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"We're in Pompeii, and it's volcano day!"
The Doctor
The Fires of Pompeii
Series: Doctor Who TV stories
Series Number: Series 4
Story Number: 190
Doctor: Tenth Doctor
Companions: Donna Noble
Setting: Pompeii; A.D. 79
Writer: James Moran
Director: Colin Teague
Producer: Phil Collinson
Broadcast: 12th April 2008
Format: 1x50 minute episode
Prod. Code: 194
Previous Story: Partners in Crime
Following Story: Planet of the Ood



The Doctor and Donna travel to Pompeii, the night before Mount Vesuvius erupts. When they arrive in A.D. 79, 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?


The episode begins with the Doctor and Donna exiting the TARDIS in what the Doctor claims is Rome in the first century A.D. Donna, noticing that the writing is in English, is sceptical until the Doctor explains to her that the TARDIS's telepathic circuits are translating for her. However, he's not so sure it's Rome... and Donna points out there is only one hill and not Rome's famous seven... and that it is smoking. Thus as an earth tremor rocks the streets the Doctor realises they have arrived not in Rome, but in Pompeii, on 23rd August - the day before Vesuvius' eruption.

As they retreat to the TARDIS, Donna tries to convince the Doctor that he should help evacuate the city, but he tells her he cannot interfere in established events. On arriving where they left the TARDIS, they find that a nearby stallholder has sold it to local marble merchant Caecilius, as a piece of "modern art".

Meanwhile, a member of the Sibylline sisterhood reports back on the appearance of a mysterious blue box in the marketplace, which they find is a fulfillment of a Sibylline prophecy.

At Caecilius's house, his wife Metella is preparing their prophetically-gifted but sickly daughter Evelina for the arrival of the town's augur Lucius Petrus Dextrus. The Doctor and Donna arrive before him and, when Dextrus arrives, he and the Doctor have a cryptic conversation that confirms the Doctor's worst suspicions: an alien influence is afoot in Pompeii. Worse yet, Caecilius unveils a marble plaque he has produced to Dextrus' designs... and it is recognizably an electrical circuit. Intrigued, the time-travellers stay but, after the Doctor accidentally insults Roman religion as "official superstition", Dextrus and Evelina "prophesise" truths about the Doctor and Donna, seeing their real names, naming Gallifrey and London as their true homes, mentioning the Doctor's presence at the Medusa Cascade, his status as a "Lord of Time", and Gallifrey's destruction. Evelina also states that his true name is not Doctor but is in fact "hidden". Dextrus warns the Doctor that "she" is returning and he tells Donna that "there is something on your back".

When Dextrus has gone, Donna investigates Evelina's mysterious skin ailment--and finds that the young woman's skin is turning into stone. Meanwhile, the Doctor is shown a hypocaust system powered by hot springs from Vesuvius itself and from which come monstrous sounds from "the gods of the underworld". This system, he is told, was installed after the A.D. 62 earthquake, on instructions from Dextrus and the other soothsayers. From that time onwards, the soothsayers have been inhaling rock dust from these hypocausts and all their predictions have been uncannily accurate though they have not predicted Vesuvius' imminent eruption.

The Doctor and Quintus break into Dextrus' house, finding a stone circuit board like those seen earlier in Caecilius' house. Meanwhile, Evelina gives Donna a stola, and talks about a teenager's life in Pompeii. Donna's hints about Vesuvius' impending eruption find no purchase with Evelina, and Donna realizes that none of the seers have foreseen it. She tells Evelina about the eruption, which Evelina telepathically passes onto the sisterhood. They and their High Priestess decide it is false prophecy, and that Donna must be killed.

Quintus and the Doctor, meanwhile, have been apprehended by Dextrus. The Doctor helps him assemble the marble plaques into a circuit board; and, when Dextrus then threatens to have his guards kill them, breaks off Dextrus's completely petrified right arm. He and Quintus then escape--but, hearing underground footsteps going towards Caecilius's house, return there to find that Dextrus has summoned a giant humanoid stone-and-magma creature from the hypocaust. The Doctor tells Donna to go and get water while he attempts to reason with the creature, but members of the sisterhood apear behind her, and drag her backwards from the room. It is Quintus who throws water on it, causing it to die and collapse.

