Big Finish Folly, Part 135 – The Fires of Vulcan, by Steve Lyons
1980 CE. Italy. An archeological dig uncovers an unlikely artifact buried in the ruins of Pompeii. UNIT investigates and calls in its special advisor…
79 CE. Italy. The Doctor and Mel arrive on the bustling streets of a Roman town. The Doctor doesn’t want to be here, but he knows he cannot leave. He knows what will happen next, because he has already seen the results, two thousand years in Earth’s future. The web of time must not be broken. And Pompeii, and all who dwell in it, must die…
A pure historical? Really? I should be jumping up and down like a punk pogoing on a trampoline! These things are rarer than hen’s teeth! If you’re expecting something as deep and involving as the Council of Nicaea however, you should be reminded that Fires of Vulcan was only the twelfth release in the Monthly Range – it’s an early outing for the BF crew, and the corners are a bit rougher than I’m used to after the luxury of the last fifty or so releases.
The sound design, for starters, is distracting: the crowd sounds in the background are less sophisticated than the more modern releases, for example. As this is a Seventh Doctor story, the focus is more on paradox and the survival of such, with immersion in history coming a distant second. Steve Lyons drops terminology like bombs – aediles! – but that isn’t the same as getting deep into the characters. The drunk gladiator, the tavern-keeper with a heart of gold, the nefarious priest and the obstructive politician – they’re constructs more than deep characters, there as historical colour, for reaction shots. To be fair though, despite the fact the Seventh Doctor is a meddler more than a historical educator, and actually spends a good deal of the play either in a blue funk or plain drunk (which is very unlike him) there’s a lot of drama going on, and a lot for Bonnie Langford to do as Mel.
It’s Mel who kick-starts the hunt for the Tardis; Mel who interacts who the locals, getting herself jailed in the process; Mel who convinces Popidius Celsinus and Aglae to try to leave the city while they still can. All action, all active, with not a computer in sight. The ending ties up the potential paradox in a typically convoluted manner, with the Doctor admitting that it’s only cheating if you get caught in the act. Serviceable, fun, certainly not a classic, but not a duffer either.