Mel’s Big Finish debut, Fires of Vulcan, is a well-researched historical. I thought Bonnie was great in this, but then, I’ve always had a soft spot for Mel.
Have a trailer.
After the complicated plot of Apocalypse Element, this one is blessedly straightforward. The Doctor has reason to think he died at Vesuvius, but he cannot use his foreknowledge to escape his fate. Therefore, it’s up to Mel, ignorant and optimistic, to find a way out. To add a few more plot twists, author Steve Lyon invents (and exaggerates) a local clash between traditional Roman religion and the foreign Cult of Isis which was quite popular in Pompeii.
“I suppose we do need to get out of Pompeii, don’t we?”
“Not we, Mel. Just you.”
The Doctor’s fatalism is an uneasy, powerful theme, although I think it gets a bit lost in the drama of Pompeii’s final hours. There’s an excellent cast of guest characters, with the added poignancy that most of them are real, historical people (see notes below). That’s why the story of Pompeii keeps getting told: we know so much about them, and we’re haunted by the plaster casts of the people who died and were caught in the ash. This retelling catches the feel of Pompeii. The struggle of Mel and the Doctor to escape the cataclysm encapsulates in miniature all those struggles of real, ordinary Romans whose remains have been found.
In sum, it’s a fun historical reenactment with a bare-bones plot.
Real evidence for: Eumachia • Celsinius • Valeria Hedone, Asellina and Aglae (see “business” and “prostitution” sections) • Pliny the Younger’s eyewitness account of eruption. (Murranus actually died in the arena).
While Fires of Vulcan does an excellent job of recounting the stages of the eruption, the cover art doesn’t. They used Pu’u O’o, a lava-gushing side vent on Kilauea which oozes but doesn’t explode. Vesuvius is a stratovolcano like Mt. Saint Helens, which explodes in clouds of thich gray ash, pumice, and pyroclastic flows. Here’s my own attempt at a custom cover, using a good BBC computer reconstruction of Pompeii and the classic “Plinian” style eruption of Vesuvius.
Big Finish’s Behind-the-Scenes says, “This story takes place between the television adventures, Delta and the Bannermen and Dragonfire.” In other words, it’s near the end of Mel’s tenure. The Doctor lost the playfulness of his earliest post-regeneration adventures. There’s no more Mel adventures after this, unless the 2015/2016 audios are set then (I haven’t heard them yet).