THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

BBC
The Girl in the Fireplace

Story No. 178 You're beautiful!
Production Code Series Two Episode Four
Dates May 6 2006

With David Tennant, Billie Piper,
Noel Clarke
Written by Steven Moffat Directed by Euros Lyn
Executive Producers: Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner.

Synopsis: The Doctor has been there for Madame de Pompadour, right throughout her life.


Reviews

A Review by Benjamin Bland 8/5/06

One of the stories I most awaited from the 2006 series of Doctor Who. Another chance for Steven Moffatt to improve his obvious Who scripting talents. The story starts well, with the TARDIS landing on an alien spaceship somewhere in the far future. The episode then continues to flourish introducing Sophia Myles' Madame De Pompadour and some clockwork robots. Tennant is fabulous throughout and provides a much easier Doctor to watch than almost any of his predecessors. His chemistry with Myles works throughout and for once Billie Piper is left almost entirely out of the equation.

This is a Doctor Who story that rides on the crest of the wave that the series is currently travelling on and makes the wave only grow stronger. Moffatt has balanced the script perfectly and the episode rattles along, only sagging slightly towards the end. This is very probably the best episode of the new series of Doctor Who since Rose and if the series continues like this, it will undoubtedly continue well beyond the already-scheduled third season and for many more years to come.


A Review by Shane Brennan 11/5/06

First of all, I would like to admit that I am one of those philistine Americans who thought that the Doctor is and always will be Tom Baker. He was the Doctor I was introduced to when I was a wee lad, and he's the one that populates my Doctor Who VHS and DVD collection today. I have yet to see Eccleston's portrayal, but I am delighted - no, ecstatic - to realize that I have found a worthy Doctor again... something I fully realized after watching the latest adventure, The Girl in the Fireplace.

The episode is wildly original, mixing pre-revolutionary France with spaceships and robots from 3000 years in the future. It has science fiction, history, horror and a wonderful love story that left me musing long after I was finished watching. It paints the Doctor in a light that I have never seen, yet does nothing to take away from everything I have always associated him with.

The story concerns Madame De Pompadour, the real-life, historical mistress of Louis XV, and a spaceship from 3000 years in the future that contains robots who open "time windows" into her life at various stages, looking for the right time use her for their nefarious ends. The Doctor meets the Madame after stumbling upon the ship and discovering a time window that opens to her life as a young child. He then proceeds to unravel the mystery of the ship and its connection to Madame De Pompadour, meeting her again at various stages of her life.

I think this episode will be remembered for a few remarkable scenes. The opening scene, with Versailles in flames, opens the episode in perfect Doctor Who fashion. Madame De Pompadour, looking into the flames and yelling for the only man besides the king she ever loved was fantastic. If they can't have the cliffhanger anymore, then by all means, make it up with these wonderful intros!

The scene with the child Madame in her bedroom, when the Doctor looks under her bed was especially spine-chilling. I didn't get many chills from Tooth and Claw, as others did, but that scene and those masks in general are very, very spooky. You're glad when the Doctor rips the masks off and exposes them.

The most remarkable scene in my opinion was the "mind reading" scene. Without going into too much detail, it adds more tantalizing interest to the Doctor's past than a hundred duels with Morbius. I don't think any other Doctor could have pulled this scene off as well as Tennant, as his boyish attitude and looks contribute greatly to the small, yet moving, revelation made during this moment. Maybe this was dwelled upon since Tom Baker's days, but I missed it. I look forward to watching this episode again because of this one scene.

There are problems with this story. The new format of self-contained episodes doesn't suit it well. We have most of the Madame's life in forty-five minutes, interspersed with the normal running around. Rose and Mickey have very little to do (mostly running around), although Rose has a moment at the end, when she shows concern for the Doctor, that is memorable and reminds me why I really like this companion. Little is explained about the robots and their motives; it seems to be another case of the plot taking a backseat to the interaction of the characters, ala Lis Sladen's return in School Reunion. Again, this seems to be a symptom of the self-contained episode.

The Girl in the Fireplace is an excellent story. It's what I watch Doctor Who for and I highly recommend it, despite its very minor failings. I look forward to watching it again and I hope that Doctor Who continues with its renaissance. When I heard of the new show, I could only have hoped for stories this good.


The Most Romantic Who Ever by Steve Ressel 16/5/06

After the rung of stories turned out by RTD, I didn't have a lot of hope for The Girl In The Fireplace, but it turned out to be the strongest episode yet since the series' revival. On first watching it has a lot of strength with the time-jumping and the style, but especially with the sad and tender romance throughout. It is a very girlie episode, but that doesn't mean it is flawed; in fact due to this contrast it strengthens since it is the first show that pulls in people to the dilemma instead of merely solving events. Because we get inside the mind and heart of the Doctor and Ma'D'Po (Madame Du Pompadour), the story gains better weight, and the connections make sense since the Doctor is very charming in her childhood bedroom.

What more could a romantic want? A love story, flashy Rococo France, royalty, a ball, a fireplace, clockwork harlequins, tender moments, love lost, and even a bit of action rounds out the story. It was a bold choice of story, and for that it gets highest marks in the new series. However, that doesn't mean it wasn't flawed drastically, and that shows up when you watch again and/or think about the story for a minute. Where creativity is boon for the RTD shows, logic is the bane. For example, when the Doctor first enters the bedroom, it is weeks since he talked to the girl in the fireplace and yet there is a clockwork harlequin under the bed as if it came in before him... and waited two months under the bed? If the ship wanted to hit the 37th year of Ma'D'Po's life, why make all these intricate and slightly fatuous windows in time and instead just rotate the fireplace a few times to get to her desired age? A door to a garden (why not just a hedgerow which would explain the horse better and give contrast in the ship)? Clockwork robots? This spaceship has insanely advanced technology and the best it makes are clockwork robots? Why didn't these robots do anything when the Doctor maneuvers around them for minutes saying inane things? This is the royal palace and yet there isn't ONE guard or one person with a gun in 1727? Are we sure this REALLY is the royal palace of France?

