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Russell T. Davies , Brian Minchin , James Moran , Colin Teague

Doctor Who (Series, S04E02): The Fires of Pompeii

YEAR: 2008

COUNTRY: United Kingdom

Cateogry icon

Title of the work

Doctor Who (Series, S04E02): The Fires of Pompeii

Studio / Production Company

British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)

Country of the First Edition

Original Language

English

First Edition Date

2008

First Edition Details

April 12, 2008

Running time

50 min

Date of the First DVD or VHS

2 June 2008 (DVD - Doctor Who: Series 4, Volume 1) [Region 2]

Genre

Science fiction
Television series
Time-Slip Fantasy*

Target Audience

Crossover

Cover

Missing cover

We are still trying to obtain permission for posting the original cover.


Author of the Entry:

Richard Scully, University of New England, rscully@une.edu.au

Peer-reviewer of the Entry:

Elizabeth Hale, University of New England, ehale@une.edu.au

Daniel Nkemleke, Universite de Yaounde 1, nkemlekedan@yahoo.com

Male portrait

Russell T. Davies , b. 1963
(Producer)

Russell T. Davies is a British "showrunner", television writer and creator of the new Doctor Who in 2005 (revived on the BBC after a hiatus of sixteen years), The Sarah Jane Adventures (Doctor Who spin off series aimed at children) and Torchwood (Doctor Who spin off series aimed at adults).

Davies was born in Swansea, Wales in 1963. In interviews he describes how his parents were classics teachers and he grew up “in a house full of books” with “stories of Greek mythology” and Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. (see here, accessed: June 3, 2018) and Welsh Economic Review (2007) 19.1, 24-25.

Davies’ career in television writing and production started in children’s television at the BBC in the late 1980s, before working on adult drama for ITV, including soap opera Coronation Street and period drama The Grand. From the late 1990s he has created a number of series featuring gay characters including Queer As Folk, Bob & Rose, Cucumber and Banana. He was awarded the OBE in 2008 for services to drama.


Bio prepared by Amanda Potter, Open University, amanda.potter@caramanda.co.uk


Male portrait

Brian Minchin

Script Editor


Male portrait

James Moran , b. 1972
(Screenwriter)

James Moran (1972- ) is an English screenwriter for television and film. Born in York, he won a scriptwriting competition run by the American-based (NBC/Universal Pictures) Sci Fi Channel for his short film Cheap Rate Gravity (2002), which was his first produced work. Moran then penned the six-part TV drama The School. The serial-killer feature film Severance (2005), and Cockneys vs Zombies (2012), were followed by a thriller – Tower Block (2012) – and some uncredited work on the horror movie The Borderlands (2014). Moran also worked for television, and his debut was in the first series of Doctor Who’s spin-off Torchwood (for which he wrote the episode Sleeper, 2008); and then co-wrote (with Showrunner Russell T Davies) Day Three of the 2009 Children of Earth storyline. Following his involvement in Torchwood, Moran was approached by Davies to pen a Roman history-themed episode for Doctor Who itself, having originally been inspired to include a Pompeii story while watching the BBC/TLC docu-drama Pompeii: The Last Day (2003). Moran struggled with the task, but was assisted by Davies, who insisted on the inclusion of multiple Latin language-based jokes a la the Asterix comic books (Davies’ mother had been a teacher of Latin). Moran decided to utilise the main characters from the Cambridge Latin Course textbooks as his supporting cast. Following-on from Doctor Who, Moran wrote for ITV’s Primeval (2009), BBC One’s Spooks (2008) and Spooks: Code 9 (2008), NBC’s Crusoe (2008), and the CBBC children’s shows The Sparticle Mystery (2015) and Eve (2015). Moran maintains a blog and a Facebook page.


Bio prepared by Richard Scully, University of New England, rscully@une.edu.au


Male portrait

Colin Teague (Director)


