by Catriona Mills

Live-blogging Doctor Who, Season Two: The Girl in the Fireplace

Posted 24 February 2009 in by Catriona

I feel some sort of disclaimer is necessary. Perhaps I should have made such a disclaimer when I began live-blogging these repeat episodes. But better late than never . . .

Disclaimer: Had I live-blogged these episodes when they first aired, the results would be very different. My reaction to these season two episodes is tempered by my viewings of season three and four, and my frustrations (and, in some cases, my delight) with the way in which characters have developed over the past two seasons. I enjoyed this season very much (well, except for “Fear Her”), but I do see that my commentary might be crankier than it would have been two years ago.

I’m still not finding this Jack Dee comedy very funny. Perhaps if I watched an entire episode?

So this is the Steven Moffat episode for season two? I seriously love Steven Moffat, but I didn’t think this one was as brilliant as “The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances,” “Silence in the Library/Forests of the Dead,” or—most brilliant of all—“Blink.”

It’s still great, though.

It’s also running late.

No, hang on: Project Next is asking me if I have an “18—30-year-old outlook.” What the hell does that mean?

No, wait: the palace at Versailles is under attack by, according to the king, creatures that may not even be human.

But the terribly pretty blonde woman whom I may as well start calling Madame de Pompadour says it’s fine: the clock is broken and the only man she’s ever loved (save the king) will soon be coming to help them.

Then she leans into the fireplace and shouts, “Doctor? Doctor?”

Meanwhile, the TARDIS lands on a spaceship—and Mickey is thrilled to get a spaceship on his first go—while the Doctor swears that there’s nothing dangerous (though he’ll just do a scan to see if there’s anything dangerous).

Mickey eyes the starscape outside the window and sighs, “It’s so realistic!”

Then they find an eighteenth-century fireplace up against the side of the ship—but on the other side of the fireplace is another room, occupied by a little blonde girl called Renette, who says she’s in Paris in 1727, while the ship is in the 51st century.

The Doctor claims to be a fire inspector, which leads to my favourite line—“Right. Enjoy the rest of the fire.”

Then, by fiddling with the mantlepiece, he finds himself in Renette’s bedroom, but months later: there’s a loud ticking from the clock on the mantlepiece—but the Doctor notices—while chatting to a not-at-all-frightened Renette—that the clock is actually broken.

He says the ticking is too loud, too resonant: whatever’s making it is at least six feet—and it is, an amazing clockwork man who leaps up like a spring from beneath Renette’s bed.

The Doctor says the robot has been scanning Renette’s brain, but when Renette asks it whether it wants her, it says no: “Not yet. You are incomplete.”

The Doctor tells Renette it’s a nightmare, that even monsters have nightmares.

RENETTE: What do monsters have nightmares about?

He tricks the monster into coming back with him through the fireplace, and freezes it.

MICKEY: Cool. Ice gun.
THE DOCTOR: Fire extinguisher.

When he sees the robot without its wig, the Doctor goes into full monkey-with-a-tambourine mode, exclaiming about how beautiful it is, what a crime it would be to
destroy it, but that he will anyway—but the robot teleports away.

The Doctor forbids Rose and Mickey to hunt it down (they do, anyway), and flips back through the fireplace, to find that young Renette is now Sophia Myles—they have an enthusiastic discussion that I can’t transcribe, and then she snogs him.

It’s at roughly this point that the Doctor realises this:

THE DOCTOR: I’m the Doctor, and I just snogged Madame de Pompadour!

Mickey and Rose, meanwhile, are traipsing around the spaceship armed with fire extinguishers, and finding that the ship’s parts have been replaced with human organs, with eyes and hearts.

The Doctor is being followed around by a horse, which allows the Doctor to step out into eighteenth-century Versailles, to see Renette and her companion discussing the imminent death of the king’s current mistress and Renette’s ambitions to replace her.

MICKEY: What’s a horse doing on a spaceship?
THE DOCTOR: Mickey, what’s pre-revolutionary France doing on a spaceship? Get some perspective.

I really don’t think, Rose, that Madame de Pompadour is comparable to Camilla, or that their positions are comparable. On the other hand, you are being truly adorable in this episode, so I won’t pick on you.