The robots threaten people with some of the lamest knives I ever saw; a 10 year old could disarm one of those robots, and their bread knives are never shown to be effective. In order for the writing and directing to relate the impact of a story it most times must show the deadly power of a weapon and thus set up the possibility of danger. So often in the new series the danger is so fake or laughable because it is never properly demonstrated, or seems too limited and contrived. Finally, with these robots destroyed and on earth, wouldn't someone just take one and revise history? The story does slow down at the end, for some reason, as the ball takes place and it becomes far less interesting and more disturbingly staged and fake. It hurts the weight and credibility of the story as we see a hundred nobles in a palace running from 8 people with bread knives.

In these RTD episodes so much is hurt when he doesn't connect logic of stories, or display threat. Examples of the robots not reacting to the Doctor dancing around them, and the power of their weapons, are common in the stories and deflate any suspension of disbelief as they make Doctor Who into a childish play. Style over substance is the M.O. of the series, and has been for long before the new series, but the shame is that RTD has great ideas for stories but never polishes them to an adequate conclusion, and he never works the directors to get realism in the actions during key scenes. A lot of scenes are also never questioned for importance to story and become fatuous flab in a very tightly timed story, wasting time that could be spent developing suspense or intense emotion. In this case, if the ship could have pleaded its need for survival, and desperate desire to live, it would have been a tragic hero instead of a mere plot device.

This show should have been one of the low points of the new series so far, but sadly rises to the top due to slack scripting and script-editing in all previous episodes. It is an amazing story for Doctor Who, and deserves acclaim, despite flaws.


"Look what the cat dragged in, The Oncoming Storm..." by Damon Didcott 19/5/06

One thing you can definitely say about this season so far, we're getting a real mix of settings and events. Killer clockwork robots, noblemen and women in Paris, time portals, a spaceship, a new companion, and romance in the court. So what kind of stew have they cooked up for us this time?

One of the strongest elements of both old and new Who has always been the Beeb's fondness for period dramas. Enterprising designers on the show over the years have either taken inspiration from, or directly borrowed the costumes and paraphernalia to great effect. It's easy to just accept it as background detail, but the court and the people occupying it are outfitted with lavish detail and care. The robots themselves are tremendous. Dressed in full baroque regalia, the jewelled masks alternating between fearsome and sad depending on the angle, their clockwork mechanisms clicking away as they gracefully move about. They can be sadly a little bit slow to react at crucial moments, but then that's a common affliction for a Doctor Who monster. They look wonderful. The revelation about their intentions is superbly done, a couple of touches here and there and then a very creepy reveal about what happened to the crew.

As for the Doctor himself, what at first seems like a 'normal' story ends up as something a lot more meaningful for him. Tennant's early manic energy and frantic stream-of-consciousness explanations gradually tone down as events gain pace, culminating in a very moving finale and a reaction from him that's note-perfect. Not too overboard, not too underplayed. He's channelling a lot of Casanova here, but it's the widest emotional range I've seen from him as the Doctor so far, and he shows the acting chops to rise to the task. We also see that a Time Lord is just as prone to rash decisions when he's in love as anyone else. He's willing not only to endanger Rose and Mickey but also change the course of human history in pursuit of what he wants. Love is blind, as the Doctor finds out. Can you imagine the grumbling if the Sixth Doctor had done the same thing? And if you're having problems mentally picturing Colin Baker galloping to the rescue on a horse, I understand.

Even his little casual admission about inventing the banana daiquiri "two centuries early" (loved that tie into Empty Child/Doctor Dances, Mr. Moffat!) seems a far cry from him musing over the nature of having some sugar in Remembrance of the Daleks. It's an interesting period now for the Doctor, with time being a lot more malleable and potentially open to abuse than before due to the loss of the Time Lords, but he doesn't seem at the moment to be too bothered. He's enjoying his travels again, but perhaps when the universe needs him more than ever. One bum note was his pretending to be drunk, which seemed pointless in front of the robots anyway and even descended into sub-Blackadder territory with the "thickmania" stuff. Apart from that, quality stuff from David.

Never thought I'd say this a year ago, but I'm finding Mickey to be a more interesting companion than Rose. She's starting to realise, to her discomfort, that she's far from the first woman in the Doctor's life. There was no reason why she wouldn't think they had a certain close relationship when she first joined him, but after Sarah Jane turning up and now a new love interest, she seems to be feeling marginalised. Her gabbling when faced with a threatening robot and reaction to the Doctor is a funny scene, but mainly she's fulfilling the 'traditional companion' role so far this season, of running around and stumbling into danger.

It was kind of inevitable that she'd lose a bit of that 'new toy' sheen, if that's not too cold, because there was so much focus and character study about her during her travels with the Ninth Doctor. It's a bit of over-exposure. She's been in the background a little more this time, so we're getting to see Mickey's reactions to time travel. His joy at getting a spaceship on his first trip, trying to be cool with a De Niro impression at the ship's eyeball-cam and then shrieking as it gets near, "Even French?!", he's really starting to grow on me. The Doctor even gives him a hearty handshake at one point - how different from the Ninth Doctor! Looks like 'Mickey the Idiot' has grown on him too...

