Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Countdown - The Fires Of Pompeii

To celebrate the fact that 2013 is the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who, we are taking a look back at all of the episodes of the show which featured David Tennant as the Doctor. At the end of our look back we'll be asking you, the fans, to vote for what you think is the ultimate David Tennant episode of Doctor Who....

We continue with the next David Tennant episode.... The Fires Of Pompeii
Read our previous Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Countdown posts here.

31. The Fires Of Pompeii

First Broadcast on 12th April 2008. Running Time: 48.13 Minutes. Viewing Figures: 9.0 million.
Written By James Moran.
Directed By Colin Teague.
Executive Producers Russell T Davies and Julie Gardner. Rating: 10/10.


When the Doctor and Donna travel back in time to 79AD, they discover psychic powers and beasts of stone running riot in the streets of old Pompeii. The time-travellers face their greatest challenge yet - can established history be changed, or must the Doctor let everyone die?

Extras: Promotional Photos | On Set Photos |  Videos | Articles | Screen Caps

Production Notes:
One of Russell T Davies first ideas, when he was placed in charge of the revival of Doctor Who back in 2003, was to base an adventure around the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79AD which wiped out the population of the Roman city Pompeii. The October 2003 documentary, Pompeii: The Last Day, revived his interest in the subject and he decided to write a script based on the real life tragedy for the first series of Doctor Who which aired in 2005 and featured Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor. However it soon became clear that budget constraints were going make the episode unfeasible and so he set about penning Boom Town instead.

The idea was still there and when Davies began plotting for series 4 of the show, in early 2007, he began reconsidering the idea of the episode and working out the possibilities of filming such a production.
At this stage he'd planned that the first historical episode of series 4 would be written by Mark Gatiss and would feature the Doctor and Donna visiting World War II and meeting the Nazis. Gatiss had been writing the episode for over a year, but Davies felt that it was too soon to revisit World War II, after the 2005 episodes The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances. And so Davies began to plans for the World War II Gatiss script to be replaced by the Pompeii adventure instead.
He started to investigate the logistics of creating Pompeii on a BBC Wales budget and it quickly became apparent that the best way to do it was to make use of the already established sets that the BBC and HBO had built for the drama series Rome, which were located in Rome itself at the city's Cinecittà Studios.
Luckily Cincittà, which had been used for iconic films such as Ben Hur and La Dolce Vita, were keen to offer their services to the British TV industry and so were as accommodating as possible with the finances involved. And so by the end of April 2007 Gatiss' World War II script had gone and the Pompeii episode was on.

By now there was just four months until the Pompeii episode would need to start filming and Davies knew he would need to find a writer who could work very quickly and hand him in a script in double quick time. He decided the man for the job was Torchwood's James Moran. Moran had got his big break on TV after winning a script writing competition run by the UK Sci-Fi Channel. He had then gone on to write for Severance before joining the Torchwood team. Moran was offered the job on 9th May 2007.

During the summer of 2007 the episode was named The Fires Of Pompeii. Davies was keen that the script would show the Doctor in a moral dilemma, with the horrendous task of having to leave an entire city full of people to die in order to stop history from being changed. He decided to make this even more poignant by introducing a Roman family for the Doctor and Donna to befriend during their time there.
The characters in the family were inspired by the first book in the Cambridge Latin Course which is based on a man named Lucius Caecilius Iucundus who works as a banker, his wife Metella, and their son Quintus. The course also featured an evil soothsayer named Lucius Marcius Memor. 
The father of the Fires Of Pompeii family was named Lucius Petrus Dextrus. 'Petrus Dextrus' referring to the fact that Lucius' right arm has turned to stone.
In the first drafts of the script Moran called the episode's aliens the Pyrovillaxitrians ( taken from the Greek 'pyr', meaning 'fire'). He then changed this to the shortened version Pyrovillaxians and then Pyrovellians before Davies decided they should opt for the eventual Pyroviles.

In August 2008 Davies decided to move The Fires Of Pompeii in to the second episode slot and have it swap places with Planet Of The Ood which was moved back to episode three. 
By now though there was drama for Davies as he had found himself in a timing crisis to get work finished on both The Fires Of Pompeii and the series' opening episode Partners In Crime, but he was making little progress in to either one. Both episodes were set to form Production Block Three and were to be directed Colin Teague, who had worked on the 2007 series finale and Torchwood with Davies previously.
For a while Davies was so panicked about The Fires Of Pompeii script that he considered scrapping the plan, dropping the script and bringing back Mark Gatiss' World War II episode. Finally it was decided that Partners In Crime and The Fires Of Pompeii should each form it's own production block to relieve some of the pressure from Davies' shoulders. This allowed Davies' to complete The Fires Of Pompeii as the filming date for Partners In Crime could be delayed.

