a real world point of view
|The Fires of Pompeii|
|Main enemy:||Pyroviles, Sibylline Sisterhood, Lucius Petrus Dextrus|
|Main setting:||Pompeii, 79|
|Premiere broadcast:||12 April 2008|
|Premiere network:||BBC One|
|Format:||1x50 minute episode|
|Confidential:||The Italian Job|
|Doctor Who television stories|
|Partners in Crime||Planet of the Ood|
|The Unicorn and the Wasp||Partners in Crime|
The Fires of Pompeii was the second story of the fourth series of Doctor Who. Narratively, the story was important for explaining why the Doctor can sometimes change history and at other times cannot. Specifically, it introduced the notion of "fixed points" in time, which would later be the central theme of TV: The Waters of Mars and TV: The Wedding of River Song. It also continued the "Missing Planets" Arc with the Pyrovilles mentioning their home planet having being taken much like the Adipose's breeding planet.
Behind the scenes, it was notable for being the first major shoot outside the United Kingdom since the 1996 telemovie. Moreover, it was the first time a principal photography unit had been outside its country of production since The Two Doctors.
The Doctor tries taking Donna to ancient Rome for a trip in the TARDIS, but seems to have miscalculated. Instead of seven hills, they find a single mountain billowing smoke - Mount Vesuvius. However, something is very wrong. The Soothsayers' predictions are always correct, but they cannot see the eruption of Vesuvius! What is causing them not to see the true future? Will the Doctor yield to Donna's request to save the citizens and defy an established moment in history?
The Doctor and Donna exit the TARDIS in what the Doctor claims is 1st century Rome. Donna is amazed to have gone back in time; everyone around them is dead. Joking not to tell then locals that, the Doctor watches as Donna takes in the sights. However, Donna notices the writing on a cart is in English, making her sceptical. The Doctor calms her down by explaining the TARDIS's telepathic circuits are translating the local language for her; they are speaking Latin. This amazes Donna further as she now wonders what would happen if she said actual Latin while her speech is being translated. The Doctor oddly doesn't know the answer to this one and invites her to try it out. Donna says "Veni Vidi Vici" to a merchant, who tells her he doesn't speak Celtic. Donna questions the Doctor and he explains that she sounded Welsh.
Resuming their walk, Donna wonders if they stick out because of their clothing, but the Doctor explains that Rome is "like Soho, but bigger". Donna then wonders if the Doctor had been to Rome before and the Doctor cuts her off saying "That fire had nothing to do with me" before admitting he was slightly responsible. The Doctor then says that he never got to take in the sights - Colosseum, Circus Maximus, Pantheon. He then wonders why he can't see any of them and takes Donna into a large street. Donna then points out there is only one hill and not Rome's famous seven... and it is smoking. When a tremor rocks the streets, the Doctor realises they have arrived not in Rome, but in Pompeii and "it's Volcano Day".
Some time later, the Doctor and Donna meet up; he learned from the locals that it's exactly the day before Vesuvius erupts. Donna cuts him off, saying she found a place to gather people, but wonders where they can get a bell. When the Doctor asks why, Donna says it's to evacuate everyone. However, the Doctor says he cannot interfere in established events. Donna protests as she continues following the Doctor. On arriving where they left the TARDIS, they find that a nearby stallholder has sold it to local marble merchant Caecilius, as a piece of "modern art". He complains that the stallholder had no right to see his TARDIS and learns where the buyer lives.
Meanwhile, a member of the Sibylline sisterhood reports back on the appearance of a mysterious blue box in the marketplace, which they find is a fulfilment of a Sibylline prophecy. However, it was to come at the time of fire, destruction and betrayal.