I might get flak for this - she seems to be getting a ton of praise - but I found Sofia Myles to be a little... mannered in her performance sometimes. Perhaps it was the accent. There are some occasions where it felt like she was just reading a line rather than her character actually saying something. I don't want to be harsh though, most of the time she was very good. The chemistry with Tennant was obvious and these were her best scenes, lots of tenderness and flirting. A connection needs to be made quickly between her and the Doctor for the romance to work, and they really click. Plus she certainly looks the part of the royal courtesan, all heaving bosom and ball gowns. It's also a credit to Stephen Moffat's script that the romance is handled well (even when they go off to dance, nudge nudge wink wink say no more). A subject like this could easily have the fanbase up in arms, but it ends up being a very meaningful experience for the Doctor and the loneliness he's feeling. So far, Moffat really seems to be the strongest writer on the team.

One more piece of credit must go to Murray Gold for the soundtrack. Although the 'komedy' music was a bit goofy, the rest of it was very rich and subtle. I'd have to consider it to be one of his best scores yet. The delicate music box melody for the robots in particular was an excellent choice; it brought back nice memories of the beautiful scores for the first two Hellraiser films. He's not always been the subtlest of composers for Who, so I really appreciated his work here.

If you feel like it, you can point out that the TARDIS translation circuits are getting a bit convenient again, not only half-translating for cute effect ("Monsieur, what are you doing in my fireplace?") but also changing accents too since everyone in the court speaks in upper-class Received Pronunciation accents. They also let the Doctor understand the language even when the TARDIS is actually more than 3000 years away from him, in the future. Still, it's easy just to suspend your disbelief for this. Who knew the Aztecs had such rich English accents, for example?

The big lever in the spaceship's control room seems awfully convenient, especially given the Doctor's mocking of "The Big Red Button" in The Christmas Invasion. The time portals just... are, which is fine except you wonder why the crew didn't use them first. And the 'mind meld' also seemed like a handy plot device, and heavily derivative from another sci-fi franchise you just might have heard of. If the Doctor lights up a 'laser sword' sometime soon, don't be too surprised!

A more serious problem is that I felt this was crying out to be a two-parter. 45 minutes was simply not enough for the script and issues to really breathe. Things are instead forced to move at a quick pace until a point near the end where the Doctor stays in Paris for a while, which stands out compared to the rest of the zipping around. Not only does it affect the atmosphere but also the tension. Moffat's other work, the excellent Empty Child/Doctor Dances, really benefited from having time to tell its story and build up the environment and creepy ambience. The romance and the impact of it in The Girl in the Fireplace seems too 'big' to fit well into a single episode. The Doctor's choice at the end in particular would've gained a lot of weight from being more than an about-turn change within 5 minutes.

It's a good episode, with some gorgeous visuals, atmosphere, a witty and passionate script and engaging performances. More time and polish would've really allowed it to rise to the highest levels of Who, but you can't argue with the quality here.

Lovely twist at the end, too.

Rating - 7/10 (Good)


What a mess we have here by Joseph Lepkowski 25/5/06

Now I'm highly disappointed in this story, for whatever it might be worth. I had hoped the suspense that started in School Reunion would run until the last story of the season. I knew that was only wishful thinking and we get this clogger right after. Where do I start with the things I did not care for? Well, let's start with more love stories for the Doctor. I'm so sick of seeing the Doctor's love life in my beloved Who. The last story did a fine job of wrapping that all up as why he can't get involved with women and then here we go again. I also do not care for Micky too much as a member of the Tardis crew and I'll go as far to say it's getting cheesy with him on board. I hope like Adric he dies and I hope its soon. Maybe the Cybermen in the next story will do me the favor.

David Tennant is still doing quite well in the role and I can't knock him here for the story he was given. The music is again quite good and really one of only two good points of the story. The clockwork robots are crap, the whole time windows concept was just stupid. I mean for a show about time travel we should and can do better then this. Rose is just blah here and there's really no point of her in this story as she has nothing to do but show Micky how to be stupider then he already is.

The only thing I like about this story other than the sound is during the Doctor's mindmeld. Now here get more references to how alone the Doctor has always felt. And how WHO he is is more then just a secret. It felt like a nice set up for things to come. Like the Face of Boe legend from New Earth of a great secret told only to one of his one kind, the god who is alone. I hope that all that mystery is resolved better the last season's bad wolf story arc. I have a feeling that the Face of Boe is a Time Lord and that the Time Lords did survive the Time War, but that's only a guess.

Next week we get the Cybermen and I hope they are the Cybermen. The preview makes it look like its in a different reality and these Cybermen here are created by a man. I hope we at least get a Mondas reference somewhere. I can't wait to see what happens and I truly hope the new Cybermen are as good as the new Daleks.

As far as ranking this one gets 3 out 10 for one good reference scene and great music/sound. Without Micky it might have been higher but not much.


Gorgeous! by Joe Ford 29/6/06

A beautifully packaged episode, you can see the money in every single shot, every department has worked in harmony to produce one of the most lavish and sumptuous pieces of television I have seen this year. Colours bled from my television set, opulence shone, costume glittered, sets sparkled... my sense went into critical overload...

...and yet I'm not entirely satisfied. I think I'm a bit ungrateful to complain when this is clearly a superior slice of television but something niggled at me during this episode, just like it did during Father's Day, something that wasn't quite right.

