Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Doctor Who: The Girl in the Fireplace

“What’s a horse doing on a spaceship?”

“Mickey, what’s pre-revolutionary France doing on a spaceship? Get a little perspective!”

Steven Moffat’s back, and it’s timey-wimeyness right from the start. It’s Versailles, it’s the eighteenth century, then the credits roll and it’s Moffat’s very own 51st century. But we’ll be coming back to this scene in a rather clever way. Let’s not beat about the bush; I might as well say from the start that this is a blatant 5/5, and it’s going right into my chart at number three. It manages to be simultaneously a genuinely affecting romance, an ingenious treatment of time travel and an awesomely plotted tale that not only works like clockwork but is probably doing a metatextual nod to the story’s monster by doing so. Simply awesome.

The TARDISeers walk out on to the spaceship, to Mickey’s obvious delight. But something is odd; the engine’s running, and is clearly powering something, yet the ship is still, with not a crew member to be seen. But even stranger is the genuine eighteenth century French fireplace in the wall, behind which is a little girl called Reinette who thinks it’s 1727.

The Doctor spins round, and he is indeed in Reinette’s room, albeit a few months later. We then get the only flaw I can see in the story; the clock’s broken, so what’s doing the ticking? This is fine, even brilliant in itself, but it’s too similar to the scene with the tape recorder in The Doctor Dances. Seeing Moffat repeat himself like this is worrying. Still, aside from this the episode, and indeed the scene, is pretty much faultless. The fact that the monster is underneath Reinette’s bed is brilliant, as is what it is- an eighteenth century style automaton! This is exciting stuff. I love the no nonsense way the Moff sets out to scare the kids here.

The Doctor returns through the fireplace a few minutes later, and my, hasn’t Reinette grown! She indicates she’s rather pleased to see him but has to leave. The Doctor is then made aware that he’s just snogged Madame de Pompadour.

Back on the ship, there’s a certain amount of weirdness- a horse, a camera containing a human eye, and a human heart attached to machinery, for starters. There are windows to various events in Reinette’s life scattered throughout the ship; it appears to be stalking her. Once again, an awesomely brilliant concept.

The Doctor partially explains things, slightly yuckily; the ship is damaged and is in need of parts. It’s used parts of the bodies of the now ex-crew, but for some reason it now wants to use Reinette’s brain as its central computer. Blimey.

In a development of last week’s themes, Mickey gives Rose a bit of a ribbing now that the Doctor again seems to have a new lady friend. And there’s also been talk of Cleopatra (“He called her Cleo”). Interestingly, though, when I first watched this I had the impression that, brilliant though both this story and its predecessor undoubtedly are, the character arcs were poorly done as the Doctor’s relationship with Reinette seemed to indicate a betrayal of Rose. Interestingly, I no longer feel that’s the case. The Doctor loves Rose, but essentially in a platonic way, whereas the reverse isn’t necessarily true, although it’s not necessarily false either.

Reinette shows how fab she is by reading the Doctor’s mind as he read hers, and says some very interesting things about his loneliness. And we get the return of our favourite semi-euphemism as she asks the Doctor to “dance” with her. The camera then cuts away. Some time has passed.

The Doctor, feigning rat-arsedness, rather easily rescues Rose and Mickey from certain death at the hands of the clockwork robots, pausing only to note that “bananas are good”. I love this script.

It’s now clear than when Reinette is 37, the same age as the ship, she will be “ready” for the honour of being beheaded. Rose has the task of explaining this to Reinette. Reinette proves to be just a bit more eloquent. It’s a wonderful scene, turning the tables on our expectations of the “primitive” person from the past.

The Doctor rescues Reinette- naturally in the most show-offy way possible- but is trapped, and is now destined to take the slow path with her. Except that Reinette is rather clever and has kept the fireplace.

The ending is truly heartbreaking. Even I cried a bit, dammit. And the final shot explains everything. Having watched this I’m getting really quite excited about the future of Doctor Who under Steven Moffat. 5/5, like I said.

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