The Fires of Pompeii
By James Moran
Like many Science Fiction fans, I am also a fan of Doctor Who, but not of a particular incarnation of the Doctor on television. I am a Doctor Who book fan. The show is great, but it in the novels where I have always found the most interesting stories free from budget constraints and allowing the author to explore the inner workings of the characters. I adored the New Adventures and Eighth Doctor books that helped fill the void when the Doctor was a TV pariah, but for many it is the Target adaptations of classic episodes that they think of when considering Doctor Who books. The Fires of Pompeii by James Moran is one of a set of new books coming to the Target imprint and features an episode from the Tenth Doctor. It proves that the format is still excellent.
The Tenth Doctor has experience of his latest companion, Donna, but he is only just getting to know her. The duo will learn a lot about one another when they land in Pompeii just days before the eruption it is famed for. The Doctor plans to have a quick look around and leave before it is too late, but Donna has other ideas. Can they save these people, or will it destroy the timeline? Their differing opinion on intervention will all be for nought when they realise that Mount Vesuvius is not going to erupt any time soon and instead something strange is stopping the historic event.
Fires is the type of novelisation that makes me love them so. It captures the essence of the episode, but also expands on the characters and the questions that arose. On the surface, you could have watched the episode as a knockabout adventure with the Doctor and Donna running around a doomed city. The advance in special effects by 2008 allowed the show creators to undertake more ambitious idea like this. However, watch the episode more closely, or better yet, pick up the novel and you will see that there is a lot more going on than just a disaster movie.
Like the many of the Target books, Fires has been adapted by the original screenwriter and you can tell that Moran knows their content. Firstly, Moran is right in highlighting some of the great writing that made it onto the screen. The dialogue between Donna and the Doc fizzes off the page as well as it did on the screen. Having two of the best actors to grace the series helped, but Moran shows that great writing also plays a major part.
The structure of the episode could have been fun, but shallow and Fire is a fun book, but this format allows Moran to explore some of the deeper ideas. There is real friction between Donna and the Doctor about how much intervention they can have in the timeline. This idea crops up many times in the series, but the concept of saving 20000 people from a volcano brings it into stark relief.
At under 200 pages, this is a pacy book that follows the beats of the TV format and I love that. The story is told from the perspective of several characters, mostly Donna, but never the Doctor. This is perfect as the Doctor should remain other, alien, a mystery. Learning more about how Donna sees herself and the Doctor fits perfectly into the story but is the type of insight you do not get from watching it.
The Fires of Pompeii promises an exciting new era for the Target imprint where we get adaptations of all the newer episodes, hopefully told by the original screen writers. If they are as beautifully written, entertaining and pacy as this outing, the series will return as a must have for any science fiction fan and not just those of the Doctor.
Written on 29th June 2022 by Sam Tyler .