The Girl In The Fireplace
Series Two, Episode Four
The Girl In The Fireplace is a love story for the Doctor, and there have hardly been any of those. Why is that? Well, School Reunion explained quite eloquently that the Doctor lives longer than anyone else, so he doesn't feel he can ever stay attached. And that's just his close friends: he's never around anyone else long enough for it to go anywhere. He's still got a heart – two, actually – but those are the facts and "close friends" is the best he can do, if that. It's The Curse Of The Time Lords. He literally said so last week.
Steven Moffat's brilliant way round this is to ignore it and just have him fall in love anyway. Uh. It works for a lot of people, and it won a Hugo Award, but... no. It doesn't work if you take the previous episode into account. It doesn't work if you want to actually see any evidence of love on-screen. It doesn't work if you watch these two characters alone in a room, supposedly being in love. It's a to-the-point shopping list of Doesn't Work.
What does work is the time travel jiggery-pokery where the Doctor pops in and out of a person's life. (See The Time Traveler's Wife, as Moffat so obviously has.) After hearing the Doctor/human relationship put into words last week, here it's enacted on the screen, and it's like a point-by-point account of why he can't fall in love with a human. Fair enough. Except, d'oh! It's inexplicably being used to make the opposite point. The Doctor doesn't build a bond with this woman, he barely meets her at all. And okay, there is such a thing as love at first sight, but this first sight happens when she's about seven years old. Ick.
It doesn't help that Madame de Pompadour is played by Sophia Myles, who makes a bunch of clockwork robots look expressive by comparison. Here is a woman who actually dated David Tennant, and yet their scenes together fizzle miserably. Tennant, who played Casanova, and one episode ago communicated boundless love and affection for Sarah Jane with a couple of smiles. It just ain't happening here.
Of course, the Doctor had years to form a bond with Sarah Jane, and so did we along with him. There was a weight to School Reunion because of it. You can't cram that kind of thing into 45 minutes. You know all that not-seeing we're doing, of all Madame Pom-Pom's accomplishments? The Doctor's not seeing them either. Apart from a few scenes where we miss the tail-end, he knows this woman about as well as we do. Oh, there's the I-think-he's-being-euphemistic-it's-too-subtle-to-be-sure "dancing", and more importantly the mind-meld (because apparently there weren't enough shortcuts in Doctor Who), but if their relationship's based on something that's impossible to interpret as an audience, then how the hell's it supposed to work as televised drama?
Nonetheless, Moffat insists in the clumsiest way possible that this is the real deal. When the Doctor charges to Madame Pot Pourri's rescue, he's marooning Rose and Mickey on a dangerous spaceship in the future. They're trapped forever, and he doesn't even mention it, presumably because he loves Madame What'shername so much he's willing to abandon his closest friend. Even after what he said to her last week, about specifically not doing that. Russell T Davies reportedly never edited Moffat's scripts, and dear God does that backfire here. What happened to Rose's obvious annoyance that Mickey was joining the TARDIS crew? Now they're thick as thieves. Hello? Is anybody screening this stuff? Clearly not, as otherwise they'd have thrown out all that ridiculous "So lonely, lonely then and lonelier now, my lonely Doctor" twaddle. Was there a scriptwriter's bonus if Steven Moffat used the word "lonely" in bulk? (Besides which, if the Doctor's so lonely, what's with the conveyerbelt of bezzie mates he's had since 1963? Yeah, they leave or they die in the end, but doesn't everyone who's ever lived have to deal with that as well? And okay, the Time Lords are gone, but didn't he spend all of Classic Who avoiding them anyway? I guess you really don't appreciate a thing until it's gone...)
|Lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely,|
lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely,
lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely,
Okay, okay, enough about the love story. What of the plot? Clockwork robots are invading Madame Pompous Orc's history in order to steal her brain. They want it to use as a computer, because their ship is lacking in parts and it's named after her and they are apparently deeply stupid. The body-parts-as-spare-parts stuff is intensely creepy, but it's always disappointing meeting a baddie who does what they do because they're an idiot. (Besides which, Moffat already did it in The Empty Child.) Rose and Mickey have little to do other than witness the Doctor's tryst and react hardly at all. Seriously – why isn't Rose crazy-jealous? But I enjoyed them getting along for once, even if it does totally contradict the last episode. Billie and Noel are good. And I liked the horse.
This is one of those episodes that lives or dies by the idea at its heart, and it dies a strange, awkward death because of it. Does Not Work. So there.