The Girl in the Fireplace
The Girl in the Fireplace is the fourth episode of series 2 of Doctor Who. It was first broadcast on 6 May 2006 and was written by Steven Moffat. Sophia Myles guest-starred as the historical figure Madame de Pompadour. It continues from the events of its prequel, Tardisode 4.
The episode takes place in multiple time periods as the Tenth Doctor, Rose Tyler and Mickey Smith find time windows leading to 18th century France and Clockwork Droids use them to stalk Madame de Pompadour through her life. Doctor Who writer Russell T Davies described the episode as a love story for the Doctor. The Girl in the Fireplace was well-received by most critics despite the time constraints imposed on the plot. The episode was nominated for a Nebula Award and won the 2007 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form.
While working with David Tennant on Casanova, Russell T Davies researched Madame de Pompadour and decided to use her in Doctor Who.
Another influence on this story was the Turk, an 18th century robot. In reality it was a hoax, but Davies hoped to give it a sinister past. Due to its experimental nature, The Girl in the Fireplace was shifted in the running order from second to fourth episode in the series.
18th century Versailles, a starry night: Panic is in the palace as people run from an unseen enemy. Madame de Pompadour— or Reinette — stands at a fireplace with her lover, the King of France. She tells him about a mysterious man called the Doctor who promised to come to her rescue on this night. Desperately, she calls for the Doctor through the fireplace.
Three thousand years later, the Doctor’s TARDIS arrives on an abandoned space ship. The Doctor finds that, as well as being in a state of disrepair, the ship is generating enormous power, even though it is stationary. “Enough to punch a hole in the universe,” he comments. Shortly afterwards, the Doctor, Rose and Mickey, who is on his first trip in the TARDIS, find an 18th century fireplace. Although the other side of the fireplace should be the outer hull of the ship, there is another room with a little girl. She informs the Doctor that she is in her bedroom in Paris, the year is 1727 and her name is Reinette. When Mickey comments that the Doctor said they were supposed to be in the 51st century, the Doctor explains that the excess of power can “punch a hole in the universe”. There is a “magic door” between them in the 51st century and Reinette in 1727.
The Doctor decides to explore further. He flips a switch on the mantle to rotate the fireplace into Reinette’s bedroom. A startled Reinette informs him that though it has been mere seconds for him, for her it has been months since they last spoke. The Doctor notices her mantle clock is broken. The ticking they hear must be coming from somewhere else. He traces the noise to Reinette’s bed and has a look underneath. He is attacked by a ticking creature in period dress. The Doctor notes that the creature has been scanning Reinette’s brain and asks it why, but the creature only answers questions asked by Reinette.
The Doctor tricks the creature into returning to the space ship, where he freezes it with a fire extinguisher. Removing the period dress, the Doctor finds it is a clockwork android. It teleports away before the Doctor has a chance to disassemble it. He warns Rose and Mickey not to go looking for it, and returns to Reinette’s bedroom. They go looking for it anyway.
Back in Reinette’s bedroom, the Doctor finds the girl is now a young lady. They share a passionate kiss before she leaves to join her mother. The Doctor learns that Reinette’s surname is Poisson and realizes that she is destined to be titled Madame De Pompadour, mistress to King Louis XV and the uncrowned queen of France. The fact that he has just “snogged Madame de Pompadour” gives him great happiness as he returns to the future.
While complaining about Rose and Mickey wandering off, the Doctor finds a horse on board. It has wandered in through one of the windows in history.
Meanwhile, Mickey and Rose find a camera with a human eye in it and a human heart wired into machinery before rejoining the Doctor and the horse at another window to history. The Doctor explains that the windows to Reinette’s life are all over the ship. As they watch her flirt with the king through a mirror, he says that Reinette plans to become the king’s mistress.
The Doctor spots a clockwork droid in the corner, crosses through the window and freezes it again with the extinguisher. He asks Reinette to order the droid to answer his questions, noting the droids will only do what she says. He swiftly learns the droids used the space ship crew to fix it when it broke down. This was why Rose and Mickey saw a heart and an eye earlier. The droid says that they require a part of Reinette for the ship as “they are the same”, but “she is not ready yet.” Horrified, Reinette orders the droid to leave. Obeying, it teleports away. Rose and Mickey pursue it, taking the horse with them.
Using his Time Lord abilities, the Doctor examines Reinette’s mind, taking a look at her past. It’s not long before the Doctor realizes she is also looking in his mind at his lonely childhood. When he asks Reinette how she managed that, she says, “A door once opened may be stepped through in either direction.” She invites the Doctor to dance with her.