As Renette stares into the mirror through which Rose, Mickey, and the Doctor are watching her, she become aware of another clockwork robot standing in a corner: the three on the spaceship leap through the mirror to her defense.

Renette orders the robot to answer the Doctor’s questions, and the robot explains that they used the crew to repair the ship.

THE DOCTOR: What did the flight deck smell like?
ROSE: Someone cooking.

The robots are opening the time windows to check on Renette’s development: they want her brain, the final part, but she is not done yet. But when Renette tells it to go, it teleports away, and the Doctor tells Mickey and Rose to chase after it.

THE DOCTOR: Take Arthur.
ROSE: Arthur?
THE DOCTOR: It’s a good name for a horse.
ROSE: No, you’re not keeping the horse.
THE DOCTOR: I let you keep Mickey.

Rose and Mickey are taken prisoner by the robots (and in a discussion, Rose mentions that the Doctor mentioned Cleopatra once, which contradicts her claim last episode that he never discusses his past adventures).

The Doctor, meanwhile, is mucking around inside Renette’s mind, but she reads his mind, too—she pities his lonely childhood, and insists that he dance with her.

Rose and Mickey are strapped to gurneys; they’re compatible, apparently, but before they can be cut up for parts, the Doctor bursts in—“Have you met the French? My god they know how to party!”—with a pair of sunglasses on and his tie tied around his head as a bandanna, singing a song from My Fair Lady and claiming to have invented the banana daquiri.

ROSE: Oh, great. Look what the cat dragged in. “The Oncoming Storm.”

He does, however, manage to release Rose and Mickey, to overcome the robots (temporarily), but he can’t close the time windows—one of the robots is still out in the field. That robot sends a message saying she is complete—that Renette is thirty-seven years old, and therefore the same age as the ship—and that it is time to harvest her brain.

Rose pops into a time window behind which Renette is thirty two, to warn her that the robots will return in five years, that Renette can keep the robots occupied (but not stop them) until the Doctor arrives to help her.

Meanwhile, Mickey and the Doctor have located the time window behind which Renette is thirty seven, and Renette takes advantage of Rose’s distraction to nip through into the spaceship—she goes back to France, though, telling Rose that they both know that “the Doctor is worth the monsters.”

We flip back to the shot from the teaser, of Renette shouting into the fireplace, but this time it goes further, showing the robots taking Renette and the king through to the ballroom, which is full of terrified people screaming.

Renette refuses to accompany the robots, but they point out that they only need her head, and push her down—at which point a whinny is heard, and the Doctor crashes through the time window on Arthur, despite having told Rose that once the time window is smashed, there’s no returning to the ship. And, in fact, we can now see that behind the smashed mirror is nothing but brick and plaster.

Rose knows what the Doctor has done and is, obviously, devastated, but Mickey’s still not entirely sure.

The Doctor convinces the robots that now they are unable to complete their mission, since they cannot return to the ship, they have no purpose, and they all stop working and slump down.

Rose is still speechless, though Mickey hopes the Doctor will return.

The Doctor says that breaking one time window breaks them all, so he can’t use another to return: he seems quite resigned to the idea of being on the “slow path” with Madame de Pompadour, but she takes him through to a room that contains her old fireplace from her childhood bedroom, the one through which they first spoke. The Doctor says that it was off-line when the link with the ship broke (because she broke the connection when she moved it), so it should still work.

It does, and the Doctor finds himself back on the ship—but he tells Renette she has two minutes to pack a bag (while he tells Rose he’s back) and then she’s coming with him.

But when he comes back through the fireplace, he finds the king, who says he’s just missed Renette—she’ll be in Paris by six. He hands the Doctor a letter that Renette wrote, and we hear horses—and see that they are pulling a hearse.

Renette has died aged forty three.

The king asks what Renette says in her letter, but the Doctor tucks it in his pocket and leaves without a word.

Back in the TARDIS, Rose wants to know why the robots thought they could repair the ship with the head of Madame de Pompadour, and the Doctor speculates, but he’s subdued, and Mickey tactfully takes Rose off, asking her to show him around the TARDIS.

The Doctor takes Renette’s letter out of his pocket and reads it.

