2.4 – “The Girl In The Fireplace”
The TARDIS lands on what appears to be a derelict space ship. Rose, Mickey and The Doctor set off to explore their new surroundings and stumble upon a fireplace, which The Doctor recognises as being from the 18th century and almost certainly French. This fireplace turns out to be a time window, leading to the bedroom of a young Reinette Poisson, the future Madame De Pompadour. The Doctor has to work out why these time windows are following her life and defeat some pretty scary clockwork droids in the process.
Real-life events are always exciting in Doctor Who because we know they’ll be given a fascinating twist. The true story of Jeanne Antionette Poisson (better known as Reinette), who really did become the official mistress of King Louis XV, is no different. We first meet Reinette as a young girl, after The Doctor crosses into her room from a derelict space ship via a “time window” in her fireplace. Stepping back into the space ship, The Doctor returns moments later only to discover that months have passed since his last visit. Before he has time to process much of what’s going on, he hears a ticking noise. In a room with no clocks.
The clockwork droids are, for my money, bloody scary. There’s something very unnerving about their jester mask faces and jerking movements. Of course, I suppose you could argue that they aren’t really monsters; after all, their primary function was simply to repair their stricken space ship. Still, any repair droid that cheerfully kills the crew in order to use their organs for spare parts is pretty damned scary to me. I wouldn’t fancy being left in a room by myself with one! That said, they’re clockwork and not indestructible. We know The Doctor will find a way to defeat them and, indeed, he issues a warning to one: “I’m not winding you up.”
Gotta love a pun!
When he’s not rehearsing his stand up routine (is it just me who’d really like to see that?!), The Doctor shows a lot of his many other sides in this episode. We see what we think is a drunk Doctor, fresh from a party, only to discover he’s faking his merry state as he quickly saves Mickey and Rose from becoming spare parts. He shows his intelligence (okay, so that’s nothing new) when he works out that the clockwork droids are waiting for Reinette’s 37th birthday, so that they can remove her brain and use it to power their space ship, which is 37 years old. Later, once The Doctor, Mickey and Rose discover that there’s only one time window remaining and that if The Doctor crosses back into 18th century France he’ll be stuck there forever, we see the Doctor’s courageous side as he bravely – and rather bombastically – rides into battle. Literally. On a white horse. All that was missing was the shining armour but Tennant’s chivalrous performance more than makes up for that.
Of course, “The Girl In The Fireplace” is more than just a history lesson for Whovians. It’s a love story for The Doctor. He and Reinette openly flirt (and indeed “snog”) and they appear to be fairly well-matched; Sophia Myles’ Reinette is intelligent, brave and strong. You can see why The Doctor is excited to meet her. Meanwhile, Rose is less than impressed that The Doctor has eyes for someone other than her and gets a bit sulky, wondering what’s so special about Reinette. Come on Rose; don’t go all Martha on me…
Still, there clearly is something special about Madame De Pompadour. Indeed, The Doctor is so intrigued by Reinette that he’s even prepared to take “the slow path” with her, suggesting that he’ll stay in eighteenth century France after the last time window has closed behind him and the clockwork droids have shut down, knowing they have no way of returning to their ship. The Doctor’s feelings for Reinette are definitely mutual, too; she refers to him as her “lonely angel,” having found herself able to read his mind as well as vice versa and she appears to understand him in a way that unnerves The Doctor, yet leaves him keen to spend more time with her. When he finds that the fireplace from the start of the episode is still an active time window, The Doctor is quick to tell Reinette to pack a bag and pick a star, promising to come back for her. His excitement at the thought of showing her the wonders of the universe is evident as he rushes back through the fireplace just moments later, only to discover that six years have passed. The poignancy of the episode’s final moments is beautifully played, as we realise that Reinette spent the final six years of her life wondering whether her beautiful angel would ever return for her, only to pass away at the age of just 42.
As The Doctor watches her coffin leave the palace for the final time, we’re reminded yet again that this is a man who has known pain and loss far too many times. A man who will always be alone at heart, no matter how many people surround him. It’s a touching moment and one which is brought into even greater focus when The Doctor returns to the space ship without Reinette. The TARDIS leaves and as the derelict ship drifts alone, aimlessly through space, we finally see its name: SS Madame De Pompadour.
My only major quibble with this episode is the lack of continuity; at the end of “School Reunion”, Rose has a strop at the thought of Mickey joining her and The Doctor in the TARDIS. In “The Girl In The Fireplace”, Rose can’t wait to show him the ropes. Okay, so this episode was moved in the season running order, but still…Anyway, I’m being picky, really. This episode gives us a scary villain, a space ship and a history lesson, plus it ends in a rather beautiful, yet emotive fashion. It gets 8/10 from me.
Written and edited by Emma Tofi