Bienvenue en France! Je vois que vous êtes arrivé ici par TARDIS avec un mec dans un costume serré, une femme dans des vêtements très étranges et … Est-ce un cheval ? Quoi qu’il en soit , ceci est le SS Madame De Pompadour!
For their first trip with Mickey, the Tenth Doctor and Rose end up on a space ship in the future that contains several portals to pre-Revolutionary France. When he steps through one of these portals, shaped like a fireplace, the Doctor discovers the even greater mystery of actual, romantic love.
Don’t worry, the whole article won’t be in French! Even though you’re the opposite side of a different screen to the one that I’m currently typing this on, I could see you, your heart rate increasing, your GCSE French trying to put the introduction back into English. I’m not just a pretty face. Even though most of you have never seen my face. Just believe me; it’s pretty(ish). Anyway on with the review.
Ah, The Girl In The Fireplace, written back when Steven Moffat wasn’t stretched by being both head writer of Doctor Who and Sherlock, meaning that this episode was inevitably going to be brilliant. Rewatching it for this review, I didn’t realise just how much Douglas Adams style humour was packed in to the opening of the episode. Sure, we keep skipping between the 18th and the 51st century throughout which, if you think about it, is downright daft; but I have to confess that the opening few minutes, especially the Doctor’s dialogue is extremely reminiscent of Douglas Adams writing for the show back with the Fourth Doctor.
Speaking of Steven Moffat, he does love making us paranoid about things that weren’t too scary beforehand. In Series 1 he made the question “Are you my mummy?” absolutely bloodcurdling, in The Girl In The Fireplace he made the sound of ticking the sound of impending doom, in Series 3 he made statues a thing of nightmares, Series 4 brought us the fear of shadows, Series 5 made us scared of cracks in walls, Series 6 made us petrified of something we can never remember, Series 7 made us worried he might be outstaying his welcome, Series 8 made us scared of holding our breath or thinking or dying and being cremated and Series 9 made us terrified that he might let Gatiss write a sequel to Sleep No More; but I heavily digress…
The fact that the Doctor seems to be with Reinette for a lot of the story, leaving Rose and Mickey (this is his first trip in the TARDIS don’t you know?) to explore the ship is in some ways a great move; it allows Mickey as a character to be more relaxed as he doesn’t feel the need to impress the Doctor and can ask Rose questions companion to companion in confidence. Also, having the Doctor separated from the companions allows the story to have two very different moods; the companions get to go on more of a romp, whereas the Doctor gets to have a more… intimate story with Madame De Pompadour.
If there’s one thing that I found slightly uncomfortable when I originally watched this as a ten year old, it was the romance between the Doctor and Reinette. It wasn’t the fact that they were kissing or supposedly being infantilised with her; I was never one of those people who thought that the Doctor should be a completely asexual character, devoid from feeling love or lust, but it was the fact that he didn’t even try to resist Reinette. This is a man, who only a couple of episodes ago, used a regeneration to save Rose Tyler, the woman he supposedly loved. Now, I’m not expert in Time Lord Love Triangles, they may be a totally common and acceptable occurrence on Gallifrey, but it just seemed like the Doctor was cheating on Rose (albeit unofficially since Mickey was there… come to think of it, poor Mickey) just because Madame De Pompadour was more aristocratic and intelligent and beautiful than a girl from the Powell Estate.
One concept in this episode that is used again in Deep Breath that is seemingly overlooked is the idea of a ship from the 51st century being run and maintained by using parts of a human. What a terrifying concept that is if you think about it. In a way, if you stretch your imagination, these ships could be considered partial Cybermen; machines that were once human, but the humanity is removed and what remains is used essentially as a motherboard, controlling everything that it can. Now that is a good idea for how to evolve the Cyberman mythology. I digress again…
My favourite part of the entire episode though, undoubtedly has to be the Doctor drunk. I mean, come on, it’s brilliant acting by David Tennant; Rose too gets to shine in this scene, even if she is “just like her mother”. Whilst most would consider this scene (which is in no way long enough; I demand a full episode in Series 10 where the Twelfth Doctor is absolutely pissed and has to go clueing for looks) just a bit of fun in what is quite a dark story, I think it really shows just how much Rose cares about the Doctor. Some companions would have just loved the fact that they’d got to see their favourite Time Lord tipsy, but Rose really doesn’t want the Doctor to be unable to control himself; just like a mother or annoyed girlfriend would. I think its small things like this that plant seeds in your mind about how characters really feel for one another that Steven used to do so well when he wasn’t pressured to write or cowrite about 6 episodes a year.
Reinette being aboard the SS Madame De Pompadour is a textbook example of what I would like in a future companion. A woman taken out of her time, absolutely petrified about what her future and the future will bring, but taking it as much in her stride as possible. Reinette would have been a great companion, it’s a total shame that we’ve never been able to revisit her yet. I just love the idea that the Twelfth Doctor will somehow find himself riding a horse through a mirror and stumbling across Madame De Pompadour again, adding more confusion to her life.
One thing that felt so out of character when I was ten, but has since seemed even more in character for the Doctor is the fact that he almost gives up his adventures in time and space so he could save one humans life. As a child I was so confused as to why he’d do that, but since then I’ve realised that the Doctor will always put someone else before him. Of course, with this being Doctor Who, especially with this being Doctor Who written by Steven Moffat, it couldn’t end happily ever after. That’s the thing about The Girl In The Fireplace; at its heart it is a love story riddled with tragedy and loss. Classic Moffat.
Overall, I think The Girl In The Fireplace is one of the crowning jewels in Series 2 that a lot of people often overlook, which is a crime as it is such a beautifully filmed and emotional episode. I highly recommend you go back and watch it again when you have the chance.
The rating system on the Gallifrey Archive is achieved on a scale of 1-10.
For The Girl In The Fireplace, I will give a rating of: