Doctor Who Re-watch: The Girl in the Fireplace
The second Moffat story for New Who! In which all of his later series themes are laid out for us. Plus bonus The Time Traveller’s Wife riff, a great historical fiction revisionist slant on Madame de Pompadour and the chick who played Beth in Spooks. What’s not to love?
Image by Tom Newsom (I think).
The pre-title sequence
Maureen: Wow this episode is visually beautiful. Versailles, France, is wonderfully brought to life and we’re back into horror fairy story territory with Reinette telling us her clock on the mantle is broken as she calls for help from The Doctor.
Ben: This episode really opens with a bang doesn’t it! We get screams, panic, talk of love, duty, and a beautiful woman pleading for The Doctor to come and save the day! You gotta hand it to him, Moffat sure knows how to write an intro.
Maureen: Yes, I’ve always admired Moffat for his combination of rug-pulling against expectation and intriguing hooks to his episode openings.
Ben: Rose and Mickey are definitely on the backburner this episode, but you can really see the formings of Rory and Amy in their pairing. Or at least, Rose and Mickey gave me strong Amy and Rory vibes.
Maureen: I’ll talk about this again later, but I definitely see The Girl in the Fireplace as Moffat’s thesis for his entire approach to New Who. Having said that, I didn’t get an Amy/Rory vibe from Rose/Mickey so much as I got a Reinette being the precurser to Amy vibe. Reinette waits many times for The Doctor, just as Amy did with, ‘you said five minutes.’ I wonder if anyone has written the Reinette/Amy fan fic. I’m there! There are elements of River Song’s relationship with The Doctor in Reinette too. Both pairings love is doomed to tragedy. And the fairy story visuals are here too. But back to Ben …
Ben: I love Rose’s makeup and hair this episode.
Maureen: I liked Rose and Mickey toting guns around.
Ben: I also loved Mickey’s shock that the TARDIS can even translate French.
Maureen: I love Mickey’s TARDIS joy.
Mickey: I got a spaceship on my first go.
Rose: Mickey Smith. Meet the universe.
Ben: Rose and Mickey are really good together, quietly exploring the ship, even if they do find some pretty horrible facts out. And Rose get’s to do something of substance! Her scene with Reinette was particularly sweet. If anyone can relate to what Reinette is going through, it’s Rose.
Reinette: I’m very afraid, but you and I both know Rose … The Doctor is worth the monsters.
Maureen: I liked that we got a Series One Rose this time around too who knows to ask the pertinent question/s. This time, why the aliens want Reinette in particular.
Ben: Onwards to Reinette who really is at this episode’s heart as a companion who never was. The inquisitive child was a great way to introduce this character, in my opinion. Kids and the Doctor in general do well. They can accept things that shouldn’t be much better than adults can. The child actress playing her did a pretty good job, and was suitably terrified at the monster The Doctor found under her bed.
Maureen: Talk about an The Eleventh Hour parallel. Instead of a crack in a child’s wall, it’s a clockwork creature.
Ben: Yep, next time we meet Reinette she’s an adult.
Maureen: Yep, just like Amy …
Ben: And boy does she know how to sweep a Doctor off her feet. What a brain she has too! You can practically see the sparks flying between the two as she steals a kiss from The Doctor. And then we find out her true identity! Madame de Pompadour, future Mistress to the King of France and all around overachiever. It’s hard to imagine who would be the more formidable in that pairing.
Maureen: I’d love some Big Finish spin-off, but what if Reinette met River Song? Also, I googled Madame de Pompadour after viewing this episode and what an interesting woman in real life!
Ben: We get to see snippets of Reinette’s life like her strolling through some magnificent gardens and such. Then, the clockwork robots made another appearance, and we get some more information: the clockwork robots need her, specifically her 37 year old brain, to repair their ship. The Doctor looks through her memories to try and find the answer, and in doing so opens the door for Reinette to look through The Doctor’s memories.
Reinette: Such a lonely boy. Lonely then and lonely now. Dance with me … Doctor who? It’s more than just a secret.
Maureen: I may have killed this episode a little by re-watching it so very much, but it has some beautiful scenes and quotes and the one you mention Ben, was definitely one of them. The scene also reveals another Moffat interest, the real identity of The Doctor and the metaphor of his name. It became a central theme in Series Six and Seven under Moffat. I also loved the throwback to Series One and The Doctor Dances with:
Ten: What did you see?
Reinette: That there comes a time, Time Lord, when every little boy must learn to dance.
I don’t think she was talking just dancing, either!
Ben: At the final clockwork confrontation, Reinette is as fiery as ever, commanding silence of her audience.
Reinette (to the crowd of panicking noblemen and women): Kindly remember that this is Versailles and we are French.
The Doctor saves the day magnificently, but then Reinette goes and saves The Doctor! What an excellent twist.
Maureen: Yes. There was such quiet beauty in Reinette when she tells Ten:
Reinette: So here you are. My lonely angel. Stuck on the slow path with me.
Even now she knows he has a way out and she loves him too much to stop him from going.
Ben: She really is his equal, which makes me all the sadder that in the end she dies before getting to travel with The Doctor. Her final letter absolutely ripped my heart out. I’m not used to this level of tragedy from Doctor Who!
