Now after Doctor Who tonight, I’m half expecting a bit of a fan backlash. It happened for the same reason with the Paul McGann movie, as tonight the Doctor has somewhat of a romantic entanglement, indeed he is even willing to trap himself more than 3000 years in the past, leaving his two companions just as stranded in order to save the woman in question.
Having said that, the script writer for the episode tonight was Steven Moffat, who made a joke of the movie backlash in his Comic Relief Doctor Who Spoof, and did the same in an interview in Doctor Who Confidential tonight. Tonight he said that he was sure that there would be a number of Madame de Pompadour fans who would object to the canonicity of the episode because there was no documentary evidence of Madame de Pompadour ever having had an affair with an alien.
Putting aside the potential complaints, what did I think of the episode? After the high point last week, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect this week. Whilst Moffat produced one of the best regarded episodes of the last season with the Empty Child, there had already been a bit of lowering of expectations in pre-season interviews from Moffat, him saying to expect something a bit different. Certainly, placed as it was between the return of Sarah Jane Smith, and the equally eagerly awaited return of the Cybermen, it wasn’t an episode that attracted that much attention.
Something different is what we got. The story opens in the court of Louis XV of France with the court being chased by strange robotic creatures, their faces hidden behind masks. However, the camera moves to a woman who is staring expectantly at a fireplace, saying that she is expecting a visit from the Doctor, who has promised to protect her. Following the opening credits, we then see the Doctor and his companions land on a deserted spaceship 3000 years, and millions of miles away from the first scene.
As the time travellers explore the spaceship, we then start to see the connection, as they discover an identical fireplace looking rather out of place in the ship, more than that, the Doctor is even able to have a conversation with a young girl, who can be seen in the fireplace, hence the title of the episode, The Girl in the Fireplace.
As an episode, it again explored the themes of the Doctor’s loneliness that were explored last week in School Reunion, but in a different way. As the time travellers discover other portals in addition to the fireplace, the Doctor makes regular appearances in the woman’s life, as it transpires that she is Madame de Pompadour, mistress of Louis XV of France. However quite why the maintenance robots have gone to the trouble of creating the portals, and are so specific in their requirement to kidnap Madame de Pompadour is a mystery, the solution to which is not revealed until the final scene.
The trigger to the relationship between the Doctor and Madame de Pompadour comes midway through the episode. In an earlier encounter, she has been decidedly forward, grabbing the Doctor for a passionate embrace – but at that point, she still only knows him as the man from the fireplace. However in order to try and find out what the robots want, the Doctor mind links with Madame de Pompadour, however in doing so, she then finds out a lot more about the Doctor – referring to him as ‘my lonely Doctor’ – and the two make a connection.
This ultimately leads to the the Doctor being willing to trap himself in the past, and leave his companions and the TARDIS on the spaceship in order to save her, leading to a touching and tragic conclusion, where again the Doctor is treated as a real character with real emotion – much more than the character was ever allowed to show in the past.
For very different reasons to last week, we thoroughly enjoyed this episode. Again Steven Moffat has produced a brilliant episode, mixing an original idea, good plot, with great writing. The bizarre idea of the clockwork robots opening portals into the past isn’t forgotten, and although it primarily is a vehicle to bring the Doctor into the life of Madame de Pompadour over a number of time periods, with the neat and believable conclusion to the mystery, certainly doesn’t feel like it is purely a plot device. Also the relationship between the Doctor and Madame de Pompadour is well handled, with the knowledge she gains about the Doctor – which of course we as the audience are left to guess – being the thing that brings them together. Certainly, having watched this mornings ‘classic’ episode on UK Gold, the comparison of ‘classic’ Doctor Who in decline, with the new series becomes more and more stark with every episode. Finally Doctor Who seems to be becoming a series that can compete with some of the best TV sci-fi from across the pond, whilst still retaining the elements that made it unique in the first place.
Hopefully the series will be able to keep up the pace with next weeks much anticipated Rise of the Cybermen.