A Doctor A Day – “The Girl In The Fireplace”
Using the new Doctor Who Limited Edition Gift Set, your noble author will make his way through as much of the modern series as he can before the Christmas episode,The Snowmen.
For a person as long-lived as The Doctor, all his relationships seem to go by quickly. This one goes by REALLY quickly…for him, that is. But quite a long time for…
THE GIRL IN THE FIREPLACE
by Steven Moffat
Directed by Euros Lyn
“What do monsters have nightmares about?” “Me.”
A young woman in 18th-Century France is calling into her fireplace for The Doctor. And after the opening credits, the narrative shoots 3000 years later, where the TARDIS lands on a spaceship light years from Earth. Mickey is fascinated at the view, Rose is enjoying showing him the ropes, and The Doctor is wondering why there’s an antique fireplace in a derelict spaceship. Looking into the hearth, he is rather surprised to see a young girl named Reinette looking through the other side. She is even more surprised, because her side of the fireplace in in 18th century Versailles. After a brief talk, he examines the fireplace, and finds a latch, causing the whole thing to rotate around to the other side, into the 18th century. The young girl is there, but she explains confusedly that their chat was months ago. The Doctor examines the room briefly, noticing the clock on mantle is broken…but he still hears ticking. He finds the sound under Reinette’s bed, and discovers a mysterious figure, clearly from the ship, but clad in period dress. The creature has been scanning Reinette’s brain, and The Doctor can’t imagine why they’d expend the energy to cross time and space to scan a seemingly normal young girl. Rather than spend time placing her in danger, The Doctor lures the thing back over the fireplace portal and onto the ship, quickly incapacitating it. It’s an intricate clockwork android whose design The Doctor can’t help but admire, but it teleports away before he can inspect it.
Telling Rose and Mickey to stay put (because that ALWAYS works), he spins the fireplace back around, only to discover that Reinette has grown in QUITE the attractive young lady…specifically, the one we saw calling for hope in the pre-credit sequence. She chats with him, catching up with her childhood friend, and plants a quite passionate kiss on him. It’s only after she leaves, and he’s confronted by a guard that she realizes that young Reinette is the Madam du Pompadour, possibly one of the most famous (certainly the most successful) courtesans in human history.
Back on the spaceship, Mickey and Rose are off exploring, and The Doctor finds a horse, clearly having wandered onto the ship through another transfer point between the ship and Versailles. Walking through that one, The Doctor sees his now slightly older and even MORE hot friend in the garden of the palace. Meanwhile, Mickey and Rose have discovered that human body parts have been used to repair and maintain the ship – a human eye in a camera and a heart running as a pump. The part they need the most is Reinette’s brain, which they will take on her thirty-seventh birthday.
Why does a spaceship from 3,000 years later think the brain of a French courtesan will be compatible with its computer system? Well, that is a rather good bit of the story.
This is one of Moffat’s best episodes, mixing the complex time-travel plot that he will soon become (in)famous for, and a simple love story. Others clearly thought so as well, it’s the first of his Hugo wins for the show as well. What’s interesting is that he really only spends a couple hours with Reinette, but it’s across most of her life. We’ll see this theme pop up a couple times – it’s basically the same way the Eleventh Doctor met Amy Pond. And the idea of the out of sync timelines will re-appear with Amy again, in The Girl Who Waited.
The sets were built in a very unique way for this episode. The spaceship and bedroom sets were actually next to each other, so the fireplace could actually rotate between them. The rest of the rooms of the palace connected as well, for the various moments of moving between rooms. One of the most complicated effects shots in the episode was The Doctor crashing through the mirror. A number of elements, including CGI glass, the jump being done at a different location, and all the people in the room. Sometimes the stuff that looks the best and takes the longest doesn’t look like an SFX shot at all.