With Marty as company, Doc heads to Rome in 36 A.D. to return architectural plans that he had borrowed for study. Jules and Verne overhear their father talk about the arcades and stow away in the DeLorean to play the Roman "video games" (the boys have been forbidden to leave the house because they misuse their father's latest invention - a holographic device). Once there, Marty insults Bifficus Antanneny, a very popular athlete, who challenges him to a chariot race. Doc is mistaken for a rebellious slave and is going to be thrown to the lions. The boys run amok in Ancient Rome and end up meeting Judah, a slave, who helps them get out of trouble. In the end, Marty purposefully loses the race, because the popularity of Bifficus is critical to the rise of Caligula as Emperor of Rome, which Doc points out to be a key event toward the eventual downfall of the Empire. Doc uses his holographic device to avoid becoming lion chow and the boys help Judah escape to become a free man.
Behind the scenes
- When Marty first tries to talk to the locals, they can't understand each other. They're speaking in Latin, until Doc provides a translation device for the benefit of Marty (the audience benefits as well). It may be the first time in a cartoon that ancient Romans are portrayed as speaking in their native language.
- The comic book issue Back to the Future 3 is an adaptation of this episode.
- In the question and answer session at USC, Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale discussed their view of time travel. "You travel through time, you don't travel through space," Zemeckis noted, "and most of your time travel movies make that fatal mistake. You're in California, and you travel back to ancient Rome. How did you get to Rome, if you're in this longitude and latitude?" In this episode of the animated series, of course, the DeLorean indeed does travel from California to ancient Rome. It should be noted, of course, that in order to sustain a weekly series, particularly for a cartoon, the characters would need to travel to other locations besides California.
- History records that Caligula became the Emperor of Rome in 37 A.D., the year after the Brown family's visit.
- Bifficus refers to Marty as "tuum de gluteus maximus" and then as "unus pullus", two insults that the translating device doesn't immediately recognize, but then spells out.
- Bifficus has a run-in with waste material, in another instance of a Tannen crashing into manure.
- In order to keep Bifficus from losing the chariot race, Doc equipped Marty's chariot with a "drag chute". In the live segment, the science experiment is from the video encyclopedia, section "D" for "drag", and Doc and Bill Nye show how a drag chute slows down a toy car.
From the episode
(Marty knocks down a stack of electronic equipment in a crash)
- Marty: "Man, I'm sorry Doc, I ruined your latest invention!"
- Doc: "What invention? This is the trash."
- Bifficus: "Kneel, simpleton, and bow your head unless you wish to lose it."
- Marty: "Is there a Tannen in every century?"
- "Purgamentum! Odi purgamentum! [Filth! I hate filth!]"
- —Bifficus, after falling into waste matter
- Doc: "And now, boys, it's time to go..."
- Jules and Verne: ""...back to the future!!""
- Doc: "No, back to town. I have to return these scrolls."