I think I was expecting a bit more fantasy romance and less science fiction. I wanted to see fabulous balls and immerse myself in the culture of France in the 1700's rather than hopping back to that drab old spaceship every five minutes. The glimpses of historical accuracy we saw were fantastic; scenes such as Pompadour and friend taking in the grounds, filmed with a sense of romance that quite took my breath away. Another problem was Mickey and Rose who were entirely superfluous to the episode, especially Mickey whose first trip in the TARDIS is skipped over in favour of the Doctor's romance. Rose was okay but she is getting a little generic this year, devolving into a standard companion rather than the unique and feisty piece of work she was last year. Let's hope we see her step back into the limelight in the next episode. It seems to me as though the writers got this script and School Reunion the wrong way round, with Rose acting like a jealous girlfriend and getting awfully bitchy towards the fabulous Sarah Jane and yet all she does in this episode when the Doctor has a genuine romance is throw a worried glance his way when he goes scuttling off after Madame Du Pompadour. Hmm, consistency people, consistency.

Clockwork soldiers, what a fine idea and pulled off with magnificent style: the terrifying ticking and those nasty grinning faces, combining the Soldiers (from The Mind Robber) and the Robots (from Robots of Death) to superb visual effect. Unfortunately looking scary is all they can do because we are pre-watershed and thus all we witness is them stalking about brandishing cutting tools. We hear of them to cutting open people and adding them to the processes of the spaceship but that is nowhere near as scary as seeing it. And for those who moan that we can't see this sort of thing as it is too scary for the kiddies I say I bet they wont be as squeamish next week with the Cybermen; I expect we'll see some of or all of a Cyber conversion which is just as frightening.

Clockwork killers are not a new idea in Doctor Who, unfortunately we have also had their appearance in this month's Big Finish. Alas neither of the audio or the visual attempts hold a candle to the Jonathan Morris' Anachrophobia, which was brave enough to take the idea to its limit, having a character attempt suicide by slashing open her wrists to find cogs and wheels grinding inside and later having a character have his chest ripped open to discover a pendulum swinging inside a glass case rather than his heart beating. That is scary. What we see here is pretty.

Whilst I'm whinging, the idea of the Doctor visiting a person at separate moments in their life has also been done before and (dare I say it) it was even more touching than it was here. Justin Richards' Glass Princess from the Big Finish Short Trips: The Muses featured a story where the Doctor visited a princess throughout her entire life, a different incarnation for each visit until the eighth Doctor visits and takes her outside her home for the first time and tells her a story of a beautiful Princess and kisses her as she dies in his arms. So originality is not this episode's strong point either.

Oh my word what a total absolute moaning, miserable Tegan-wanabee git I have been! An entire page complaining and griping at a piece of television I really enjoyed! Summing up (and it's the last negative thing I will say) I will just say that I am disappointed that the series can't push its horror angle further (never stopped them in the past) and the show isn't quite as boundary-pushing as I had hoped; I guess plunging the audience into a romantic drama without any SF elements would be a little too alienating. But I really miss the pure historical and I thought this might be the first since Black Orchid.

What about the amazing chemistry between David Tennant and Sophia Myles (and I should hope so too considering what they get up to behind the scenes). I for one have absolutely no trouble with the Doctor having a romance and a good snog and however snide it might sound Doctor Who has evolved out of the fans' hands these days and the show demands a romance for its loyal female (and soppy male) population. Just because those anal fans of the old series could never get a girl, no reason why the Doctor shouldn't, especially not somebody as shaggable as David Tennant. Cor, if he materialised in my bedroom like he did Pompadour's, the Doctor wouldn't have stood a chance! And whilst it was a borrowed idea, the thought of the Doctor progressing through this amazing woman's life is agonisingly poignant, not ageing a day whilst she grows in leaps and bounds (beautifully capitalising on his tender admission in School Reunion), psychically and emotionally. Her devotion to him through the years, her willingness to take "the slow road" to meeting him again is lovely and it is worth watching just to see her face when he promises to show her the stars.

The final ten minutes are a total change of pace for the series, not climaxing with the Doctor saving the ball from the sinister soldiers but concentrating instead on the Doctor's relationship with this amazing woman and how much he is affected by her beauty and intelligence. The last scene is achingly sad (although I have to say I wept more at the end of School Reunion... sentimental attachment to Sarah Jane!) where the Doctor stands alone in the console room, again following up his admission that he is always alone (even when his friends are in the next room). Reading a farewell letter from the one woman he let into his head, revealed his secrets to, had me choking back the tears.

Sophia Myles is just the sort of big name star the show needs to keep attracting, not just because she is stunningly beautiful (almost enough to turn a guy's head from his chosen lifestyle!) but because she brings so much to the episode she stars in. It is a textured, sensitive portrayal, one which stands out because clearly the writer was as invested in the character as the actress and together they have created a memorable and striking figure to reveal much about the Doctor. It is the side of him that comes out around Pompadour that makes her so special. To Myles' credit it is not a part I can imagine anybody else playing, so distinctive is she in the part.

It is an amazing showcase for David Tennant's range too, allowing him to express all manner of emotions throughout. He shifts mood in this episode more times than Eccleston did in an entire season. I wasn't crazy about the mock-drunk scene but that is just because I know far too many people who act like total dickheads when they've had one too many but it was certainly a clever ploy to finish off one of those clockwork nasties. His reaction Pompadour reading his mind was priceless, horror, shock and then slow admittance and enjoyment... it's all there in Tennant's face. His performance throughout the episode enhances the climax because, after his manic energy earlier on (including that spine-tingling moment when he bursts through the mirror on horseback), his eerie quietness in the TARDIS as he pilots the ship and reads her farewell letter is magnificently portrayed. This is an amazing actor we have at the helm of our show, let's never forget that.

