The Doctor brings Donna to ancient Pompeii, only to discover that they’ve arrived on the eve of the eruption of Vesuvius. A woman in red robes who immediately noticed the time travelers after their arrival reports to the rest of her order – the blue box foretold by prophecy has appeared. When the Doctor and Donna race back to get in the TARDIS and leave, the blue box is exactly what they don’t find: one of the street merchants sold it as a piece of art. The Doctor finds it soon enough, but now there’s a new problem: Donna doesn’t want to leave without saving some of the people of Pompeii from their fate, something which the Doctor assures her is impossible. Trying to outdo some of the local soothsayers, Donna warns everyone she can about the volcano, but the red-robed sisterhood marks her for death for the crime of false prophecy. The Doctor discovers that one of the locals is apparently in possession of advanced computer circuitry, but doesn’t know exactly what it is. Even if he saves Donna and tracks down the alien attempting to influence history, the Doctor still can’t save the people of Pompeii.
written by James Moran
directed by Colin Teague
music by Murray Gold
Cast: David Tennant (The Doctor), Catherine Tate (Donna Noble), Phil Cornwell (Stallholder), Karen Gillan (Soothsayer), Sasha Behar (Spurrina), Lorraine Burroughs (Thalina), Peter Capaldi (Caecilius), Tracey Childs (Metella), Francesca Fowler (Evelina), Francois Pandolfo (Quintus), Victoria Wicks (High Priestess), Gerard Bell (Major Domo), Phil Davis (Lucius)
Notes: Depending on how official you consider the Big Finish audio plays to be, Pompeii in 79 A.D. was positively crawling with incarnations of the Doctor; somewhere across town, the seventh Doctor and Melanie were also trying to escape the eruption of Pompeii in the audio story The Fires Of Vulcan – though they weren’t trying to battle an alien influence. Guest star Karen Gillan later went on to play the part of the eleventh Doctor’s companion, Amy Pond.
LogBook entry & review by Earl Green
Review: Just before the fourth season of the new Doctor Who kicked off, I did a marathon viewing/listening of all the classic Doctor Who stories I either hadn’t seen, or didn’t remember well. One thing that I was surprised to find myself enjoying was the wide variety of treatments of historical subjects in the Hartnell days – ranging from deadly serious drama to broad farce, the ’60s historical stories seldom had to resort to the kind of tired sci-fi macguffin that this episode does.
And what’s really sad about that is that the rest of the episode is really fine – a lot is established here where Donna is concerned, with regards to how much she wants to help those in need and how much she’ll stand up to the Doctor to accomplish that. We also get some nicely fleshed-out characters from Pompeii, who don’t deserve the fate that awaits them, and I felt a little bit cheated by the end of the hour that more time wasn’t spent on that element than on the CGI rock critters smashing everything in sight. The “lone alien crashed in an escape pod” gag is also past its sell-by date.
In short, there’s a great story in The Fires Of Pompeii. Many fans couldn’t help but notice that there’s a similar Big Finish story, The Fires Of Vulcan, in which Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor finds himself stranded without the TARDIS on the eve of Vesuvius blowing its top. Though I’ve criticized the new Doctor Who for cribbing a bit too much from Big Finish and the New Adventures novels, perhaps The Fires Of Pompeii should’ve at least looked to its predecessor for some guidance. As it is, the sci-fi elements distract from the emotional throughline of the story, the actual location filming in Italy, and what could’ve been a new lease of life for historical stories in Doctor Who.