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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

New DOCTOR WHO season burns bright with "The Fires of Pompeii"

"Me no speak Celtic."

"We're in Pompeii... and it's Volcano Day!"

"I am... Spartacus."

"You fought her off, with a water pistol! I bloody love you!"

"Because that's how I see the universe. Every waking second I can see what is, what was, what could be, what must not. It's the burden of the Time Lord, Donna. And I'm the only one left."

"We'd better hurry. Rocky IV's right behind us."

"I can never go back. I can't! I just can't!"

Season 4 (or is it 30?) of Doctor Who had the premiere of it second episode on the BBC this past weekend. So like usual I nabbed a high-quality bootleg off the 'net. 'Cuz I'm a big enough Doctor Who fan to not want to wait for when Sci-Fi Channel begins running it later this summer.

I raved last week about the season opener "Partners in Crime". This past weekend's "The Fires of Pompeii" is not only just as strong, it is surprisingly better. Indeed, "The Fires of Pompeii" boasts one of the strongest stories of the show's revived run, as well as some of the best computer-rendered effects we've seen to date. That the episode was also filmed on sets left over from HBO's epic series Rome certainly doesn't hurt things, either...

As "The Fires of Pompeii" begins, The Doctor wants to show Donna the city of Rome at the height of its imperial splendor. Die-hard Doctor Who geeks will no doubt enjoy the humor that comes from the Doctor explaining the translation circuit of the TARDIS (which is why Donna is reading and hearing Latin but is interpreting it as English). But not long after arriving they discover something very amiss: namely, that instead of seven hills "Rome" has only one. And it's smoking. The ground shakes. And the Doctor realizes: they have landed in Pompeii instead, on the 23rd of August in 79 A.D., the day before Vesuvius erupts and buries the city in ash and lava.

Of course, this being an episode of Doctor Who, there are more sinister forces at work in the doomed town that the Doctor finds himself having to counter.

Some of the acting (especially from the Roman characters) in this episode is way too hammy, even for Doctor Who. But other than that, "The Fires of Pompeii" is a solid entry in the mythology. I've always thought that the best Doctor Who episodes are the ones that find the Doctor's alien nature conflicting with his own conscience, and that of his human companions. So it is with "The Fires of Pompeii": Donna wants the Doctor to do something, anything, to save these people. And the Doctor argues with her that it's not only something he can't help, it's something he shouldn't help. And later on in the episode we get a much fuller sense of the burden that comes with being the Doctor, as he weighs saving twenty thousand lives against saving millions still to come.

David Tennant delights again as the Doctor in this episode, and Catherine Tate as Donna continues to impress. I'll give "The Fires of Pompeii" 4 Sonic Screwdrivers out of 5.

Next week: the Ood - those tentacle-faced guys from the acclaimed two-part story in Season 2 - return.


Geoff Gentry (aka xforce11) said...

Dude SciFi got smart they are only 3 weeks behind the UK (just like BBC America & Torchwood). The new season starts Friday with the Christmas EP.

Chris Knight said...

They did?!? AWESOME!! I hadn't heard that. Thanks for passing the word along Geoff... that might save me some disk space :-)

Except it's still just way too fun to watch them early and post reviews. But now I'll know that I can supplement the Sci-Fi run with them :-)