So at the end of the last story, the Tardis had materialized on the edge of a cliff before falling off. In this story we pick up the action a month later, with the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Vicki living in an empty Roman villa.They are holidaying.
It is strange to see them finally get to relax for a while, seeing as all of these stories are linked together seemingly with only a few moments in between. So after a few weeks of living there, the Doctor is getting frustrated with Ian being so idle and so wants to go for a walk to Rome. Vicki joins him. Barbara and Ian then get a chance to have a joke around and sort of flirt, for want of a better term.
After a while they get kidnapped by slave traders and taken to be sold. Ian gets sold and ends up assisting rowing on a Roman ship; while Barbara ends up catching the eye of Emperor Nero. Now Nero in this story is presented as a huge buffoon, laughing insanely, talking to himself and acting like a petulant child.
Meanwhile the Doctor has been mistaken for a lyre player named Maximus Pettulian and is taken to Rome to meet with the Emperor himself. Seeing as the real Pettulian had been murdered and was plotting to assassinate Nero, this puts the Doctor in a sticky situation.
Because of this mistaken identity, there are some allies within Rome ready to assist the Doctor and his companions.
As Nero takes such a liking to Barbara, literally chasing her around his palace like Scooby Doo; she takes advantage of this. She does have some kind of influence over his actions.
Ian is the character that has the worst time in this story, starting with Barbara accidentally knocking him out with a vase at the beginning, then forced to do manual labour as a slave, then made to fight in the arena.
After all of this, the Doctor accidentally sets one of Nero’s maps alight by magnifying the sun with his glasses. This gives Nero the idea to set all of Rome on fire so that he can rebuild it in his name, as he has wanted to for a while. Ian and Barbara arrive back at the villa first. When the Doctor and Vicki arrive, they are so preoccupied with their adventure, that they assume Ian and Barbara have been relaxing the entire time.
When the Doctor realises that it was indeed him that influenced Nero to cause this historic event, he is quite shocked. You can tell that he finds it naughty that he has affected history at all; but I think that he quite enjoys the moment and gets a taste for it from then on. His people are only supposed to observe time, never to interfere.
When the crew get back to the Tardis, they swap stories and laugh at the fact that they had no idea that the other group were in trouble too. The Doctor, meanwhile, is at the console, concerned with the fact that the Tardis is being dragged towards a mysterious planet.
This story is markedly different from any historical story thus far, or indeed any story. It is played as a comedy drama for the first time. It doesn’t have any negative effects, but just includes a few more nice visual moments such as the Doctor moving the sword away from Nero in one scene, and Barbara and Ian having a running joke about the existence of fridges in this time period. I wouldn’t necessarily describe it as a comedy so much as a regular story containing lots of deserved light-hearted moments, which I think are an important part of Doctor Who generally.
At the end of all of these mishaps, I would rate The Romans seven poisoned slave heads out of ten.