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01 March 2015 @ 08:15 pm
NuWho Rewatch: Fires of Pompeii  
The Fires of the Pompeii was the story that definitively sold Donna to me. It came as a bit of a surprise to discover Tame Layman had no recollection of it at all and so was persuaded to watch it with us. I don't think it really converted him to Donna, but at least he didn't complain about her at all while it was on.

"The Father in my Latin textbook is called Caecillius" NLSS Child said almost immediately and then proceeded to be delighted by the appearance Metella and Quintus and puzzled by Evelina. Neither Tame Layman nor I had ever been exposed to the Cambridge Latin Course at school but I said I had heard that the characters were based on those in a school textbook. We then wondered if the textbook explained why the only son, and presumably second child, was called Quintus. All that said, I think NLSS Child was more delighted by the appearance of Peter Capaldi than she was by the fact he was playing a character from one of her textbooks.

The bit I loved, and still loved, is when the Doctor is faced with the choice between saving Pompeii and allowing the Pyroviles to invade. I suspect I like it quite so much since I read an awful lot of Virgin New Adventures in which the Doctor was forced to pick the lesser of two evils and is then berated about his choice by the companion (one way or another) so it was something of a pleasant surprise to see a companion, grasp the choice, and immediately back the Doctor up. I also liked the fact that, once the choice has been made, Donna refuses to allow the Doctor to wallow in his sense of guilt but insists that he continue to do as much as he can to help.

James Moran and Russel T. Davies have always been, not exactly coy, but certainly a little contradictory about who wrote how much of this. On several occasions they have both claimed that it is virtually all Davies' work give or take a line or two, but I note that wikipedia presents it as a close collaboration and attributes most of the jokes, as well as the inclusion of the family from the Cambridge Latin Course to Moran. It does feel different from a lot of Davies' output, and is more tightly plotted at the nuts and bolts level in which the Doctor must follow clues and deduce matters. On the other hand I've not really rated any of Moran's other work on either Torchwood or Primeval, so it doesn't seem particularly reminiscent of his style either.

I think this is my favourite episode of this season, and my favourite Donna episode over all. I think part of my fondness may derive from extrinsic factors (particularly over-exposure to the NAs dark seventh Doctor), but even putting that aside, I think this is a pretty well put together episode, that has clear central moment that is important to both the main characters as well as a surrounding plot that is rather better constructed than many of the plots in Davies' run... and, as mentioned above, Tame Layman at least forbore from complaining about Donna for the duration.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/144848.html.
philmophlegm: Rome: Total Warphilmophlegm on March 1st, 2015 11:55 pm (UTC)
I did the same Latin course and had exactly the same reaction as G when I saw this episode!

Caecilius in tablino, scribit.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on March 2nd, 2015 09:30 am (UTC)
Well that discounts the idea that the Cambridge Latin course is some kind of modern new-fangled thing.
Mayrain_sleet_snow on March 2nd, 2015 02:57 am (UTC)
I had that textbook, too. No, it doesn't explain about Quintus, who is frankly useless and good only for nobly surviving perils that everyone around him dies of (maybe don't tell G that, spoilers). Be prepared for her to get increasingly pissed off at bulletproof Quintus, though... she has at least three books of him to go!
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on March 2nd, 2015 09:32 am (UTC)
It must be said Fires of Pompeii presents him as a bit on the useless side (at least in the eyes of his mother) until exposure to the Doctor turns him around.

Obviously, this being pre-penecilin, there could easily be dead Primus through to Quartus, but I'd expect a textbook to be eager to make his name a teaching point in some way.
Mayrain_sleet_snow on March 4th, 2015 10:03 am (UTC)
He's always useless, they departed from the canon there! And no, they didn't explain it at all. It's a textbook for eleven-year-olds
louisedennislouisedennis on March 4th, 2015 01:37 pm (UTC)
Which, as has been pointed out, ends up with everybody (except Quintus) dead. It's obviously not that squeamish.
Mayrain_sleet_snow on March 5th, 2015 09:30 am (UTC)
Yeah, but most kids in a position to be studying Latin have heard of Pompeii, whereas the full implications of high infant mortality usually aren't covered at primary school..
bookwormsarahbookwormsarah on March 2nd, 2015 03:42 pm (UTC)
I'd forgotten how annoying Quintus became as the books progressed. Having just looked up the books on abe and discovered I can get them for under £3 each, I foresee Latin in my future... I have a very battered copy of the first book, and reworked my way through part of it a few years ago.
Mayrain_sleet_snow on March 4th, 2015 10:02 am (UTC)
He is a comprehensive bloody nuisance! Good luck with your Latin-learning.
bookwormsarah: evil biscuitbookwormsarah on March 2nd, 2015 01:57 pm (UTC)
Caecillius est in horto! I did the Cambridge Latin Course to GCSE (oh dear Lord, twenty years ago) and the final chapters of the first book were thoroughly depressing, translating as "Quintus is going to die. Caecillius is going to die. Cerberus is going to die. Metella is dead already". Quintus and the servant (something beginning with C" turn up again in later volumes so all isn't all lost. They've revamped the books over the last decade or so, but I still have a lot of affection for the tatty orange paperback version.

This was the first episode of NuWho I watched in several years, after watching Aliens of London and hating all the fart jokes. Much to my surprise I loved Donna, a few weeks later a friend showed me Silence in the Library, and I've never looked back since.

(How can I no longer have a Who icon?)
philmophlegm: Rome: Total Warphilmophlegm on March 2nd, 2015 02:59 pm (UTC)
The servant is Clemens. (And the cook was Grumio.)

How can I remember this? I did Latin for all of two years - not even to GCSE level, because the teacher left. o,s,t, mus, tis, nt, bam, bas, bat, bamus, bantis, bant, i, isti, it, imus, istis, erunt. Or something like that.

I seem to remember that after the eruption (ooh, spoilers), Quintus and Clemens move to Alexandria.
bookwormsarahbookwormsarah on March 2nd, 2015 03:30 pm (UTC)
I remembered Grumio (he cooked peacock and chased the dog off the table), but Clemens, of course! Didn't he turn up in Roman Britain at some point?
philmophlegm: Rome: Total Warphilmophlegm on March 3rd, 2015 11:24 am (UTC)
I don't remember that, but then I only did two years.
philmophlegm: I'vegotasportscarphilmophlegm on March 2nd, 2015 03:01 pm (UTC)
Also, I have a vague feeling that the family names (or at least those of the Peter Capaldi character, Lucis Caecilius Iucundus) are taken from some real surviving artifact in Pompeii. Could be wrong though.
bookwormsarahbookwormsarah on March 2nd, 2015 03:29 pm (UTC)
They were indeed and I've been to Caecillius's house in Pompeii. The bust of his head was in the Pompeii and Herculaneum exhibition at the British Museum last year, and I was really quite disturbed to see that mounted below it was a set of genitalia. They didn't mention *that* in the text book...
louisedennislouisedennis on March 2nd, 2015 04:43 pm (UTC)
Given I remember next to nothing about my Latin textbooks, the Cambridge course must at least have been pretty interesting - even if depressing (and annoying in terms of Quintus).

I love Donna too, but I think her "comedy moments" though few often seem a bit forced and can fall a bit flat. I suspect a lot of the dislike she gets comes from that.
dm12 on March 2nd, 2015 02:22 pm (UTC)
This one totally sold me on Donna as well. I liked her irreverent attitude towards the Doctor before, but her actions here were pivotal in showing exactly what a companion should be. She asked the difficult questions (and I don't mean about the English/Latin!). She argued on behalf of the people of Pompeii ("Donna, human, no!"). I loved her line about the fact that she wasn't one of those kids he'd been traveling with, implying she wasn't impressed with him just because. He was going to have to prove his case to her.

That said, she asked for the details... how many people would die at Pompeii, why couldn't the Pyrovilians just go home with all this technology available to them, what they planned to do. This all enabled the Doctor to realize that the decision was to save 20,000 people in Pompeii and have the world destroyed (and all the humans on it... including those he just saved) or set the volcano off, killing those 20,000 people, but saving the rest of the world.

Donna realized the choice and the gravity of having to make such a decision. Then the Doctor told her they likely would not survive their efforts to save the world. "Never mind us," and Donna understood the risks and was willing to give her life to do something important. When the Doctor hesitated, she didn't just use words to encourage him, she physically placed her hands over his and executed the plan right with him. She took on his burdens as hers. Supported him in his decision with action.

Then she made the case that, while the whole town couldn't be saved, perhaps they could save someone. So they did, and the Twelfth Doctor took on the form of the patriarch of the family they saved (my theory on "why this face?").

It took my husband a couple of days to realize exactly what Donna had done for the Doctor. He was too focused on their rapid banter and trying to understand their words instead of their deeds. He finally got it out of the blue ("OMG, I understand what Donna did for him!"), and it blew him away!

Since I never took Latin (French, instead), I wasn't familiar with those characters. It's an interesting use of them, though!

Edited at 2015-03-02 02:27 pm (UTC)
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on March 2nd, 2015 04:46 pm (UTC)
NLSS Child tells me there is a plan to reveal why the 12th Doctor has the same face as Caecillius and that man in Torchwood Children of Earth so we presumably will have to wait and see.

I'm interested to learn in the discussion above that in the textbooks only Quintus escapes Pompeii. I wonder if it was a deliberate fixit and the implication is supposed to be that the Doctor actually did change history.
dm12 on March 2nd, 2015 05:02 pm (UTC)
He might have changed history, and the possibility was mentioned somewhere that Frobisher might have been a descendant of Caecillius (maybe through his daughter, who also wasn't supposed to survive?). The only thing is that Caecillius came up with the term "volcano" to describe what happened to Vesuvius.

There's always "a plan," but I've yet to see anything. Moffett seems to make big deals about things, then just leave them hanging or change them at will. His whole "Day of the Doctor" negated the decision the Doctor had to make in "End of Time." He so far has really left the idea that the Doctor was going to try to find Gallifrey behind. It was only mentioned once, at the end of the series when Missy gave him the supposed coordinates.

I would like to think it was in memory of Donna's time as his companion that he chose that face, but I suspect he will ignore that.
philmophlegm: Victoria Waterfieldphilmophlegm on March 3rd, 2015 11:26 am (UTC)
Am I the only one who, when presented with a character called Frobisher in a Doctor Who context, thinks of a talking penguin?
dm12 on March 3rd, 2015 04:11 pm (UTC)
Probably not... *snickers* I think it's an odd name, too (for a human)!
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on March 3rd, 2015 08:19 pm (UTC)
I very much doubt it...