It’s a big episode of “Doctor Who,” at least in terms of getting some of the show’s time travel “rules.” At least in the current series; I’m not sure about the original (though David Tennant implies there may be different rules between now and then).
When Tennant and Catherine Tate find themselves in Pompeii, the day before the volcano, before—per “Doctor Who” history, which the wife did advise probably shouldn’t be taken as fact—the residents don’t even have a word for volcano. They’ve never seen such a thing; there’s just the mountain.
Unfortunately that bit comes back into play later, for James Moran’s teleplay’s last bit of Romanophilia (but a very British actors playing Romans Romanophilia), which ought to send the episode out on a low point but there manages to be an even more quizzical epilogue. Despite featuring these philosophical arguments between Tennant and Tate, Pompeii really is about the Roman “My So-Called Life” Moran really wants to be writing.
See, after they land and realize it’s almost volcano day, Tennant wants to get out of town… only someone’s sold the TARDIS out of its parking spot. I swear the Doctor didn’t lose the TARDIS every third episode in the first season just so they’d have some inherent drama.
Peter Capaldi is a successful stone merchant who buys the TARDIS because it’s modern art. Tracey Childs is his wife, Francesca Fowler is the teenage daughter who’s in the soothsayer academy, François Pandolfo is the listless son. They have antics and arguments throughout the episode, with everyone apparently thinking Capaldi and Childs are just parental enough for the scenes to work without much writing.
It’s sort of right? More right about Capaldi and Childs being able to carry the scene than the scenes working without the writing. A lot of it is based on the actors’ likability more than anything else.
And it takes them a while to get likable because there’s a whole weird showdown between Tennant, Fowler, and Pompeii’s leading soothsayer, Phil Davis. The scene plays very weird.
But so long as it gets to Tate challenging Tennant, it’s fine. Tate is paying off. Though two good episodes for a companion isn’t a streak or anything yet.
Rather good production values—albeit not the best lighting or effects—on the Pompeii stuff. It feels big enough.