Published online by Cambridge University Press: 14 September 2009
‘Ancient Rome!’ The door of the iconic police box squeaks open. The camera pans, following a dark-haired man as he emerges, pushes through a curtained doorway, and, with a glint in his eye, glee in his smile, and a touch of London in his voice, announces their destination to his redhead companion. So begins ‘The Fires of Pompeii’, the second episode in the fourth season of the current BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) science-fiction drama Doctor Who. And so, no doubt, began the scribbling of pens on notebooks, as classicists who examine popular receptions of ancient Greece and Rome recognized a fresh opportunity to explore the dynamics of modern engagements with the classical world. At the time of broadcast, I was ensconced in my Liverpool office, writing the final lecture of a new undergraduate module devoted to Roman society. The topic was ‘Receptions of Roman Life’. My plan was to contrast depictions of Roman life in different media from distinct periods to encourage our students to recognize how modern reconstructions of Roman society are variously informed by questions of authority, genre, and cultural contexts. Serendipitously, ‘The Fires of Pompeii’ provided an engaging contemporary reception of the Roman world on television.
* Thanks are due to Tom Harrison, David Montagnes, and Jo Paul for their conversation and encouragement during the writing of this paper.