doctor who the fires of pompeii by james moran bbc books 2022


I want to commend the delivery team who brought this wonderful new adaptation of the Doctor Who adventure “The Fires of Pompeii” directly to my door. The book is wonderful, and so are the delivery people who do their jobs tirelessly, despite their efforts being hampered by ridiculous “efficiency standards”. Bravo!

Continuing with my reading of the Target novels we come to James Moran’s adaptation of his own scripts for Series 4 quasi-historical The Fires of Pompeii.

Opening with a TARDIS-set extension to the original pre-credits sequence, it immediately blurs the lines between TV episode and paperback edition: have these scenes and lines been reinstated from the script, or are they embellishments for the page? Either way, they’re every bit in the Target style, introducing the reader to the then-basically-new companion, and quickly establishing the tone of her relationship with the Doctor. Moran nails both his and Donna’s voices – so often streams of consciousness peppered with commas and sentences run together – and captures the initial elation of their adventure here effortlessly. This is soon supplanted by the tug-of-war as they navigate the moral quandary the imminent eruption presents, and ultimately by the horror and tragedy of the choice they have to make and the consequences they witness. It’s all as credible and affecting in print as it was on screen.

Donna nabs quite a bit of the page count here, as you might expect, adding to her character as Moran fills in some of the gaps between her first appearance in the series and the more recent one which saw her sign up full-time. She shares an even sweeter bond in the novel than she does on tele with Evelina, whose tribulations as a fledgling seer and sometime statue see her gain more depth in print as well. Indeed, it’s the younger generation in the Caecillius household who are fleshed out most in the novel: its events shake the otherwise laconic Quintus out of his lethargy, and faced with death he realises he’s wasted time and wishes he’d asked a young man he’s had his eye on out on a date. Spurred on by surviving, he enjoys a low-key but satisfying redemption that ultimately reflects as well on the Doctor as it does on the lad himself.

None of which, of course, diverges significantly from the story as broadcast. Such additions as there are therefore stand out all the more (including a wonderfully nerdy reference to the Krargs from Shada!) and again make you wonder whether they’re new or whether they were there all along but just didn’t make it into the finished episode. One of the most substantial is a suitably portentous sequence of the mass deaths of dozens, perhaps hundreds of birds as Vesuvius silently claims its first victims. It works well to underscore the unseen threat the volcano represents, as well as just being creepy and unsettling. Another, final embellishment ties every iteration of the story together, adding to the charming coda of the television episode and then tying it in with The Descendants of Pompeii, the scene specially shot in lockdown for the tweetalong rewatch of the story.

It’s a lovely reflection of how the series’ own ‘fixed points’ evolve over time, and doesn’t feel at all indulgent, but perfectly at home in a version of the adventure that is in any case slightly different from the original. James Moran admits in his afterword that he doubted in his abilities to pen a worthy novelisation of The Fires of Pompeii, but it’s every bit as good as the TV episode – which, let’s not forget, was his very first script! – and easily the highlight of the latest additions to the Target range.

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doctor who the fires of pompeii by james moran bbc books 2022

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