I think the biggest credit for this episode however deserves to go to Euros Lyn who, after Tooth and Claw and this has now proven himself as the best director on the show. Frankly it is assembled by genius, the storytelling is sharp and bold but it means nothing if the director doesn't stamp his mark. This piece was dramatic, funny, romantic, exciting, tear-jerking and visually mouthwatering. He cuts scenes back and forth brilliantly, never letting the audience get bored, dazzling us with special FX, gorgeous costumes and sets but still remembering it is the actors that we need to connect with and driving some phenomenal performances from them. I wouldn't say the direction here was better than Tooth and Claw, but it was easily as good and so stylish that it is noticed.

The Girl in the Fireplace is an odd beast, clearly better than anything else that will be aired on TV this week, mixing horror, SF and history with effortless ease (in a way only Doctor Who can) and looking as though it had five times its budget and yet my niggly problems leave it inferior to the last two episodes. Keep up the excellent work but a little advice: don't worry about scaring the kids (they love it) and remember you are supposed to be the boldest show on television; trust the audience if you want to dive in and dish up a pure historical.


A Review by Ron Mallett 24/9/06

Steven Moffat has provided an inferior follow-up to his previous story (The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances) which despite a great deal of editorial undermining was the best of the first season. To put it simply this story just wasn't as well layered as the first... but it certainly won't be the worst of the season, I'm sure of that.

It's hard to really express what was wrong with the story except that it was a bit hollow and attempted to be a little to neat in the way it put all the toys back in the mental box at the end. There was really nothing left to wonder about other than to ponder what the exact point of it all was.

There were also some hints at some disturbing elements emerging in the characterisation of the new Doctor: I hope the slight bitchiness towards the King of France was due to the Doctor's moral objection to his lack of concern with the welfare of his subjects and not because he was sleeping with his new girlfriend. Considering we were forced to watch the now-almost-obligatory snog scene containing either the Doctor or Rose or both, I worry a little - well, more than a little - about the implications...

The clockwork monsters worked well, although they seemed a bit of a collectively weak adversary as they were essentially mindless and there was no real contest in terms of intellect; perhaps the story really needed a controlling intelligence behind them, maybe the central computer of the ship itself?

Maybe there was a message to the story after all, though? One can get quite far on their back and apparently there's nothing morally objectionable with that. Not really a classic Doctor Who theme is it?


A Review by Finn Clark 5/11/06

The Girl in the Fireplace is bloody brilliant. I've been writing my reviews while the episodes play in the background, which in itself has been an interesting experiment. Some episodes just mumble away without really drawing attention to themselves (School Reunion). Other episodes are full of ideas and good lines that kept pulling me away from the task at hand (New Earth). The Girl in the Fireplace however grabbed my attention and never let me go for an instant.

Let me list some of the things this story does. Its imagery is more beautiful than any other Doctor Who story ever made outside the comic strip medium, with that dreamy juxtaposition of the 18th and 51st centuries. The Palace of Versailles is to die for, but so is that spaceship and yet best of all are the moments that combine them both. The horse. That damn horse. The clockwork robots. It's like an animated painting, or a fairy tale come to life. Incidentally the spaceship reminded me in a few shots of the similarly deserted spaceship in Dave Gibbons and Steve Parkhouse's The Stars Fell On Stockbridge (DWM 68-69), although I don't have my comics with me in Japan and so can't check that one. Then there's That Entrance. You know what I mean. I even relish things as detailed as the physicality of that first clockwork robot. Mask work. I love mask work.

However at the same time, this script works better as an audio than any Doctor Who story I've yet heard that was produced for the audio medium. It would be a tragedy for this story to be divorced of its visuals, and yet merely listening to it was a fascinating experience. It's brilliant. It's almost beautiful in how well it works as a radio play, telling its story only through voices and sound effects. Only a couple of things are visual: the horse on the ship and the episode's last shot. It even has one of the show's best ever scary moments, but conveyed through sound instead of visuals. Tick tock. Tick tock.

So we have a script constructed as perfectly as one of Moffat's clockwork robots. It's not just a mess of ideas shoved untidily into the available screen time, struggling to squeeze in the requisite A and B plots ("emotional main story with female guest star" and "undercooked monsters" respectively). Those A and B plots are present and correct, but they're interweaved so ingeniously that you don't feel the disconnection. There are narrative tricks like the characters hearing their own pre-credits sequence, thus sharing the audience's foreknowledge. There are genuine surprises. However most importantly, note that the method of the Doctor's victory is the best we've yet seen in the Russell T. Davies era. He doesn't inspire a guest character to do his work for him while he sits on the sidelines. He doesn't even shoot the monsters or blow them up. He just does something simple, clever and brave. There's only one word for it: "Doctorish". Then after that comes the real ending, with as much emotional weight as anything we've yet seen.

Damn, I'm nearly in tears right now. I've got to that bit. Hell, by now I'm affected even by the "Next Episode" preview at the end of School Reunion.

However all that ingenuity and structure is in a sparkling script full of cool moments, memorable lines and great jokes. There's more to good writing than one-liners, but they can turn mere competence into something special. There's the Doctor's "Oncoming Storm" moment. Even lines that out of context sound ordinary somehow become magical, such as "But that won't stop me" or even "Right, yes, sorry."

