Sunday, May 07, 2006

Doctor Who - The Girl in the Fireplace

With thanks to Shaun Lyon. www.gallifreyone.netFrom a brilliant pre-credits opening, this episode went on to be one of the very best to date of either this series or the last. Steven Moffatt seems to have pulled out all the stops to present a coherent time travel adventure, which looks at the nature of time, and which manages, in the space of 45 minutes, to show a microcosmic view of what the Doctor goes through all the time. I suspect this is a follow-on from the comments last week in School Reunion that although Rose can spend her life with the Doctor, he cannot spend all of his life with her. From 1757 France, we head 3000 years into the future, to a grotty spacecraft hanging near the Diagmore Cluster in the 51st Century. The Doctor, Rose and Mickey arrive and start poking around. The Doctor soon spots an out-of-place fireplace and realises it's a time portal to the past. Through the fire he speaks to a 7 year old girl, Renette, and discovers that she is in 1727. Moments later, the Doctor makes the entire fireplace turn through 180 degrees and finds himself in her bedroom ... but it's now months later for her - time runs at different speeds it seems (and this is perhaps the biggest flaw in the episode, but more on that later), but more than this, there is a spooky clockwork robot hiding under her bed. In scenes guaranteed to terrify the kids, the Doctor flushes it out and it attacks him. But how did it get into the room? And indeed when? The Doctor was by the entrance to the time portal the whole time. Oh well ... Back and forth, the Doctor immobilises it with a fire extinguisher but it teleports away. Seconds later, the Doctor returns through the fireplace, but now some 20 years have passed and Renette is a beautiful young woman. She decides to snog the Doctor's face off before heading away - leaving him someone bewhildered and happy that he snogged Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, otherwise known as Madame de Pompadour, mistress to King Louis XV. Returning to the ship, the Doctor finds a horse (!) and meanwhile Mickey and Rose have made the grizly discovery of organic components in the hardware of the ship. They all find more time portals looking in on the same woman but they cannot figure out why she seems so important to the clockwork inhabitants of the ship. Though one mirror, they see Renette confronted by another robot and they burst through and immobilise it. It reveals itself to be repair drone seven and that an Ion storm caused them problems. 'We did not have the parts,' it repeats when asked about the problem and where the crew has gone, and the Doctor realises that the answer is correct to both questions: the drones used the crew for spare parts. But now they want Renette as apparently 'they are the same'. Mickey and Rose return to the ship through the mirror while the Doctor reads Renette's mind to try and find out why she is important to them - she is 23 at this time. But she reads his mind too and realises how lonely he is. She promptly invites him to come dancing. Now this may be a euphamism as in The Doctor Dances last year, or maybe they really do go dancing ... either way Rose and Mickey are captured by the clockwork drones and sedated prior to surgery. But the Doctor rolls in blind drunk and saves them by pouring multigrade anti-oil into one of the drones and switching the rest off at the control panel - his being drunk was all an act. But he knows now that the ship is 37 years old, and so Renette will be taken when she turns 37. As the Doctor tries to close the time windows down, the drones come back to life and announce that Renette is now complete and teleport off to get her - or her head which is all they need. They seem to want to use her brain as a command circuit (but what then has been controlling the drones in the meantime?). More time jumping takes place, and Renette realises she must take the 'slow path' to her destiny when she hits 37, and has confidence that the Doctor will be there for her at that time. There is some lovely dialogue here: 'One may tolerate a world of demons for the sake of an angel,' and 'It's the way it's always been. The monsters and the Doctor. You can't have one without the other,' and 'The Doctor is worth the monsters,' this latter echoing 'Some things are worth getting your heart broken for,' from last week's episode. Renette is catured by the drones, but the Doctor arrives by crashing through the mirror/time portal on horseback (so there was a reason for the horse) and saves the day by showing the drones that they are now all trapped on Earth and there is no point in them carrying on - shades of Remembrance of the Daleks where the Doctor talked the Dalek to death. Here it's handled better, but it's still a little unsatisfying. If the robot droids were all being controlled from the ship, then the moment the link was severed, they should all have just collapsed. The Doctor is trapped on Earth with Renette, but he doesn't seem too upset. In fact he seems positively looking forward to it - and who can blame him. All that dancing to look forward to. But she has something to show him (oo er) and it's the fireplace from Paris. Conveniently 'offline' when the ship closed down, so now, all it takes is a good thump in the right place and a bit of the old sonic screwdriver and we have a now-operational time door back to the ship. But here's the brilliant bit. The Doctor goes back to check on things, but when he returns for Renette, she has now died - it being six years hence. These final scenes are brilliant in their simplicity and made my eyes well up several times. As I said at the start, it's a microcosm of the Doctor's life - stepping in and out of the lives of others, and always being the lonely angel. But ... as I mentioned ... the biggest problem is that these time doors don't seem to operate with any logic. Sometimes time runs the same time between them (as when the Doctor talks to Renette on two occasions through the fireplace), other times it's running faster in France (like the months passing in the few minutes it takes the Doctor to operate the fireplace-door at the start, but then years pass in France in not much more time on the ship. And when Renette comes through onto the ship for a minute or two ... how does she then return to her own time? Or was she missing for a few years in the interim? I loved The Girl in the Fireplace from beginning to end. The acting is awesome from all parties. The costume design brilliant, and the scenic design also works extremely well: the contrast between the ship and France is very well drawn. However if the ship is only 37 years old, then why is it so grotty inside ... And the final mystery ... why were the drones after this particular woman? This is superbly handled in a coda where we see her portrait behind the dematerialising TARDIS and then a pull back to reveal the name of the ship ... The SS Madame de Pompadour. Next week: Cybermen. That is all.


