Pompeii, Italy, 1980 A.D.: A UNIT operative hastily takes charge of an archaeological dig at Pompeii when, in the ruins of the city that died in the eruption of Vesuvius, an inexplicable anachronism is unearthed – a British police telephone box, preserved in the ancient ash. The oddity is removed from the site and put in top security storage by UNIT. The Doctor is summoned to investigate, but – in his fifth incarnation – he chooses not to enter the police box.
Pompeii, Italy, 79 A.D.: The Doctor, now in his seventh incarnation, is disturbed when the TARDIS brings him and Melanie to Pompeii a mere day before the eruption of Vesuvius. But despite his misgivings, he and Mel mingle with the locals and explore the doomed city. Earthquakes wrack Pompeii, but the local simply see it as a sign from the gods – and the Doctor and Melanie’s arrival out of thin air is seen as another sign. But the tremors have had a more troubling effect for the time travlers: the TARDIS has been buried beneath tons of rubble. With less than a day to retrieve the TARDIS and escape Pompeii, the Doctor and Melanie become embroiled in local politics…but the Doctor, with his foreknowledge that the TARDIS will someday be found in the ruins of Pompeii, doesn’t seem to be fighting very hard to save himself or his companion.
Cast: Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Bonnie Langford (Melanie), Robert Curbishley (Tibernus), Andy Coleman (Popidius Celsinus), Nicky Goldie (Valeria Hedone), Steven Wickham (Murranus), Lisa Hollander (Eumachia), Gemma Bissix (Aglae), Toby Longworth (Priest), Robert Curbishley (Roman Legionary), Anthony Keetch (Professor Scalini), Karen Henson (Captain Muriel Frost)
Logbook entry and TheatEar review by Earl Green
Review: Another excellent historical adventure, The Fires Of Vulcan sees an unexpected return to an era of Doctor Who history that some fans have decried as being too heavy on light comedy rather than drama or science fiction. The 24th season, Sylvester McCoy’s first year in the role of the Doctor, suffered from uneven scripts and a BBC mandate to play up humor instead of horror. Add to this mix Bonnie Langford, who played the spunky Melanie (honestly, I never thought Mel was that bad a character, but then again I liked Adric too), and one could see where some fan critics got off comparing the series to pantomime. The Fires Of Vulcan is set during that season, marking Bonnie Langford’s return to Doctor Who, but it’s interesting to see what elements of season 24 were kept intact and which ones were changed. Melanie, though still inquisitive and lively, is made much more believable by the total omission of her character’s tendency to scream at everything. Mel’s screams during the TV series were legendary – and amazingly annoying. Here, she has more backbone and that makes her curiosity a bit more plausible.
What hasn’t changed? An odd revisitation of Sylvester McCoy’s early, more comedic portrayal of the Doctor. When compared to the darker persona McCoy and the show’s writers developed in the 25th season, the season 24 Doctor sticks out like a sore thumb. However, some hints of the darker Doctor were laid throughout Fires, namely his gloomy outlook about any possible escape prospects. In some places, this development is offset by such silly antics as falling victim to a Mickey Finn slipped to him in the local wine, and handling a mano-a-mano struggle with a brutish opponent in a slapstick manner. The guest cast adds a lot to the story, though as with many Doctor Who adventures set outside of Britain, one wonders why people in Italy in the first century A.D. speak perfect English!
If nothing else, The Fires Of Vulcan is more than welcome for bringing Bonnie Langford back to Doctor Who. I always suspected that the character could have been written far better than it was during the TV days, and I always suspected that Bonnie’s performance was not at fault. This outing confirmed both of those suspicions. Now perhaps we need to get Matthew Waterhouse to reprise the role of Adric somehow, just to see if that character can be redeemed in the eyes of the fans through the Audio Adventures.