Then, on top of all that, the script's aware of Doctor Who's mythology and is playing with it as did The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances. This is what happens when fan authors get it right. The lines in this story sing, although from certain other authors they'd have felt leaden and groanworthy. You know who I mean. Sometimes Doctor Who's history can be a dead weight, but here Moffat is building on the past instead of just feeding off it. Crucially he gives us enough to be able to believe that it's Madame de Pompadour talking rather than the scriptwriter. However even little things feel Whoish, such as the gun being a fire extinguisher.

Admittedly the "Doctor in danger of getting the girl" thing isn't exactly traditional. However since Tennant's post-Eccleston Doctor is getting back in touch with himself, it's a logical step in an emotional journey going back to 1996 and McGann's TVM. If nothing else, addressing the issue got it out of the way and stopped it from becoming the big unasked question. Of course it could have been ghastly, but thankfully Steven Moffat got it right. I think it makes a difference that a delicate veil is drawn over the "did he/didn't he" question, though.

It shares themes and ideas with other Steven Moffat stories, both TV and prose: (a) children, (b) time travel, again specifically from the 51st century, (c) spaceship repair mech that's lethal but not actually evil, (d) technology with unusual biological implications, (e) the "dancing" metaphor, (f) bananas. I like the bananas. I think they work as a kind of frivolous resonance, which strikes me as as Whoish as almost anything else on display here.

This has been one of my all-time easiest reviews to write. It's absurdly easy to find things to praise about this story, and so hard to find even the slightest thing to criticise. Admittedly Sophia Myles struggles to sell Madame de Pompadour as this so-called most brilliant woman who ever lived. She's insufficiently commanding, whether when directing the king in the pre-credits sequence or when ordering everyone to calm down in the ballroom. However I never doubted that she was a beautiful woman with a profound and unique relationship with the Doctor, which was the important bit. (However oddly I almost find more affecting the scenes with Jessica Atkins as young Reinette.)

This story is beautiful on so many levels. It's even gross, in a way that adds yet more resonance with a Cyberman two-parter coming. It's aware of the mythos of the Doctor's name, which I've always enjoyed. (I adore Robert Holmes's throwaway in The Mysterious Planet where the Doctor's about to say his real name until Peri stops him.) Personally I think it's a better story than The Empty Child two-parter, which doesn't quite earn its two-episode length despite having a better stab at it than anything not written by Russell T. Davies. It gets far more from juxtaposing real history with the 51st century. It has poignancy and sacrifice. Ahhhhhhh, I lurve it.


"Such a lonely boy" by Terrence Keenan 31/1/07

Steven Moffat wrote my favorite story from Season 1 of New Who. So I was looking forward to see what he'd come up with this time...

The Girl in the Fireplace is the perfect follow-up to School Reunion, as it shows the Doctor visiting someone from birth to death, as hinted and discussed in the previous story. (We'll also see another variation of this tale in the upcoming Love & Monsters as well.) The episode itself is a wonderful mix of sci-fi and romantic drama, centered by a strong performance by Tennant (save one scene) and Sophia Myles's brill turn as Reinette a.k.a. Madame De Pompadour.

The story works as straight drama, a tale of lost love, and filled with some of the best imagery in the new series so far. The clockwork androids are ascetically beautiful and add to the whole 18th century mecha-punk feel that bridges the period events from the harder sci-fi moments on the ship. Like Tooth and Claw, it uses the 45 minute format brilliantly.

Sophia Myles. Wow, she makes the episode worth watching alone. Always believable, nary a false note. David Tennant is intriguing to watch, except for the "drunk" scene, where I smelt the ham coming off the screen. Thankfully, it is short. Where Tennant comes off best is in making the viewer believe he just might settle down with Reinette. Billie Piper gets a more likable Rose to play, and Noel Clarke is lots of fun as Mickey on his first real TARDIS trip.

Tooth and Claw works because it pushes all the right Who fanboy buttons. The Girl in the Fireplace works because it's a great story/concept, told and performed brilliantly.


A Review by Donna Bratley 11/4/07

One of the oddest episodes in Doctor Who history: no bad thing. Especially since it's got a lot of elements that put it high on my list of most watchables.

It looks fabulous, with the sumptuous past more appealing than the ulitarian future. It's based on an intriguing premise, has a script that fizzes with memorable lines and incisive character moments, a truly magnificent monster, terrific performances, clear direction and an unobtrusively effective background score. OK, the Doctor having a romantic encounter might upset a few people, but so long as it's not his travelling companion he's kissing, I can't see what the fuss is about.

He's the last of his kind. Completely alone. And just because he's an alien doesn't mean he can't need to be loved, especially by a woman as gifted, civilised and intelligent as Madame de Pompadour.

Steven Moffat produced the best script of Series One, and he's matched that daunting standard again with a well-paced, witty story that hangs as well as Reinette's glorious costumes. Every main character gets at least one starring moment, though Rose and Mickey are sidelined on Noel Clarke's first adventure as an official companion. Good thing too: Christopher Eccleston must be cursing that he never got, in a full series, the kind of showcases his successor has enjoyed in a few early episodes. Mickey's the straight man to the Doctor's stand-up comic, with a change of pace to genuine empathy at the end, while Rose, yet again, displays the clinging, possessive side to her that makes me want to smack her. The Doctor can't be in the same room as another woman without her coming over all bristling and defensive. "Why her?" she asks the droid, Billie's tone combining defiance, resentment and curiosity. Somehow, you know she's not simply asking the obvious question.

Still, when the crunch comes, likeable, feisty Rose is back, sympathising with Reinette and insisting to the Doctor they find some way to help her. And she nails the best put-down of the year when he staggers in singing. "Look at what the cat dragged in, the Oncoming Storm!"

