The Girl in the Fireplace

Written by Stephen Moffat

Review and Commetary by Andrew Panero

It started with a kiss, well that kiss, ten years ago at the climax of the Doctor Who movie, when the Doctor kissed Dr Grace Holloway. Since then it seems to have been a non-stop snogathon for the supposedly asexual Time Lord, culminating in his first gay kiss with Captain Jack during ‘The Parting of the Ways’ last season, and the full on exchange of cosmic particles with Rose in the same episode.

This week we have the Doctor falling in love with an historical character- in this case Madame De Pompadour (played by David Tennant’s real life girlfriend Sophia Myles), mistress to King Louis XV of France for those of you who don’t know.

The plot begins with the TARDIS materialising on a deserted ship in the 51st Century, one which is revving its warp engines at full throttle but not going anywhere. This is because the ship is using the excess energy to open ‘windows in time’ to the Palace of Versailles in the 18th Century where the young Reinette (later to be Madame P.) is astonished to find the Doctor on the other side of her fireplace. But why would a ship three thousand years in the future be opening up windows to a time like this? None of the TARDIS crew seems able to answer that question until the Doctor slips through one of the windows and befriends Reinette, who is now a young woman. It seems the ship’s compliment of clockwork robots has fixated on her because they want her brain to power their star-ship when she reaches the right age.

Oops! Time to mind the plausibility gap again, but Mr. Moffat is a great little scribe and the action carries you along. I do feel that the clockwork automatons should have come from the 18th Century themselves as I can think of no sensible reason why an advanced civilization with space-faring abilities would build such things; but they do the trick. Having brought us the ‘Hollow Child’ last year, the writer brings us something almost as scary this season; malevolent ticking mannequins with a tendency to practise vivisection on human beings. Having converted all of their crew into spare-parts the droids capture Mickey and Rose and consider doing the same to them. Fortunately the Doctor arrives from his latest soiree with Mme Pompadour (his tie now being used as a head-band in true school boy style), and whilst pretending to be drunk drops some ‘anti-oil’ in one of the clockwork creature’s mechanisms. This causes the robot to short out, allowing the Doctor and his companions to escape: But there is no escape for the Doctor, whose heart has by now been well and truly captured by Mme Pompadour. Ah!

I know, as Mr. Moffat himself asserts ‘the Madame Pompadour fans will be in uproar by this breach of canon,’ oh dear! For all that though the story does fit within canon, in that it was never established in the show that the Doctor was asexual. Indeed, as a number of people have already pointed out he did start of travelling with his granddaughter, whom he unceremoniously dumped in the 22nd Century as soon as she battered her eyelids at the nearest rebel-leader. Then there has been all that snogging over the last ten years, mostly with his assistants but just lately with the odd historical character. At least Madame Pompadour shows he has some class, for the character does seem to be someone who would intrigue the Doctor, although the unasked question in all of this is why exactly he would be attracted to human females in the first place. Unless of course we take all that half-human business seriously, which is something I’d rather not, thank you. This is something that I think of as the ‘Spockisation’ of Doctor Who. There was even a scene this week of the Doctor practising a Vulcan mind-meld on Mme P; however Reinette is able to turn the tables on the Time Lord and read his mind as well. We find out that the Doctor was a lonely child, something that I’m sure has been established elsewhere. The reaction of the Doctor is truly fascinating though, to see how astonished he looks that she was able gaze into his life, to unmask the Doctor.

I guess this scene is probably the closest we’re going to get to seeing the Doctor involved in an intimate act. Perhaps that’s the way Gallifreyans have sex, after all it’s all about an exchange of some kind, perhaps he could plant the idea of himself in her head and then she’d go off and have a baby just like him. But I digress, and in a disturbing direction…
I guess the reason why the Doctor has been assumed to be asexual all these years is that for most of that time the idea has never really come up on anybody’s radar. This was a character invented for Children’s television in an age when nobody talked about ‘such things’. For much of his tenure on our screens it has been this way, although I understand that even in the early days the Doctor had the odd dalliance. There was ‘The Aztecs’ where the Doctor ‘accidentally’ becomes engaged to an Aztec woman, something that facilitates the crew’s escape from captivity. However, for much of the time during the ‘Classic’ series there was little scope for romance or sexuality in Doctor Who, and during the early part of the John-Nathan Turner era the whole idea was discouraged.

Flash forward to today where, so far this series, barely an episode goes by where we don’t explore the Doctor’s sexuality. In the first episode we had Cassandra possessing Rose and eating his face, then we had the complex jealousies of Sarah-Jane Smith encountering Rose last week and this week he is partying with a famous French Courtesan. Soon he’ll have a reputation as bad as Captain Jack’s; maybe regeneration has sent his hormones into overdrive.

I know also that it is a sign of the times that he should be so ‘blokey’ about it; declaring in triumph that he has just snogged Mme Pompadour as the fireplace swings back into the 51st Century. One also wonders what Rose will make of all this, I can’t imagine she’d be pleased. Gosh, I think the series is becoming a soap opera!

Fortunately that is not quite true and what we have here, for all its faults and silly plotlines is an excellent little story with a very quirky sense of fun mixed with gothic horror and hideous androids. And I haven’t even mentioned the horse yet.