Today we’re looking backward at “Doctor Who,” not just back to the David Tennant era, but back to the Rose Tyler era. We’re looking at an early episode by current showrunner Steven Moffat that seems to have many connections to the current season. Meet me after the jump for my thoughts on “The Girl in the Fireplace.”
Continuity and Fun
David Tennant is The Doctor, at that time what was thought to be officially the Tenth Doctor (oh, how things used to be simple…), having just recently regenerated from his Christopher Eccleston incarnation. He’s traveling with Billie Piper’s Rose Tyler, most beloved (or hated, it goes both ways) of the new series companions, and for the first time, he’s brought her erstwhile boyfriend Mickey Smith along for a jaunt through time and space. I always liked Mickey, especially the more innocent, less intelligent, early Mickey.
One of the wonderful things about David Tennant is that while he could be serious and grim and heroic, he was also quite a lot of fun. On this day, he basically turned on the TARDIS in a let’s-see-where-we-go spontaneity that is very refreshing in light of more recent versions of The Doctor. Certainly Matt Smith, the old man in a young man’s body could be fun from time to time, but Peter Capaldi… as yet, not much fun at all.
The Girl in the Fireplace
The TARDIS lands in a 51st century spaceship. It’s abandoned, but generating a lot of power. This makes The Doctor curious, and the one thing all Doctors share is a maddening curiosity. He finds a room done up in 18th century French interior design, the centerpiece of which is an elaborate fireplace. The fireplace has two sides, and is some sort of time window. On one side, it’s a spaceship in the 51st century, on the other side it’s a bedroom in Paris in the 18th century. As one can imagine, The Doctor loves this, and has to explore.
On the other side he finds a little girl named Reinette, and an odd ticking. The ticking is a Clockwork Man hiding in the room, watching the little girl. In a scene that curiously references the fears of ‘the thing under the bed’ from “Listen,” The Doctor saves Reinette from the creature. When he returns moments later, quite some time has passed, again echoing the concept of future companion Amy Pond, the ‘girl who waited.’
Rose and Mickey on the Loose
As usual, there’s something funny going on here, so The Doctor tells Rose and Mickey to ‘stay put’ while he goes to investigate. Like a couple of kids on Christmas morning, Rose and Mickey don’t listen to ‘Dad,’ they grab freeze guns and go to investigate the abandoned ship themselves. The companions are fun in this episode, wearing t-shirts and laughing. I would love to see Clara and Danny like this, but I doubt that’ll happen. They find some oddities that are quite frightening – some of the ship’s parts have been replaced with human parts like eyes and hearts, they are part of the machinery running the ship.
They also find a number of other time windows. All windows are marked along the timeline of Reinette, watching her, stalking her. When our heroes meet up again, they save the adult Reinette from another Clockwork Man and confront it with questions. The ship was damaged by an ion storm, and the clockwork people, the repair droids, did everything they could to repair it – including using the crew for parts.
The Woman in the Fireplace
And as far as watching Reinette, she’s the final part, and they are waiting for her to be ‘ready.’ To find out what’s really up, The Doctor does a Spock-style mind meld with her. The truth is startling. She’s not just Reinette, she’s Reinette Poisson, the mistress of King Louis XV, Madam de Pompadour, and she’s played by Sophia Myles, who at the time was involved with David Tennant. And once in the midst of the mind meld, she shares more than just a passionate kiss with The Doctor, she sees into his head as well.
Again, we see a theme currently being explored in the eighth season of “Doctor Who,” the sad and lonely childhood of The Doctor. There are also the idea of how The Doctor must dance, from the previous season, and the mystery of The Doctor’s name. Speaking of names, that is the connection, only seen at the end of the episode – the reason the Clockwork Men are after Reinette is that the name of their ship is the SS Madame de Pompadour.
Odds and Ends
There is so much fun in this one despite the tragedy of Madam de Pompadour. I loved seeing The Doctor drunk (or at least playing drunk) with his tie tied around his head, as well as his new friend, Arthur the horse. Mickey’s joking about all the women in The Doctor’s life with the mildly jealous Rose is a nice bit, especially after the last episode’s encounter with Sarah Jane Smith. The Clockwork Men appear again at the start of this season of course in “Deep Breath,” led by the Half-Face Man and the repair droids from the SS Marie Antoinette.
Loosely based on the concept of The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, this episode is considered by many one of the best “Doctor Who” stories of the early new series. It was nominated for a Nebula Award, and won the Hugo. And it contains two of the best lines of dialogue about the series – “The Doctor will be there when you need him.” and “The monsters and The Doctor, it seems you cannot have one without the other.”