At Caecilius's house, his wife Metella is preparing their prophetically-gifted but sickly daughter Evelina for the arrival of the town's augur, Lucius Petrus Dextrus as well as their son Quintus, who is suffering from a hang-over. A tremor causes them to brace their valuables. Unable to catch one, they are lucky the Doctor arrives and catches it. The family introduce themselves and the Doctor uses the psychic paper to pass himself off as a marble inspector to get the TARDIS back. Both the Doctor and Donna use the alias "Spartacus", making Caecilius think they're married. However, after they both deny this, he assumes they are brother and sister, thinking that they look alike. Both the Doctor and Donna are shocked. Donna suggests that the family take a vacation, mentioning "volcano" several times as the reason. The Doctor pulls her aside to inform her that they don't know that word yet - not until Vesuvius erupts.
Lucius arrives and the Doctor wins a verbal joust with the augur, earning praise in return for his cleverness. The Doctor then excuses himself and Donna to leave. However, he is forced to stay when he sees Caecilius unveil a marble plaque he has produced to Lucius' designs; it is recognisably an electrical circuit. Overhearing Lucius give prophecies, the Doctor tells Donna that they're in an age of "official superstition", prophecies are the equivalent to the "6'o clock news". Overhearing them, Evelina tells her parents that they "use words like tricksters". Seeing how ill Evelina is, the Doctor is informed she breathes vapours for strength, but disagrees. She then asks if it's his opinion as a "Doctor".
Lucius claims that Evelina's prophecies are easily faulted. However, when the Doctor says Lucius has been "out-soothsayed", the augur joins Evelina in predicting the truths about Donna and the Doctor. They see their real names, naming Gallifrey and London as their true homes, Gallifrey's destruction, the Doctor's name written in the stars of the Medusa Cascade. Evelina also states that his true name is not Doctor but is "hidden" and that he is a Lord of Time. Dextrus warns the Doctor "she" is returning and tells Donna that "there is something on your back". Evelina then faints.
Later, Donna investigates Evelina's mysterious skin ailment and finds the young woman's skin is turning into stone. Meanwhile, the Doctor is shown a hypocaust system powered by hot springs from Vesuvius itself and from which emit monstrous sounds from "the gods of the underworld". This system, he is told, was installed after the 62 earthquake on instructions from Lucius and the other soothsayers. From that time onwards, the soothsayers have been inhaling rock dust from these hypocausts and all their predictions have been uncannily accurate though they have not predicted Vesuvius' imminent eruption.
Bribing Quintus into showing him where Lucius lives, the Doctor breaks into the augur's home with the boy to find that not only is there the stone circuit that was made by Caecilius, but five others as well. Quintus is shocked by this as the Doctor explains that it's common practice to acquire parts from different places to keep people from knowing what you're building. Meanwhile, Evelina gives Donna a stola, and talks about a teenager's life in Pompeii. Donna's hints about Vesuvius' impending eruption are ignored. Donna realises that none of the seers have foreseen it. She tells Evelina about the eruption, which Evelina telepathically passes onto the sisterhood by accident. Their High Priestess and they decide it is false prophecy, and Donna must be killed.
Quintus and the Doctor, meanwhile, have been caught by Lucius. The Doctor helps him assemble the marble plaques into a circuit board. He asks who instructed him to build this, saying he can help him. Dextrus takes this as offence against the gods and threatens to have his guards kill them. The Doctor responds by trying to shake his hand and breaks off Dextrus's completely petrified right arm. They then take the opportunity to flee as the Doctor knocks over the tablets. Lucius begs the gods of the underworld to go after the Doctor and Quintus as they would prevent the rise of Pompeii. A safe distance from Lucius' home, the Doctor and Quintus hear thudding foosteps from underground.
Returning to Caecilius's house, they return to find Dextrus has summoned a giant, humanoid, stone-and-magma creature from the hypocaust. The Doctor tells Donna to get water while he attempts to reason with the creature, but members of the sisterhood appear behind her and drag her from the room. Evelina sees this and realises that she put Donna in danger because of her psychic connection to the sisters. Unable to reason with the creature, the Doctor has Quintus throw water on it, causing it to harden and collapse. He then wonders what happened to Donna.