But the dramas weren't over yet. On 9th August 2007 producer Phil Collinson and production manager Tracie Simpson were told that there was a fire at the Cinecittà Studios. The blaze was caused by an electrical fault and the resulting fire sadly caused the deaths of four people and destroyed a considerable amount of the studio before it was extinguished. The Doctor Who set had not been damaged and so despite the tragedy, filming could begin as planned.

David Tennant and Catherine Tate arrived in Rome on 12th September 2007, marking the first time that the new series of Doctor Who had shot scenes featuring it's regular principal cast outside of the UK. 
Filming at Cinecittà took place on the 13th and 14th,  and covered all of the scenes in the streets of Pompeii. The next day, plate shots were captured at Mount Vesuvius itself and David Tennant visited several historical sites and was filmed for the spin off documentary Doctor Who Confidential.

The production then packed up and headed home to Cardiff were on the 18th and 19th September scenes of the Sybylline temple were filmed at The Temple Of Peace.
On the 20th until the 27th work moved to the Upper Boat Studios in Pontypridd. Here they filmed scenes in Caecilius' home in Pompeii and in Rome and also the Pyrovile control sphere.

On 28th September the action moved to the Clearwell Caves in Gloucestershire which set the scene for the rock tunnels leading to the Pyrovile's lair. 
Then on 1st October scenes on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius were shot at Morlais Quarry in Merthyr Tydfil.  Scenes under the mountain were recorded on 2nd October at 
Taffs Well Quarry in Taffs Well.
Filming finally wrapped later that month on the 20th October with an insert shot of the Doctor firing his water pistol was recorded once again at Upper Boat.

This episode marks the first appearance of the actress Karen Gillan in Doctor Who. She plays the role of a soothsayer and a member of Sibylline Sisterhood. Karen, of course, went on to play the role of the Eleventh Doctor's companion Amy Pond from 2010 until 2012.

The Pyroviles were huge stone and lava based aliens from Pyrovillia. A scout craft landed on Earth thousands of years past, and once they awoke they discovered their home world had vanished so attempted to claim Earth as their own. When Mount Vesuvius erupted, it destroyed the Pyroviles but sent a shockwave back 17 years in time creating a huge time rift. The dust particles from the Pyroviles turned the people of Pompeii slowly but surely in to living rock. The Doctor realised that, with the help of an energy converter constructed by the City's Augur, Lucius Petrus Dextrus, the Pyroviles could use the volcanic energy to heat up the planet, boil away the seas and ultimately make Earth their new home. The Pyroviles and their ships were destroyed when the Doctor set history on the right track, ensuring Vesuvius did erupt, sealing the rift and removing all trace of the Pyrovillian incursion from the minds of any soothsayers, augurs or haruspex who survived the city's destruction.

The Caecilius Family:
Head of the house Caecilius house was Lobos, a marble merchant by trade, he had been employed by Lucius Dextrus Petrus to construct one of the six marble circuit boards needed by the Pyroviles to repower their ship. His wife Metella was fiercely proud of her family, in particular her eldest daughter Evelina who she wanted to join the Sibylline Sisterhood.
Evelina was the couple's eldest child she was able to see into the future and was turning slowly to stone as she had been inhaling Pyrovile dust that was being constantly pumped in to her home via the air ducts that ran underneath it. When the Pyroviles were destroyed Evelina's gifts disappeared and her stone arm returned to flesh and blood.
The family's youngest child was their son Quintus, lazy and disobedient, but very intelligent he helped the Doctor to break in to Dextrus Petrus' home.
A Pyrovile rampaged through the family home but was destroyed by the Doctor, who was able to take the family to safety on the hills of Pompeii where they witnessed the city die.

The Sibylline Sisterhood:
Gifted with the power of accurate prophecy, due to the incursion of the Pyroviles, the Sisterhood venerated their High Priestess and protected her from the denziens of Pompeii, where they lived. Each of them had suffered the effects of inhaling Pyrovile dust fragments in the city air and were at different stages of turning in to living stone. The Doctor claimed he had met the Sibyl herself once, danced with her, and she'd had a bit of a crush on him. He also told the High Priestess that Sybil would be ashamed of the way she had let the Pyroviles corrupt the Sisters beliefs. The Sisterhood all died together when Vesuvius erupted.

Lucius Dextrus Petrus:
Lucius Dextrus Petrus was the Chief Augur of the Pompeii City Government and also the leader of the Cult Of Vulcan. As an augur, he had a psychic link with the Pyroviles. The secondry timeline caused by their arrival on Earth and the space - time rift opened by the eruption of Vesuvius gave Lucius a genuine ability to see the future and and interpret it in the way the people of Pompeii would understand. The Pyroviles charged him with obtaining marble circuit boards, which acted as energy converters when assembled together to repower their crashed ship. After taking the circuit voards to Vesuvius and handing them over to the Pyroviles, he was killed when the volcano began to erupt.


