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Doctor Who - The New Series

2.04: "THE GIRL IN THE FIREPLACE"

TX: 6 May 2006

Written by: Steven Moffat

Directed by: Euros Lyn

Running time: 44'40"

Location: Versailles, France/a spaceship

Date: 1727-1764 AD/the 51st century

Monsters and villains: The Clockwork Robots (malfunctioning maintenance droids).

Tardisode Synopsis: A spaceship is hit by an unexpected explosion in space, but things get worse when something kills off the survivors...

Plot Synopsis: It's Mickey's first time as a passenger on the TARDIS and he's stoked to find himself aboard a real-life spaceship. But where are the crew? What is a white horse doing on it? And what does all this have to do with 17th century France?

Smug Warning: None. Hurrah!

"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry": Not used.

Torchwood spotting: No mentions.

Trivia: (1) The romance between The Doctor and Mme de Pompadour was mirrored offscreen when David Tennant and Sophia Myles took a shine to one another and began dating.

(2) The reason Rose is more comfortable with Mickey than she seemed at the end of 2.03, "School Reunion" is that writer Steven Moffat had not been shown the ending to that episode before writing his.

(3) There is no Torchwood reference in this episode, as Russell T. Davies forgot to tell Moffat to include one.

(4) Although The Doctor's ability to make psychic connections with other people has never been brought up before, it was shown that he could psychically connect with his previous incarnations in the original series adventures "The Three Doctors" and "The Five Doctors". Psychic abilities were also implied in 1.02, "The End of the World", when The Ninth Doctor says that he can feel that his people are dead. Additionally, Time Lord psychic abilities were suggested or mentioned in the original series stories "The Deadly Assassin", "The Sensorites" and "The War Games".

(5) Working titles were "Madame de Pompadour", "Every Tick Of My Heart";, "Reinette And The Lonely Angel" and "Loose Connection".

(6) The script contains a few throwbacks to Moffat's previous story for the new series - the use of 'dancing' as a euphemism for sex, the Doctor's love of bananas and a mention of his troubled childhood appear in both tales.

(7) The "Zeus Plugs" mentioned by The Doctor were also mentioned in the Fourth Doctor story "The Hand of Fear".

(8) As a child, Mme de Pompadour calls herself "Reinette". However, these scenes were set in 1727 and she was not given the name until 1730.

(9) The clockwork robots were inspired by The Turk, a chess-playing automaton that did the rounds in Renaissance France and visited Versailles more than once, although it was later found to be a fraud.

(10) During the park scene, Reinette is seen walking with a black woman. This is not an anachronism - some black people at the time did indeed manage to pick up stations in the French courts.

(11) A little bit of a gaffe - although, like the Fifth Doctor, this Doctor is longsighted, he does not wear his glasses when reading Reinette's note.

Spoiler Synopsis: Versailles, France, in the 1700s - Mme de Pompadour, mistress to Louis XV, kneels before an ornate fireplace and begs The Doctor for help while screams of terror come from off camera.

Space, the 51st century - the TARDIS touches down in a spaceship and an ecstatic Mickey steps out, closely followed by The Doctor and Rose. The Doctor notes that the ship is operating at full power, but the crew is nowhere to be seen. As they explore the ship, they come across an ornate fireplace. The Doctor looks through it into the room of a little girl in 1727 France. She introduces herself as Reinette. The Doctor leans on the fireplace and it rotates around, depositing him in the room, but this time the girl says that she hasn't seen him for several months.

The Doctor notes that the time door connecting the ship and the room must be playing up. He also notes that there is a broken clock on the mantlepiece but something in the room is ticking. He follows the noise to the underside of Reinette's bed - suddenly, a bizarre robot in period clothing scuttles up from underneath. The Doctor notes that the robot has been scanning the girl's brain, but when the girl questions this the creature says that it does not want her yet as she is "incomplete". It attacks The Doctor with a serrated blade in its arm, but he manages to trap it on the fireplace and rotates them both back into the spaceship.

There, he uses a fire extinguisher to freeze the robot an inspect it, noting that it is built using ultra-advanced clockwork. However, the creature teleports away quickly. The Doctor notes that it's using a short-range teleport and will still be in the ship somewhere. Before returning to the fireplace, he warns Mickey and Rose not to leave. Of course, they immediately grab fire extinguishers and leave the moment The Doctor is gone.

Back in the French room, The Doctor encounters Reinette again, but now she is a grown - and beautiful - woman. She kisses him gently, noting that he is flesh and blood although he has not aged. Someone calls her name from another room and she kisses him again passionately before leaving. The Doctor returns to the ship, triumphantly calling out that he has kissed Mme de Pompadour.

