THIS EPISODE TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
TV EPISODES "SCHOOL
REUNION" AND "RISE
OF THE CYBERMEN."
'THE COMPLETE SECOND
SERIES' CYBERMAN HEAD
AMAZON EXCLUSIVE DVD
BOX SET (BBCDVD2122)
RELEASED IN NOVEMBER
REINETTE POISSON IS
BEING HAUNTED BY A
STRANGER CALLED THE
DOCTOR. CAN HE SAVE
HER FROM THE CLOCK-
6TH MAY 2006
In the build-up to this season, I found myself really swept up in the hype concern-ing the big ‘event’ episodes such as School Reunion and Rise of the Cybermen. I hadn’t heard anything about The Girl in the Fireplace though, save for writer Steven Moffat’s blithe “guarantee” that it would not be as good as his Empty Child two-parter was last year. As such, I sat down on Saturday evening expecting a modest little tale about clockwork robots. Boy was I in for a shock…
“The clock on the mantle is broken. It is time. Doctor! Doctor!”
The superb pre-title sequence was all that it took to ensnare my interest. We have the eerie sound of the clockwork droids, the dazzling period music and costumes, the beautiful cine-matography, and a mysterious woman that “loves” the Doctor… Who is she? How does she know him? How does she know that he will come? Moffat had me hooked from the start.
3000 years or so later, Mickey
Smith strolls out of the TARDIS
and onto a derelict spaceship.
“It’s so realistic!” he proclaims,
God love him. After School Re-
union, I was looking forward to
seeing Mickey join the TARDIS crew proper, and although he (and Rose) often take a back
seat in this very Doctor-centric episode, Noel Clarke’s wonderful character still manages to
entertain whenever he is on screen. His action-man roll had me in hysterics, as did the scene
with the detached eyeball on a stalk - “Are you lookin’ at me?” Fair dues, he’s still scared of
his own shadow, but at least he’s starting to cut the mustard.
“I’m not the tin dog. I wanna see what’s out there.”
Furthermore, the science-fiction idea behind The Girl in the Fireplace is intriguing. A 51st century spaceship contains several “time windows”, each leading directly into a different period in one particular 18th century woman’s life. Using these time windows, clockwork droids periodically plague this woman, scanning her to see if she is “complete” yet so that they may appropriate her brain and use it to replace the computer on their spaceship. And, just in case that isn’t enough for you, Moffat chucks in a horse!
ROSE You’re not keeping the horse.
THE DOCTOR I let you keep Mickey!
At heart though, The Girl in the Fireplace is a love story that pushes fantasy romance to its limits. A “magic” fireplace brings together a lonely alien and a French aristocrat in the most intense, surreal set of circumstances. The first meeting of the Doctor and Reinette (Sophia Myles) is lifted straight out of a fairytale and then turned on its head. A little girl sleeps with
a monster lurking under her bed, but the man that the “monsters have nightmares about” is not far away...
“The monsters and the Doctor. It seems you cannot have one without the other.”
And the ‘monster’ here truly is the stuff of nightmares. The art-deco monstrosity lurking under Reinette’s bad combines the sinister and relentless tick and tock of an unstoppable machine with a nightmarish masque that plays upon all those terrible fears about what lies beneath. I also found their voices extremely unsettling – I can’t be sure (though with hindsight it would make perfect sense) but it sounds like Sophia Myles’ voice put through a modulator.
Furthermore, I don’t know whether it was deliberate or not, but I think that the placing of this episode in the season is an absolute masterstroke. These clockwork repair droids using the body parts of their crew to repair the ship wonderfully foreshadows Rise of the Cybermen’s inexorable amalgamation of flesh and machine.
“There comes a time, Time Lord, when every little boy must learn how to dance.”
However, it is the Doctor’s third meeting with Reinette that is the pivotal one. Now all grown up, the Madame de Pompadour is a ferociously intelligent, formidable, and promiscuous young woman. It seems that what they say about posh birds holds true in the 18th century: Reinette leaps upon the man she had once dismissed as an “imaginary friend” and kisses him passionately. Interestingly, the Doctor – against all prior form – clearly enjoys the kiss; afterwards he runs around like a child on Christmas Day yelling “I’m the Doctor, and I just snogged the Madame de Pompadour!”