The Doctor goes to rescue Donna, who is flat on her back on the altar, tied down and about to be murdered by the sisterhood. He unties Donna, and conversing with their high priestess, he finds she has completely turned to stone. She reveals that she is being used as a host by one of the Pyroviles, aliens who crashed to Earth millenia before and were only re-awakened by the A.D. 62 earthquake. One of their adult forms is the creature they saw at Caecillus' villa. They are a psychic race, and have bonded psychically with some of the local humans. The Doctor is, however, unable to find how they are seeing the future with such accuracy.

Holding off the high priestess with a water pistol, Donna and the Doctor escape down the hypocaust. Dextrus and the high priestess both declare that their Pyrovile-induced prophecy of a Pompeiian empire must now advance. As they run, Donna attempts to convince the Doctor to stop Pompeii's eruption, but he again refuses, telling her that the eruption is a fixed point in history which cannot be stopped or avoided. When Donna asks him how he knows this, the Doctor cites his Time Lord ability to see the past, present and all possible futures of the universe at once (something he classes as a "burden"). Dextrus and the Cult of Vulcan take the circuit boards to the mountain and he summons forth the adult Pyrovile to hunt Donna and the Doctor down. Dextrus, Donna and the Doctor reach the centre of the mountain, and Dextrus informs him that the Pyroviles intend not to launch a rocket back home via the eruption (their home planet of Pyrovillia having been "taken"), but to remain on and conquer Earth.

The Doctor and Donna then lock themselves in part of the Pyrovillian ship they have found, where they find the Pyrovile are using Vesvuius's power to set up a fusion matrix to convert millions of humans into Pyroviles. The matrix will bleed off so much of Vesuvius' pent-up energy that there won't be enough to trigger the eruption--which is why the soothsayers have been unable to see it. The Doctor can switch off the Pyrovillian circuitry and thus save the world from conquest, but in so doing he will cause the eruption and the deaths of himself, Donna and 24,000 people. They choose the latter as the lesser of two evils. Vesuvius erupts, and people in Pompeii watch in terror as ash falls upon them. Meanwhile, the Pyrovillian escape pod harboring the Doctor and Donna is launched into the sky and lands some distance away, between Vesuvius and Pompeii. The two friends run for the safety of the TARDIS.

The Doctor ignores the Caecilius family's plea for help and de-materialises the TARDIS with himself and Donna on board but Donna confronts him and urges him to go back and save the city. The Doctor refuses, saying if he could go back, he would, just as he would go back and prevent the destruction of Gallifrey if he could. Donna tearfully pleads with him, if not the city, then just save one family. The Doctor relents, and materialises the TARDIS inside the Caecilus home, to the astonished delight of the family, who are huddled in a corner awaiting death.

The Doctor, Donna, and the Caecilius family watch the eruption from the surrounding hills - the Doctor explains why Evelina's visions (caused by a rift in time, akin to the Cardiff Rift, as a result of the explosion) have now stopped and promises that Caecilius and Pompeii will be remembered. Caecilius, awed by the fury of Vesuvius, coins the word volcano. The Doctor and Donna leave, with him acknowledging that she was right in that "sometimes I need someone" to stop and humanise him.

Six months later--in early A.D. 80--the Caecilius family has resettled in Rome. Caecilius has re-established his business; Evelina is a healthy and happy teenager once again (and dating, to her father's consternation); Quintus has given up his dissolute ways to train as a doctor; and Donna and the Doctor are worshipped as the family's household gods, with the TARDIS as their temple.


Production crew

to be added





  • Gallifrey is mentioned by Lucius, and the Doctor is called a Lord of Time.
  • Lucius tells the Doctor "she is returning", apparently referring to Rose Tyler's return; and he notes Donna has "something on her back".


  • When asked of his identity, the Doctor replies "I am... Spartacus." Donna then says "And so am I." This is a reference to the famous scene in the film Spartacus, where everyone announces they're Spartacus, in order to protect the protagonist.
  • The Doctor tells Donna that he can see "all that is, all that was, and all that ever could be."
  • Donna mentions her father, Geoff Noble only as "dad".
  • This is the second time the Doctor and Donna were mistaken to be married, throughout their time together.