He returns to the ship and goes searching for the now-missing Mickey and Rose but only finds a white horse on the ship instead. Meanwhile, Mickey finds a security camera with a human eye in it and Rose opens up a panel in the wall to find a beating human heart connected up to various pipes.

Elsewhere, The Doctor - tailed by Arthur the horse - has found another doorway into the past, finding himself in a French park in December 1744. He notices Reinette walking with a friend, but makes sure that she does not see him. Back on the ship, The Doctor, Rose and Mickey inspect another time window, showing them Reinette's first meeting with King Louis in February 1745. The king leaves and, a few seconds later, one of the clockwork robots appears in the room. The Doctor, followed by Rose and Mickey, steps through the window and freezes the robot with an extinguisher, but they have begun to adapt and it heats itself back up.

The Doctor asks Reinette to ask the robot what it is doing, as the one in her bedroom obeyed her. It says that an Ion Storm damaged the ship in the 51st century and the robots took the crew apart to replace the broken machinery. Now they have punched through time to collect something from Reinette, although she is not yet "complete". The Doctor asks why, but the machine gives a cryptic reply. Angry, Reinette orders it to disappear and it teleports off. The Doctor sends Mickey and Rose back to the ship to follow it, but once there they are captured

Meanwhile, The Doctor creates a mental link with Reinette to read her past and notes that the robots are waiting for her to grow old enough. She in turn - and much to his surprise - reads his mind and notes his lonely childhood. Noting that he lacks close companionship, she asks him to dance. He refuses, but has little say in the matter as she drags him away.

On the ship, Rose and Mickey wake up to find that they are to be dissected by the robots, but are saved when The Doctor turns up pretending to be drunk. He pours the contents of his goblet - a special anti-oil - into one of the robots, clogging it up, and uses the computer systems to shut down the rest. He frees Mickey and Rose and tries to shut down the time windows, but one remaining robot in the past blocks his actions and restarts the other robots. They announce that Reinette is complete and teleport away to dissect her.

Rose arrives in 1753 and tells Reinette that the robots will be arriving five years from then. Reinette figures out how the time windows work and how The Doctor can visit her at different points in her life. Rose says that she must live through the next five years and promises her that The Doctor will be there to save her and Mickey steps through the window to say that they've found a window that looks onto her 37th birthday, when the robots will strike. Reinette pushes past him onto the ship and is horrified both by the alien environment and by the sound of screams coming from her birthday celebrations. She returns to her own time as Rose and Mickey head off to see The Doctor.

However, the robots - guessing that he would try to save her - have locked off the window that leads to Reinette's birthday. The Doctor can only look on helplessly as they surround her. In the ballroom, Reinette refuses to submit to the robots but they move to decapitate her, since they only need her brain. Just then, The Doctor comes crashing through the time window - disguised as a mirror - on Arthur the horse, breaking it in the process. On the ship, Mickey notes that they cannot pilot the TARDIS and that The Doctor has no way of getting back to them.

The Doctor tells the robots that with their link to the future broken they cannot return to fix the ship and so their quest is at an end. Recognising his logic, the robots close down. Later that night, The Doctor is looking thoughtfully at the stars when Reinette approaches him. He wonders how he will live in the 18th century, when Reinette reveals that she had the fireplace from her childhood transported piece by piece to her room in Versailles. The Doctor inspects it and realises that as it was offline when he broke the time window it was not destroyed with the other portals. He reactivates it and as it roates back into the ship he realises that she wants him to stay.

He looks through the fireplace as he did when she was just a child and tells her to pack a bag and pick a star. He then finds Mickey and Rose and tells them to get in the TARDIS. However, when he returns to the room, it is daytime and he finds himself with an older King Louis. He asks where Reinette is and the King says that she has died waiting for The Doctor to return; six years have passed in the minutes it took for The Doctor to return to the spaceship's fireplace. The Doctor watches her hearse leave Versailles for Paris and the king gives The Doctor a note from Reinette.

Back in the TARDIS, Rose asks why the robots thought that Reinette's brain would fix the computer but The Doctor says that he doesn't know. Recognising that The Doctor is unhappy, Mickey drags Rose off to the rest of the TARDIS. The Doctor opens the letter and reads Reinette wishing that he would return as she is on the verge of death. He quietly puts it back in his pocket as the fireplace link shuts down.

Outside the ship, its link with Reinette and the reason for the robots' obsession with her brain becomes clear: its title is the SS Madame de Pompadour.

Review: After the one-two double punch of excellence that was 1.09, "The Empty Child", and 1.10, "The Doctor Dances", Steven Moffat returns with another corking Who story and the stand-out episode of season two.