Now although some will doubtless object, I think it’s incredibly refreshing to see an episode of Doctor Who where the Doctor is undeniably taken with a woman. He may have had a few cheeky snogs prior this episode, but each and every one of those had some kind of get-out clause. She kissed him! He was only sucking the time vortex out of her! Moving from such puritanical abstinence to having the Doctor hiding behind a wall spying on his fancy piece is an absolute joy to watch.
“It’s more than just a secret isn’t it... “
The Doctor’s mind-meld of sorts with Reinette is another terrific scene as she surprises him by being able to look into his memories. Does this mean that she knows who the Doctor is? And is this intimacy the reason for the feelings that he later develops for her? Whatever the reason, I can see why the Doctor would fall for such a woman; after forty-four minutes I was
in love with her!
Not only is the Madame de Pompadour brilliant, sexy and really quite naughty but she is also a brave woman with some romantic ideals. For instance, just look at how she barges past Mickey through a time window, stepping straight from a palatial room 1752 Versailles into a 51st century spaceship in one beautiful shot. This new world that she sees frightens her, but that only strengthens her resolve – “the Doctor is worth the monsters”. And then on top of all that, she manages to not only grasp the difficult concept that the days of her life are “pressed together” from the Doctor’s remarkable perspective, but she also accepts it that it is her fate – and, indeed, her duty – to walk the “slower path”. Her speech in the ballroom when she is assailed by clockwork killers really shows her mettle; even when it appears that the Doctor has forsaken her, she still shows nothing but strength.
But of course, the Doctor hasn’t forsaken her…
“Here’s to the slow path!”
In what other television show would you see someone come flying through a mirror on a horse? 'Wow' simply doesn’t do it justice. Fair dues, the clockwork men suddenly ceasing
to function because they are suddenly cut off from their ship is a bit rushed and a bit simple
a solution, but quite frankly it doesn’t matter. A horse crashed through a mirror! The Doctor deliberately maroons himself on 18th century Earth to save Reinette, and what’s more, he even seems relatively pleased with his fate (even if he is a tad concerned as to where he’ll get money from!) He really is getting old…
More to the point though, the Doctor doesn’t spare a though for Rose and Mickey, stuck
on that spaceship in their far future. The Girl in the Fireplace certainly brings the Doctor’s feelings for Rose - which were worn on his sleeve in last week’s episode - into sharp focus once again, however this time we see the other end of the spectrum. Selfless sacrifice, or wanton, reckless selfishness?
“But I think I shall not listen to reason…”
And for just a blazing moment, I thought that perhaps Moffat would do something madcap like have the Doctor live out the next 3000 years on Earth and then stroll out of a cupboard somewhere on the spaceship not looking a day older, but for better or for worse the Doctor managed to use the one surviving time window to get back to the future. He promised that
he would come back for Reinette and show her the stars, but by the time that he could get back to her, six subjective years had passed for her and she had died of illness. And so for the second week in a row, we are left with a powerfully emotive ending; this one an out-and-out tear-jerker. That look on Tennant’s face as he extinguishes the time window…
But rather than leave us choking on our tears, The Girl in the Fireplace has one last card
to play, and it’s a deliciously absurd one. When the TARDIS dematerialises, its absence reveals a painting of Reinette, and as the camera then pans to the outside of the ship, we see that its name: the SS Madame de Pompadour. That is why the repair droids thought that only her brain would be compatible. Absolutely wacky, and absolutely fantastic.
“We did not have the parts…”
Speaking to my sister after watching this episode, she told me that she enjoyed The Girl in the Fireplace, but found it to be a little slow. And after the frenetic School Reunion, I can see where she’s coming from, but I found Moffat’s quite complicated, more contemplative story every bit as compelling as any other episode that has been broadcast to date and I certainly don’t think that it lacked pace. If anything, for me The Girl in the Fireplace encapsulates all of those wonderful qualities that make Doctor Who the hit that it is, and if I were to introduce somebody to the series then I would most probably start here.
Bottom line, The Girl in the Fireplace is one of the finest episodes that the series has ever produced, and perhaps even my favourite episode of the revived series to date. Beautifully written, performed, shot, and produced, this episode is utterly magnificent.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
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