The Sophia Myles film festival continues! Now up for discussion, 2006’s Doctor Who episode, “The Girl in the Fireplace,” by Steven Moffat and winner of the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form.
The TARDIS materializes aboard a starship in the 51st century. The ship is abandoned, though there’s a great deal of power being generated somewhere, but to what purpose? It turns out that a series of time windows have been opened up into 18th-century France, specifically into the life of one Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, also known as Reinette or the Madame de Pompedour. The Doctor’s investigations lead him to encounter Reinette at various points in her life, from her childhood to adulthood, as he tries to unlock the mystery of why a series of clockwork droids are waiting for Reinette to reach the age of 37 at which point she will be “complete.”
I forgot how bloody fucking good this episode was.
If there’s one thing the BBC does better than anyone, it’s period costume dramas. The production values in bringing 18th-century France to life are nothing short of amazing. The episode is absolutely convincing, and if there’s anything that slows down the episode it’s the segments aboard the spaceship in the 51st-century. “Get back to the Madame de Pompedour!” I kept shouting. Well, not literally shouting. More like a metaphorical shouting.
This is a love story, and it’s often funny and occasionally painful. The Doctor meets someone he doesn’t expect, only they live their lives at different speeds — he walks in eternity, and she walks the slow path of time. The development of the relationship between Reinette and the Doctor is the heart of the episode, from the first time they meet when she is seven (and she thinks he’s her imaginary friend or her guardian angel) to their last encounter (where she has died and the Doctor reads her deathbed letter). The relationship between them takes on a tragic quality — there comes a point where you want to shout at the Doctor and say, “You idiot! Don’t do that!” but of course, he does, without thinking. And the final scene provokes some genuine anguish. This is Doctor Who as a tear-jerker.
Sophia Myles, of course, is fantastic as the Madame de Pompedour. She just makes period drama work. And it’s odd to re-experience the early David Tennant as the Doctor, because it’s clearly him, but he’s not quite as brash or as manic. I also don’t think that Noel Clarke’s Mickey Smith was ever written as well as he was written here (and I’m slightly miffed that he didn’t get his name in the opening credits for his brief tenure as a TARDIS companion; even John Barrowman got his name in the credits during his tenure).
Also, Murray Gold’s score is perfect. I’ve grown disenchanted with Gold’s work on Doctor Who over the past two years for a variety of reasons, but I have no complaints here. His musical work is gentle and haunting, with the movement of strings, the play of the piano or harpsichord. It’s the right sound for this episode.
The dialogue here is marvelous, and I don’t know that there’s any one moment I could really cite as a standout. Doctor Who is going to be in safe hands with Steven Moffat at the helm, and with an episode like this from his pen I wonder why anyone would doubt that. 😉
One final thought. If I could make any Doctor Who spin-off happen, it would be a Madame de Pompedour story. Do it as a Masterpiece Theatre sort of thing, set firmly in the 18th-century, and set it up around the events of “The Girl in the Fireplace.” That’s what I’d do. I would seriously fucking watch that, especially if it didn’t have any aliens.
Next up in the Sophia Myles film festival? Another costume drama — Dracula.