Saturday, 12 April 2008

Firing on all cylinders

I’ve just checked in The Shadow Proclamation, and I’m allowed to say this: the Fires of Pompeii rocked (‘Stone me!’ is the banned one).

Having gone to all the trouble of going to Rome’s Cinecitta for filming (even timing their arrival to coincide with an unexpected disaster in the shape of a fire, aptly enough), you sort of assumed the production crew would make it all look brilliant, but hang on; let’s not speed past that last thought - it all looked absolutely brilliant. “Sumptuous,” according to the Watcher’s assistant, and she’s not wrong. From the dappled dust and sunlight of the opening scenes to the TARDIS/Vesuvius/The Ordinary Family Lives! tableau at the close, this was perhaps the best-looking bit of Who ever served up (but over to you).

Ordinary folks anchor so much of the new series, of course, and the bit-too-soapy comings and goings of Caecilius and clan early on made one cry out for a 24-megaton firecracker, the sooner the better (I always felt the same when the TARDIS landed on the Powell estate, mind). And yet… James Moran’s RTD-guided script did actually make one care, and gave a human dimension to the historical pyrotechnics. Okay, Peter Capaldi, and baddie Phil Davis (and That Woman Out Of Howard’s Way) didn’t have that much to do, but what they did do was fine, and the fact they’re there speaks volumes for the new show’s pulling power.

Nice nods to the old show, too: coin behind the ear? Hello, third Doctor! Incongruous police box as modern art? Hello, City of Death! Loopy-looking seers hoofing round a flame? You’re not the Sisterhood of Karn in disguise, are you? No, you’re the Sibylline Sisterhood, and you’re right to say there’s something on Donna’s back: flippin’ critics. So many seemed ready to hate Tate from the get-go, but this episode really underlines Donna’s qualities: heart, guts, and conscience, all brilliantly evoked by the actress. She really gets the Doctor - “You fought them off with a water-pistol! I bloomin’ love you! - and he needs her; he admitted it!

DT brilliant, needless to say: zig-zagging and mercurial as ever, but offering deep, dark hints into the Doctor’s plight, casting a cold eye over the life-and-death fix and flux of the universe. All those souls saved, but all those lost, too; no wonder he keeps moving - and what is his real name, written up there in the Cascade of Medusa? You’ll just have to keep watching…

Good to see in the coda that the citizens of the Rome AD 80 quite rightly worship the Doctor, too, even fitting a widescreen altarpiece - but how disappointing that the feckless son looks set to become an Aston Villa fan, judging by the colour of his toga. Some kind of Roman/Villa gag, is it, in a show packed with better ones?

Anyway, next time: The odd couple meet the Ood millions…


Cyberleader said...

I thought this was an excellent episode, and I'm not too proud to say that Catherine Tate isn't the worst companion I've ever seen.

I thought the effects on the Pyrovillians were great.

Can't wait to find out what the story arc is all about (missing planets)???

I'm hoping the series continues to be consistently good as I thought the last one had its poor moments (42 for example)

Alexis said...

I do feel we have now started this series after last week's establishing episode.

Catherine Tate is now only a bit annoying when she yells in her Cockney accent and the relationship between Donna and the Doctor is coming along nicely.

Tennant is so assured and his verse riddles early doors were good practice for his stint in Hamlet at Stratford this summer.

The trouble is, after the last 3 - on the whole - excellent series, we are spoiled and only look for the weak bits.

This is still the best thing on TV.