Wednesday, January 21, 2015

“The Girl In The Fireplace” Is Very Satisfying Doctor Who!

The Good: Good acting, Moments of character, Good plot, Decent balance of romance and creepy.
The Bad: Strange new Doctor abilities that make little sense, Diminishes the relationship between The Doctor and Rose
The Basics: “The Girl In The Fireplace” is an intriguing mix of great progressions for Doctor Who and ridiculous undermining of the same!

While many fans of Doctor Who swoon over the romance between Rose Tyler and The Doctor, the active romance between the characters is largely limited to the first season (reviewed here!) with the Ninth Doctor. The argument that the Tenth Doctor is less protective and less romantically attached to Rose than his predecessor is easily made (well before “The Satan Pit”) by “The Girl In The Fireplace.” Fortunately for viewers – and who ever thought Mickey would be such a decent selling point!?! – Mickey is around to harangue Rose about the relationship (and lack thereof) to comment on how things have changed for Rose.

“The Girl In The Fireplace” is cool in that it does not conform to a Victorian sensibility of romance and sexuality, but it does confuse the romantic relationship between the Doctor and Rose. In “The Girl In The Fireplace,” finds The Doctor developing a relationship with Madame De Pompadour. Herein the American education system is likely to leave U.S. viewers a bit in a lurch when watching the episode. While Doctor Who makes plenty of allusions to British royalty or cultural figures that are universally accessible, but even as a fairly well-educated American (I did exceptionally well in high school in Advanced Placement European History!), Madame De Pompadour is not a figure who jumped out at me. Using wonderful context clues left by writer Steven Moffat, Madame De Pompadour is apparently the courtesan who bedded Louis XV and acted as de facto queen during the portion of his reign that she was alive for. In Doctor Who, her life is intertwined with the Tenth Doctor and an invasion by alien life forms from the 51st Century.

In 18th Century Versailles, a woman calls out for The Doctor, having some foreknowledge (based on a broken clock on the mantle) that he will come to rescue her on that particular night. Back in the future, Mickey’s first trip in the TARDIS is to visit the 51st Century where the TARDIS arrives on an abandoned space station. The Doctor is astounded that the ship is generating huge amounts of energy, but is not moving. Exploring the ship, the Doctor finds an 18th Century fireplace through which he is able to communicate with a young girl, Reinette in Paris in 1727. Stepping through the fireplace’s doorway, the Doctor travels to Reinette’s bedroom where he finds a 51st Century mechanical man hiding under her bed. The Doctor rescues Reinette by taking the mechanical man back to the future.

When the Doctor returns to the past, many years have passed and the Doctor learns that Reinette is Madame De Pompadour. As Rose and Mickey explore the alien ship, they discover organic components (an eyeball and a beating heart) that are active on the ship. Questioning the mechanical men, the Doctor learns that Reinette is related to them and they seek organic components from her. After Rose warns Reinette of exactly when the aliens will invade her time looking for her, The Doctor risks everything to return to the past to stop the droids and protect Reinette.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of “The Girl In The Fireplace” is how it has an impact on the Doctor and Rose Tyler. The Doctor is not bound by a Victorian sense of romance and sexuality; the moment after he first kisses Reinette, he returns to the future eager to tell Rose about it! While Reinette has girlish fantasies about the Doctor and the Doctor clearly has an interest in her, Rose develops through the course of the episode with more familiar values and emotions. When the Doctor returns to gallantly save Reinette, Rose realizes that he made the trip knowing it would be a one-way venture. Rose experiences the loss of the Doctor, mourning the loss of her love, though actress Billie Piper plays the scene with enough complexity in her silent agony to allow viewers to believe that she is harboring anger and jealousy for the Doctor abandoning her so.

Moffat lays the entire framework for the Eleventh Doctor’s relationship with Amy Pond in “The Girl In The Fireplace.” When the first adult Reinette sees the Doctor, she notes that she treated him as an imaginary friend in her youth and she is now too old for an imaginary friend. In fact, Moffat essentially recycles the whole premise of “The Girl In The Fireplace” to establish the Twelfth Doctor as this version of the Doctor continues to encounter Reinette out of time in her life while only hours pass in his reality.

What makes “The Girl In The Fireplace” so worthwhile to watch is that the episode is not confined to simple a plot-based device. The episode is not just a strange love story out of time trying to capitalize on the popularity at the time of The Time Traveler’s Wife (reviewed here!). Instead, “The Girl In The Fireplace” allows David Tennant to play charming and boyishly charmed as the Doctor with a crush while still allowing there to be a realistic sense of emotion to the episode’s events. Billie Piper gives an understated, but wonderfully complex, performance opposite Sophia Myles who holds her own with both as Reinette.

In addition to moments of character and all-around wonderful performances, “The Girl In The Fireplace” has a very cool adversary. The droids from the future are wind-up men who are like a steampunk android and the idea that they have – without malice – cut up their human crew to try to repair their ship is deliciously monstrous and executed in a wonderfully creepy way.

The balance between the romantic and horrific aspects in “The Girl In The Fireplace” play exceptionally well and make the episode one of the more memorable . . . even for those of us who wish there had been a more concrete, enduring, romance between Rose Tyler and the Doctor.

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Doctor Who - The Complete Second Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the debut season of the Tenth Doctor here!

For other works with Sophia Myles, please visit my reviews of:
Transformers: Age Of Extinction
Mansfield Park


For other Doctor Who episode and movie reviews, please visit my Doctor Who Review Index Page!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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