At the altar in the sisterhood's temple, Donna has been tied up as a sacrifice and is in disbelief that it is actually happening. As sister Spurrina attempts to murder her with a knife, Donna keeps yelling in defiance; Spurrina says Donna's prattling voice will cease. The Doctor then arrives, saying "Oh that will be the day", before the sisters say no man is allowed in the temple. Joking around, the Doctor tells them he met Sybile "Nice teeth, hell of a woman. Blimey she could dance a tarantella". He then unties the ropes binding Donna with his sonic screwdriver, complimenting her outfit; he also tells the sisters Sybile would be ashamed of them, asking if they're supposed to be spreading the word with the blade of a knife. Spurrina tries stabbing him, but the high priestess demands to speak with the Doctor. With the curtain moved away, it is shown the high priestess completely turned to stone; it hurts, but the voices say it's necessary.
He realises that somehow, the people of Pompeii are turning to stone before the volcano erupts; the high priestess sees into his mind, demanding to know what a volcano is. Suspicious, the Doctor demands to know who she is. The alien, asserting control over the high priestess, declares itself a Pyrovile; the sisters blindly begin chanting its name. The Doctor, taking a water pistol out of his coat, warns the alien that he's armed, instructing Donna to open the hypocaust. He then demands to know what the Pyroviles are doing here. The Pyrovile explains it is one several aliens who crashed to Earth millennia earlier, awakened by the 62 earthquake. Their adult form is the creature they saw at Caecilius' villa. They are a psychic race and have bonded psychically with some of the local humans. The Doctor cannot find how they are seeing the future with such accuracy. Such an ability is beyond psychic. As he questions why the soothsayers can't see the volcano, Spurrina informs her sisters that she has looked into his mind and sees that his gun is harmless. Adding that it will sting, the Doctor fires a few squirts of water at the high priestess, causing her to cry in pain. Donna and the Doctor use the confusion to escape into the hypocaust.
Dextrus and the possessed high priestess each declare their Pyrovile-induced prophecy of a Pompeiian empire must advance, the latter warning that the Doctor threatens their plans. As they run, Donna tries to convince the Doctor to stop Vesuvius's eruption. He again refuses, telling her the eruption is a fixed point in history which cannot be stopped or avoided. Donna asks him how he knows this as she's basically history to him as well, but he stopped the Empress of the Racnoss from reviving her offspring and eating all life on Earth at Christmas 2008. The Doctor explains his Time Lord ability to see the past, present and all possible futures at once, claiming it's a a burden. Donna presses him as to how many people died. The Doctor confirms 20,000. She asks him if it's alright to let all these people die. Before he can answer, they hear a roar, hinting that the Pyrovile are aware of their presence, forcing them deeper into the volcano.Dextrus and the Cult of Vulcan take the circuit boards to the mountain. The Doctor and Donna, meanwhile, have reached the centre of the volcano. Inside it, they see what remains of an escape pod or something akin to it. Donna guesses that the aliens plan to blow up the mountain to launch themselves into space. However, the Doctor informs her they are planning something much more sinister. They are then discovered by Lucius, summon the adult Pyrovile to hunt down Donna and the Doctor, declaring their presence a defilement to his masters' temple. The Doctor and Donna make their way towards the pod, briefly fending off an adult Pyrovile with his pistol. Reaching the pod, the Doctor politely asks Lucius as to the Pyroviles' plan before they die. Lucius announces that his masters plan on expanding beyond Pompeii and conquer the world. Donna points out that the Pyroviles could just go home, but Lucius retorts that their home planet, Pyrovillia, has been "taken". Thus they will stay and conquer Earth, boiling its oceans.
The Doctor and Donna lock themselves in the Pyrovillian ship. The Doctor finds the Pyrovile are using Vesuvius to set up a fusion matrix to convert millions of humans into Pyroviles. The matrix will bleed off so much of Vesuvius' pent-up energy there won't be enough to trigger the eruption. This is why the soothsayers have been unable to see it. The Doctor can switch off the Pyrovillian circuitry and save the world from conquest, but he will cause the eruption and the deaths of himself, Donna and twenty-four thousand people.
