Doctor Who- Series Four- Episode Two
The Fires of Pompeii
The second episode of the ‘light-hearted’ fourth season of Doctor Who (RTD) is once again annoyingly close to being almost watchable.
A brilliantly shot episode on Rome‘s Cinecittà studios, it is the single episode shot outside of the English shores in this extremely expensive revival series… and it shows. The sets are great, the location work is stunning and even the premise (aliens cause the destruction of Pompeii) is a smart one. So where does this show go wrong?
The Doctor and Donna arrive in ancient Rome in much the same way they enter any situation, with exclamation marks.
Donna-”Look at me! I’m in ancient Rome!”
Doctor-”I know! Isn’t it great!?”
Donna-”It IS! I’m enjoying myself!”
Doctor-”We are BOTH enjoying ourselves! This is good!-Being in ancient Rome, I mean!”
The writing takes a further downward spiral with the lazy writing convention that gets worse each time it gets explained, the translation circuit. I’ve been watching the program since I discovered that I’m awkward around girls, so I know that we as an audience are ‘hearing’ English no matter where the Doctor goes. I never really thought much of it and was thankful that the show cared little for it as well. Then in walks the new program and explains that the TARDIS’ ‘telepathic translation circuits’ allow the crew to hear English. Not just English, mind you, but London-accented suburban English. Since the introduction of Rose, the program has been taken from the RADA-class English accents and dropped head first into the exact same ‘do you ‘ave any bruvvers?’ London accent. Even in ancient Rome, it is inescapable.
The plot involving a cult of mystics that inhale volcanic ash that is actually microbes of alien life called the Pyrovale is pretty clever. The special effects including the interior of Vesuvius and the Pyrovile themselves are very nicely done. The double psychic duel over the Doctor’s secrets was also an interesting change of pace (but I always enjoy seeing the Doctor out of his depths).
Yet all in all… the episode is terrible.
(I’ve also read that the Pyrovile are in the story at RTD’s insistence which makes me wonder what the original script was like).
Aside from the aforementioned accents problem and the characters busy explaining who they are and how they feel in every scene, the real problem with this one is the ending. Essentially, this episode was constructed to put the Doctor in a moral dilemma where he realizes that he has to choose not to interfere with what he describes as a ‘fixed point in history.’ Donna pleads with him to do otherwise, but he stands back to let Vesuvius erupt as it was destined to. In a perfect world, this would be where the episode ended.
But, oh no.
The TARDIS returns and rescues the family of four that have stumbled through the plot as a mixture of exposition and comic relief. Why save only four people? Doesn’t that upset history? It gets worse. The episode ends with the family living the high life in Rome proper (how they did this I have no idea) and paying homage to sculptures of Donna and the Doctor as their patron Gods.
My only hope is that this pays off in a later story.
But my hopes are low.
-Doctor Who-’Fires of Pompeii’ premieres on the US Sci-Fi Channel this Friday Night-