There are a million things to love about this episode, but probably the biggest is its ambition - while most new Who stories offer a fairly simple "nasty villains threaten humanity, Doctor gives them what for" plot, Moffat comes up with a splendid proper sci-fi concept - windows into different moments of one person's life - and uses it to its fullest. This is the kind of fun sci-fi concept that would often appear in the Doctor Who: New Adventures novels and the Who audio plays, but which seemed to be largely jettisoned when the new series began, probably because the average age of the target audience dropped by about 20 years.

But Moffat's never been one to underestimate the intelligence of children (his first and arguably best TV show was Press Gang, a chlidren's comedy that featured suicide, child abuse and drug addiction) and so he leaps into the story both feet first, using the time-travel concept of the show to better effect than any other writer in the new series and probably most of the writers from the old series, too. What's even better is that this first clever idea is backed up by a second - the idea of a ship's broken circuitry creating a logical leap that makes it dissect an entire crew to survive. So much for Asimov's three laws.

It's not all concept, concept, concept though - Moffat has the writing chops to back it up with splendid jokes, a memorable threat and a genuinely affecting relationship for The Doctor. Granted, this latter part upset some Who purists, who think that The Doctor should be eternally chaste, despite the fact that his earliest adventures also featured his grand-daughter. Screw them, though, and anyone who says that the idea of The Doctor falling in love so quickly - the Vulcan mind-meld business is a good enough explanation for their sudden closeness. And let's face it, Sophia Myles is hot.

Not that I don't have my own reservations, though. The idea that The Doctor, a 1,000-plus-year-old being smarter than any mere human, would forget what walking away from the fireplace means for Reinette is incredibly hard to believe. Surely every viewer saw that one coming, so why wouldn't he? Also, while the 'you can't rewrite your personal history' rule of the Whoniverse does stop him using the TARDIS to intervene with the stuff he can see through the window, a little lateral thinking could still give him a happy ending. All you have to do is nip into the future, get a robot copy/clone of Reinette made, nip back in time, then replace her with the copy (which is programmed to die at the right time). Hey presto! You still see her "death" and your personal timline is intact, but you can still jump bones to your heart's content.

All right, so maybe I'm stretching things a bit. But it does feel a little bit like Moffat is purposely and falsely playing down The Doctor's smarts to give him a sad ending. Having said that, the sad ending in question is so well written that I'm inclined to forgive him. And when you throw in splendid performances from both Myles and Tennant - particularly the latter - then it really is enough to win me over

Aside from that and a bit more Mickey bullying (though less than in other episodes), my only problems with the episode are really more to do with the overall structure of the second season or, rather, the lack of one. As a companion piece to 2.03, "School Reunion", "The Girl in the Fireplace" works well as a way to drive a wedge between Rose and The Doctor; she sees how she may well become discarded in the future and then comes perilously close to that very event in their next adventure.

Someone like Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and one of Russell T. Davies's stated influences, would have had a field day with this kind of emotional arc and perhaps used it as a way to bring Rose and Mickey together or to create some friction in the TARDIS crew (which would also have helped negate the cloying smugness and lovey-dovery nonsense that plagues this season), but Davies completely misses the boat - later this season, we'll see that Rose is just as much in love with The Doctor as he is with her, and nothing about their relationship has changed.

Really, that's what cripples this season. In the first, we saw Rose grow from a surly shopgirl into a hero in her own right, we saw Mickey learning to stand up to his fears and we saw The Doctor coming out of his post-war-shock and learning to grow close to people again. This season Davies completely fails to include any kind of development like that, save for one-off episodes like this where all the toys are put back just as they were at the end of it. Hell, Rose actually regresses into a childish, unfeeling pain in the arse who seems very unlike the empathic and mature Rose we saw at the end of the last season.

I'll come back to this in future reviews - I bet you're on the edge of your seat, eh? - but here's one last thing on this subject: Davies's lack of a cohesive emotional vision for season two is proved beyond all doubt by the way Rose goes from not wanting Mickey on the TARDIS in School Reunion to adventuring alongside him in this one. Why? Because Moffat hadn't read the script to School Reunion when writing this one and nobody told him otherwise. Nor did any of the producers tell him to change it when the script was being submitted and rewritten. Why and how does this kind of thing happen?

To compare, Joss Whedon was reportedly on the set of filming for each episode of Buffy in the early years - a maximum of 22 per season - and would regularly rewrite entire scripts if he felt that the characters were not acting properly according to the season's emotional arc. If Davies wants to keep namechecking Whedon, he'd do well to follow his lead more closely.

Ooh, that feels better. Still: an ace episode that the kids of today will remember for years to come.

10/10

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Sources:

http://www.gallifreyone.com - Outpost Gallifrey http://www.physics.mun.ca/~sps/9doc.html - A Brief History of (Time) Travel

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