They choose the latter as the lesser of two evils and reverse the machine, making Vesuvius begins erupting with the Pyrovilles shattering and Lucius being consumed by the flames. Vesuvius erupts and the Pompeiian watch in terror as ash falls upon them, thinking the sky is falling. Meanwhile, the Pyrovillian escape pod holding the Doctor and Donna is launched into the sky and lands between Vesuvius and Pompeii; "It was an escape pod." The two friends run for the safety of the TARDIS. As they do, Donna tries to inform the citizens where it's safest to flee, but they ignore her.
They reach the Caecilius family's home, where he ignores their pleas for help as Donna yells at him. With the TARDIS engines starting up, Donna is forced to board as well. Dematerialising, Donna urges him to return and save the citizens. The Doctor refuses, saying if he could go back, he would, just as he would go back and prevent the destruction of Gallifrey. Donna tearfully pleads with him, if not the city, then one family. The Doctor relents and materialises the TARDIS inside the Caecilius home, where the family are huddled in a corner awaiting death. He offers them his hand and pulls them into the TARDIS.
The Doctor, Donna, and the Caecilius family watch the eruption from the hills. The Doctor explains why Evelina's visions (caused by a rift in time, akin to the Cardiff Rift, as a result of the explosion) have stopped. He promises that Caecilius and Pompeii will be remembered. They then wonder who the Doctor is and why his "temple" has such size within it. Caecilius, awed by the fury of Vesuvius, coins the word volcano Donna mentioned repeatedly. The Doctor and Donna leave, with him acknowledging she was right; "sometimes I need someone" to stop him.
Six months later--in early 80--the Caecilius family has resettled in Rome. Caecilius has re-established his business, now worried about a deal with Egyptians that may set his family for life. Evelina is a healthy and happy teenager once again and dating, to her father's consternation and wearing trendy outfits. The greatest affected of the siblings, Quintus, has given up his dissolute ways and is now training to be a doctor, in honour of the one who saved them. He is told to give thanks to the household gods. Doing so, Quintus smiles at he image of the gods and thanks them; Donna and the Doctor are worshipped as the family's household gods, with the TARDIS as their temple.
- The Doctor - David Tennant
- Donna Noble - Catherine Tate
- Lucius Caecilius Iucundus - Peter Capaldi
- Lucius Petrus Dextrus - Phil Davis
- Metella - Tracey Childs
- Spurrina - Sasha Behar
- Caecilia Evelina - Francesca Fowler
- Thalina - Lorraine Burroughs
- High Priestess - Victoria Wicks
- Quintus Caecilius Iucundus - Francois Pandolfo
- Soothsayer - Karen Gillan
- Stallholder - Phil Cornwell
|Executive Producers Russell T Davies and Julie Gardner|
|Not every person who worked on this adventure was credited. The absence of a credit for a position doesn't necessarily mean the job wasn't required. The information above is based solely on observations of the actual end credits of the episodes as broadcast, and does not relay information from IMDB or other sources.|
- When asked of his identity, the Doctor replies, "I am... Spartacus." Donna says, "And so am I." This refers to the famous scene in the film Spartacus, where everyone announces they're Spartacus, to protect the protagonist.
- The Doctor tells Donna that he can see "all that is, all that was, and all that ever could be."
- Donna mentions her father, Geoff Noble, only as "dad".
- This is the second time the Doctor and Donna were mistaken as married in their time together.
- Lucius tells the Doctor, "She is returning", apparently referring to Rose Tyler's return; he notes Donna has "something on her back", referring to the Time Beetle there during the events of Turn Left.
- Donna thinks (at first) that she's in Epcot.
- The Doctor tells Donna he visited Rome a long time ago and had no part in the Great Fire of Rome before adding, "Well, a little bit".
