Super super episode (you can tell RTD didn’t write it). The Doctor and Donna land in Pompeii the day before Vesuvius erupts, and when they rush to the Tardis to escape pre-eruption tremors they find it sold to Peter Capaldi. Not a major event, but when he unveils artwork resembling a computer circuit and both his daughter and the town’s Augur (Phil Davis) identify him as The Doctor, a Time Lord from Gallifrey, things start to get complicated.
In contrast to last week, the script is water tight and the banter between the Doctor and Donna is perfectly timed – Donna’s ‘ you have got to be kidding me’ helps knock so many time travel story conventions into touch, and her attempt to influence history in a very different way to Rose makes her very interesting very quickly. But it’s the acting which really make this episode special. Tennant and Tate have boundless chemistry between them, and Tate in particular takes to the role with unexpected authority, channelling many of her own characters entirely when called for and with charming precision. Rose offered a new beginning, Martha offered depth, whilst Donna in turn now offers a certainty of character she doesn’t even know she has. And she has a point – who does give the Doctor the right to condemn Pompeii to its certain death when while they’re there it’s the present? Having a rebel to take him down a peg seems to make the Tenth Doctor as edgy on occasion as the Sixth, which is a pleasant surprise. The Doctor/Rose love fest was the bedrock upon which the relaunched franchise based itself, but having a likable companion who is prepared to say ‘no’ on moral grounds is far more interesting.
Shooting this episode in Italy makes it all the more vital, and the production values really are impressive. And not only do we have a strong alien/monster concept, but weaving it into history works here in ways in which the Shakespeare episode last year failed so lamentably at. Using the dilemmas he faces to illustrate the Doctor’s ability to see every event in time for what it is, can be, must and mustn’t be even adds depth to him in ways not tried since Paul Cornell’s Family of Blood. Having that central truth of his character under pressure from Donna can only (ahem) augur well for an interesting rest of season four.
One last thing. Before my friends and longtime blog companions start to wonder if I’m going to speculate as wildly this season as the first…hell yeah.
“She is returning.” “There is something on your back.”
The first quote is clearly about Rose, the second about Donna. What they mean though is unclear. Folks we don’t just have a Bad Wolf for season four, we have at least two.