Doctor Who: The Fires of Pompeii, BBC1

by | Apr 14, 2008 | All, Reviews

Did we like it?

The story was fantastic, David Tennant was fantastic, the special effects were fantastic, and Catherine Tate was a joy now that she is part of the story rather than actually being the story.

What was good about it?

• For the opening ten minutes we feared it was going to be a continuation of the lazy Partners in Crime, with some jocular exchanges between the Doctor and Donna, and comical dialogue – “lovely jubbly” – with a Pompeii street vendor (Phil Cornwell) who sold the Tardis to a local artist.

• We then joined the family of Caecilius (Peter Capaldi) as he and his wife Metella (Tracey Childs) debated the artistic virtues of their new acquisition in manner more suited to Up Pompeii! Than Doctor Who. Then the Doctor and Donna (“Spartacus and Spartacus”) entered the jovial fray, followed soon after by Phil Davis as the scowling Lucius. And this was when it got very good and very weird.

• In the blink of an eye, Caecilius’ daughter Evelina had bafflingly divined the Doctor’s real name, only for the affronted augur Lucius to top that by calling the Doctor “man of Gallifrey”. While a seed was also laid for Donna’s future adventures when Lucius said: “There is something on your back!” From this point on it was a relentless, thrilling adventure made all the more absorbing by the cunning false mood laid down in the opening scenes.

• We mentioned that any drama co-starring Phil Davis wouldn’t be lacking in acting quality and he didn’t disappoint. Always grimacing, always mocking the Doctor’s efforts to thwart his metamorphosis into a Pyrovile, Davis made a splendid villain with very little screen time.

• And Peter Capaldi was layered too as the meek Caecilius, only slipping into Malcolm Tucker ferocity to censure his wayward son, but also evoking desperate sympathy when cowering with his family in the throes of the volcanic eruption.

• We were also reminded why David Tennant is such a brilliant Doctor (most welcome after last week) as here the humour, instead of killing the dramatic tension, heightened it by causing it to peak and trough with interludes of his trademark levity such as brandishing a water pistol at the high priestess.

• With only the odd moment of bolshy rowdiness, Catherine Tate as Donna was a perfect human counterweight to the Doctor’s priggish officiousness in adhering to the laws of the Timelords. Appealing to his humane (if not human) sensibilities she convinced him to rescue Caecilius’ family from the volcano.

• The way in which the loose web of the Sisterhood suspended the disparate plots in place so that each could be judiciously introduced until the Doctor had found his way to the root of the Pyrovile conspiracy in the temple – and from that moment on, it was simply a breakneck race to save the world.

• The stunning sets, hired from Rome the TV series, added authenticity with streets bustling with slaves, sellers and townsfolk making a welcome change from some anonymous Cardiff streets aping London. And the impressive volcanic explosion.

• The special effects of the stalking Pyroviles uprooting the street in pursuit of the Doctor were brilliant as was the conclusion set deep within the heart of Vesuvius where the Doctor had to effectively execute 20,000 people for the greater good of the planet. There was also the sense that the Doctor was absolving himself of causing their doom with his assertion that history has been put right – that still didn’t change the fact that he had slaughtered 20,000 people no matter the altruism behind it.

What was bad about it?

• The escape capsule in which the Doctor and Donna took refuge was conveniently human-sized when the Pyroviles were about nine feet tall. Why would a giant alien have a spacecraft fit only for humanoids?

• The Doctor very quickly worked out where Donna was being held captive by the Syballine Sisterhood; whether it’s because he has affixed a tracker to her or that Evelina told her, we should have been told which as it resembled too much that irritating scene in The Girl in the Fireplace where he pranced in with a similar demeanour to rescue Micky and Rose. And why did the Doctor and Donna flee down a vent in the temple when they quite easily could have run back the way they came into the street?

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles

14/04/2008

Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!

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