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Cult Review

S04E02: 'The Fires Of Pompeii'

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S04E02: 'The Fires Of Pompeii'
Released on Saturday, Apr 12 2008

Fantastic effects and a well developed moral dilemma bolster 'The Fires Of Pompeii', although the episode fails to erupt.

James Moran's script takes too long to actively engage the viewer and tap into the compelling premise of the time travellers arriving in the doomed city shortly before 'volcano day'. The characterisation is somewhat lacking and underdeveloped for the Pompeii residents, with Peter Capaldi and Phil Davis deserving better. They admirably try their best, but have little to do apart from whimper and scowl, respectively.

In addition, the subplots are unsatisfyingly muddled for the majority of the narrative, with the Sisterhood's repeated presence mostly superfluous. Their stalking of The Doctor and Donna, and attempt to sacrifice the latter, is utterly bereft of tension and feels pointless. The same applies to Caecillius' psychic daughter Evelina. She may as well have been entirely turned to stone, not just her arm. Given that Moran penned the excellent 'Sleeper' for Torchwood's second season, more was expected for his first foray into Doctor Who.

However, the moral conflict between The Doctor and Donna is compelling. Revolving around the decision of whether to warn the residents about the upcoming eruption, the dilemma enables the duo to be emotionally laid bare as they pursue their own sincere convictions. Catherine Tate's performance is laden with honesty and fittingly understated at times. The Doctor's ultimate decision to compromise and listen to Donna's argument paves the way for a heart-warmingly happy ending as Caecillius' family is saved from a fatal lava lashing.

Furthermore, The Doctor's quick-witted use of a water pistol adds a pleasing sense of fun to counterbalance the impending stench of death and harks nicely back to the Tom Baker era of the show, in which The Doctor regularly plucked random objects from his coat pocket and put them to good use. The episode also builds intrigue for later adventures, as Lucius (in his status as mere plot function) tells Donna that she has 'something on her back' and warns The Doctor that 'she is returning'. Tantalising stuff!

On a visual level, 'The Fires Of Pompeii' is sublime. The rock monsters are magnificently realised and worthy of the CGI creations in the recent big budget blockbuster Transformers. Pompeii is also well recreated courtesy of the wise decision to head over to Italy for some location shooting.

There's much to commend the Doctor Who production team for with this story, but one can't help but feel that an opportunity to create a true classic has been missed. The cracking premise simply deserved better writing.


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