I laughed at the mock-drunk scene. I've known people who have acted just as amiably stupid after a few too many, and it's good to know the Tenth Doctor can party with the best of them. There's a sheer enthusiasm in David Tennant's performance that's infectious; whether he's deadpanning a deliberately awful pun or crashing in to save the day, the Doctor adores being the Doctor. And he's being played by one of those rare actors who can make a look worth two pages of dialogue. Watch his expression change at Reinette's mind-reading; or the heartbreaking weariness of his final scene, all alone in the TARDIS. It's brutal payoff to last week's exploration of the Time Lord's curse. No wonder he shies away from romance.

Not that Reinette is a woman who'll let herself be shied away from. This is a formidable woman, calculating enough to dominate a royal court, and able in a matter of moments to assimilate the incredible explanation Rose gives in their set-piece scene. Sophia Myles is my top guest star of the series: poised, mannered as the eighteenth-century lady, yet with a glimmer of mischief when flirting with a flummoxed Doctor. Throughout their exchanges, she has the upper hand, and she relishes it.

The standard of child actors Doctor Who finds never fails to amaze me, and Jessica Atkins is another absolute star in her few scenes as the young Reinette, bringing off fright, suspicion, innocent bemusement and genuine delight with minimal need for dialogue. The whole exchange in her darkened bedroom is both charming and unsettling; the first appearance of the monster from under the bed a real shock. Lucky for her she's got the source of its nightmare to hand.

I'm seldom tempted to describe a Who monster as beautiful; many I recall from my childhood were, frankly, hideous, but the clockwork droids are a design masterpiece, from their gorgeous costumes to the intricate workings within their domes, while those masks are downright creepy. As for the flat, mechanical voices. "We did not have the parts." Terrifying.

But as the Doctor says, the machine didn't realise the crew weren't on the menu. Flawed human planning has caused the droids' rampage, and flawed human planning was responsible for their weird, machine-literal assumptions. Moral: Don't look for common sense from computers.

And expect the unexpected with a Steven Moffat script. A horse on a spaceship? Madness. The Doctor suffering for an impossible romance? He pulled that off, too. The only glaring absence was an out-of-sequence meeting; something for Reinette to mention and confuse her fireplace man; and I only thought of that on my third viewing. This is as good as it gets.


The Tragedy of the Slow Path by Tony Contento 23/3/13

The Girl in the Fireplace represents Steven Moffat's third foray into the world of Doctor Who. After the parody The Curse of Fatal Death and a highly-acclaimed two-part episode in the new first series (The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances), Moffat offers a horror-romance for Series Two that eventually won him a Hugo Award. Originally conceived by Russell T. Davies as something with Madame de Pompadour and clockwork robots, the concept was handed off to Moffat who focused on what would happen if the Doctor met this amazing woman. While Moffat does create one of his characteristic nightmare-monsters (killer clockwork androids dressed in antique French Masquerade costumes), he also gives us a love story starring the Doctor.

During the psionic exchange, somehow, Reinette is able to turn the bond back on The Doctor. In a moment, Reinette learns all of the Doctor's long, lonely history. "Doctor Who? It's more than just a secret, isn't it?" Reinette comments as she reverses the Doctor's mental probe. If one wanted to sum up the trajectory that Steven Moffat has taken as lead for the new Doctor Who series, who better than la Madame de Pompadour? The question which must never be answered.

Moffat's skill as a writer allows him to create wonderfully flawed characters who act as the perfect cypher for us. We would like to envision ourselves as Reinette, Nancy from The Empty Child, as Sally Sparrow from Blink, or Dr. River Song. These strong women from Moffat's powerful episodes in the early Davies-driven series of the reboot are each the Doctor's equal. They are competent, unafraid, magnificent women who are each capable of saving the Doctor from his enemies (as well as saving him from himself). But we aren't these characters. No. We are Rose Tyler, Captain Jack Harkness, Martha Jones and Donna Noble. The Doctor sees the potential in his companions, but they are flawed, like us. Moffat realized in the early days that he could create these non-companion characters to act as a magnifying lens for the Doctor's glory. Reinette does not need the Doctor, but she accentuates him. She makes him more wonderful just by holding his hand. To be certain, he is willing to sacrifice himself to save her in the final act of the episode, probably because he sees Reinette for the prize that she is. The Doctor will be stuck in the 18th century, without the TARDIS, or Rose, and he is fine with that. Perhaps it is because he believes that Rose is better off without him? Perhaps it is because he realizes that he is better off with Reinette?

Reinette however, knows that universe is not better off with the Doctor marooned in 18th century France. She gives him up. She shows him the still-functioning time-fireplace so that he can return, even though she knows that she will lose him forever. "Are you all right?" Rose asks him after he realizes Reinette has been lost to him forever. Rose thinks that she might be able to say something or do something that will make up for The Doctor's loss. But she can't, and he knows this. He keeps that pain to himself and says, "I'm always all right." But he isn't. And he won't be. That is the tragedy of Doctor Who.

In a series that has lasted for decades, centered on a near-immortal godling, we learn with every new companion (and with every new Doctor) that no one escapes Time. No matter how tightly the Doctor holds your hand, no matter how fast the two of you run, Time always catches you. Is that so bad? What is the worse fate? To live out your days like Reinette, left only with the memory of the glory of an adventure with the Doctor? Or to die during that adventure? There are few happy endings in Doctor Who, even when everyone is still alive at the end of the episode. Still, we keep watching and waiting on the slow path; waiting for the man and his blue box to enter our lives and take us by the hand.