Donna: Have you been here before then?
The Doctor: Mmmm, ages ago. Before you ask, that fire had nothing to do with me. Well - a little bit.

The Doctor: Some things are fixed, some things are in a flux. Pompeii is fixed.
Donna: How do you know which is which?
The Doctor: That's how I see the Universe. Every waking second. I can see what is, what was, what could be, what must not. That's the burden of a Time Lord, Donna. And I'm the only one left.

'Praesidium Arca,' the words written on the marble TARDIS at the end of the episode, means 'Committee Box'. Not just any committee though - a committee to a higher power! Also, some of the character names came from the Cambridge Latin course - Caecilius, Metella and Quintus. Except Evelina - they didn't have a daughter, so writer James Moran had to add her, and pick a suitable name. "Evelina" means "little bird". In the books, the family are killed in the eruption - so he decided to save them!
The word 'volcano' comes from the Roman God Vulcan. Vulcan, the God of Fire, was worshiped every year on a day called Vulcanalia. Ironically, the actual eruption happened the day after Vulcanalia.
Impressionist Phil Cornwell frequently impersonated the Ninth Doctor in satirical BBC Two sketch show Dead Ringers.

Francesca Fowler was no stranger to the set, having appeared in an episode of Series One of Rome.

"She's from Barcelona," is a reference to Sybil Fawlty's regular apology for clumsy Spanish waiter Manuel in classic sitcom Fawlty Towers, not the alien planet the Doctor was going to take Rose at the end of 2005's The Parting Of The Ways.

The magma-based Pyroviles are the second lava creatures to feature in Doctor Who. Sort of. Back in 1979, Douglas Adams created the Krargs for the Fourth Doctor story Shada. Sadly, due to a strike, the story was never completed. An online version, starring Paul McGann, was subsequently produced for the Doctor Who website.
The Doctor previously visited ancient Rome in the 1965 adventure The Romans. The First Doctor arrived in AD64, 15 years before Pompeii's destruction, and met Emperor Nero. "I specifically wanted to put it in, just for a fun continuity thing, but also because it works as a joke even if you don't know what the Doctor's referring to," notes writer James Moran.
This is not the first time the Doctor has asked people to deny he was ever at an event. The Fifth Doctor made the same request to the colonists of Frontios in the far, far future (see 1984's Frontios).
It's not the first time he's abandoned a population to it's historical fate, either. In the 1966 story The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve, the First Doctor hurriedly left sixteenth century France, leaving thousands to be slaughtered - to the disgust of his companion, Steven.
One of James Moran's favourite stories is 1979's City of Death, so there's a deliberate reference to that - Caecilius buys the TARDIS, thinking it's a piece of modern art. In City of Death, the TARDIS is parked in an art gallery, causing a pair of critics (John Cleese and Eleanor Bron) to discuss its artistic merits.
The line "They didn't even have a word for 'volcano'" is true - the Romans had no idea what a volcano was, or what was happening. The earthquake of 62AD that Caecilius mentions really happened - the town had been rebuilt, although there were regular earth tremors leading up to the eruption, but everyone was used to them, and thought it was just the gods rumbling.
The Pyrovile were originally called Pyrovillaxians. Then this was shortened to Pyrovellians. Then Pyrovile...

When a volcano erupts, it pushes a massive column of rock and ash miles into the air - eventually, this collapses and avalanches down the mountain - this is called a pyroclastic cloud.

When Donna is shouting "Don't go to the beach, go to the hills" she's trying to save lives - many people thought they'd be far away and safe on the beach, but it was completely covered by the pyroclastic cloud.
The time frame of the story is compressed for dramatic reasons, but the eruption lasted well over 24 hours. First it was a massive column of ash and pumice several miles high, that rained down and turned day to night - 10 feet of pumice and ash fell during the day, crushing roofs. Then finally there were five pyroclastic cloud surges, which killed everyone who was left - the final cloud hitpeople in the countryside who thought they'd got away.
The Doctor says 20,000 people died at Pompeii. We can't be sure how correct that figure is, but 20,000 people did live there - and it's thought that at least half of those died.
When the Doctor calls himself Spartacus, it's the first Roman-type name he can think of. Donna then says "So am I," as a joke, referring to the film Spartacus - the scene in which everyone stands up shouting "I'm Spartacus!"

The Cast:

David Tennant - The Doctor
Catherine Tate - Donna Noble

Peter Capaldi  Caecilius
Tracey Childs  Metella
Phil Davis – Lucius Petrus Dextrus
Sasha Behar – Spurrina
Francesca Fowler – Evelina
Lorraine Burroughs – Thalina
Victoria Wicks – High Priestess
Francois Pandolfo  Quintus
Karen Gillan – Soothsayer
Phil Cornwell – Stallholder