‘THE FIRES OF POMPEII’
Please feel free to comment on my review.
Volcano Day with Pyrovilles
Donna’s first adventure with the Doctor in the TARDIS and it’s an historical adventure that takes them back to Italy, 79 AD. The Doctor and Donna are thrilled. They intend to tour Ancient Rome.
But the Doctor has brought Donna to the wrong place in history. Instead they find themselves a day before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius takes place in the city of Pompeii itself. Volcano Day!
‘The Fires of Pompeii’ is a great episode by James Moran. For me, Pompeii is a significant period of Earth’s history, since I studied Pompeii during my Latin lessons at high school. Yes, I know!
So I knew what Pompeii was about. I’m sure it didn’t feature the Doctor and Donna causing the eruption of Vesuvius itself, but it is still a terrifying episode to watch as it was a terrifying event.
The city got buried in ash and smoke and people got killed turning into ash-like statues. I recall seeing pictures of those ashen-covered people in my textbooks as I was studying Latin at school.
The production team went abroad to film this episode in Italy. They filmed the episode in the Cincetta studios in Rome. Despite production problems, they delivered this very heat-filled tale.
I like the Pompeii setting with the Doctor and Donna, as they go through the streets and enter Vesuvius. It was the first time that cast and crew went to film aboard, since the classic TV series.
I love the story where there’s a moral dilemma about either evacuating Pompeii’s city before Vesuvius erupts or letting history carry on as it is. Donna clearly wants to save Pompeii’s people.
But the Doctor tells her they can’t since Pompeii’s ‘a fixed point in time’. Donna won’t have it and there’s a bitter disagreement between the two. This is clearly a pretty well-written episode!
This is a different story in terms of tone. Departing from the comic atmosphere of ‘Partners In Crime’, things get serious. The Doctor and Donna’s characters get explored in how they see Pompeii’s events.
Donna’s appalled by the Doctor’s cold determination to let history takes it course and let the people die. But there’s camaraderie between these two and I do like their moments of humour.
Peter Capaldi guest stars as Caecilius, a Roman official and real person in Pompeii. Capaldi would later play John Frobisher in the ‘Torchwood’ story ‘Children of Earth’ and the Twelfth Doctor in ‘Doctor Who’.
Capaldi as Caecilius is brilliant and he plays the part with an intriguing edge, showing an interest in modern Roman art. He even purchases the Doctor’s TARDIS from a stallholder within the city.
Tracey Childs guest stars as Metalla, Caecilius’ wife, another real person in Pompeii. For ‘Doctor Who’ fans via Big Finish, Tracey also plays Elizabeth Klein, companion of the Seventh Doctor.
I enjoyed Tracy’s interpretation of Metalla. She disapproves her husband’s tastes in art; has high expectations for her daughter Evelina and ridicules her son Quintus when going out of the town.
Just as Caecilius and Metalla are real in Pompeii, so are their children. Francois Pandolfo guest stars as Quintus the son and Francesca Fowler guest stars Evelina the daughter for this TV story.
Quintus is a pretty lazy boy about the house of Caecilius. He seems pretty bored with mundane life. But at least he helps the Doctor when they get inside Lucius’ house to discover more truths.
Evelina is a young girl bound to the Sibylline Sisterhood for the rest of her life. She can see into the future, so much to the Doctor and Donna’s discomfort. But she can’t see Vesuvius’ eruption.
Karen Gillan, who would later play Amy Pond with Matt Smith, makes her first appearance in this ‘Doctor Who’ episode. In this, she plays a Soothsayer, a member of the Sibylline Sisterhood.
Phil Davis guest stars as Lucius Petrus Dextrus, a local augur that is priest and official. I’ve seen Davies before in ‘Bleak House’, ‘Lark Rise to Candleford’ a ‘Marple’ film with Geraldine McEwan called ‘Sleeping Murder’.
The Pyroville monsters were a bit disappointing for me. We don’t get to see much of them and they were easily defeated by throwing water at them since they get crumbled to stone and rock.
The Doctor also manages to sting them with his water pistol when he and Donna are in the mountain. They’re not the most spectacular ‘Doctor Who’ monsters as I didn’t understand them.
I found the scenes in the volcano very intense and boiling hot as they should be. The Doctor and Donna go deeper into the mountain as they confront Lucius with the Pyroviles in the heart of it.
In the end, the Doctor and Donna are responsible for eruption of Vesuvius. The Doctor initially leaves in the TARDIS and Donna shouts at him when they leave Caecilus’ family behind in chaos.
David Tennant and Catherine Tate’s performance are brilliant. The Doctor’s upset and silent as he can’t go back. But Donna begs the Doctor to go back and tells him to ‘save someone’ instead.
Eventually the Doctor goes back and rescues Caecilius’ family. It’s a touching, moving and tearful moment. It establishes the strong character relationships between the Doctor and Donna in this.
‘The Fires of Pompeii’ is a very moving and cracking good ‘Doctor Who’ story. It has great performances from David Tennant and Catherine Tate and shows them at their electrifying best.
The DVD special features on this episode are as follows. On Disc 2 of ‘The Complete Series 4’, there’s a commentary with David Tennant, Catherine Tate and production manager Tracie Simpson. On Disc 6, there’s the ‘Doctor Who Confidential’ episode ‘The Italian Job’.
‘The Fires of Pompeii’ rating – 9/10
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