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Review of The Girl in the Fireplace by deltaandthebannermen

1 June 2024

Madame de Pompadour is a historical figure I think I may have heard of in passing but really knew next to nothing about before this story aired.  Sophia Myles plays her beautifully and we are given enough snippets of information about her real life to gain enough background without feeling like we’re in the middle of a historical documentary.  The slightly more salacious aspects of her life (she was the King’s mistress after all) are subtly alluded to but not dwelt upon.  Her relationship with the Doctor is one of almost equals, highlighted by the mindreading scene.  It is disappointing that her relationship with King Louis XV is rather cursory on screen (not aided by a slightly wooden performance from Ben Turner) and the viewer gets the impression that, at least from when Reinette is grown up, her only romantic attachment is to the Doctor regardless of the years spent with her husband or her King.  This seems a little conceited of the series.

Also, I find the Doctor to be a little too ‘much’ in this story.  I like David Tennant’s Doctor but Series 2 was when the 10th Doctor and Rose began to become too cliquey and annoying when in each other’s company – they gang up on Mickey, they laugh at their own in-jokes.  At the time there was speculation it was set up for the spectacular fall that was coming for them at the end of the series and, to an extent, it is, but taken stories in isolation as I am, it can be a bit grating.  Rose, in this story, isn’t too bad mainly because she has Mickey to interact with more than the Doctor but the Doctor himself is quite arrogant for much of the tale.   I love the scene where he bursts through the mirror astride Arthur the Horse but the wink to Reinette, whilst funny the first time, begins to grate on repeated viewings.  Now I know that ‘repeated viewings’ isn’t really what the production team have on their minds when making the stories and its probably unfair to criticise an aspect of production which only begins to annoy after a third or fourth watch but there are plenty of stories which are a pleasure to watch time and again and if the central character’s behaviour is something which, on repeated viewings, is annoying, then surely that is a bit of a problem.

The Doctor’s stupidity at the end of the story is also irritating as it is merely a device to ensure that his and Reinette’s love story has a tragic end.  The Doctor knows full well that time moves differently on the 18th Century side of the windows than the 51st century side and yet he whizzes through for no real apparent reason and then comes back and finds that times has passed and Reinette is dead.  I just find this part frustrating as it seems to rely on the Doctor being foolish to maintain an emotional ending (and to ensure ‘real history’ is not derailed by having Reinette travel with the Doctor to a parallel Earth to fight the Cybermen).

This frustration was also felt when the whole adventure seemed to be avoiding explaining itself.  I have vivid memories of watching this on first airing and spending the last ten minutes or so becoming increasingly worried that we weren’t actually going to get a reason for why the Clockwork Robots were after Madame de Pompadour.  The final tiny reveal was one of the most satisfying endings Doctor Who has given me for a long while and something which I didn’t see coming.

Another satisfying aspect are the Clockwork Robots.  Whilst the 18th Century costuming is rather quickly brushed aside as some sort of ‘blending in’ protocol, it doesn’t detract from the fact they are a very creepy creation.  The clockwork inside is beautifully realised and contrasts nicely with the horrific masks covering it.

Rose and Mickey don’t get an awful lot to do but it’s quite a nice relationship on display between them (particularly as at the close of School Reunion, Rose seemed less than impressed that Mickey was stepping on board.  It’s a shame, in a way, that this is clearly scripted as Mickey’s first trip in the TARDIS as it would have made more sense for Rose’s sudden change in attitude to have happened during a couple of off-screen adventures).  I particularly like Rose’s ‘now you’re getting it’ comment when Mickey realises that a companion’s job is to ignore the Doctor’s instructions and her disdain for the apparently drunk Doctor (a scene which I’m not sure really works for Tennant, but does for Noel Clarke and Billie Piper).  In fact, bearing in mind she is sidelined in favour of Reinette, I think this is one of the better stories for Rose as a character, at least in the way she is presented and the dialogue she is given.

The rest of the guest cast is limited with only Ben Turner’s aforementioned lacklustre performance as King Louis and Angel Coulby (pre-Merlin) in a brief cameo as Reinette’s friend.  Oh, and Arthur the Horse of course (which does give Rose’s another good line about not keeping the horse).

Aside from the irritating Doctor aspect (which is probably more of RTD’s influence than Moffat), Moffat’s script it a good one and much better, I think, than The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances which, whilst everyone raved about during Series 1, I was a little underwhelmed by.  The Girl in the Fireplace, and latterly Blink, were the two scripts that meant I was excited when it became clear Moffat was in line to take over from RTD.

The Girl in the Fireplace is a fun story with good monsters, a good guest character and a good central conceit.  It’s only marred by an increasingly irritating and arrogant Doctor but is still a sumptuously realised production with well-chosen locations and excellent costumes.

Review created on 1-06-24