Ahhh, that rare thing: really good telly.
Oh. My. Goodness. That was good. The Doctor holds off a monster with a water pistol. Donna gets mouthy with the sisterhood. There’s jokes about Latin being translated into Welsh (why? Who cares. It’s sublime). There’s history – we learn about Ancient Rome and their household gods, hypercourses and Pompeii. We glimpse monsters in the hypercourse, the sort of thing that took me back to the days when I stayed close to my parents in case I got too scared (Rutan, Stones of Blood, Kroll, Scaroth). There’s a cast including some of my favourite actors. There’s wit and genuine proper drama.
It’s wonderful isn’t it? It’s still a matter of suspending belief, just supposing for 45 minutes each week that there are aliens out there made of fire and rock, or … oh, how does that speech from the McCoy years go: ‘There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, where the sea’s asleep and the rivers dream, people made of smoke and cities made of song. Somewhere there’s danger, somewhere there’s injustice and somewhere else the tea is getting cold’. It’s still about being spun a good yarn; learning something; and being scared – just enough to go on about it on Monday morning with your mates. Even if you left school in the last century. You’re never too old for this, and it’s priceless.
This week the point was to ask what would you do if could go back and warn Pompeii. As Chris said below, the Doctor operates on a completely different level from us, and there’s some superb stuff going on as he deals with Donna’s protestations. He knows what can’t be changed. But suddenly, in a great twist that makes this even better it’s more than that – it’s the awful dilemma of is it ever right to kill for the greater good? Although the answer in this case is made more palatable by dint of it being human history v alien empire. The act itself is still something the Doctor almost can’t bring himself to do, even though he knows it is a fixed point in time and therefore has to happen. As Chris said, 21st century effects can properly take this show further than Saturday tea time suspension of belief and into real full bodied drama – and how; the long shot of the ash cloud rushing towards the town is an image that is not easily forgotten. This is the quality we all remember thinking we saw when we were aged four to ten. Goodness knows what the kids make of it these days. Marvellous.
We don’t really know why at first the Doctor doesn’t save the family that Latin students have loved for years. And that’s fine, because it makes you think. Is it because if he saves them it’s not fair on the rest of the Pompeiians? Or does it hark back to the time he had to destroy his own world? Survivor’s guilt. Or perhaps he “shouldn’t” have saved them. That might explain the strange bright light emanating from the TARDIS as being more than just dramatic effect. Maybe it was fighting the fact that it had returned. I love temporal theory!
So now we know: Catherine Tate can really really blooming act. Goodness! There’s a chemistry between her and Tennant that is a delightful surprise, and if all goes well (and I think it will) will provide even more memorable moments in the months to come as their characters develop. Orrrr yes!! There’s months more of this!!
Congrats Who team. You are all brilliant. Just the best. And next week looks SUPERB too!!
PS: I have read in the Guardian of all places that Rose was in the cave scenes somewhere. Anyone spot her?
*Thanks to Edward Bond. If you missed his play The Sea at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, then you missed out…