From the TARDIS console room, he turns off the fire, severing the last link with eighteenth-century France, and as the TARDIS dematerialises, we see behind it a portrait of Madame de Pompadour, and—with the camera moving outside the ship—we see the name “S.S. Madame de Pompadour” as the ship begins to drift in space.

Next week, Cybermen!

Share your thoughts [16]


Wendy wrote at Feb 24, 09:53 pm

yes that ad is annoying me…what is 18-30 outlook indeed? I’m over thirty but why can’t I have the outlook of a 28 year old? I can…but I don’t think I’d be allowed into whatever that thing is…because after the age restrictions I’ve stopped listening.

off topic ;)

i loved this episode even more the second time around. poor sad doctor at the end. Time is so frustrating here too isn’t it, what with it’s thwarting of everything in sight.


Catriona wrote at Feb 24, 11:26 pm

See, that’s what I don’t understand—how would I prove that I have an “18—30-year-old outlook,” despite being over 30? So why not just say “Are you between 18 and 30 years of age”? It would mean the same thing and it wouldn’t be as annoying.

I had forgotten how much I enjoyed this episode, though I still don’t think it’s as good as “Blink.” I admit, though, that I’m not really a huge fan of the whole “everyone loves the Doctor because he’s irresistible” angle, and that’s really strong in this piece.

It also shows some of the issues with serial writing, which is to say continuity questions.

Rose is so happy and bouncy about Mickey being along here. (Plausible reading: she was sulky and annoyed temporarily, but has come to realise it might be nice to have someone else around. Problem with that: it shouldn’t have been very long at all since she was sulky and annoyed, since this is Mickey’ first trip.)

And the whole Cleopatra/Cleo debate with Mickey seems to suggest that the Doctor does talk about his past adventures, even when they include women, which we were given to understand was not the case last week (and was quite an important point in last week’s episode). (Plausible reading: he talks about adventures with women—or other people—whom he’s bumped into casually, but doesn’t talk about his former companions, because they’re the ones whose absences hurt him.)

Still, I enjoyed this episode immensely.


Drew wrote at Feb 25, 01:44 am

Love this episode. Temporarily sulky is right I think but happy now that he is there. Rose does love Mickey (as is shown in two episodes time), it’s just that in the Doctor’s presence Mickey (for Rose) fades away a bit which is not nice by any means but it is realistic and believeable.


Catriona wrote at Feb 25, 01:54 am

In two episodes’ time, we can debate whether Rose loves Mickey, I think. I’m not so convinced: I have a sneaking suspicion that Rose is just the kind of girl who likes to have a guy around (which doesn’t make me think less of her, by any means). I could argue that her reaction in two episodes’ time is more down to the fact that there’s one less person she can call on when she needs to.

But, then, she is young and, I think, a little self-centred (but aren’t we all? Especially when we’re young?), and there’s no crime in that.

(I seem to remember that the real reason for the continuity errors is that Moffat hadn’t seen/wasn’t allowed to see the previous week’s script before writing “The Girl in the Fireplace,” so he didn’t know what Rose’s reaction had been.)

You have to admit, though, that I haven’t been mean to Rose in this post.


Drew wrote at Feb 25, 02:30 am

I’m also am not a big fan of the “everyone loves the Doctor” theme and I get fed up with it by the time Martha begins her infatuation, however, if we do have to have it then I prefer it this way. It’s such a cliché element of romantic stories that one of two potential lovers is left behind because they are in some way deficient or not “right” for the person who has to choose. I see Rose having to face a complicated choice between two men both of whom she sees as being “right” for her in some way but the Doctor is so charismatic, so overwhelming that Mickey is never going to get a look is as long as the Timelord is around. Mickey learns this fact much earlier than Rose and yet it doesn’t change his feelings for her. I find this to be both a believable and sympathic reading for both companions. I also think that she choose the wrong man, Mickey is the better partner for Rose and he clearly loves her. There is no way that the Doctor could ever be happy with Rose in the long term, but that is also realistic.

Our reasons are not our prophets
When oft our fancies are.
(The Two Noble Kinsmen 5.3)

What no one is commenting on is the Doctor’s role in all of this and I find it fascinating that we all just accept it as normal. Sure at 900+years of age the Doctor is going to find it hard to find anyone who is close to his own age. And possibly from his perspective there isn’t much of an age difference between 19 and say, 35 in humans. But Rose is too young for him, she’s not fully mature regardless of how mature she herself may feel and the Doctor has a responsibility to her not to abuse his position of authority over her by allowing her to believe that she is in love with him.


