With the Doctor apparently finally getting the answer to a question that's been playing on his mind since his latest regeneration - namely "Who frowned me this face?", time to revisit the era of the man who was wearing it when the Tenth Doctor encountered him at Pompeii on "volcano day", when Mount Vesuvius erupted & all hell broke loose.
To that end we can start by taking a look at The Stone Rose, the first New Series Adventure novel to feature the incarnation of the Time Lord who would later find himself saving Caecilius & family from almost certain fiery death, as well as a fine excuse for author Jacqueline Rayner to put her degree in Roman history to good use.........
Having recently regenerated following the events of The Parting Of The Ways, a trip to the British Museum with Rose, Jackie & Mickey in tow throws up quite the surprise. A great big 2,000 year old one!
Taking a look at one of the many fine examples of Roman statuary, they stumble across one which looks like the spitting image of the younger of the Tylers. How is the likeness so accurate? This being the Doctor, there's only ever going to be one way to find out.
Cutting short their stay, he & the first New-Who companion to witness him change face and indeed personality, hot-foot it back to the TARDIS and set course for Rome. Which for him isn't exactly virgin territory. Last time he was here, Nero was Emperor and he had a hand in the madman's scheme to build a new Rome by burning the old one to the ground!
NERO: My plans! My drawings for New Rome! You fool! You idiot! A lifetime's work! I'll have you both killed over and over again! Guards! Guards! Fool! Idiot! Traitor! Pig! I'll stick you both in the arena, on an island with water all round, and in the water there will be alligators and the water level will be raised and the alligators will get you!This time out, in what could be interpreted as a sort of dry run for Pompeii, the Doctor befriends the wealthy Gnaeus Fabius Gracilis, who's looking for his missing son. Optatus hasn't been seen since he agreed to pose for the renowned sculptor Aulus Valerius Ursus.
Fool! Traitor! Brilliant! You are a genius! A genius! I will make you rich! Rich! So the Senate wouldn't pass my plans, eh? Wouldn't let me build my New Rome? But if the old one is burnt, if it goes up in flames, they will have no choice! Rome will be rebuilt to my design! Brilliant! Brilliant!
But his incredibly lifelike works of ancient-world art are hardly what they seem. For his models themselves become statues thanks to the GENIE, or Genetically Engineered Neural Imagination Engine, a man-made equivalent to the wish-granters of folklore, which has made his dreams of artistic success come true. He, though, believes it to be a manifestation of the power of the goddess Minerva, patron of artists.
Rose is asked to pose for a work in tribute to the goddess Fortuna, and in so doing sows the seeds that will eventually lead to her discovering the statue she's already seen in the museum. A prime example of what is properly/scientifically termed an ontological or bootstrap paradox, if you will.
Now then. To the matter of people being turned to stone. You'll recall the Pyrovile doing the exact same thing to members of the Sibylline Sisterhood- one of whom was portrayed by Karen Gillan in a pre-Amy Pond cameo.
They even go to the trouble of giving Lucius Petrus Dextrus a nice new stone limb, his surname rather giving away the game. For "Petrus Dextrus" can be translated as "stone right arm" - inhalation of Pyrovile dust slowly having had exactly that effect on the man who doubled as both chief augur of Pompeii and leader of sorts to the Cult of Vulcan.
It shouldn't therefore surprise you much that Vulcan is the Roman god of fire. And what featured in the first enigmatic trailer for Series Eight - the maiden outing for the Twelfth Doctor? Fire, & lots of it!
Giving a sort of circularity to some of the final words spoken by the Tenth to Caecilius.
"It's never forgotten, Caecilius. Oh, time will pass, men will move on, and stories will fade. But one day, Pompeii will be found, again. In thousands of years. And everyone will remember you."Indeed we will, now that the Doctor's wearing the face that formerly belonged to him!
"Scuse me, 'scuse me, there was a box, big blue box, big blue wooden box, just over there..."And its gone from being "modern art" in the eyes of its former owner, to faithful space-time transport for someone who now looks rather like him. By virtue of setting the scene for "volcano day", The Stone Rose can surely now be read as Act One of a "Roman Arc" of sorts for the Tenth Doctor?
Act Two will come soon enough as Vesuvius erupts. And with rumours suggesting a return visit in Series Nine, a fresh examination is surely due?
Christopher Morley returns to Rome on Friday...