Casting

David Tennant – The Doctor

Catherine Tate – Donna Noble

Peter Capaldi – Caecilius

Tracey Childs – Metella

Phil Davis – Lucius

Sasha Behar – Spurrina

Francesca Fowler – Evelina

Lorraine Burroughs – Thalina

Victoria Wicks – High Priestess

Francois Pandolfo – Quintus

Karen Gillan – Soothsayer

Phil Cornwell - Stallholder

Summary

‘The Fires of Pompeii’ was typical of the revived, 21st-century series of Doctor Who (1963-1989; 2005-present) with its abandonment of educational themes for ‘pure’ science-fiction, and pseudo-historical storytelling. Filmed using the same sets as the 2005-7 HBO/BBC Two series Rome, the episode attempted to present the same level of historical accuracy of costuming and set-design, while taking liberties with scripting. Aspects of Roman religion and myth – the soothsayers and augurs, the Sibylline Books of prophecy, and the household gods of the Iucundus family (Lares and Penates) – are included, but the supernatural events of the story are revealed to be due to more ‘worldly’ (if alien) influences: a species of silicone-based creature known as the Pyroviles (who inhabit the mantle of the Earth, and who are composed of magma and stone). The TARDIS crew (The Doctor and his companion, Donna Noble) must thwart the Pyroviles’ attempts to use Earth as a base for future galactic conquest (a la the Roman Empire itself), defeat the aliens’ human agent – the Augur, Lucius Petrus Dextrus – and navigate the ongoing conflict between the male-led prophetic ways of augury, and the female-led prophetic culture of the Sibyls. The Doctor is confronted with a hard choice: the only way to defeat his enemies and save the Earth (and the galaxy) is to cause the AD 79 eruption of Vesuvius, thus destroying Pompeii and killing all its inhabitants. The moral dilemma is partially mitigated by the Doctor’s actions in saving the lives of Lucius Caecilius Iucundus and his family.

Analysis

‘The Fires of Pompeii’ is a significant example of early-21st century British television drama. Watched by 8 million viewers during its initial broadcast (and an additional million or so on catch-up services and other media), the episode is a notable example of a science fiction appropriation of Classical myth, and history. The time travelling theme of the program was a handy device for justifying the incursion into Roman history; and the Doctor and his companion serve as useful avatars for the audience-members as they are introduced to and familiarised with the historical and mythical context of the storyline (or, rather, reacquainted with matters with which they may already have been; with Latin language and Roman history still being widely-taught in the British education system in the 2000s). The appearance of those humans who have been infected by Pyrovilian aspects (Lucius Petrus Dextrus and the Sibyl) is deliberately reminiscent of the plaster-casts made by Giuseppe Fiorelli (1823-1896) of Pompeiian citizens. The episode is also significant, inter-textually, as key characters (and even the chief setting) are adapted directly from Book I of the Cambridge Latin Course (first published in 1970, it has sold over 3.5 million copies, and is used by 85% of the Latin-teaching schools in the UK). Adaptations of humorous tropes from Asterix and other contexts (such as the 1960 Stanley Kubrick film Spartacus) also make the episode a key point-of-contact for different appreciations and understanding of Roman history and Classical myth. The positioning of the filming in precisely the same context as the production Rome (2005-7) points to some interesting postmodern questions of authenticity and inter-textuality. Indeed, the episode also contains knowing references to the Doctor’s prior encounters with the Classical world (‘The Romans’ and ‘The Myth Makers’, 1965).


Further Reading

Harmes, Marcus K. Doctor Who and the Art of Adaptation; Fifty Years of Storytelling, Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014, esp. pp.68 ff.

Hobden, Fiona, ‘History Meets Fiction in Doctor Who, “The Fires of Pompeii”: a BBC Reception of Ancient Rome on Screen and Online’, Greece & Rome, 56: 2, 2009, pp.147-163.

Johnston, John J., ‘The Fires of Pompeii’, The Essential Doctor Who (from the Makers of Doctor Who Magazine), 8 – Adventures in History, June 2016, pp.18-19.

Keen, Anthony G. ‘It's about Tempus: Greece and Rome in “Classic” Doctor Who’, in Space and Time: Essays on Visions of History in Science Fiction and Fantasy Television, edited by David C. Wright, Jr., and Allan W. Austin, Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2010, pp.100–15.

Keen, Anthony G., ‘Sideways Pompeii! The Use of Historical Period to Question the Doctor's Role in History’, in Impossible Worlds, Impossible Things: Cultural Perspectives on Doctor Who, Torchwood, and The Sarah Jane Adventures, edited by Ross P. Garner, Melissa Beattie, and Una McCormack, Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars, 2010, pp. 94–117.

Addenda

Production Costs & Box Office Success:

Recorded viewers - 8.1-8.5 million at time of broadcast (consolidated figure: 9.04 million).


Peter Capaldi – who played Caecilius in ‘The Fires of Pompeii’ – was later cast in the title role of the series – the Doctor, in his Twelfth incarnation – from 2013-2017. Karen Gillan – who played one of the Sibylline priestesses– also reappeared in Doctor Who (as Amy Pond, companion to the Eleventh Doctor, 2010-2013).