- The Doctor uses the phrase "volcano day", first used by Jack Harkness in reference to a con in Pompeii. The Ninth Doctor later used the phrase.
- When seeing the future, Evelina mentions that the Doctor's name is hidden under the "Cascade of Medusa herself".
- The Doctor mentions the Shadow Proclamation when ordering a Pyrovile using a human host to reveal its species. He also asks for its home planet and galactic coordinates.
- The explosion of Pompeii caused a rift in time allowing an alternate timeline to seep backwards into the Pyrovillian alternative, creating visions.
- The Doctor attacks the High Priestess with a cheap, plastic water pistol.
- One of episode writer James Moran's favourite stories is City of Death, so there's a deliberate reference to that when Caecilius buys the TARDIS, thinking it's a piece of modern art. In City of Death, the TARDIS is parked in an art gallery, causing a pair of critics (John Cleese and Eleanor Bron) to discuss its artistic merits. Coincidentally, City of Death was the first episode of the classic series to involve filming outside of the UK, while The Fires of Pompeii was the first episode of the series revival to have major filming done outside the UK.
- The Pyrovile were originally called Pyrovillaxians. This was shortened to Pyrovellians, then Pyrovile.
- In the accompanying edition of Doctor Who Confidential (The Italian Job) Russell T Davies confirms that Caecilius and his family were based on characters from a series of Latin text books used in secondary schools. 
- Phil Cornwell (Stallholder) parodied the Ninth Doctor in a sketch for the Christmas 2005 edition of Dead Ringers (Christmas Day at Doctor Who's).
- BBC4 broadcast three related programmes on the same evening as the original broadcast; "Earth: the Power of the Planet" (an episode about volcanoes) at 2010BST, "Pompeii: the Last Day" at 2110BST, and "10 Things You Didn't Know About Volcanoes" (actually broadcast at 0155BST the following morning). The Radio Times listing for The Fires of Pompeii made reference to "Pompeii: the Last Day".
- The fountain in this story is used as the cloning vat in The Sontaran Stratagem.
- The 'Petrus Dextrus' in Lucius Petrus Dextrus translates roughly to 'stone right-hand'. This is a reference to his right arm, which had turned to stone.
- The Doctor jokes that Donna is from Barcelona, a reference to a running gag in Fawlty Towers. The Ninth and Tenth Doctors also talked of visiting the planet Barcelona. (TV: The Parting of the Ways and Children in Need Special)
- The episode addresses a long-standing issue of the "gift of translation" the Doctor or the TARDIS bestows upon companions. It is revealed that while the Doctor and Donna hear the Romans speaking colloquial English (with Cockney accents in some cases), the Romans hear them speaking Latin. When Donna and the Doctor actually speak Latin phrases, the Romans hear this as Celtic (as the English language hadn't yet developed).
- This is Karen Gillan's first appearance in Doctor Who. She would later be cast as the Eleventh Doctor's first companion Amy Pond.
- Tracey Childs (Metella) previously played Elizabeth Klein in AUDIO: Colditz and the Figurehead in AUDIO: Time Works. She would later reprise her role as Klein in AUDIO: A Thousand Tiny Wings, AUDIO: Klein's Story, AUDIO: Survival of the Fittest and AUDIO: The Architects of History.
- As is routine for post-2005 Doctor Who, a "NEXT TIME" trailer for the next episode is shown at the end of the episode.
- 9.0 million viewers
- Upper Boat Studios, Treforrest
- Cinecittà Studios, Rome
Discounting Doctor Who (1996), which was filmed in Canada, and Daleks in Manhattan, which featured some second-unit photography in New York City but nothing involving the cast, this is the first regular-series episode to be filmed outside the UK since TV: The Two Doctors, which was filmed in Spain in 1984.
