The Doctor: I don't know! Isn't that brilliant? I love not knowing! Keeps me on me toes. It must be awful being a prophet, waking up every morning, "Is it raining? Yes, it is. I said so." Takes all the fun out of life.
This episode was inspired by the very similar Big Finish Doctor Who
episode "The Fires of Vulcan
The Doctor and Donna land in Ancient Rome
, ready to have more fun than an amphora of monkeys.
Except after some searching, they discover that they've landed in Pompeii, on August 23, 79 A.D., which means is the day before Mount Vesuvius erupts and Pompeii's streets get re-paved with lava. Donna immediately requests the Doctor's help to organize a mass evacuation and save everyone, but the Doctor claims to be unable to do anything about this: he doesn't say
"You can't change history, Barbara; not one line
", but he is probably thinking it.
So they go for the other
secret Time Lord maneuver: running away, much for Donna's frustration. Unfortunately, the TARDIS is missing; while they were walking around, a street merchant seized it (justified, as it was
parked on his market's place) and sold it to a local marble merchant with a dysfunctional family (A drunken slob of a son and a fume-addicted oracle daughter) AND a taste for avant-garde art. It's not the first time the TARDIS has been mistaken for an art installation.
The marble-worker who bought it is then attacked by a massive magma-thing (which is stopped by a bucket of water) and it is revealed that the volcano fumes inhaled by his oracle daughter to boost her visions are slowly turning her into stone. Also, a local prophet claims that there's something on Donna's back. This will be important later. And he says that a planet has apparently gone missing. This will be very
important later. Meanwhile, the marble-worker has a freaking computer circuit made of stone, so the Doctor decides to stick around a bit longer.
The Doctor confronts the oracles (with a Walther P38 water pistol) and finds out why someone ordered a bunch of marble power-converters.
The Doctor finds out that Vesuvius isn't going to erupt if he just leaves; he needs to make
it erupt. If Pompeii doesn't erupt, then since the alien menace of the week
hasn't been destroyed, a race of lava golems will turn humans into more golems, boil the ocean, and go conquer the world. Donna realizes for the first time that travelling with the Doctor can be very morally disturbing. They make the volcano erupt, both fully expecting to die, but it turns out the explosion device was inside an escape pod. Donna convinces the Doctor to go back and save the marble-worker and his family. Because not everyone is an über-depressed near-suicidal Time Lord, and sometimes the Doctor forgets that. Six months later, Caecilius and his family have their lives back on track, the daughter is finally socialising like a (in our time, anyways) normal teenager, and that wastrel son is making good of himself, learning manners, not drinking anymore and most importantly, studying to be a doctor too (not that kind). And their new house gods altar, with a box flanked by this man and this woman, look suspiciously familiar...
Oh, and Karen Gillan
(who would go on to play future companion Amy Pond
) is in it.
- Accidental Art: Played for Laughs, as Caecilius is sold the TARDIS as a work of modern art. His wife calls it a "great waste of space".
- Ancient Rome: sort of, we do get there eventually.
- Anticlimax Boss: The first Pyrovile that gets taken down with water
- Arc Words: Medusa Cascade, Shadow Proclamation, something on Donna's back.
- Big "NO!": Lucius Petrus Dextrus and the High Priestess. Both do it twice.
- Call Back: The Doctor's mention of "Volcano Day" refers to a comment by Jack Harkness in The Empty Child.
- Climactic Volcano Backdrop: Inside Vesuvius, no less.
- Continuity Nod: the Doctor's comment about the Great Fire of Rome is a reference back to "The Romans" (way back with the First Doctor).
- It's Volcano Day!
- The Doctor admits that Donna was right - sometimes he needs someone to stop him.
- Convection Schmonvection: justified, most of the heat is being taken by the Pyroviles.
- Creator In-Joke: Latin students everywhere stand a chance of recognizing Caecillius and his family. They feature in the Cambridge Latin Course, a widely used Latin textbook series.
- The Cretaceous Is Always Doomed
- Deadpan Snarker: The Doctor, when Donna is about to be sacrificed.
Priestess: This prattling voice will cease forever.
The Doctor: Oh, that'll be the day.
- Establishing Character Moment: Donna sharing the burden with the Doctor of having to cause Vesuvius's eruption, and later pleading with him to save just one family. It's not hard to see why the Doctor considered her to be his best friend.
- Fainting Seer: The daughter, who faints after telling the Doctor that he is a "Lord of Time".
