Timestamp #176: The Girl in the Fireplace

Doctor Who: The Girl in the Fireplace
(1 episode, s02e04, 2006)

 

“Godspeed, my lonely angel.”

Under a starry night sky, the occupants of an ornate estate run from clockwork monsters as a woman laments a broken clock and calls to the Doctor through the fireplace. Three millennia later, the Doctor, Rose, and Mickey arrive on a spaceship. Mickey is excited as Rose and the Doctor investigate the abandoned control room. The ship is drifting in space, but the power cells are at full capacity. They are interrupted by the smell of cooking roast and an eighteenth-century fireplace. The fireplace is against the outer hull in this time, but it is linked to a little girl’s room in 1727 France.

When the Doctor flips a switch, the mantle rotates and delivers him into Reinette’s bedroom in France, but weeks have passed since they first spoke. The Doctor points out that the mantle clock is broken, and it scares him. It is the only clock in the room, it is broken, but there is a pervasive ticking sound all around them. The ticking is too big to be a clock, which the Doctor confirms when he looks under the bed and is attacked by a silent clown-like being in period dress. The clockwork monster tells the Doctor that the girl is incomplete, and when the Time Lord points the sonic screwdriver at it, the monster attacks him with a blade. The Doctor reassures Reinette, telling her not to worry because even monsters have nightmares – Brilliant retort when asked what they fear: “Me!” – as he wheels the robot back to the future spacecraft and disables it with a fire extinguisher. After its true form is revealed to the travelers, the robot teleports away.

The Doctor tells his companions not to go in search of the robot while he spins back to Reinette’s room. The companions don’t listen – of course, they don’t – and the Doctor finds that Reinette has grown into a lovely young woman. After a few moments of back and forth, the inquisitive woman gives the Doctor a kiss, which he seems to be quite into, and leaves. The Doctor puts the pieces together as he realizes that he just kissed Madame de Pompadour.

Yes, the famous “actress, artist, musician, dancer, courtesan, and fantastic gardener!”

Returning to the future, the Doctor finds a white horse – whom he christens Arthur – while his companions find corridors equipped with eyes and a human heart. The Doctor opens another door with the horse, emerging into the yards at the estate as Reinette strolls with her friend and exchanges news of the king’s ill mistress. When he returns, he finds his companions watching the King of France and Reinette through a window. The ship has windows to parts of her life scattered throughout its passageways. As Reinette is attacked by the robot assassin, the Doctor springs into action and saves her with a fire extinguisher.

Reinette orders the robot to answer the Doctor’s questions, revealing that it a maintenance android and that the ship is in need of repair. Since they didn’t have enough spare parts, the robot used the crew’s organs to fix the systems. That Sunday roast? Yeah, it was barbecued crewman. The android requires one last part to get the ship underway, so it has opened multiple time windows to scan Reinette until she is complete. Reinette orders the android away, and the companions are sent in pursuit as it teleports away. They are ambushed moments later by more androids and strapped down for harvesting.

The Doctor telepathically accesses Reinette’s memories, hoping to figure out what the androids are looking for. This also gives her access to his memories – “A door, once opened, may be stepped through in either direction.” – and asks about his real name – “Doctor? Doctor Who?” – before inviting him to dance with her.

Does she mean dancing or dancing? Either way, the Doctor later waltzes into the room where the companions are strapped down, high on life and claiming that he may have just invented the banana daiquiri. Always take a banana to a party, after all. He has determined that Reinette’s brain is what the androids need, dropping the ruse as he frees Mickey and Rose while disabling the robots. When they receive a message that Reinette’s brain is ready, they teleport away to the opening teaser. The Doctor sends Rose to warn the Madame, although she is five years early.

Reinette demands that Rose tell her the story behind the scenes, amazed that her life is bound by the spaceship, like chapters in a book. When Mickey brings word that they found the time window of the attack, Reinette runs through the door to the future and hears her voice from the night of terror. Rose reassures Reinette and she returns to her own time. The Doctor and his companions prepare their assault, but the portal is locked.

The Doctor is unable to break through – the TARDIS cannot go since they are now part of the events in motion and that would mean crossing their timelines – but Reinette buys time by confronting the androids. The Doctor breaks through the window, riding to the rescue on the white horse, which seals him in the past and breaks the link to the ship, much to the frustration of Mickey and Rose. Fortunately, the androids run out of energy since their purpose is now gone, and Reinette is saved. Unfortunately, the Doctor and his companions are now separated by 3000 years.

The Doctor is reconciled to taking the slow path to the future with Reinette, wondering how he’s going to make in the past. She shows him her secret: The fireplace from Versailles through which they first met. Since she moved the fireplace, that doorway was offline when the link was severed. One tweak from the sonic screwdriver later he spins the mantle and returns to the future. He asks Reinette to pack a bag, intent on taking her in the TARDIS, but when he returns to the past, she has just left for Paris. The King delivers a letter and the sad news that Reinette has died, hoping to see the Doctor one last time before illness took her. The trip to Paris is her last, due for interment.

The Doctor returns to the future, the TARDIS, and his companions. Mickey and Rose give him a moment alone while he reads Reinette’s final words. With sadness in his eyes, he disables the last link from Reinette to the ship by extinguishing the fireplace. The TARDIS dematerializes as they move on to the next adventure.

The reason that the androids wanted Reinette’s mind is revealed to the viewer alone: The ship is the SS Madame de Pompadour.

Like the Doctor, it truly drifts alone.

 

This is another example of why Steven Moffat is a great Doctor Who writer. We’ve seen him twice before (The Curse of Fatal Death and The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances) and each time has been fun. The themes exercised here are a fantastic exploration of the Doctor, especially in light of the tragedy and redemption we’ve seen so far. The Doctor falls in love (a Moffat trope to be sure, excluding the TV movie) and is devastated when his very domain, time and space, defeats his desire.

We also get a bit more education for Rose, removing further the notion that she’s special as the companion, and playing off the revelations from Sarah Jane Smith.

The big quibble I have is the resolution of the Doctor’s grand sacrifice. He’s content to spend the rest of Reinette’s life with her, returning to the TARDIS and his companions the long way around, but his way out is pure coincidence. Sure, it was touching and moving, but it was also a fortunate function of the plot.

 

 

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Rise of the Cybermen and Doctor Who: The Age of Steel

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

 

 

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3 thoughts on “Timestamp #176: The Girl in the Fireplace

  1. […] The whole Saxon thread is back with this story after being teased in The Runaway Bride and Captain Jack Harkness. This season’s “Bad Wolf” gives us the added benefit that the mysterious stranger believes in life among the stars. We also get some callbacks as the Ninth Doctor’s sonic is destroyed – the last time we lost a sonic screwdriver like that was in the Fifth Doctor‘s era, and it was like losing “an old friend” –  and the Tenth Doctor muses about his love of bananas. […]

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