'The Romans' is another offering to the BBC Audio Soundtrack range, the BBC having released all the lost 'Doctor Who' serials previously and in selected box-sets. This historical serial is noteworthy for attempting to incorporate humour into its script with the sub-plot surrounding Vicki and the Doctor, whilst the adventures of Ian and Barbara were meant to show the brutality and harshness of Roman rule during the reign of Nero. Nero is portrayed as narcissistic and completely power-mad, as is often how historians have described him. Though, there are, of course, certain liberties that the writers take in his portrayal and in the burning of Rome being due to Nero himself, on accidental cue from the Doctor. There have been arguments against Nero' s actual involvement in this historical event, as is explained more fully in the mini-documentary following the serial on the second CD.
I personally find that, while Dennis Spooner did a fantastic job in this particular piece of Doctor Who lore, the visuals that the serial uses to convey a hurried and humorous farce, are inevitably lost in the format of Audio Soundtrack. However, this isn't to say that this version can't be enjoyed, but it is best to view it as a companion to the televised serial, which has been released in DVD format, along with the two-part serial 'The Rescue'. If you haven't seen the televised serial before, it might be a little difficult to keep track of the intricate plot of the script and the many visual cues that it relies on.
With the exception of these issues, William Russell, who played Ian Chesterton in the first few serials of the original series, provides linking narration and this is deployed fairly well. Again, the narration of these highly visual scenes does the serial itself justice, but with a few imaginative difficulties that might be harder to comprehend as a first-time viewer/listener. All actors are on top form as usual, and the whole plot comes round full-circle ready for the next adventure to start. What is particularly interesting is that, because of the Doctor accidentally giving Nero the idea of using fire to create his new Rome, or 'Neropolis', the notion that history is fixed and cannot be changed is given a lighter tone. The Doctor seems to realise that his actions may have made an impact on Earth's history, and this is contrasted against with the way in which Barbara attempted to save the Aztec people from performing human sacrifices in 'The Aztecs'. Upon the end of the serial on CD 2, there are additional radio interviews that were previously unreleased, exploring the anthropological interest of the character of Caesar Nero, with contributions of two field academics, suggesting how Spooner's characterisation of the ruler may have differed from that which the archaeological evidence suggests. On top of this, there are rare interviews with people who worked with William Hartnell and with Hartnell's granddaughter, who explains her grandfather's habits and career highlights, as well as his unfortunate physical deterioration, which is explained in the biography that she has written.
Overall, 'The Romans' is a useful addition to the range of Doctor Who television soundtracks and provides an alternative way of viewing this classic historical serial, which is forever cemented into the Doctor's universe.