- Foreshadowing: The augur tells Donna that there is "something on her back". There will be, in Turn Left. He also tells the Doctor that "she is returning", probably referring to Rose.
- Happily Married: Caecillius and Metella.
- I Am.....Spartacus: "And so am I."
- I'm Mr. Future Pop Culture Reference: With bonus I Am Spartacus joke included absolutely free.
- Not to mention that 2000 years later, the English language itself still frequently throws latin into everyday conversation.
- Incredibly Lame Pun: The Doctor, while in the volcano: "Don't get yourselves in a lava!" (Turns to Donna) "Lava...no?" She just shakes her head.
- Kill It with Water
- Living Lie Detector: Both augers/soothsayers visibly unnerve the Doctor and Donna by seeing right through their stories and made up identities and telling them things about them they couldn't have possibly known.
Lucius: "Is that so? Man from Gallifrey...And you, daughter of... London!"
Evalina: "And you, you call yourself Noble...You are a lord sir, a lord of time."
- Mass Oh Crap: The Pompeiians, Herculaneans, and Stabiaeans have one.
- Meaningful Name: Lots. but particularly Lucius Petrus Dextrus (literally translating to Lucius Stone Right Arm!). Apparently these were all deliberate - Russell T Davies was channelling Astérix and asked James Moran to put them in.
- Mistaken For Exhibit: Not only is the TARDIS mistaken for a modern art installation, but an enterprising street trader has sold it to a wealthy marble merchant, kicking off the plot. Probably meant to be Played for Laughs
- Mistaken for Special Guest: Not addressed in the episode, but there's a subtle indication that Donna is seen as someone of high status, when the soothsayers note her true name is "Noble" and that throughout this episode she wears Purple, which was seen at the time to indicate wealth and status.
- Morton's Fork: Save Pompeii and let the Pyroviles convert everyone or save the world and let Pompeii be buried.
- Outrun the Fireball
- Prophecy Twist: The Doctor says Pompeii's destruction is "a fixed point" that he can't prevent, even though thousands will die. It's worse than that, he has to make Vesuvius erupt to save the world.
- Psychic Powers: The Sibylline Sisterhood have them as a side-effect of the Pyroviles' presence.
- Punny Name: The producers must have had a lot of fun inserting any Ancient Rome puns they could, like Lucius Petrus Dextrus, Donna asking Evelina if she's been to TK Maxximus, and an obligatory I Am Spartacus joke.
- Running Gag: Because of the TARDIS, Donna (and we) hear the Romans' Latin as English, so if you speak to them in Latin it's translated into Celtic.
- Donna starts it by trying to say, "Veni vidi vici" to a shop proprietor. He says, drawing out syllables, "Me no a-speak Celtic. No can do, missy!"
- When the Doctor and Quintus are cornered by Petrus Dextrus and his men, the Doctor mutters, "morituri te salutant" ("those who are about to die salute you") and Petrus Dextrus says, "Celtic prayers won't help you now."
- Shout Out to Fawlty Towers when the Doctor explains away some of Donna's remarks with "she's from Barcelona".
- The scene of the marble worker's family rushing to their positions during the pre-eruption earthquakes could be one of the Admiral Boom scenes in Mary Poppins.
- Caecilius, Metella and Quintus come from Cambridge Latin Course, the most popular Latin textbook in the UK and US (not Evelina, though - she was created especially for the episode).
- There's also a blink-and-you'll-miss-it shout-out when the Doctor tells Caecilius that "[he] will be remembered." He is indeed remembered, and is read about by almost every English-speaking Latin student for the past 45 years.
- The Doctor drops a reference to the upcoming 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Caecilius assumes "San Francisco" is the name of a new restaurant in Naples.
- Stealth Pun: Lucius Petrus Dextrus is latin for Shining Stone Right Arm!
- Taken for Granite
- Tear Jerker: "...All those people..."
- Take Over the World
- They Wasted a Perfectly Good Plot: While the episode was awesome enough, we know that Jack visited Pompeii several times during his days as a Time Agent. Would it have been so wrong to have the Doctor duck behind a pillar to avoid him?
- We could have had Jack running around Pompeii in a nice short tunica? Missed Moment of Fanservice.
- Watching Troy Burn
- Weaksauce Weakness: A giant, badass-looking alien warrior made of magma and rock... and a bucket of water takes it down instantly.
- What Have We Ear?: The Doctor does this to Quintus to bribe him into taking him to Dextrus's house.
- The X of Y
- You Have Got to Be Kidding Me!: Donna's rather atypical response to being turned into a very typical altar sacrifice.