One may tolerate a world of demons for the sake of an angel by Evan Weston 27/4/14

I could start this review by saying that The Girl in the Fireplace is where Series 2 really gets rolling, continuing from School Reunion into a stretch of really solid stories. I suppose I just did. But The Girl in the Fireplace is more than that. Steven Moffat is, at the time of this writing, responsible for two-and-a-half full seasons of Doctor Who, as well as four stories in the Davies era. I'll hazard a guess and say that I will not praise a single story written or overseen by Moffat as much as I'm about to praise The Girl in the Fireplace. One of the most emotionally, symbolically and thematically potent Doctor Who stories ever written, all contained inside an insanely original plot and peppered with tremendous performances and design throughout, this is what Moffat Who is all about.

I don't even know where to start. I guess I should talk about the story. The Doctor, Rose and new addition Mickey end up on an abandoned 51st Century spaceship. Already, this is farther away from Earth than New Who has ever gone before. Not only do we get this tremendously creative new setting, we get a historical in the form of 18th Century Versailles, scattered in time windows throughout the ship. It's a brilliant plot device that works so well in telling a non-linear, imaginative story. Nobody uses the time-travel element of Doctor Who better than Moffat, and this first experiment with it might be his best, only matched (maybe) by Blink and A Christmas Carol. It sets up just about everything that's great about this story: the star-crossed love affair between the Doctor and Madame de Pompadour that's both over in the blink of an eye and developing across four decades, the different entrances and exits between the two areas, every set piece in the episode, and even a horse walking through the corridors of an empty spaceship. Totally, completely awesome.

And through this structure we get a mix of the powerfully emotional, the chillingly terrifying and the bizarre. The relationship between the Doctor and Reinette is so beautifully conceived and executed. I didn't know until after my second viewing that David Tennant and Sophia Myles were dating at the time the episode was filmed, but it makes perfect sense when you watch. The chemistry between the two is exhilarating, and at times it makes the Doctor's relationship with Rose look like child's play. This is, thanks to the plot structure, both a deep love and an intense infatuation, a lifelong romance and a brief, fervent outburst of feeling. I love the Doctor and Rose, don't get me wrong, but this is a true love story for the character. Nothing represents the dichotomy better than the Doctor riding his horse through the time window to rescue Reinette from the droids. He is breaking through not just the window, but the very way he lives his life, and he does so in an intense burst of maybe not quite love, but certainly unbridled passion.

That sort of symbolism is all over the place in The Girl in the Fireplace. This is probably the deepest episode of Who since Dalek in terms of meaning. The motif of clocks is brilliant, and used for several different purposes - scares in the first bedroom scene, powerful love in the pre-titles sequence and later near the climax, and as a basic symbol for itself, how time can break you and restore you at the same time. The juxtaposition between the cold, unfeeling interior of the ship and the warm, gorgeous vistas of the palace is fascinating as well, helped along by especially wonderful direction from Euros Lyn. The ship is smothered in blue and gray while 18th Century France gets a red and orange hue, providing great contrast to represent the cold loneliness of the Doctor's "world" against the warmth and beauty of Reinette's. And yet, it is within the warmer world that the Doctor feels trapped.

The script also sets up an effective set of Moffat villains in the clockwork droids. Another example of a heavy that isn't evil for the sake of being evil - a staple in the Moffat arsenal - the clockwork droids are nevertheless quite sinister, perhaps more so than the gas mask zombies from The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, if not as creepy. The realization of what they did to the crew, while wisely not shown on screen, is a jaw-dropping moment, and it makes their sharp barbs feel a little bit sharper. "We did not have the parts."

I've said all this without even commenting on the performances yet. This is David Tennant's finest performance yet in the role, and I'm not sure he's ever this good again. Acting across from his real life girlfriend certainly helps, but even when not on screen with Myles, Tennant is electric. His fake-drunken stumbling during what should be an extremely tense moment is one of the funniest moments the show ever has, and then suddenly he's deathly sullen. His moment with the king after he realizes he let Reinette die is touching, and his mute acting is right up there with Eccleston's from Bad Wolf. This is the episode where Tennant finally becomes totally comfortable in the Tenth Doctor's skin and makes the character who he is - someone who will dive into his passions with unchecked fervor, no matter the consequences, because he loves life and is controlled by his zest for it.

Also, I've mentioned her already, but guest turn of the freaking year from Sophia Myles as Madame de Pompadour. Stunning, sexy, smart, always with a knowing twinkle in her eye, Myles is sensational, sizzling with Tennant in every scene. She pulls off the 18th Century dialogue with flair, bouncing off of the Doctor's more modern speech with ease. Myles even looks like Madame de Pompadour, at least from pictures. It's really quite the performance, and for once someone manages to outshine Billie Piper as the best woman in the cast. Piper, for her part, is very good in this episode, furthering her realization that she is not the only woman the Doctor has ever been with, nor is their relationship so stable as to be unbreakable. The Doctor's love for Rose is sidelined by his passion for Reinette, and the scene that puts the two girls together is fascinating. It helps to have Mickey there, and Noel Clarke is actually grounding the proceedings for once.

The Girl in the Fireplace is truly extraordinary. It has so many things to say about the Doctor, about love and about time. It's a love story that covers an incredibly long and short span at the same time, and it is probably the best-structured plot Doctor Who has ever known. It was enough to earn Moffat his second straight Hugo, and while Dalek probably should have beaten him out the previous year, he'd earned it for this one. The Girl in the Fireplace, when put together with Dalek and Father's Day, represents the pinnacle of the Davies era. It's entirely possible that the show has not reached these heights in the six-plus years since.

GRADE: A