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Leaf pattern

Title of the work

Doctor Who (Series, S04E02): The Fires of Pompeii

Studio / Production Company

British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)

Country of the First Edition

Original Language

English

First Edition Date

2008

First Edition Details

April 12, 2008

Running time

50 min

Date of the First DVD or VHS

2 June 2008 (DVD - Doctor Who: Series 4, Volume 1) [Region 2]

Genre

Science fiction
Television series
Time-Slip Fantasy*

Target Audience

Crossover

Cover

Missing cover

We are still trying to obtain permission for posting the original cover.


Author of the Entry:

Richard Scully, University of New England, rscully@une.edu.au

Peer-reviewer of the Entry:

Elizabeth Hale, University of New England, ehale@une.edu.au

Daniel Nkemleke, Universite de Yaounde 1, nkemlekedan@yahoo.com

Male portrait

Russell T. Davies (Producer)

Russell T. Davies is a British "showrunner", television writer and creator of the new Doctor Who in 2005 (revived on the BBC after a hiatus of sixteen years), The Sarah Jane Adventures (Doctor Who spin off series aimed at children) and Torchwood (Doctor Who spin off series aimed at adults).

Davies was born in Swansea, Wales in 1963. In interviews he describes how his parents were classics teachers and he grew up “in a house full of books” with “stories of Greek mythology” and Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. (see here, accessed: June 3, 2018) and Welsh Economic Review (2007) 19.1, 24-25.

Davies’ career in television writing and production started in children’s television at the BBC in the late 1980s, before working on adult drama for ITV, including soap opera Coronation Street and period drama The Grand. From the late 1990s he has created a number of series featuring gay characters including Queer As Folk, Bob & Rose, Cucumber and Banana. He was awarded the OBE in 2008 for services to drama.


Bio prepared by Amanda Potter, Open University, amanda.potter@caramanda.co.uk


Male portrait

Brian Minchin

Script Editor


Male portrait

James Moran (Screenwriter)

James Moran (1972- ) is an English screenwriter for television and film. Born in York, he won a scriptwriting competition run by the American-based (NBC/Universal Pictures) Sci Fi Channel for his short film Cheap Rate Gravity (2002), which was his first produced work. Moran then penned the six-part TV drama The School. The serial-killer feature film Severance (2005), and Cockneys vs Zombies (2012), were followed by a thriller – Tower Block (2012) – and some uncredited work on the horror movie The Borderlands (2014). Moran also worked for television, and his debut was in the first series of Doctor Who’s spin-off Torchwood (for which he wrote the episode Sleeper, 2008); and then co-wrote (with Showrunner Russell T Davies) Day Three of the 2009 Children of Earth storyline. Following his involvement in Torchwood, Moran was approached by Davies to pen a Roman history-themed episode for Doctor Who itself, having originally been inspired to include a Pompeii story while watching the BBC/TLC docu-drama Pompeii: The Last Day (2003). Moran struggled with the task, but was assisted by Davies, who insisted on the inclusion of multiple Latin language-based jokes a la the Asterix comic books (Davies’ mother had been a teacher of Latin). Moran decided to utilise the main characters from the Cambridge Latin Course textbooks as his supporting cast. Following-on from Doctor Who, Moran wrote for ITV’s Primeval (2009), BBC One’s Spooks (2008) and Spooks: Code 9 (2008), NBC’s Crusoe (2008), and the CBBC children’s shows The Sparticle Mystery (2015) and Eve (2015). Moran maintains a blog and a Facebook page.


Bio prepared by Richard Scully, University of New England, rscully@une.edu.au


Male portrait

Colin Teague (Director)


