Bennett is supposedly crippled and unable to work, Vicki is compelled to undertake all the chores including collecting water, cooking and cleaning.  She isn’t seen to complain about this notwithstanding the absence of any thanks from Bennett.   Once a member of the Tardis Crew, Vicki  is somewhat of a companion for the Doctor – a faux grand-daughter, if you like.   The Doctor has someone to fuss around, care about and instruct.  She provides him with moral support  and most probably a sense of identity.  She is close by his side in The Romans and The Crusade and does not distance herself in any great manner until The Space Museum, where she becomes involved with the young Xeron rebels and seems to start a revolution for fun.  A potential love interest comes to nothing. Although coupled with Steven for much of The Time Meddler, Vicki is back at the Doctor’s side during Galaxy 4.  In her final serial, The Myth Makers, Vicki  is again separated from the Doctor but only because he’s compelled her to remain in the Tardis because of a sprained ankle.  As was the case with both Susan and Barbara, female companions in Doctor Who are overly susceptible to wrenching their ankles.  They require time to recuperate from such injuries, unlike Ian who was frequently knocked unconscious and seemed able to get up, and shake it off, each time.

Vicki, Steven and the Doctor in The Time Meddler

Vicki, Steven and the Doctor in The Time Meddler

Quite phenomenally Vicki is capable of falling in love with Troilus in less than 24 hours, most of which time she was a prisoner in a dungeon.  This love affair was even quicker than Susan and David’s in The Dalek Invasion of Earth. Having pleaded with the Doctor in The Crusade not to leave her as the Tardis was her only home, Vicki was extraordinarily quick to leave its confines in The Myth Makers. The television audience is not even privy to Vicki’s farewells to the Doctor as they take place out of camera shot inside the Tardis. The Doctor, nonetheless, appears satisfied with her explanation which seems to have been that she didn’t want Troilus to think she had betrayed him.

Vicki with the Doctor in The Crusade

Vicki with the Doctor in The Crusade

Although spending one’s life travelling in a blue wooden box through time and space may appear somewhat aimless, it’s certainly more secure than with a bloke you’ve only known for a day; in a time several thousand years before your own; and in a land where your love’s home City has been destroyed.  Ever quick to point out logical flaws in a witty manner, Wood and Miles in About Time 1 couldn’t help but extrapolate on a grave problem that Vicki and Troilus would be confronted by.  As the Tardis translates languages for the benefit of the Crew and persons they meet along the way, once it had left then the two lovers would be unable to communicate with each other.  Unless, of course, Vicki had learnt Ancient Greek, the language that Homer attributes to the Trojans in Iliad, in school!

Vicki - I hope that tasted nice!

Vicki – I hope that tasted nice!

Aside from the characterization failures in Doctor Who, the reality of Maureen O’Brien’s hasty exit from the role of Vicki appears to lay in programme’s change of producer.  According to Howe, Walker and Stammers in The Handbook, O’Brien had been cast by Verity Truman having been suggested by one of her former drama teachers who then was in the employ of the BBC. The new producer, John Wiles, replaced Truman beginning with the production of The Myth Makers, although he had shadowed Truman during the making of Galaxy 4. Wood and Miles argue that “Wiles had noticed her tendency to pick holes in the dialogue during rehearsals for Galaxy Four, and made arrangements to have her removed while the cast were on holiday”.  It was on her return from a week’s break given to the regular cast whilst Mission to the Unknown was filmed  that O’Brien heard of her dismissal. Although the new character of Katarina was going to replace Vicki it soon became evident to Wiles and story editor, Donald Tosh, that Katarina’s Trojan naivety would make her an unsuitable companion.  It’s for that reason that Katarina was just as hastily written out of Doctor Who in the fourth episode of The Daleks’ Master Plan.

A recent photo of Maureen O'Brien

A recent photo of Maureen O’Brien

So ends the less than a year long tenure of Maureen O’Brien as Vicki.  This was but the beginning of a revolving door of companions which would grace the screens of Doctor Who over the next several years.

