Sunday, August 24, 2014

Doctor Who--"The Fires of Pompeii"

Like every season thus far, the second episode is a lavish historical epic. Last year’s ‘The Shakespeare Code” was the most expensive Doctor Who episode ever produced. I would have guessed this episode surpassed that budget, but I have just learned after viewing “The Fires of Pompeii’ was filmed on existing sets formerly used by the late and much missed HBO series, Rome. I was impressed either way. It was easily the most impressive setting I have seen in the series, new or old.

The Doctorand donna arrive in what they believe to be Rome. They quickly learn they are actually in Pompeii one day before Mt. Vesuvius erupts. Before they can getaway, a merchant sells the TARDIS as a modern art piece art to a marble dealer. The pair track the TARDIS down to learn the man‘s daughter is a soothsayer who actually can foresee the future. It turns out to be an epidemic. There is a sisterhood of soothsayers and the town psychic, all of whom have developed foresight. Except none of them see the volcano erupting the next day. Odd, no? No time to worry about that. The soothsayers predict Rose is returning 9though not by name) and there is some sort ofsinster secret about Donna.

The soothsayers have been breathing in ask from beneath Mt. Vesuvius to give them their powerrs. They are actually breathing in particles of aliens made of stone who crashed under the volcano thousands of years ago and are planning to rise again. The Doctor is faced with a dilemma: Mt. Vesuvius did not just naturally erupt. He caused it, killing 20,000 people. But if he does not go through with it, he cannot destroy the alien plot. He finds the nerve to cause the eruption, rationalizing history has to be preserved.

Throughout the episode, Donna had urged him to warn everyone, but he insisted certain parts of history cannot be changed. it takes a Time Lord’s instinct to know which is which. Nevertheless, he and Donna debate the idea that anyone should be saved. Ultimately, the doctor saves the marble dealer’s family from certain death after passing them by in order to get to the TARDIS. It seems pretty clear Donna is going to serve as the Doctor’s morak compass throughout the season. I find his behavior grossly inconsistent. Sometimes he is merciful to a fault. Other times, he is brutally nonchalant. I am curious whether there will ultimately be a learning experience for him to force consistency on him.

A few notes here. The anachronistic references often fell flat. The Docotr quotes ernest Hemmingway, uses a water gun against on of the magma aliens, and winds up worshipped as a household god. These were clunky elements that stretched plausibility. Where did he get the water gun in the first place? The make up and CGI done on the stone covered soothsayers and magama aliens were fantastic, though. Enough so that I can forgive the goofier elements.

The Shadow Proclamation is mentioned yet again. This makes the fourth time after “Rose,” “The Last of the Time Lords,’ and “Partners in Crime.” Since the reference goes all the way back to “Rose,” it has to involve her return. Interesting also the aliens’ planet was destroyed just like the Adipose breeding planet. I assume they are connected somehow. If the odd’s home planet has been destroyed in the next episode, you can safely assume there is a pattern. What have Davros and the Daleks been up to? For that matter, what was Capt. Jack up to? Recall in his first appearance, he often used the destruction of Pompeii in one of his scams. No sign of him here, though. Surely he crossed the Doctor’s mind?

Rating: **** (out of 5)

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