Dave O'Brien said...

Hi David

I totally agree with your reveiw - this ranks as one of my favourite Doctor Who shows. I love it!
The weird thing is that even whilst I was watching it I wasn't even sure I liked it. I think my brain was slow to process just exactly what it was I had just seen!

Dave (Prof Keller)

Anonymous said...

It was the best episode I've ever seen of Doctor Who. I don't know why I connected so strongly with the story, but I'm still crying. And I'm a man. FFS!

jimc said...

Don't you think there's something quite bizarre about the Doctor - a Timne Lord after all - snogging humans? They're a different species after all, its the equivalent of snogging an Orang Utan for goodness sake.

Anonymous said...

It was a very good episode, though I found it very different with the whole love story thing. And I think that's the strength of this show that it can have radically different genres and still rock.

I also agree the time portal thing doesn't add up, but I think it's just a plot device, and it's too bad you can see it's a plot device. I wonder if that was Moffat's fault or RTD had something to do with it afterwards?


Anonymous said...

Excellent review and this is my favourite Who episode ever. The biggest thing about it that really attracted me was the music. Murray Gold is a genius and this music really caused those tears to well up.

Craig B said...

I agree with the rest of you - this has to be one of my all time favourite episodes!

I love it from beginning to end, the sharp contrast of the ship to the chateau and scenery.

The acting, especially the Doctor and Reinette is SUPERB, and it is SO SO SO SO sad at the end.

It's the kind of episode that stays with you for hours if not days.

Fantastic episode !!

Noah said...

You said that one of the major flaws of the episode was that the space-age clockwork robot that the Doctor finds under Rennete's bed apears even though the Doctor is standing next to the time portal the whole time. There are in fact a few explanations for this;
1) There are multiple time windows throughout the ship, posibly calibrated to the same time/moment as the window in the fireplace. The robots could have entered through another time window other than the fireplace time portal and moved unseen at night to reside under Renette's bed.

2) These robots may have remained continuously in Renette's time period. The robot the Doctor encounters may have been under Renette's bed for several months.

3) The robots have a personal teleport system that they can use to move easily between Renette's time and their ship. This means that the robot that the Doctor encounters could have teleported from any where in the ship to beneath Renette's bed.

I hope that this convinces you that the above mentioned "flaw" is indeed no such thing

David said...

Thanks for the comment Noah ... when I talk about flaws and so on, it's in the context of the episode as transmitted, and in the narrative progression. I know that *anything* can be explained away if you want to. I'm just pointing out in my reviews where it's not clear in the episode. The 'flaw' I refer to is also actually to do with time running at different speeds - how the robot got in Reinette's room is a subsidiary question.