Doctor Who Review: The Fires of Pompeii

There’s a big explosion this week, and a better script to introduce it too.

Primary Cast and Crew

David Tennant as the Doctor
Catherine Tate as Donna Noble
Phil Cornwall as Stallholder
Karen Gillian as Soothsayer
Sasha Behar as Spurrina
Lorraine Burroushgs as Thalina
Peter Capaldi as Caecilius
Tracey Childs as Metella
Francesca Fowler as Evelina
Francois Pandolfo as Quintus
Victoria Wicks as High Prestess
Gerard Bell as Major Domo
Phil Davis as Lucius

Written by James Moran

Produced by Phil Collinson

Directed by Colin Teague

Originally aired on the 12th of April 2008 on BBC One in the United Kingdom.

Synopsis

The Doctor tries to take Donna to ancient Rome, but the TARDIS’ legendary unreliability strikes again and they instead arrive in Pompeii the day before the volcano is due to erupt. Their attempt to leave immediately is thwarted by a street merchant selling the TARDIS as a piece of modern art, and they quickly discover that Pompeii is full of true prophets — but none of them have foreseen the eruption.

High Points

Low Points

The Scores

Originality: For a first trip by a companion this is fairly straightforward, and time travel stories where the travellers visit a historic event and end up causing it are ten a penny. Two out of six.

Effects: Much better than last week. Creatures made of stone and magma looked obviously fake — how could they not? They were very well done though, and the eruption was rather lavish. A bit too much use of red lighting though, surely when the sky is full of ash it gets dark rather than red. Four out of six.

Story: It’s a good solid story but there’s nothing exceptional about it, and you just know there are some aliens causing everything. Volcanos are after all a fairly obvious power source. Three out of six.

Acting: Much like the effects, the acting was much improved over last week. Catherine Tate does a better job, portraying a Donna with feeling, empathy and an enormous sense of rightness. The guest cast were good, but had clearly been told to portray the family as a modern family rather than portraying ancient Roman manners. Perhaps that was a wise move, as they can at least play those roles with great familiarity. Five out of six.

Emotional response: There are big things going on, but not a great deal of emotional investment. Three out of six.

Production: The streets of Pompeii reminded me very much of The Life of Brian. They’ve used narrow alleys and tight corners to keep the budget down very obviously, but they didn’t stint on dropping lots of fake ash out of the sky at the appropriate moments. Four out of six.

Overall: I thought I’d hate it, but it wasn’t as bad as I’d feared. Four out of six.

The Fires of Pompeii receives a score of twenty-five out of forty-two, a considerable improvement on the first episode of the series. May this trend continue.

11 replies on “Doctor Who Review: The Fires of Pompeii”

  1. Dark Nexus says:

    Season meta-plot?
    Two episodes, 2 planets that are "gone"? To the point of putting the survival of 2 separate species into question?

    Might just be coincidence as they seemed almost like throw-away comments, but I’ll be watching for a similar line in the next episode.

    • TheScarf says:

      Re: Season meta-plot?

      Might just be coincidence as they seemed almost like throw-away comments, but I’ll be watching for a similar line in the next episode.

      I caught that too. I think it’s a meta-plot. It isn’t the kind of writing/plotting mistake RTD tends to make to make.

      Question is, is the other ‘daughter of London’ behind it somehow?

      • Tom Wake says:

        Re: Season meta-plot?

        Might just be coincidence as they seemed almost like throw-away comments, but I’ll be watching for a similar line in the next episode.

        I caught that too. I think it’s a meta-plot. It isn’t the kind of writing/plotting mistake RTD tends to make to make.

        Question is, is the other ‘daughter of London’ behind it somehow?

        My money’s on Galactus.

        What happened to the High and Low Points?

  2. TheScarf says:

    Some thoughts…
    – would have liked to see the moral dilemma of saving/not saving them dealt with better, and the Dr going into the TARDIS leaving the family to die on his doorstep was VERY out of character IMHO.

    – The whole ‘what if I really do speak Latin’ thing was funny without being too goofy.