Vicki as we first meet her

Vicki as we first meet her

Vivien Fleming

©Vivien Fleming, 2013.

 

References

David J Howe, Stephen James Walker & Mark Stammers, The Handbook. The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to the Production of Doctor Who. Telos Publishing Ltd, Surrey, 2005.

Tat Wood & Lawrence Miles, About Time 1. The Unauthorized Guide to Doctor Who. 1963-1966 Seasons 1 to 3. Mad Norweigan Press, Illinois, 2009.

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The Romans

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The Romans is the first of only two Doctor Who stories set in ancient Italy.  It would take a further 43 years, until 2008’s The Fires of Pompeii, for the Doctor to again visit the region.  Perhaps in a nod to the First Doctor’s inability to navigate the Tardis, the Tenth Doctor and Donna landed in what they had initially thought was Rome, but soon discovered was Pompeii.  The Tenth Doctor referred to his earlier adventures in Rome by stating that his role in the Great Fire of Rome was almost “nothing”.

The Tenth Doctor and companion Donna in "The Fires of Pompeii"

The Tenth Doctor and companion Donna in “The Fires of Pompeii”

The Romans is perhaps the only Doctor Who story to have ever been conceived as a farce.  Unapologetically in the English tradition of ribald comedies, such as Carry On movies, The Romans does not lack the  “slap and tickle” school boy humour of the genre.  Barbara is chased around by Caesar Nero for most of episode 3, in a slapstick game of sexual catch in which she is an unwilling participant.  Seen as a threat by Nero’s wife,  Barbara is the victim of yet another attempted poisoning.  Unlike the first poisoning conspiracy in The Aztecs, it is not Barbara who thwarts the attempt on her life but Vicki, albeit unknowing of the intended victim.

Nero plays a game of "slap and tickle" with a reluctant Barbara

Nero plays a game of “slap and tickle” with a reluctant Barbara

The story begins with the Doctor and his companions living it up in a Roman country villa.  For the first time since the show’s commencement, the Tardis Crew are holidaying and have been leading a leisurely existence for the last month.  Although never stated, but clearly implied, Ian and Barbara are very much a couple.  Together they play harmless practical jokes and Barbara restyles Ian’s hair. Ian would be happy to continue this lifestyle indefinitely, however the young Vicki is easily bored.  She complains to Barbara that she is not getting the life of adventure that the Doctor had promised.   Vicki shows no ill effects from the psychological trauma suffered at the hands of Bennett/Koquillion in her first serial.  Given that the term Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was not coined until the 1970s, it’s perhaps not surprising that the writer, Dennis Spooner, was not conversant at the time with psychological trauma and its effects.

The Tardis Crew living it up in a country villa

The Tardis Crew living it up in a country villa

The irascible Doctor decides to visit Rome and is begged by Vicki to be allowed to accompany him. Although accepting Vicki’s request, the Doctor refuses to allow Ian and Barbara to join him.  He doesn’t need people to fuss over him and suggests instead that they make their own way there.  Little does the Doctor know that his fellow companions will eventually make it to Rome, but not by their own free will.  Even at the story’s conclusion the Doctor is blindly unaware of his two companions’ adventures.

Ian as a galley slave

Ian as a galley slave

The farce continues as the Doctor is mistaken for the famous Corinthian lyre player, Maximus Pettullian. Initially unable to remember his assumed name, the Doctor and Vicki are taken to Nero’s palace where the real, but now decidedly dead, Maximus was due to play a recital. Being bereft of all lyre playing skills does not prevent the Doctor from performing at a feast for Nero in a hysterical example of what today might be described as “Air Lyre”.  Meanwhile, the Doctor and Vicki continuously, but ever so slightly, miss running into Barbara and Ian, who are unaware that their fellow Tardis crew members are also in Nero’s palace. After being captured in the villa and taken as slaves, Barbara is sold to Nero’s household as a servant and Ian finds himself as a galley slave in a boat.  After again being knocked unconscious, this time by a beam,  Ian escapes upon the boat’s wreck.  Making his way to Rome to save Barbara, Ian eventually finds her in Nero’s household.

