'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.
The Romans is a classic example from Who's early days of a historical done well. From unnasuming begins, this story develops into a kind of 'holiday gone wrong'. The TARDIS team are relaxing at a Roman villa when Ian and Barbara are kidnapped and enslaved while the Doctor and Vicki try and delve into the intrigue of Nero's palace.
William Hartnell is his usual fantastic self here, really shining in the scenes where he's up against Nero, convinving him and his court that he is in fact a skilled lyre player. Nero himself is another highlight, starting out as a rather comical character as he is instantly infatuated with Barbara and dubiously chases her around the palace. Later in the story he develops into something far more sinister though and with lines like 'If you succeed, you will be rewarded. If you fail, you will die', his ruthlessness makes for classic Who villain stuff.
However, i think it is Ian who comes off strongest in this story, his chivalry and determination to get back to Barbara really shining through. He is the everyman up against the odds and the story has some surprisingly grim moments such as when he is forced to fight his friend in the arena. He equally has some fantastic comical moments with Barbara too that really develop the relationship between the two.
Vicki is sadly underused in this story, mainly acting as a tag along for the Doctor. On the whole though, this is a surprisingly consistent and entertaining story, with great cliffhangers. William Russell (who plays Ian) does a great job of doing the linking narration here and you also get a few extras at the end featuring a historical documentary looking round the ruins of Nero's palace, a radio discussion on Nero's life and an interview with William Hartnell's granddaughter.
The Romans is another of the BBCs release of soundtracks of the early Doctor Who stories with linking narration (generally provided by one of the companions in the story). All in all this is a fair example, a pleasant historical with a good plot. Sadly though the lack of any visual aspect does detract from the story (unlike the Reign of Terror or the Crusade which work perfectly as audio) - however the Romans I feel needed that visual side. It further begs the question why this was released, when (as all the film is in existence) a DVD release will no doubt be coming soon. I'm discouraged to think that the BBC are trying to convince fans to by these releases and then the DVD releases later on (I don't know if the Romans is expecting a DVD release soon, but that certainly happened with the War Machines!)
I hope not, but either way, this is a fair enough release, worth listening to if you haven't got a video copy of the story or haven't seen it before. But I certainly await more when this story gets released onto DVD