THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
TV STORIES "DELTA
AND THE BANNERMEN"
BIG FINISH CD#12
RELEASED IN SEPTEMBER
2000 YEARS ago, a
wiped the Roman
city of Pompeii from
the face of the Earth.
It also buried the
Arriving in Pompeii
one day before the
disaster, the Doctor
and Mel ARE CUT OFF
from their ship and
entangled in local
politics. WITH time
running out, they
fight to escape from
the shadow of Mount
Vesuvius. But how
can they succeed
when history is
The Fires of Vulcan
The Big Finish audio range is certainly a diverse one. They’ve taken us from a fan-friendly space romp that saw the Daleks invade Gallifrey and burn away half of the universe, and headlong into a good old-fashioned historical adventure that wouldn’t have felt far out of place during William Hartnell’s tenure.
Historical Doctor Who stories are, perhaps, an acquired taste. Indeed, the fact that only one such story was produced on television after 1966 points to the conclusion that tales featuring aliens and monsters were far more popular with mainstream audiences. However, with The Marian Conspiracy, Big Finish re-invented and revitalised the old historical format, fusing historical adventure with science fiction without having matters descend into another minor alien incursion or gothic horror pastiche.
All the same, looking at the cover of The Fires of Vulcan, it’s hard to get very excited. A very Season 24-looking Doctor accompanied by one of Doctor Who’s most reviled companions, Bonnie Langford’s Mel Bush. Yet within minutes of the play’s first episode I was utterly rapt. Steve Lyons’ story is lively, well-researched, well-written, and painfully compelling.
The premise is simple – in his fifth incarnation, the Doctor caught a glimpse of his personal future when UNIT found the TARDIS buried in the ruins of Pompeii. Many subjective years later, in his seventh incarnation, the Doctor and Mel land in Pompeii just a day before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. The Doctor can’t leave because to do so would alter the events leading up to the discovery of the TARDIS in the ruins, meaning that he wouldn’t have had the knowledge to know to leave Pompeii in the first place, creating a paradox. Accordingly he must patiently wait to become a part of events, resigned to his rueful rate.
The ensuing funereal tone quashed
all my fears about this one being a
Time and the Rani-style colourful
comic catastrophe. Trapped and
disconsolate, Sylvester McCoy is
able to play the Doctor as being as
sombre and with as much gravitas
as he did on television in his final
two seasons. If anything, he’s more
engrossing here as he’s impotent
and angry; hoist by his own petard.
Unfortunately though, whilst the production offers up an interesting array of vibrant supporting characters (Steven Wickham’s Murranus and Gemma Bissix’s Aglae standing out the most), Mel Bush is still Mel Bush. Lyons and Langford have clearly done their level best to mitigate her most irksome traits, but regrettably she still comes across as being a relatively dull and two-dimensional young lady, her crude “never say die” attitude serving only to annoy rather than to inspire.
Overall though, The Fires of Vulcan is something of a classic. Mel might be a little trying at times, but the story is so very good and the production so very polished that one can quite easily overlook any superficial shortcomings. I dare say that if this story had been broadcast on television back in the day rather than, say, Paradise Towers, then there’s every chance that the series wouldn’t have met such an untimely end.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
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