Meanwhile, back on the ship, Mickey is taunting Rose about the many women the Doctor knows. She sees a Clockwork Droid coming up behind Mickey and tries to warn him, but he is seized by the droid, which injects him with something that knocks him out. Rose tries to aim her gun at the droid, but another appears behind her, grabs hold of her and pulls her down. She struggles but it will not let her up. It injects her and she falls unconscious.
Rose awakens to find herself strapped to an operating table. Mickey, on a table next to Rose, has received the same treatment. The droids loom over them, threatening to dissect them, and Rose and Mickey struggle and try to reason with them, but to no avail.
However, the Doctor appears, pretending to be drunk. He explains to his captive friends that the droids are waiting for Reinette to turn thirty-seven. This is the age of the space ship and they want her brain to replace the broken command circuit of the ship. He also pours anti-oil over one of the droids and it stops moving. He stops the other droids with a lever on a nearby console. He deactivates the tables and the three of them escape.
When the Doctor tries to close the gateways he finds that he can’t — one of the droids is still in France. This droid sends a message to the droids on the ship. They spring back to life and teleport.
The Doctor sends Rose to warn Reinette that the droids will return to her some time after her thirty-seventh birthday. Mickey comes to inform Rose that the Doctor has found the correct time window. Reinette rushes into the space ship and hears her own screams from the future as the Doctor fixes an audio link to the window. Reinette decides to take the “slower path” and returns to France.
Rose and Mickey return to the Doctor, who has discovered that the droids have sealed off the time window to prevent him following them. He uses the horse to break through the seal, breaking the connection between France and the ship. The Doctor explains to the droids that they are no longer needed. Seeing he is correct, they cease functioning, collapse to the floor and shatter.
Meanwhile, back in the ship, Rose and Mickey realize that if the Doctor is trapped in France, they are trapped as well since they cannot operate the TARDIS. Mickey starts to panic, but Rose remains silent.
On the other hand, the Doctor seems quite reconciled to taking the “slow path” with Reinette. As they sip wine and stargaze through a palace window, he muses about how he might earn money since he’s “not going anywhere.” It is Reinette who suggests that there might yet be a way back for him. She brings him to a room with a bed covered with flower petals and shows him the fireplace from when they first met. She had the same fireplace moved to Versailles. Because she moved the fireplace, the window was offline when the link broke so there is still a connection. Using his sonic screwdriver, the Doctor reactivates the link. He rides the rotating mantle back onto the ship as Reinette looks on sadly; a part of her had hoped he would be unable to do so. Once on the other side, the Doctor turns back to look through the fireplace at Reinette. He tells her to pack a bag and pick a star – if she wants to join him, he will take her wherever she wants to go. “Give me two minutes,” he tells her before hurrying to find Rose and Mickey.
After quickly greeting his very relieved companions and rushing them into the TARDIS, the Doctor turns back to get Reinette. However, when he rides the mantle around again, she is nowhere to be found. Searching for her, he instead finds the now much-older king. While it had been two minutes for the Doctor, it had been years for Reinette. The king tells the Doctor that he’s “just missed her; she’ll be in Paris by six.” The words seem innocuous enough, but the king’s tone hints that she has not just gone on a simple trip. In a low voice, he states that she had always hoped to see the Doctor again, and he hands the Doctor a letter she had written to him. The king then draws the Doctor’s attention to the window and they both watch a hearse take Reinette away “for the last time”; tragically, she has died. As understanding dawns upon the Doctor that she is truly gone, he is obviously deeply affected. Despite the king’s query about the contents of the letter, the Doctor silently slips it into his pocket to read when he is alone. He leaves without another word.
Once back in the TARDIS, the Doctor tries to act nonchalant. When Rose questions him about why Reinette was singled out, he shrugs it off as the ship’s damaged computer getting “confused” and moves to the TARDIS console, calmly shutting down the rest of the time windows. Despite his business-as-usual demeanor, Rose senses that he is in pain. When she asks him if he is alright, he looks her in the eye and claims he is “always alright.” He manages a small smile before looking away again, but he is fooling no one. By this point, even Mickey can see that all is not well. In order to allow the Doctor some time alone, Mickey suggests that Rose show him around the TARDIS and leads her away.
Once he is sure they are gone, the Doctor pulls the letter from his pocket and slowly unfolds it. In the letter, Reinette tells of her love for the Doctor and how she fears that she may never see him again as her body weakens. Still, she continues to hold out hope. He visibly struggles to control his emotions as he reads her pleas for him to hurry back to her. She finishes, “Godspeed, my lonely angel.” Swallowing hard, he puts the letter back into his pocket; no tears fall, but there is anguish in his eyes.
As the light in the fire dies, the TARDIS de-materializes, revealing that it stood in front of a picture of Reinette. As the TARDIS leaves the scene, the name of the ship (and the reason the droids targeted Reinette) can finally be seen on the outside: SS Madame De Pompadour.