    – Donna is at her best when giving the Dr a well deserved boot to the head, hope they keep that up I’m tired of ‘god-like Dr’. Donna can be this generations version of Tegan Jovanka.

    – The whole return of Rose and missing worlds meta-plot got two big lanterns hung on them in the first two episodes. Kind of unusual. Perhaps these will lead us to something else before the end.

    – portraying the Pompeii characters as being so much like modern characters was not a good idea. I miss Dr Who having some science/history educational value.

    • TheScarf says:

      Re: Some thoughts…

      – would have liked to see the moral dilemma of saving/not saving them dealt with better, and the Dr going into the TARDIS leaving the family to die on his doorstep was VERY out of character IMHO.

      – The whole ‘what if I really do speak Latin’ thing was funny without being too goofy.

      – Donna is at her best when giving the Dr a well deserved boot to the head, hope they keep that up I’m tired of ‘god-like Dr’. Donna can be this generations version of Tegan Jovanka.

      – The whole return of Rose and missing worlds meta-plot got two big lanterns hung on them in the first two episodes. Kind of unusual. Perhaps these will lead us to something else before the end.

      – portraying the Pompeii characters as being so much like modern characters was not a good idea. I miss Dr Who having some science/history educational value.

      Oh, and the scene with the two oracles moving from spouting vague nonsense to displaying real abilities was very good.

      • y42 says:

        Re: Some thoughts…

        the scene with the two oracles moving from spouting vague nonsense to displaying real abilities

        High point.

        • joe__gee says:

          Re: Some thoughts…

          High point.

          Agreed. Overall I felt it was an excellent episode. There were good laughs and great drama. It was a romp. RTD kept his hands off, the dialog was well-written, the special effects (especially those at the end) were fantastic, and the creatures were well done.

          I like Donna quite a bit, and I loved the Fawlty Towers reference "she’s from Barcelona." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manuel_(Fawlty_Towers) Donna is no Mañuel, though. She has some spunk, some wit, and I agree with the observation up above that in personality she’s quite a bit like Tegan Jovanka.

          -Joe

          • J_W_W says:

            Re: Some thoughts…

            High point.

            Agreed. Overall I felt it was an excellent episode. There were good laughs and great drama. It was a romp. RTD kept his hands off, the dialog was well-written, the special effects (especially those at the end) were fantastic, and the creatures were well done.

            I like Donna quite a bit, and I loved the Fawlty Towers reference "she’s from Barcelona." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manuel_(Fawlty_Towers) Donna is no Mañuel, though. She has some spunk, some wit, and I agree with the observation up above that in personality she’s quite a bit like Tegan Jovanka.

            -Joe

            I really, really, like that shes not romantically inclined to the doctor in the slightest.

            • joe__gee says:

              Re: Some thoughts…

              I really, really, like that shes not romantically inclined to the doctor in the slightest.

              Yup. I am tired of the Doctor being portrayed as a kind of Nutty Professor meets James T. Kirk interstellar Lothario. It would be refreshing for him to have a string of assistants who have no romantic interest in him whatsoever.

              I know we have a few characters returning this season, but I’m hopeful. :)

              -Joe

              • y42 says:

                Re: Some thoughts…

                I really, really, like that shes not romantically inclined to the doctor in the slightest.

                Yup. I am tired of the Doctor being portrayed as a kind of Nutty Professor meets James T. Kirk interstellar Lothario. It would be refreshing for him to have a string of assistants who have no romantic interest in him whatsoever.

                It was just residual sex appeal left over from Jack, call it induced animal magnetism, but he took his mojo on back to Torchwood.

      • vanyel says:

        Re: Some thoughts…

        – portraying the Pompeii characters as being so much like modern characters was not a good idea. I miss Dr Who having some science/history educational value.

        While educational value is good, I liked the humor value of seeing Roman parents interacting with their kids just like modern ones.

        It was more moving than I’d expected; in fact tonight I deliberately put the last couple of Battlestar Galacticas before the Dr Who episode because BG is such a downer and Dr Who is lighter and thought it would be better to end the night on for the friends that join me to watch them, but this time it wasn’t much so.

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