  • Donna thinks (at first) that she's in Epcot.
  • The Doctor tells Donna he visited Rome a long time ago and had no part in the Great Fire of Rome before adding "well, a little bit".
  • The Doctor uses the phrase "volcano day", first used by Jack Harkness in reference to a con in Pompeii, the Ninth Doctor later used the phrase.
  • When seeing the future, Evelina mentions that the Doctor's name is hidden under the "Cascade of Medusa herself".


  • The Doctor mentions the Shadow Proclamation, when ordering a Pyrovile using a human host to reveal its species. He also asks for its home planet and Galactic coordinates.

Time travel


  • The Doctor attacks the High Priestess with a cheap, plastic water pistol.

Story notes

  • One of episode writer James Moran's favourite stories is 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. Coincidentally, City of Death was the first episode of the classic series to involve filming outside of the UK, while The Fires of Pompeii was the first episode of the series revival to have major filming done outside the UK.
  • The Pyrovile were originally called Pyrovillaxians. Then this was shortened to Pyrovellians. Then Pyrovile...
  • In the corresponding edition of Doctor Who Confidential (The Italian Job) Russell T Davies states - or confirms, for those of us who suspected - that Caecilius and his family are based on characters from a series of Latin text books used in secondary schools. [1]
  • Phil Cornwell (Stallholder) parodied the Ninth Doctor in a sketch for the Christmas 2005 edition of Dead Ringers (Christmas Day at Doctor Who's).
  • BBC4 broadcast three related programmes on the same evening as the original broadcast; "Earth: the Power of the Planet" (an episode about volcanoes) at 2010BST, "Pompeii: the Last Day" at 2110BST, and "10 Things You Didn't Know About Volcanoes" (actually broadcast at 0155BST the following morning). The Radio Times listing for The Fires of Pompeii made reference to "Pompeii: the Last Day".
  • The Fountain in this story will be used as the Cloning vat in The Sontaran Strategem.
  • When the water in the fountain shakes, it could be a reference to Jurassic Park, for the water always shook when danger was coming.
  • The 'Petrus Dextrus' in Lucius Petrus Dextrus translates roughly to 'stone right-hand'. This is a reference to his right arm, which had turned to stone.
  • The Doctor jokes that Donna is from Barcelona; a reference to a running gag in Fawlty Towers. Both the Ninth and Tenth Doctors also talked of visiting the planet Barcelona (DW: The Parting of the Ways and Children in Need Special).
  • The episode addresses a long-standing issue with regards to the "gift of translation" the Doctor or the TARDIS bestows upon companions. It is revealed that while the Doctor and Donna hear the Romans speaking colloquial English (even with Cockney accents in some cases), the Romans hear them speaking Latin. When Donna and the Doctor actually speak Latin phrases, the Romans interpret this as being Celtic (as the English language hadn't yet developed).


  • 9.0 million viewers

Filming Locations

  • Rome's Cinecittà Studios. Discounting Doctor Who: The TV Movie (1996), which was filmed in Canada, and Daleks in Manhattan, which featured some second-unit photography in New York City but nothing involving the cast, this is the first regular-series episode to be filmed outside the UK since the three-part serial The Two Doctors (1985), which was filmed in Spain in 1984.

