So I’m writing this review on Sunday, August 4th, 2013 on the morning of the day that the 12th Doctor is going to be announced live on TV.
People reading this today will know that, but when these reviews are still up or published in their own book in the years to come, it might serve as something akin to a time capsule.
Right now, the bookies overwhelming favourite is Peter Capaldi, who – coincidentally enough – is in the next story I’m away to review; The Fires of Pompeii.
Personally, I think Peter Capaldi would be a fantastic Doctor. There are people who are moaning about his age, but considering the likes of William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee were hardly spring chickens when they were cast, I don’t see it as a problem. Indeed, I think it would be a refreshing change.
But as much as he’s the bookies favourite, I just don’t think it’s going to be him. I’m not sure Steven Moffat is brave enough. Instead, he’ll cast some bloke similar to Matt Smith, and that may or may not be a good thing in the long run.
So when you look back at this review in the years to come, you might think “I’d forgotten about the time everyone thought Peter Capaldi was the favourite to be the new Doctor” and this will jog your memory. On the other hand, you might think “Christ, he thought that bastard Capaldi was going to be good; and instead he ruined the whole show”
Who knows what the future will bring.
Anyway, back to the task at hand…
Doctor Who – The Fires of Pompeii Review: What’s This One About?
The Doctor arrives in Pompeii on Volcano Day for the second time (and I hear you say “What?!”).
This time it turns out that the Doctor is the one responsible for blowing the otherwise dormant volcano up, in a bid to save the world from some lava/rock monsters.
Thoughts – A Game of Two Halves. Almost.
I think I’ve mentioned a few times before that I mostly watch Doctor Who in bed at night. I’ll pop in the DVD, put my TV on a sleep timer and watch as much of an episode as I can before I drift off to the Land of Nod.
A good story will keep my mind interested, and I’ll stay awake to watch the whole thing. An example of that would be the recently reviewed Human Nature/Family of Blood two-parter.
A dull story will make me fall asleep almost instantaneously. An example of that would be The Mutants which took me almost two weeks to conquer.
Just for completeness, an unusual example was one night, about 15 years ago where I was feeling ill and desperate for sleep. I suspected the solution to this would be to put on The Dominators and I’d be out like a light in no time. Sadly, it didn’t work and I watched the whole thing in one uncomfortable sitting. Urgh.
Anyway, to get back to the Fires of Pompeii, I managed to get through about 20 minutes of it over three nights. It just couldn’t keep me awake.
Why? Because the first half of this story is boring.
The thing is, we know that it’s going to explode, so it would take a bloody good writer to make the lead up to it interesting. And sadly, based on this, James Moran isn’t that.
Sure, there are some funny lines like Donna thinking they might be at EPCOT or Peter Capaldi putting on a Welsh accent because he thinks they are Celts, but ultimately it’s just dull.
The storylines with the Sisterhood, the Pyroviles (wow, that’s a Terry Nation-esque name for a monster if ever I heard one) and with the guy who I can only see as Wilfred Bramble thanks to his portrayal of the senior Steptoe in that biopic are all monotonous, and simply marking time until the eruption.
But once it gets to the point of the eruption – and in fairness, the reveal that it has to be the Doctor who starts it is a nice twist – it gets interesting and exciting.
Once it happens, the special effects are good, and so is the acting, with Catherine Tate in particular doing a solid job of being upset by everything going on around her.
And it’s nice to have the Doctor save Peter Capaldi and his family.
To me though, the biggest problem with the story is that it’s unimaginative.
Sure, you can have the gimmick of the Doctor arriving in Pompeii on the day of the eruption, but there are ways of making a story out of that without resorting to the monotony of CGI monsters and people getting all mystical about knowing who the Doctor and Donna are.
Indeed, Doctor Who has already done that.
Are Big Finish Stories Canon? Make Your Mind Up RTD!!
There have been two Modern Who stories – Dalek and Age of Steel/Rise of the Cybermen – based on Big Finish stories, but they were changed enough, in one sense, so that they didn’t interfere with the existing canon.
