As with Gridlock last year, this episode promised a lot more than it delivered, but while it was in its promising phase, it was very good indeed.
The Pompeii set-up was marvellous: the use of the Cinecitta sets was thoroughly worthwhile, and the use of the Cambridge Latin Course family names certainly amused me – particularly the “you’ll be remembered” line to Caecilius at the end. It’s a shame there were a few shots of Lucius striding up a very obviously Welsh hillside to double for Vesuvius at one point.
The guest cast were excellent, particularly Phil Cornwell and Peter Capaldi. The Welsh gags were also nice touches. The use of make-up design, with eyes painted on hands, was downright eery; and the shrivelled old seer was effectively repulsive. Above all, the build-up was fantastic: how could the Pompeiians know so much about the Doctor and Donna, but not about the eruption? What did he mean by “there is something on your back”?! What is going on with the volcano? Fantastic.
And then, with only fifteen minutes left, they decide they need to explain it all… and the whole thing becomes utterly bog-standard. Aliens stranded on Earth for millennia, will destroy the planet… the Doctor stops them. Tsk. I mean, how many buried alien spacecrafts can one planet accumulate? The Racnoss, this lot, Daemons, Zygons, there must be loads more… And the Doctor fixes it all with the sonic screwdriver and outruns a volcanic eruption. Cheap peril, and even cheaper resolutions.
Also, it rather seems as though the Doctor and Donna can just nip back and forth between Pompeii and the Volcano as if they were right next to each other – in fact they’re about seven miles apart. Nor did the business with the household gods at the end, nor the coining of the term volcano, really add anything.
Still, it was a top-notch production, and certainly enjoyable. Just a shame about the plot.