What’s a horse doing on a spaceship?
Mickey, what’s pre-Revolutionary France doing on a spaceship? Get a little perspective.
Mickey Smith and the Tenth Doctor
The Doctor, Rose and Mickey arrive onboard a deserted spaceship three thousand years in the future. What has happened to the crew? And why has the ship got gateways into the life of Madame de Pompadour, a French lady from the 18th Century?
The Girl in the Fireplace is not only a superb example of what Doctor Who can do but is a fantastic example of television in general. It is definitely in my top ten episodes of the revival and probably in my top ten episodes of Doctor Who of all time. I say this as someone who loves Moffat’s work under Russell T Davies and his work whilst showrunner with a very few exceptions, and this has a lot of his tropes perfectly executed – we’ve got a bit of mucking about with time and some sharp, witty, and frankly brilliant dialogue. I think if I am looking for an episode of Doctor Who to pick me up, this is one of the first I will turn to.
You think I fear you. But I do not fear you even now. You are merely the nightmare from my childhood. And if my childhood nightmare can return to plague me then rest assured, so will yours.
One of the strongest parts of this episode is in the casting of Sophia Myles as Reinette, who gives a superb performance as Madame de Pompadour, and she has clear and believable chemistry with David Tennant. Obviously, I must mention that Tennant and Myles did date for a short time following working together on this episode, breaking up in 2007. However, when you have a story that hinges on the central premise of two characters falling in love and telling this story in 45 minutes, this chemistry is essential. On a side note, a large part of my issues with Tennant’s first series as the Doctor and Rose is that Tennant and Billie Piper don’t have that chemistry. The two obviously get on well as friends, but there’s something lacking that stops me buying into that whole ‘they both love each other romantically’ element of their story. The chemistry between Reinette and the Doctor also means that you ultimately believe in both the Doctor’s decision to come and save her, knowing that this means being separated from his TARDIS and Rose and Mickey, as well as the final scene, where he comes back for her, only to find that she has passed away. Sophia Myles’ Reinette also feels like a strong heroine and we fully root for her defeating the Clockwork Droids. Her speech when she speaks about being resigned to taking the slow path whilst hearing her own future screams is beautifully played, as is the scene when the Doctor manages to fix the link to the ship.
Steven Moffat’s writing is also fantastic. The story itself, despite its obvious links to The Time Traveller’s Wife, is different enough, and the reveal of the twist is really superb. I love the fact that the Doctor and his companions never solve the mystery of why the Clockwork Droids are stalking Reinette, and the way the episode is directed by Euros Lyn withholds this reveal well. We see the exterior of S.S. Madame de Pompadour on multiple occasions as a transition shot between scenes, but this never spoils the twist. Moffat’s script fizzles with what we now see as his trademark wit but packs a lot of emotion into this story. I love the fact that the Doctor reasoning for wanting to keep Arthur is that he allowed Rose to ‘keep’ Mickey! The story also has some fantastic pacing and ties up the story beautifully with no loose ends. One of the most powerful scenes in a story that is full of them is the mind reading scene where the chemistry between the two actors really helps but the writing is fantastic and the twist is very cleverly done.
I feel that this is one of Tennant’s best performances as the Doctor to date, and there are some really great moments here. Obviously, this story allows Tennant to utilise his Casanova experience, but he has lovely moments like when he sees the clockwork mechanism in the Clockwork Droid’s head which is quintessentially Doctor-y. Additionally, the scene where the Doctor acts drunk when Rose and Mickey have been captured by the Clockwork Droids is great. Ultimately, the highlight of this story is how he plays the scene where the King tells him that Reinette has died, he reads the letter and tucks it into his pocket is beautifully played by all involved, and the following scene where he reads the letter in the TARDIS is heartbreaking.
The Clockwork Droids are a really good adversary for the Doctor and his companions, with their intentions no doubt honourable but misguided in their attempt to repair their ship. Before the story even begins, they have murdered the entirety of the crew of the S.S. Madame de Pompadour and their search then turns to Reinette, believing that the ship can only be fixed with her head once she has reached the correct age. The Droids are very creepy, with their wigs and masks and I really like the idea that they would break any working clocks in the room to disguise themselves.
Verdict: I don’t think I can overstate my fondness for The Girl in the Fireplace. It is one of the finest episodes of Doctor Who since the revival, if not of all time. 10/10
Cast: David Tennant (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), Noel Clarke (Mickey Smith), Sophia Myles (Reinette), Ben Turner (King Louis), Jessica Atkins (Young Reinette), Angel Coulby (Katherine), Gareth Wyn Griffiths (Manservant), Paul Kasey (Clockwork Man), Ellen Thomas (Clockwork Woman), Jonathan Hart & Emily Joyce (Voices)
Writer: Steven Moffat
Director: Euros Lyn
Behind the Scenes
- The story follows School Reunion directly, however, when Steven Moffat wrote the story he had not had the chance to read the end of the story, hence the lack of animosity between Rose and Mickey. There are also no references to Torchwood, as Russell T Davies did not ask Moffat to put any in.
- This story was originally second in the series order, however, due to the experimental nature of the story, it was moved to fourth.
- The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger was an inspiration for Moffat whilst writing this story but the finished product is structured differently.
- Russell T Davies was inspired by the Turk, an 18th Century robot, when devising the Clockwork Droids.
- The Girl in the Fireplace was nominated for a Nebula Award and won the 2007 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form.
The mind reading scene.
What the hell is going on?
Oh. This is my lover, the King of France.
Yeah? Well, I’m the Lord of Time.
King Louis, Reinette and the Tenth Doctor