A Special Look at: The Fires of Pompeii

The original mention of Volcano Day in Pompeii came from an interaction between the Ninth Doctor and Captain Jack Harkness in The Doctor Dances:

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I have always loved this story, which features Peter Capaldi pre-Twelfth Doctor and Karen Gillan pre-Amelia “Amy” Pond. According to The Independant review:

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This is David Tennant’s last full series as the Doctor before he decided to leave and become a hard-bitten cop on Broadchurch and play Hamlet alongside Patrick Stewart a.ka. Star Trek’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman) chose to leave the Tardis in a bid to ‘get over’ her unrequited feelings for the Doctor in Last of the Time Lords.

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The Doctor then found himself reunited with Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) in Partners in Crime, when the pair were investigating Adipose Industries and its suspicious new diet pill. Donna marks a departure from the younger female companions that have previously accompanied the Doctor since the show was rebooted in 2005. She’s been around and has more life experience. She knows what she is about and she’s ‘a little’ bolshy as well.

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Donna Noble is my least favourite companion of the tenth Doctor because she is unnecessarily obstinate and gobby. It’s no wonder she’s told to shut up from time to time. This argumentative side to Donna’s character is not a million miles away from Tate’s Lauren Cooper ‘Ain’t Bovvered’ persona, however when Tate is confronted with the more emotionally challenging moments in the story she delivers. By the end of her time with the Doctor in Turn Left and The End of Time she really shines as a companion and can produce the goods when it comes to the hard-hitting stuff.

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The Fires of Pompeii finds the Doctor and Donna in the ancient city after the reliable Tardis navigation system sends them there instead of Rome. To make matters worse, it is the day before the deadly volcano is about to erupt and kill all the city’s inhabitants. As usual there are strange goings-on with a mysterious group of soothsayers, known as the Sibylline Sisterhood, prophesising that the city will live on forever and there will be no eruption. This is a case for the Doctor and Donna.

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Donna brings comedy to the show but more importantly she brings out a sense of humanity in the Doctor. In The Fires of Pompeii she convinces him to save Caecilius and his family. Even if he can’t save all of them, she implores him to save someone.

Some may consider this episode to be melodramatic but it’s a poignant story. The Doctor is faced with the moral dilemma of having to let people die because he cannot change a fixed point in time. It’s an average episode but there are some very moving moments in it and some strong guest appearance. For those familiar with the Cambridge Latin Course and Caecilius et al, it’s all the more amusing, although I would have liked to have seen the inclusion of the pet dog Cerberus.

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Not only did The Fires of Pompeii give us companion Amy Pond (Karen Gillan), the episode also featured Doctor-in-waiting and twelfth incarnation – Peter Capaldi. Who knows Phil Davis may be cast as the next incarnation of the Master and Tracey Childs as the Rani. Watch this space.

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While we do not know how Capaldi will play the Twelfth Doctor, we can still speculate based purely on his performance in this episode. I think Capaldi’s Doctor will be likely to be more paternal, perhaps a return to William Hartnell or Jon Pertwee’s eras. He plays a father figure in The Fires of Pompeii and his relationship with Clara is likely to take on a father-daughter one.

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It is not until the end that Caecilius really stands out. His despair as Pompeii burns is deeply touching and could mean that the twelfth incarnation will be brooding and emotional. I wonder if he will be as dark as Matt Smith’s incarnation. I have a hunch that there will be less slipping and sliding around the Tardis at any rate.

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6 thoughts on “A Special Look at: The Fires of Pompeii

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