Friday, 18 April 2008

Doctor Who, Series 4, Episode 2: Fires of Pompeii

We are now two episodes in to Series 4 of the new Doctor Who and it is pretty clear already that this is going to be a fantastic series. "Fires of Pompeii" is the kind of thing that the new Doctor Who does best, the historical romp, but this time with some added value -- much further into earth's past than before, with filming in Rome's Cinecittà studios, and with far better special effects than usual. The fans all seem to love it and Catherine Tate is beginning to woo even the sceptics -- "Hmmmm... humble pie. Yummy" (Behind the Sofa). She had already won me over by last week's episode, when I said "Donna is going to make us laugh (and then we are going to end up crying too)." I must admit that I didn't expect it so soon.

This is a very good episode, perhaps the best of the historical episodes, though I did love "Tooth and Claw", the Queen Victoria episode in the second series. I suspect that it will be a grower too. It was not as immediately appealing to me as the first episode -- it took a lot of work to figure out who all the people in Pompeii were, and I didn't feel like I really cared about the family at the centre of the action. I didn't think the rock monsters were especially impressive, and I didn't care much for the flapping around with the big tiles with circuit boards on them. This episode was enjoyable because of nice little elements like the doctor and Donna on the streets of Pompeii, not because of its story. A particular favourite clip from early in the episode, where Donna tests out how she will sound when speaking Latin:

There were lots of other enjoyable historical elements there for the nerds, like the use of the characters from the Cambridge Latin Course including Lucius Caecilius Iucundus, and the reference to the Sibylline Oracles (Doctor Who meets the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha!).

It may be that my appreciation of the narrative will improve on future viewings. I wondered whether this was a script that would have benefited from the 75 minute treatment that "Voyage of the Damned" got at Christmas. We needed more time to learn to care about these people (cf. Den of Geek's review, which makes a similar point). Still, a fine entry. Just about makes four TARDIS groans for me, though if I do give it the four, I may have to up my rating for "Partners in Crime" to four and a half since that was such a satisfying episode.

So far then, and contrasting with Loren Rosson on the first episode, but with him on the second, my ratings are:

Partners in Crime: 4 1/2 TARDIS groans
Fires of Pompeii: 4 TARDIS groans.


Steven Harris said...

I have to confess I was a little disappointed with this episode. One of the strengths of the new Dr Who has been managing to carefully tread the line between light humour and self-parody but I thought this episode was a bit too cheesy.

I'm still not convinced by Katherine Tat but I expect I'll won over. I just still expect her to say "Am I bovvered?" everytime she opens her mouth :)

Hugh Houghton said...

I caught part of the Pompeii programme, and was very amused by the Cambridge Latin Course references, especially when the Doctor said to the family: You will be remembered throughout history (or something like that...)

AnneDroid said...

I liked the TK Maximus (TK MAXX)reference.

I'm now prepared to put David Tennant up there with Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker and that's saying something. (I think the thing it's saying, incidentally, is that I now have kids the age to love Dr Who at as much as I loved it when I was that age and it was JP and TB).