Maureen: Yes, even having viewed this episode many a time, I still felt emotional. *I’m not crying, it’s raining on my face*. And the Rose/Ten exchange killed me too.
Rose: You all right?
Ten: I’m always all right.
What a terribly sad lie!
Ben: The Doctor really gets into things quickly this episode! General Doctoring is dispensed with in the first few minutes, consoles are poked at and the scene is set on a spaceship AND on Versailles. And then appears our Girl in the Fireplace! I actually looked up the reference about August of 1727 and there’s nothing of significance that happened, that we know of at least. Maybe it really was just awful weather that month. Then we get to the first amazingly creepy scene of the episode, when the Doctor notices the ticking noise that shouldn’t be. This scene really reminded me of a scene or two with Mr Are You My Mummy back in season one and is really scary stuff. I loved the quick exchange he and Reinette had before the end of the scene. She might have nightmares with monsters in them, but monsters have nightmares with him in them. That’s the kind of imaginary friend you want as a 7 year old.
Maureen: I also found The Doctor’s response to the clockwork creature interesting. He acknowledges its alien beauty even as some of Nine’s anger shines through, showing that Moffat at least, hasn’t forgotten about The Doctor’s bitter past.
Ten: You’re beautiful. I mean it. You’re gorgeous. It would be a crime to dissemble you, but that won’t stop me.
And then I just loved the scene after The Doctor and Reinette ‘danced’ where Rose and Mickey are surrounded by clockwork aliens with Rose about to get sliced up and a drunk Doctor turns up going on about inventing banana daiquiris early and defeating the clockwork alien by pouring wine into its parts. This version of Ten is one I can really get behind!
Ben: It’s not often the Doctor encounters someone who can hold their own against him and really sweep him off his feet in that way. The measures The Doctor goes to to save Reinette’s life are, I think, a testament to the feelings The Doctor has for her, even though he’s only known her for half an hour. Plus his smarmy “oh yeah? Well I’m the lord of Time” response when introduced to the King of France said a lot. Anywho, breaking the time window was a hell of a way to defeat the clockwork robots, but it came at a cost – there’s no way back. Plus, Rose and Mickey are stuck on the ship, unable to fly the TARDIS without him. Whoops.
Maureen: I personally found Ten riding a horse through a wall into the royal court of Versailles a bit full on, but having said that, it was a bombastic and brash moment that had probably been earnt by the quality of the rest of the episode. I loved The Doctor’s manic expressions as he realised Reinette’s fireplace could return him to his TARDIS and it’s telling that he’d forgotten all about his relationship with Rose in the presence of Reinette.
Ten: Pick a star. Any star.
Alas, he came back for Reinette too late. Time was the boss of him and he’d just missed her death carriage. Ten’s expression as he read Reinette’s letter was truly sad. All of that guilt and loneliness and love was locked up tight, and not even Rose could get Ten to confide in her of his secret pain.
The Alien of the Week
Ben: Clockwork robots! What an excellent concept. The French costumes just add to their terror, quite frankly. And then we get to the real horror when we discover the ship The Doctor and his crew are on is running on human body parts mixed with machinery! A human eye in a surveillance camera, a human heart in the midst of some circuitry. And then the central mystery: why has this spaceship 3000 years in the future punched so many holes in space and time to follow the life of Madame de Pompadour? The grand reveal? The spaceship was damaged, these clockwork robots are repairbots and they used the crew to repair the ship. And Reinette is the last part!
Maureen: In RTD era Who, Moffat doesn’t do straight evil villains. In his Series One two-parter, the aliens were also repairbots of a kind, albeit little microbes that healed all they came in contact with even if their understanding of what was and wasn’t healthy was impaired. Similarly, the clockwork aliens are just trying to make sure their spaceship continues on. Programmed to repair, when they ran out of parts they had to make do with what materials they had available to them … too bad that was their human crew.
Ben: The clockwork aliens meet something of an ignoble end, separated from their ship with no way to wind up their gears again. Scary as they were, it’s hard not to feel sorry for them in the end. And that final moment of the episode when the camera zooms out and you see the name of the ship? The Madame de Pompadour? Why, that’s the cherry on the top of this episode. In the end, just as the clockwork robots had claimed all along, Reinette and the robots were indeed linked.
Maureen: Yes, that was such a clever touch! The ship was named Madame de Pompadour so for fix-it alien types, it made sense that they thought Reinette’s brain could re-boot the ship.
Ben: This episode was both wondrous and wondrously sad by the end. Moffat really is incomparable in writing these standalone episodes. This combination of whimsy and horror with a little dash of steampunk is exactly the kind of episode I love from Doctor Who. It’s about as close to a perfect episode as you can get, in my opinion. I’m giving it a 10/10.
Maureen: I’ve re-watched this episode more times than I can count and as a result, its lustre has worn off a little over time. It’s probably my least favourite Moffat episode of RTD era Who. Which given how good his other episodes are, isn’t saying much. I kept teetering between a 9 and a 10, but if I’m honest, this is a pretty wonderful Who episode and the first time someone saw it, I can really see how they’d be blown away. I’m sitting with 10/10 inky stars for now.