Fiction Reviews

Doctor Who: The Fires of Pompeii

(2022) James Moran, Target – BBC Books, £7.99 / Can$16.99 / US$10.99, pbk, 174pp, ISBN 978-1-785-94779-7


“My masters will follow the example of Rome... our mighty empire bestraddling the whole of civilization!"

It is 79AD, and the TARDIS lands in Pompeii on the eve of the town's destruction. Mount Vesuvius is ready to erupt and bury its surroundings in molten lava, just as history dictates. Or is it?

The Doctor and Donna find that Pompeii is home to impossible things: circuits made of stone, soothsayers who read minds and fiery giants made of burning rock. From a lair deep in the volcano, these creatures plot the end of humanity - and the Doctor soon finds he has no way to win...

Back in the day – yes, I’m that old - it was Terrance Dicks who wrote the Target adaptations of the broadcasted Doctor Who stories, but times have changed. Dicks is sadly no longer with us, and BBC Books now bring out the Doctor Who books (currently through Del Rey), albeit with a Target logo in the upper-right hand corner to give it that nostalgic feel. Another, more important, difference is the original writer of the screenplay now adapts their screen story for book form. Who better, you may ask, than the person who created the entire scenario getting the chance to embellish their story, making necessary cuts and additions: after all a TV episode is different from a book.

Originally broadcast in 2008, Moran’s story is straight forward enough. The Doctor and Donna arrive in Pompeii in the nick of time to see the city in all of its glory as it’s about to be destroyed the very next day with the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Donna, of course, wants to intervene, and save lives, but the Doctor doesn’t want to, as history is about to unfold Everyone knows the story of Pompeii and it cannot be altered, and yet these are strange end days as things are not quite right beneath the veneer of people going about their day-to-day business unaware that tragedy is about to strike.

In adapting his script, Moran is able to extend some of the scenes, and add in some witty, knowing dialogue given that one of the supporting characters – Caecilius - is played by Peter Capaldi who went on to play the Twelfth Doctor (and it shouldn’t be forgotten that Karen Gillan who played companion, Amy Pond, to Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor actually turned up in this episode as a soothsayer). Moran also winds up the tension, the drama, and the emotion, particularly where Donna is concerned, as her fiery humanity knocks heads with the Doctor’s aloofness in a battle between would-be rescuer and observer, but as the story develops, a greater threat is revealed and the Doctor has no choice but to intervene.

Told over seventeen chapters wedged between a prologue and an epilogue, this is a fast-paced read, and as an added bonus, each of the chapter titles are a familiar Latin phrase such as dies irae, status quo, tempus fuget, etc., etc. While the phrases are familiar, perhaps their actual meaning is not, so The Fires of Pompeii is educational as well as a good read. Finally, it wouldn’t be a Target book by having that Target-like cover, another winner by Anthony Dry. Recommended for Whovians everywhere.

Ian Hunter


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