Monday, 20 May 2013

Review: Doctor Who 4.2: The Fires of Pompeii
I suppose you could say that this episode gets quite explosive.
Doctor Who - Season 30, Episode Two - The Fires of Pompeii
Written between 19th and 21th March 2013

I'll out with it. This is my favourite episode of the season, hands down. There's a combination of factors that make Fires so perfect - a good sense of humour, a few decent sci-fi ideas, and some awesome writing for our core characters that plays upon themes that haven't really been touched since the black and white era. Give The Aztecs a massive budget, some overseas location filming and a comic actress swiftly proving her critics wrong on every single count, and you come to some approximation of the epic that is The Fires of Pompeii.
      On her first trip out, Donna is taken to what The Doctor initially believes to be Rome in 79 AD, before the lack of any colliseums and one rather angry-looking volcano inform him of his titular location. Concerned due to the impending eruption, Donna wants to save everyone - but The Doctor is ardent against it, explaining that Pompeii is a fixed point in history. Travelling to the house of sculptor Caecillius (the amazing Peter Capaldi!), The Doctor discovers that the city is being controlled by the Seers, both the Sisterhood of the Sybilline and the more vicious Lucius Petrus Dextrous (a very devillish Phil Davis). Following paths of investigation, they find that people in the city are being slowly inhabited by alien dust, which turns them into the stone-like creatures called Pyroviles. Using their own power systems, The Doctor realises that the only way to stop the Pyrovile invasion is to explode Vesuvius. Despite still being unable to save everyone, Donna convinces him to save Caecillius' family, and he thanks her for doing so.
     The central conflict of the episode originates not from the Pyroviles (who are one of the coolest monster designs of the New Series, by the way) but from Donna's compassionate nature and the argument between fate and free will (albeit given semi-scientific justification). It's a demonstration from the off of Donna's incredible compassion, in the way that she forced The Doctor to relate to Caecillius' family and begged to the point of tears for him to consider saving anyone from the event. On the other side, and Ten was written in a way which felt similar to some of the more dickish parts of his persona, except with a decent justification that turned it into something quite fascinating.
If you put "The Fires of Pompeii" into Google, this is the
most common type of image, for the sole reason that this
happens to be future companion Karen Gillan.
     The rest of the episode's concepts and characterisations did however feel noticeably under-developed - the threat of invasion was never on the table for very long, and despite his badass boasts and grand proclamations, the threat of Lucius Petrus Dextrous never extends beyond a shouty man in a toga. The way Caecillius' family is written as if they come from Kent rather than Italy was used for quite a few good jokes and references, but the episode didn't really go for a realistic roman feel. Instead, it went for a more humourous (and albeit more enjoyable) route that mixed those modernised characterisations and scenarios in with historical and linguistic jokes.
     What results is an episode that perfectly balances the good and the cheesy, resulting in an experience that is enjoyable from start to finish. The location filming in an Italian studio looks absolutely stunning, and it's easily one of the best environments that NuWho has created. While it wasn't perfect, especially in some of the ways that sidecharacters were utilised, everything fell together and The Fires of Pompeii establishes itself instantly as a Doctor Who Classic.


NEXT WEEK: The Doctor Who aliens I almost forgot to mention when I reviewed their first appearance... we take a trip to the Planet of the Ood.

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