Indeed, in the Cyberman one, the Doctor comments on how he’s seen all of this happen before, which could reasonably be interpreted as a direct reference to Spare Parts.
And yet here we are in Pompeii on the same day as the Seventh Doctor & Mel were here in The Fires of Vulcan. I mean, fuck, even the name is almost the same.
I’m not going to get myself tangled in knots about this, because really, who cares? But it would be nice if there was some consistency in RTD’s thinking.
And in this particular example, it would have been nice if they just ripped off the Big Finish storyline, because it was a lot better.
Basically, that story was about how the Doctor thinks his arrival in Pompeii signals his end because he knows the TARDIS turns up in an archeological dig of the ruins two thousand years later.
It’s a very good story, and far superior to this.
Seeing as it’s only £3 as a download from the Big Finish site, I’d recommend giving it a go.
All This Fixed Point Nonsense
I wish when coming up with Doctor Who stories, writers just wouldn’t bother trying to explain away the idea of why the Doctor can’t change history.
We all know the reason, but drawing attention to it just makes the whole thing seem stupid.
So certain points in history are fixed, are they?
Then once, just once, why not use that excuse for somewhere other than Earth in the years before the transmission of the story you are doing?
So the Doctor can’t change anything in Earth’s history, but he’s always – always – able to change Earth’s present, Earth’s future and the past, present or future of any other world.
And he also never knows any specifics about events in Earth’s future either; only Earth’s past. Well…apart from the Waters of Mars, but I’m not there yet so the criticism stands.
If I was writing a Doctor Who story I would deliberately go out of my way to write an alien invasion storyline where the Doctor says “I can’t interfere, sorry. This is a fixed point in your planet’s history”.
- As much as the Bad Wolf storyline worked, the hints about Torchwood in Season Two and Harold Saxon in Season Three seemed a bit lazy. It was like RTD was doing a season long story arc through half-hearted hints, just so he could say “Aha, now you see how it all came together”. Well here he’s gone the other way. Not only has he got the Missing Planet stuff going on (and twice in two episodes is too much) but he’s also now doing the “There’s Something On Your Back” thing as well. It’s not that they don’t end up setting up Turn Left and The Stolen Earth well, it’s just that the set-up is too front and centre here, rather than cleverly happening in the background.
- I’m not sure if Phil Davis is capable of looking clean.
- From The File Marked: You Wouldn’t Know It Unless You Were Told – Karen Gillan is in this, and she’s managing not to sound like a teuchter.
- One direction this story could have gone in was having Donna spend the entire time trying to warn people. I know they did a bit of it, but not enough.
- They also don’t spend half as much time as they should have on the TARDIS going missing. Another opportunity missed.
- I haven’t spent too much time discussing the villains of the piece, the Pyroviles. They look ok, but let’s face it; nondescript is the word here.
- Even though she does a fair bit of quality acting – acting that a couple of years earlier people wouldn’t have thought she had in her – Catherine Tate is still transitioning from her Loudmouth Chav character here.
- Having said that, the line “You fough ‘er owf. Wiv a Woe-Ahh Pistow. Oi Bladdy Lav you” is great.
- And what of Peter Capaldi? Well he’s quality of course. Capaldi is a great actor who does an accomplished job in everything I’ve ever seen him in. I’d love for him to be the Doctor but still don’t think he will be.
- Minor niggle: The casting of Capaldi’s son is poor. He’s part of a family full of people with white, British skin, and yet there is he, bronze as a statue. Perhaps his casting is good and the other three are poor, considering it’s Italy?
- DWM Mighty 200 Ranking: #56. Too high
Doctor Who – The Fires of Pompeii Review: Final Thoughts
So this story only got going about 10 minutes before the end.
Before it, it was time wasting, thumb twiddling and dullness.
By no means should this be ranked as high as #56.
But hey, that’s just my opinion.
Catherine Tate continues to do a good job as a companion though, and the absence of a companion being either smug or pining after the Doctor is a refreshing change.