- Mount Vesuvius, Naples
- Welsh Centre for International Affairs, Cardiff
- Clearwell Caves, Gloucestershire
- Morlais Quarry, Merthyr Tydfil
- Taffs Well Quarry, Taffs Well
- If you'd like to talk about narrative problems with this story — like plot holes and things that seem to contradict other stories — please go to this episode's discontinuity discussion.Just before the Doctor finds out that everyone with the 'gift' is breathing in Vesuvius, the Doctor's glasses fog up but in the next shot they are all clear.
- As the Doctor and Donna enter the TARDIS after watching the destruction of Pompeii from the hills, the front of the TARDIS is facing outward, towards the city. In the very next shot, showing a wide view of the surroundings, the TARDIS has rotated, as shown by the sign on the door now facing approximately 90° to the left. This is purely a CGI error, as the sound of the Doctor and Donna entering the TARDIS can be heard but not seen.
- In the beginning of the episode, Donna notices a sign on a cart translated by the TARDIS's translation circuit. It says, "Two Amphoras for the Price of One." Technically, it should say, "Two Amphorae for the Price of One."
- A major error is that once the Doctor breaks off Lucius Petrus Dextrus' right arm, he becomes wider and it is quite obvious by this that the actor's arm is strapped under his toga.
- The word "BIRTVS" or "BURTVS" can be seen carved into the stone towards the end after the Doctor saved the family, more specifically when Evelina and Quintus are holding hands.
- The Doctor refers to having visited Rome and claims innocence as to his part in the Great Fire of Rome. This makes it the second Roman fire he has been involved in. This occurred in TV: The Romans.
- The Doctor pulls the arm off one of his adversaries, just like the Auton in TV: Rose.
- Dextrus says that Donna has something on her back. This will be expanded on in TV: Turn Left.
- Dextrus says to the Doctor that 'she' is returning, referencing Rose Tyler who will reunite with him in TV: The Stolen Earth, or that Gallifrey will return in TV: The End of Time.
- The Doctor's discussion of time and not interfering harkens back to TV: The Aztecs in which the issue of history and non-interference was covered.
- The Doctor produces a small spyglass from his pockets, much as he did in TV: Robot.
- The Doctor also produces a water pistol, which would appear again (and be stolen by a Graske) in TV: Music of the Spheres.
- The Doctor says it's volcano day, much as Jack did in TV: The Doctor Dances.
- The Seventh Doctor and Melanie Bush visited Pompeii at the same time and also got involved in time-changing decisions, (AUDIO: The Fires of Vulcan) whereas an older version of the Seventh Doctor would later return to the same time and place in the company of Ace (PROSE: The Algebra of Ice). If the Tenth Doctor has any memory of these events, he gives no indication of it.
- The destruction of Pompeii was later referenced by the Doctor when he wrestled with abandoning Bowie Base One in TV: The Waters of Mars.
- According to WEB: whoisdoctorwho.co.uk, the Ninth Doctor told someone that he tried to warn the people of Pompeii.
- The Sibylline Sisterhood is very similar to the Sisterhood of Karn from TV: The Brain of Morbius.
- The Doctor's TARDIS was previously mistaken for a work of art (TV: City of Death) and would be again. (PROSE: The War of Art)
- Donna calls the Doctor 'spaceman'. (TV: The Runaway Bride)
- The Doctor previously visited Rome in PROSE: The Stone Rose.
Home video releases
- This story was released in the Series 4 DVD box set in November 2008 along with the rest of the series.
- It was also released as Series 4 Volume 1 in a vanilla edition with Partners in Crime and Planet of the Ood.
- TV: The Aztecs
- TV: The Romans
- TV: The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve
- TV: The Reign of Terror
- TV: The Time Meddler
- TV: The Time Warrior
- Official BBC Website - Episode Guide for The Fires of Pompeii
- Detailed synopsis of The Fires of Pompeii at the Doctor Who Reference Guide
- The Fires of Pompeii at Shannon Sullivan's A Brief History of Time (Travel)
- The Fires of Pompeii at The Locations Guide