Discontinuity, Plot Holes, Errors

  • The Doctor does not seem to recall (or at least does not mention) the events of NSA: The Stone Rose. It is possible that the writers paid no attention to those events.
  • After the Doctor and Donna go into the TARDIS, their hair is full of dust and Donna is crying but when they go back , they are both immaculate. (The TARDIS is a time machine, they could have gone so far in the TARDIS and then when the Doctor was finally persuaded they had already cleaned themselves up.)
  • The chameleon circuit, although broken, allows the TARDIS to remain hidden to the untrained eye so how did Caecilius spot it to offer to buy it? It's a perception filter, that is it is visible, but you don't want to see it, whereas Caecilius wanted to see the modern art, so the perception filter didn't work. As for the others, once attention is drawn to it, it can easily be seen. Humans tend to overlook the TARDIS, which is a feature of the chameleon circuit (Human Nature also seems to go a long way in causing locals to ignore the TARDIS.
  • How can Caecilius move the TARDIS into his house so fast, especially when there was an earthquake?
  • When the Doctor returns to Caecilius' house to save him and his family, why is the inside of the TARDIS so bright? For dramatic reasons. Also, from Caecilius's point of view, this magnificent temple of light is his and his family's salvation. This is also consistent with previous depictions of a great light sometimes shining from within the TARDIS.
  • How could the Pyrovile possibly have fit in the escape pod? There is no evidence that the Pyroviles were the same size when the first arrived, and/or so many of them.
  • Why can't the soothsayers see the Doctor's name? They seem to be able to see everything but. The Doctor has shielded his memories. Cassandra said as much whilst invading his mind in New Earth. The Carrionite Lilith was similarly unable in The Shakespeare Code.
  • When the Doctor and Lucius Dextrus are having a battle of wit, Lucius says something like "every sun must rise", to which the Doctor replies "but the son of a father must also rise". Lucius says the Doctor is witty, but he is meant to hear the Doctor speak in Latin, meaning he wouldn't hear "sun" and "son" as the same word. He wouldn't understand the pun, and surely wonder why the Doctor was suddenly talking about something else. (Even without the pun, the comparison of a son rising as does the Sun would stand as a valid metaphor.)
  • The purple robes given to Donna are likely an anachronism, as purple dye at the time was far too expensive for a mere marble merchant to afford. See "Tyrian Purple (Caesilius is rich enough to spend money on 'modern art' in an attempt to appear to have status, it would make sense he would buy rich-appearing clothing in another attempt at the same thing.)
  • The Doctor calls Donna's clothing a toga. It is a stola, a dress worn by Roman women. Togas were exclusively men's clothing in 79 A.D., and a woman who wore a toga would be a prostitute, or accused of adultery. (The Doctor said it as a joke, and most Roman clothing is called a Toga as opposed to it's proper name.)
  • The Doctor was able to save the family from a fixed point in time where they should have died. He said that some things in time are fixed and cannot be changed, yet he saved the family. (Perhaps the eruption and the deaths of most of Pompeii were the fixed points in time, but the family was not part of that fixed point.)
  • Why is Lucius' arm solid stone when the High Priestess can move freely? (They are at different stages of their respective transformations.)
  • The prophets were presumably unable to foretell the eruption because it would not have happened if the Doctor had not altered the timeline.  However, if the future sight of the prophets was caused retroactively by a rift in time due to the explosion itself, if the eruption had not occurred, they should not have been able to see into the future in the first place! We don't entirely know how time works. As the Doctor said, it's a "ball o f wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff".


  • The Doctor refers to having visited Rome and been involved in the Great Fire of Rome all this occured in DW: The Romans.
  • Dextrus says that Donna has something on her back, this will be picked up on in DW: Turn Left.
  • The Doctor's discussion of time and not interfering harkens back to (DW: The Aztecs) in which the issue of history and non-interference was covered.
  • The Doctor produces a small spyglass from his pockets, much as he did in (DW: Robot).
  • The Doctor also produces a water pistol, which would appear again (and be stolen by a Graske) in DW: Music of the Spheres.
  • The Doctor says it's volcano day, much like Jack did in (DW: The Doctor Dances).
  • The Seventh Doctor and Melanie Bush go to Pompeii at the same time and also get involved in time changing decisions. BFA: The Fires of Vulcan.
  • The destruction of Pompeii was later referenced by the Doctor when he wrestled with abandoning Bowie Base One in DW: The Waters of Mars.

DVD and Other Releases

Series 4 Volume 1 DVD Cover

See also

External links

Series 4
Mini-episode: Time Crash  • Christmas Special: Voyage of the Damned

Partners in Crime  • The Fires of Pompeii  • Planet of the Ood  • The Sontaran Stratagem  • The Poison Sky  • The Doctor's Daughter  • The Unicorn and the Wasp  • Silence in the Library  • Forest of the Dead  • Midnight  • Turn Left  • The Stolen Earth  • Journey's End

Christmas Special: The Next Doctor  • Mini-episode: Music of the Spheres

This article uses material from the "The Fires of Pompeii" article on the Dr Who wiki at Wikia and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License.


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