The Doctor and his non-existent lyre playing skills

The Doctor and his non-existent lyre playing skills

Almost every conceivable cliché of Roman life is played in this story.  When shopping in a market for fabric Barbara reminds Vicki that “when in Rome, do as the Romans do”. Ian quotes Latin texts whilst lounging around the villa eating grapes, is trained as a gladiator, and almost ends up as a lion’s meal.  The Doctor gets the corniest lines when, in reference to playing lyre amongst the lions, he states that his performance is bound to be a “roaring success” and “something to get your teeth into”. Slave traders abound, and the “good guy” in Nero’s household, Tavius, is a closet Christian. Rome burns whilst Nero plays the lyre, but not before the Doctor inadvertently gives him the idea that a fire is a good way of circumventing objections to Nero’s rebuilding plans.  Even the episode naming is clichéd, with the second entitled All Roads Lead to Rome.

Barbara and the "guy guy" of Nero's household, Tavius

Barbara and the “guy guy” of Nero’s household, Tavius

Nero conceives of the idea to burn Rome

Nero conceives of the idea to burn Rome

Relations between Vicki and Barbara have softened following the killing of Sandy in the The Rescue.  Vicki goes as far as asking Barbara to make her a dress while the pair are shopping in a Roman market.  Dressmaking is a skill frequently assumed of Barbara.  The Doctor continues to be decidedly amoral and exhibits how much he relishes a good fight. Upon being confronted by a would-be assassin, the Doctor smashes a pot plant over his head and then wraps a blanket around him.  He then throws wine over the assassin’s face, hits him over the head with a jar and very athletically dodges a swinging sword.  Just as Vicki picks up an object to hit the assailant, he jumps out of an open window.  Frustrated by Vicki’s intervention the Doctor regales the girl with tales of his fighting prowess.

The Doctor displays his finely tuned fighting skills whilst in battle with a would-be assassin

The Doctor displays his finely tuned fighting skills whilst in battle with a would-be assassin

DOCTOR: Young lady, why did you have to come in and interrupt? Just as I’d got him all softened up and ready for the old one, two.

VICKI: You’re all right then?

DOCTOR: All right? Of course, I’m all right, my child.  You know, I am so constantly outwitting the opposition, I tend to forget the delights and satisfaction of the arts, the gentle art of fisticuffs.

VICKI: I realize you’re a many of many talents, Doctor, but I didn’t know fighting was one of them.

DOCTOR: My dear, I am one of the best.  Do you know it was I that used to teach the Mountain Mauler of Montana!

VICKI: The what?

DOCTOR: Do you remember?  Have you never heard?  No, of course, no, no, of course you haven’t, have you?

Barbara continually resisted Nero's advances, notwithstanding the gift of a gold bracelet.  The bracelet will be of significance in the next story, "The Web Planet"

Barbara continually resisted Nero’s advances, notwithstanding the gift of a gold bracelet. The bracelet will be of significance in the next story, “The Web Planet”

The Doctor, who in later serials such as Galaxy 4 is keen to advise all that neither him nor his crew kill, clearly has no such inhibitions when it comes to fighting. Will the Doctor entertain us with his combat skills in the next serial, The Web Planet? Stay tuned for the next review where perhaps this question will be answered.

The Romans was originally broadcast in the UK between 16th January and 6th February 1965

The Romans was originally broadcast in the UK between 16th January and 6th February 1965

"The Romans" DVD was released in a Box Set with "The Rescue" entitled (unsurprisingly) "The Rescue The Romans"

“The Romans” DVD was released in a Box Set with “The Rescue” entitled (unsurprisingly) “The Rescue The Romans”

Vivien Fleming

©Vivien Fleming, 2013.