Delos has Ian at his mercy, and Nero orders him to kill...
The young Greek has other ideas, and launches an attack on the Emperor instead. Guards rush in and Ian and Delos fight them off before fleeing - Ian calling back to Barbara that he will come for her that night. Nero kills one of the guards whom he thought did not fight well enough, then tells Barbara that a trap will be laid for Ian.
The next morning, in the palace, the Doctor finally discovers the nature of the intrigue revolving around Maximus Pettulian. Tavius lets slip that the elderly musician had come to Rome to assassinate Nero.
The Emperor remains in a foul mood, and decides to get rid of his artistic rival. He will have him perform for the general public in the arena just before a wild animal show - but then unleash the animals before he can take his leave.
Tavius learns of this plan and notifies the Doctor.
He has also been instructed by the jealous Poppaea to have Barbara dismissed from the household. Barbara tells the major-domo of her encounter with Ian and of how he plans to come and rescue her. Tavius will help her, on the grounds that he will simply be doing what the Empress has ordered him to do.
As they plot their escape from the palace, the Doctor and Vicki come across papers belonging to Nero, which include his plans for his ideal city. He wishes to rebuild Rome, but the Senate will not let him.
The Emperor arrives and the Doctor delivers a series of puns relating to the arena, farewell performances, and wild animal allusions. Nero wonders how the Doctor might have known of his plans for him.
As the Doctor has been speaking, he has been holding his spectacles behind his back. The sunlight focuses through the lens and sets fire to the plans for the new Rome. Nero is initially furious and orders their deaths, but is suddenly inspired by the burning map and announces that they should instead be greatly rewarded.
He meets Poppaea, and informs her that he will burn the city to the ground, so that the Senate will have to approve his rebuilding scheme.
That night, the Doctor and Vicki slip out of the palace before Nero can change his mind yet again. The slave trader Sevcheria has rounded up a number of men to act as fire-starters, and Ian and Delos decide to use the rabble as cover to sneak into the complex.
Tavius gives Barbara a cloak and ushers her to a place to wait for Ian, revealing one of his motives for having helped her all this time. He is a secret follower of the Christian sect.
Ian and Barbara are reunited, and Delos uses a burning torch to blind Sevcheria to aid their escape. Delos will head for his home and family, determined never to be enslaved again.
Soon after, Nero plays his lyre as the city begins to burn.
A few miles away, the Doctor and Vicki see the blaze on the horizon. Vicki believes that the Doctor is responsible for this, having given Nero the idea. He disagrees, then thinks again...
Ian and Barbara reach the villa first. When the Doctor and Vicki arrive they find them refreshed and dressed in their fancier clothes - and assume that they have been lazing here like this since they left. The Doctor does not give them a chance to tell of their own adventures, and insists that it is time to return to the TARDIS and move on.
Later, the ship is in flight. As Vicki tells Barbara all about her experiences in Rome, the Doctor joins a worried Doctor at the console. He tells the school teacher that some powerful force has momentarily taken hold of the ship and is dragging it down.
"To where?", Ian asks...
Next episode: The Web Planet
Written by: Dennis Spooner
Recorded: Friday 15th January, 1965 - Riverside Studio 1
First broadcast: 5:40pm, Saturday 6th February 1965
Ratings: 12 million / AI 50
Designer: Raymond P Cusick
Director: Christopher Barry
This episode features the Great Fire of Rome. Ancient Rome was prone to outbreaks of fire, which destroyed whole neighbourhoods at a time. One in 6 AD prompted the Emperor Augustus to found the first fire brigade - the Cohortes Vigiles - which were financed by a tax on slaves. Augustus also built a huge wall to separate the densely populated Suburra district from the ceremonial and business centre of the city - partly as a fire wall. It can still be seen today behind the ruins of the Forum of Augustus.
The fire which broke out on the night of 19th July 64AD gained its reputation as the "Great Fire" due to its longevity and scale. It began in a mercantile area close to the Circus Maximus, to the south west of the Palatine Hill where the Imperial palace lay. There was a strong, dry wind, which helped fan the flames and rapidly further its spread through the narrow streets. This particular area had no temples or significant public buildings with large open spaces, which might have acted as a fire break. The population fled to the edge of the city. They reported seeing groups of people both looting and deliberately spreading the fire, or preventing others from tackling it. Some claimed that they were doing so under orders, though never said who.
The fire continued for six days, but reignited in the area of Tigillinus' private estate. As we've already mentioned, he was a close associate of Nero.
Of the city's fourteen districts, only four were left unscathed. Three were completely destroyed, with heavy damage to another four. Parts of Nero's own palace had suffered.
The picture of him "fiddling while Rome burns" is an old one. He was not in the city on the night the blaze started, but in Antium (present day Anzio), but this didn't stop his enemies blaming him for it. If he was responsible, he was keeping his distance, but we know that large fires were common.
One fair criticism levelled against him was that he didn't do enough, quickly enough, to help in the initial emergency, though he did see that aid was given once he arrived back in the city. His rebuilding programme saw the raising of buildings in his favoured Greek architectural style - causing some to believe that Nero had planned this from the start. His main building project was the construction of the Domus Aurea, or Golden House, which formed part of his grand new palace, which took over a great deal of land previously used for housing - another cause for ill feeling against him.
Whilst some blamed Nero for the fire, he in turn blamed a troublesome religious sect - the Christians.