Catriona wrote at Feb 25, 02:46 am

I feel for Martha, though, because I think the character was sacrificed to the romantic subplot they’d built into the show with Rose. Martha is their way of working through that, which I admit allowed us to have Donna, who manifestly wasn’t in love with the Doctor (though plenty of commentators have insisted that of course she was in love with him, that everyone is in love with him) but which was deeply disadvantageous to Martha herself (though she got over him nice and quickly, and she made the decision herself to leave, which was good).

As an old-school fan, I just like the old way with the companions, where they each had a different type of relationship with the Doctor, and it might have romantic possibilities (as with Romana and, maybe, Liz Shaw), or they might be best friends (as with Sarah Jane), or it might be more of a sibling relationship (as with the fifth Doctor and his three companions), or he might be a paternalistic mentor (as with the seventh Doctor and Ace).

And it was easier for us, too. We could like or dislike them on their own merits more readily, it seems to me.

I mean, we didn’t hate Adric because Romana was the only true and fitting companion for the Doctor: we hated him because he was an irritating little swot.


Drew wrote at Feb 25, 02:56 am

yeah I prefer the old school way as well. This new “everyone loves the Doctor” theme is part of what disturbs be about the choice for the new Doctor. I would have much prefered David Morrissey as the new Doctor. But we shall see, and I am fairly sure that I will like the replacement regardless, I have been trained that way afterall.


Catriona wrote at Feb 25, 03:05 am

I didn’t really fancy David Morrissey. I was looking forward to Paterson Joseph. But I’m hoping they’ve broken the back of the “everybody loves the Doctor” fetish with Donna’s time as companion, because I really don’t see how you can read her as being in love with the Doctor—which, frankly, led to much more interesting romantic possibilities with, for the Doctor, River Song and, for Donna, the sweet stuttering man from the library.

But the relative youth of the new Doctor is, I admit, a problem when viewed from that angle. Especially since, as you say, they’ve so far ignored the fact that he is actually a nine-hundred-year-old man, and therefore too old to be hanging around nineteen-year-old girls.


Nick Caldwell wrote at Feb 25, 04:50 am

I must point out — because I find it hilarious and irritating in equal measure — that this episode is the one that made the Doctor Who shippers declare their passionate and undying loathing of Steven Moffat.


Catriona wrote at Feb 25, 05:26 am

Well, but naturally, Nicholas. Steven Moffat, despite being a lifelong Doctor Who fan, clearly doesn’t actually understand the first thing about Doctor Who, because he made the Doctor fancy someone other than Rose.

And then he did it again in “Silence in the Library/Forests of the Dead,” which I believe actually made some Doctor Who ‘shippers spontaneously combust.

The fact that he did the same thing with Rose and Captain Jack in “The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances” seems to have slipped past them.

But he doesn’t do it all the time.

I personally think the absence of a love interest for the Doctor in “Blink” is a serious weakness in the script, but only because I don’t see how anyone could not fancy Sally Sparrow.



John wrote at Feb 26, 02:50 am

I quite fancy Sally Sparrow…


Catriona wrote at Feb 26, 03:50 am

John, I quite fancy Sally Sparrow, and I’m straight.


Drew wrote at Feb 26, 11:09 pm

I’m going to marry Sally Sparrow. Never mind that I am never going to marry anyone every again, that is a minor detail that I can work around.


Catriona wrote at Feb 26, 11:24 pm

It’s worth breaking a vow like that for the sake of someone as adorable as Sally Sparrow.


Matthew Smith wrote at Feb 27, 01:40 am

Hello, I’m still here but due to my new ten minute rule on web surfing at work, I’m not the lightning fast, first in to comment kind of guy I used to be! Sorry to have missed seeing this again, it was my favourite episode from this season. I guess I’ll have to buy the box set at some stage.


Catriona wrote at Feb 27, 02:02 am

You have a new ten-minute surfing rule? Doesn’t that make life awfully difficult for you?

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