“The Girl in the Fireplace” – Review: Redux

Madame du Pompadour “It is customary, I think, to have an imaginary friend only during your childhood. You are to be congratulated on your persistence.”

The Girl in the Fireplace

Episode 4 of this series (and the final episode on the second disc of the Complete Series Two boxset that I mentioned on Monday) sees the Doctor take a wander down the road less travelled, well at least as far as he’s concerned, and that is the road to love. This may not be the premise that would attract your “traditional” Doctor Who fan, but in the heady days of 2006 everybody seemed to be a fan of the show, as if a whole generation of kids who’d loved the show in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s suddenly had come out of their TARDIS-shaped closet and were happy to proclaim their love of Doctor Who to the world. So, may be a love story for the Doctor was overdue. Certainly, Rose has had her share of love interests over the course of the last 17 episodes with Mickey, Adam, Jack and even the Doctor himself but this was Ten’s turn for his hearts to melt.

Mickey’s first trip aboard the TARDIS sees him and his two travelling companions land on a spaceship in the far future with all the animosity that Rose exhibited at the end of “School Reunion”, having strangely disappeared. After a little investigation onboard the vessel, the viewers find that this sci-fi staple is not as simple as it first appears because the deserted spaceship is curiously juxtaposed against 18th century France, via a series of “holes punched in the universe”. It is through these “holes” that the Doctor first sees and then travels to meet a young Reinette, who will grow up to be Madame de Pompadour. Trips back and forth see the Doctor appear at various stages of the courtisan’s life, and as the script cleverly points out, she takes the slow road through life as he spends no more than a day falling in love with her.

So, this 21st century Doctor feels a little love tug at the strings of his hearts, but the question is, “Does it work?”. Well, it kind of depends who you listen to. There are undoubtedly some who feel that having a Doctor who exhibits unashamedly romantic feelings towards another person as being anathema to everything they know about the character, and I have to confess that, at the time of watching this I was surprised about the move to see the Doctor fall in love so easily. However, it is testament to the sublime acting talents of Sophia Miles and David Tennant that it was such a believable situation (and, if the tabloids are to be believed, it was a chemistry that continued off-screen for a while as well). It is interesting to note that the witty yet moving script was penned by the magnificent Steven Moffat, who brought us another tale with romantic overtures in Series One’s “The Doctor Dances“. This all led to an interesting dynamic develop through the episode, when Rose, despite having Mickey along for the ride, was jealous of the Doctor’s new love. Reinette’s voiceover reading the letter to the Doctor and the heartache he was feeling was superbly counter-balanced by the final reveal of the name of the spaceship and the whole episode’s narrative falling into place with the last beat of the story.

As a fan of the show through all it’s highs and lows, it is episodes like this one that do most to reaffirm to me the greatness of the concept that lies at the heart of Doctor Who. Characters that you care about, being able to travel anywhere in time and space and have any kind of adventure you can dream up, is beautifully simple, yet it is stories like this (with its futuristic spaceships, clockwork droids, the 18th century Renaissance in France, a timey-wimey love story, and a horse called Arthur) that propel the simplicity of the concept into wonderfully crafted tapestry. It wasn’t without its faults, of course, but then what is? To point out any such quibbles would only do a disservice to a great episode. Re-viewing this now, “The Girl in the Fireplace” still stands as a hgh-water mark for the fifty year history of the programme: vying with some of the greatest episodes for best story ever.

Highlight: The reveal of the name of the spaceship

Lowlight: There really wasn’t one, was there?

Talking Point: Should the Doctor be portrayed as having such strong romantic feelings? 

Demon’s Run Rating: 19 out of 20

Original BBC1 Broadcast: 6th May 2006

Marathon Status: 18 down, 84 to go

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