In this episode, it is revealed that Tavius is a secret Christian. Under his tunic he has a crucifix. This is an anachronism, however. The crucifix did not become a Christian symbol until much later (2nd Century). The earliest followers used the Ichthys symbol - a stylised fish. It was used to mark secret meeting places, and on tombs to identify the deceased as a believer. It derives from the biblical references to Christ as being a "fisher of men", and several of the Apostles had been fishermen, including Peter.
The Chi-Ro symbol was also used - an elongated P with an X on its stem. "Chi" (X) and "Ro" (P) were the first two letters of the Greek word for 'Christ'.
Following the events depicted in The Romans, Nero had only four more years to live - and Poppaea even less time remaining. She died in 65AD, allegedly kicked to death by her irate husband whilst pregnant with their child. A remorseful Nero had her ashes deposited in the Mausoleum of Augustus - but he was destined never to join her there.
The Emperor's behaviour increasingly alarmed the Senate and people. He favoured Greek arts - considered degenerate - and his sexual activities led to him castrating then marrying a slave named Sporus.
In 68AD a revolt over taxes in northern Gaul escalated, with the governor of Spain being encouraged to declare himself Emperor in Nero's place. This was Galba. As the rebellion progressed, support for Nero rapidly drained away - including the Praetorian Prefect, who was ostensibly captain of his personal bodyguard. He decided to flee Rome with Sporus and a number of his favoured freemen. They only got a few miles north of the city to a friend's villa when Nero elected to commit suicide rather than be captured and executed. He could not bring himself to carry out the deed himself, so had his private secretary stab him. He died, aged 30, on 9th June, 68AD.
His body was cremated just outside the northern gate to the city, on the Via Flaminia, roughly where the church of Santa Maria del Popolo now stands. A tree in the grounds of its associated monastery was believed in medieval times to be haunted by Nero's ghost.
Nero's death brought to an end the Julio-Claudian dynasty. There then followed the "Year of the Four Emperors" - Galba, Otto, Vitellius and Vespasian. The latter founded the short-lived Flavian dynasty, which comprised himself and his two sons, Titus and Domitian.
Dennis Spooner demonstrates a very different idea of History / Time Travel to the one set out by his predecessor. David Whitaker maintained that History could not be changed - though this was unique in relation to alien planets. In the novelisation of The Crusade, he provides a prologue in which Ian and Barbara specifically ask the Doctor about this very thing. The Doctor maintains that Earth History is immutable and nothing they can do to change it will make any difference. Shoot Hitler before he comes to power and the bullet will miss. Warn Napoleon about Waterloo and he will ignore the advice. Time behaves as if it is a sentient force, capable of intervening to keep History on a set course (an idea that has been picked up by a recent series, where Time is an entity).
This concept of History was also stated on screen towards the end of The Reign of Terror, written by Spooner but edited by Whitaker. At first glance this all seems to contradict The Aztecs, where the Doctor seems to believe that History is fragile and should never be tampered with, and he honestly believes his companion capable of doing this. It doesn't need to contradict. It may be that the Doctor simply observed that Barbara's attempts to change History failed, and so realised that it was more robust than he thought.
Spooner's concept of History is that it can be changed. There is no force to keep it to a set path. Someone can meddle in the past and the future will automatically change to assume a new shape.
Would Nero have had the idea of burning down the city had the Doctor not planted the idea in his head? Here, there is no clear answer to that. Vicki thinks him to blame and he flatly denies this - then seems to think otherwise. Coming from Spooner it is most likely that Vicki was right.
Very late in the day, Chris Barry decided that he wanted the viewers to actually see the Great Fire - otherwise we had all the build-up but no pay-off. Unfortunately Ray Cusick had spent all of his budget (bearing in mind that Inferno was the sixth episode of this particular production block). All he could do was produce a silhouette of a Roman-style cityscape and have flames set behind it. The flames did not look to scale, and he was bitterly disappointed by the end result - leading to him considering this one of his least favourite stories.
After appearing as a slave trader in the first two episodes, the character of Sevcheria suddenly turns up at the palace fulfilling a henchman role for the Emperor. It is he who has been tasked with putting together the gang who will start the fires, as well as looking out to capture Ian when he comes to rescue Barbara. This remarkable elevation of status is purely down to the fact that another character should have taken on this role, but the director simply decided to reuse an existing one - and actor Derek Sydney - rather than have to cast a new role for only half of a single episode.
- After last week's disappointing statistics, the viewing figures bounce back by 1.5 million, although the appreciation index remains at the low of 50.
- Inferno is the final episode to credit Mervyn Pinfield as Associate Producer. He stood down from this role, but maintained contact with the series as a director.
- Kay Patrick was very reluctant to slap Michael Peake's face, but he encouraged her just to imagine that she did not know him.
- The scenes set at the villa at the end of the episode were recorded first, as it was easier to "dirty-down" William Russell and Jacqueline Hill over the course of the evening, and so avoid them having to go off and get smartened up.
- Chris Barry employs a wipe shot as Ian and Delos enter the palace. Popularised by George Lucas in the first Star Wars movie as a post-production process (inspired by the old Flash Gordon serials), this form of edit between cameras via the vision mixer was uncommon in a 1960's TV studio.
- Newsreel footage from the London Blitz is used as backing for the scenes of Nero playing his lyre as the fire rages.
- The week before broadcast, Doctor Who was in the news when the pop group The Earthlings had their single banned by the BBC. Landing of the Daleks featured a Morse-code message, and the BBC argued that it could be mistaken for the real thing. The disc was withdrawn and hastily remixed.
- Inferno was immediately followed by a trailer for next week's new story, The Web Planet, comprising clips from the first couple of episodes.