Casting

David Tennant – The Doctor

Catherine Tate – Donna Noble

Peter Capaldi – Caecilius

Tracey Childs – Metella

Phil Davis – Lucius

Sasha Behar – Spurrina

Francesca Fowler – Evelina

Lorraine Burroughs – Thalina

Victoria Wicks – High Priestess

Francois Pandolfo – Quintus

Karen Gillan – Soothsayer

Phil Cornwell - Stallholder

Summary

‘The Fires of Pompeii’ was typical of the revived, 21st-century series of Doctor Who (1963-1989; 2005-present) with its abandonment of educational themes for ‘pure’ science-fiction, and pseudo-historical storytelling. Filmed using the same sets as the 2005-7 HBO/BBC Two series Rome, the episode attempted to present the same level of historical accuracy of costuming and set-design, while taking liberties with scripting. Aspects of Roman religion and myth – the soothsayers and augurs, the Sibylline Books of prophecy, and the household gods of the Iucundus family (Lares and Penates) – are included, but the supernatural events of the story are revealed to be due to more ‘worldly’ (if alien) influences: a species of silicone-based creature known as the Pyroviles (who inhabit the mantle of the Earth, and who are composed of magma and stone). The TARDIS crew (The Doctor and his companion, Donna Noble) must thwart the Pyroviles’ attempts to use Earth as a base for future galactic conquest (a la the Roman Empire itself), defeat the aliens’ human agent – the Augur, Lucius Petrus Dextrus – and navigate the ongoing conflict between the male-led prophetic ways of augury, and the female-led prophetic culture of the Sibyls. The Doctor is confronted with a hard choice: the only way to defeat his enemies and save the Earth (and the galaxy) is to cause the AD 79 eruption of Vesuvius, thus destroying Pompeii and killing all its inhabitants. The moral dilemma is partially mitigated by the Doctor’s actions in saving the lives of Lucius Caecilius Iucundus and his family.

Analysis

‘The Fires of Pompeii’ is a significant example of early-21st century British television drama. Watched by 8 million viewers during its initial broadcast (and an additional million or so on catch-up services and other media), the episode is a notable example of a science fiction appropriation of Classical myth, and history. The time travelling theme of the program was a handy device for justifying the incursion into Roman history; and the Doctor and his companion serve as useful avatars for the audience-members as they are introduced to and familiarised with the historical and mythical context of the storyline (or, rather, reacquainted with matters with which they may already have been; with Latin language and Roman history still being widely-taught in the British education system in the 2000s). The appearance of those humans who have been infected by Pyrovilian aspects (Lucius Petrus Dextrus and the Sibyl) is deliberately reminiscent of the plaster-casts made by Giuseppe Fiorelli (1823-1896) of Pompeiian citizens. The episode is also significant, inter-textually, as key characters (and even the chief setting) are adapted directly from Book I of the Cambridge Latin Course (first published in 1970, it has sold over 3.5 million copies, and is used by 85% of the Latin-teaching schools in the UK). Adaptations of humorous tropes from Asterix and other contexts (such as the 1960 Stanley Kubrick film Spartacus) also make the episode a key point-of-contact for different appreciations and understanding of Roman history and Classical myth. The positioning of the filming in precisely the same context as the production Rome (2005-7) points to some interesting postmodern questions of authenticity and inter-textuality. Indeed, the episode also contains knowing references to the Doctor’s prior encounters with the Classical world (‘The Romans’ and ‘The Myth Makers’, 1965).


Further Reading

Harmes, Marcus K. Doctor Who and the Art of Adaptation; Fifty Years of Storytelling, Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014, esp. pp.68 ff.

Hobden, Fiona, ‘History Meets Fiction in Doctor Who, “The Fires of Pompeii”: a BBC Reception of Ancient Rome on Screen and Online’, Greece & Rome, 56: 2, 2009, pp.147-163.

Johnston, John J., ‘The Fires of Pompeii’, The Essential Doctor Who (from the Makers of Doctor Who Magazine), 8 – Adventures in History, June 2016, pp.18-19.

Keen, Anthony G. ‘It's about Tempus: Greece and Rome in “Classic” Doctor Who’, in Space and Time: Essays on Visions of History in Science Fiction and Fantasy Television, edited by David C. Wright, Jr., and Allan W. Austin, Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2010, pp.100–15.

Keen, Anthony G., ‘Sideways Pompeii! The Use of Historical Period to Question the Doctor's Role in History’, in Impossible Worlds, Impossible Things: Cultural Perspectives on Doctor Who, Torchwood, and The Sarah Jane Adventures, edited by Ross P. Garner, Melissa Beattie, and Una McCormack, Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars, 2010, pp. 94–117.

Addenda

Production Costs & Box Office Success:

Recorded viewers - 8.1-8.5 million at time of broadcast (consolidated figure: 9.04 million).


Peter Capaldi – who played Caecilius in ‘The Fires of Pompeii’ – was later cast in the title role of the series – the Doctor, in his Twelfth incarnation – from 2013-2017. Karen Gillan – who played one of the Sibylline priestesses– also reappeared in Doctor Who (as Amy Pond, companion to the Eleventh Doctor, 2010-2013).

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