Season 30 Episode 2 – The Fires Of Pompeii, by James Moran

May 11, 2008

review by Martin Odoni.

Uuurrrgghhh… not a long review this week, because I just couldn’t be bothered getting annoyed with the episode, and that means I couldn’t get fired up enough to write about it – or even to remember it, truth be told. It was pretty feeble stuff again.

Overall, it was doing its best to make up for its general lack of imagination or insight by trying to sound clever, which it hoped to achieve by having a lot of very quickfire, pseudo-clever dialogue. The result of it is a very dizzy, incoherent story, and despite how quickly everyone speaks – or perhaps even because of it – it in fact moves rather slowly; the manic rabbiting, especially between the Doctor and Donna, keeps putting the plot on hold waiting for them to finish the banter. The only time when the plot and the dialogue move at the same speed is during the closing few minutes when the Doctor finally slows down enough to agonise over the ethical dilemma.

To be fair, those few minutes were rather good, as it is a very valid question to raise, and David Tennant does inspire some sympathy as his mood veers between stony-hearted silence and tearful guilt. But it’s not as if the “Should-I-use-time-travel-to-save-someone-who-I-know-has-already-died?” dilemma is anything new to Dr Who, is it? It’s old, old ground – look at The Time Meddler, look at Timeflight – and so inevitably I was left a little non-plussed by it all.

It also doesn’t help that Catherine Tate was just bloody awful at every step of the story. On this evidence, I just can’t imagine what they saw that convinced them that it would be a good idea to bring her back. She makes a half-amusing sketch actress – not the same as a good comedy actress, which she isn’t – but she is absolutely hopeless at doing drama, even light entertainment. This is because she only seems to have the ability to do emotions by shorthand, all of her character attempts descending into caricature in keeping with her rather tepid sketch show.

To be fair to Tate, the guest cast were no better. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a lazy, on-auto-pilot performance from Peter Capaldi, while the two teenagers were so wooden I honestly thought their limbs would crack in a high wind.

The story is quite basic, the new monsters (I forget their name) are not very different from many of the other monsters introduced since 2005, and a lot of the dialogue is hopelessly anachronistic, a failing that can only be slightly mitigated by reference to the TARDIS’ translation circuits.

I had high hopes for this one, especially as it wasn’t written by RTD, but of course that won’t offer any guarantees. In the event this episode was a very smug, very scrappy bit of work. 4/10 again.

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