Pompeii. Volcano Day. Fire and ash and pyroclastic flow and mayhem. Those complaints about Doctor Who becoming too light were spot on, weren’t they? Like good chocolate, this show is really yummy when it’s dark and the tiniest bit bitter. We’ve said it before, but one of their greatest strengths is that the tone can turn on a dime–the Spartacus joke is one of my new Who favorites, but the way it swiveled to the “seers” being able to identify the Doctor and predict dark tidings was chilling in its swiftness. And what is on Donna’s back?!
Actually, the theme of weight really does carry over this week, as Russell T Davies’ decision to obliterate Gallifrey and the Time Lords continues to resonate. Where “The Fires of Pompeii” really shines is in juxtaposing Donna’s very human desire to save everyone with the heaviness of the Doctor’s alien perspective of where fixed points in time slam up against change and chaos and consequence. It’s fun for the audience to get a glimpse of that view, but it’s also an almost unfathomably sad perspective, one that goes a long way toward explaining why the Doctor was one of “the ones who ran away.” Now it’s not just a sad perspective, it’s a lonely one, too, which is why a companion like Donna Noble is such a treasure–she might never be able to view the universe through that lens, but she’ll put her hand on the plunger anyway.
And if it’s cheesy to allow the Doctor to save one family in the end–the family we’ve gotten to know during the episode, no less–then pass the Gorgonzola, because I needed that. They’re symbolic of the idea that the whole point of Pompeii’s destruction (in the Whoniverse, anyway) was to save the rest of humanity, and if the Doctor is going to be faced with those kinds of choices, then we need to see the reasons play out to joyous fruition. Makes you wonder how many obelisks featuring the TARDIS are scattered around the universe.
Next week: Ood!