Monday, 7 January 2013

Review: Doctor Who 2.4: The Girl In The Fireplace

Why are there clockwork robots in the 51st Century
anyway? The power involved for that is immense.
Doctor Who - Season 28, Story Four - The Girl In The Fireplace
Written 14/12/12

There's something rather ironic about starting my run-through of the RTD era with a story written by the current showrunner, Steven Moffat. As a writer, Moffat initially seperated himself from the then-incumbent by having an approach to storytelling that appealed not only to nerd culture but also to primal fears and desires. At this stage, though, his various calling cards were still fresh and new, which is why this week's episode became a fan-favourite pretty much instantly. The Girl In The Fireplace reads, to the modern viewer, like a checklist of all of Moffat's favourite tricks. Whether that diminishes its appeal is up to the viewer, but it certainly does colour a few things.
        In Moffat's first (serious) look at Timey Wimey messes, the Doctor, Rose and Mickey land on a spaceship from the ultra-sexualised 51st Century (another Moffat favourite period) and discover the crew dead. The Doctor investigates a 18th Century fireplace and discovers that it, like many other parts of the ship, is a portal to said century - specifically to the life of Reinette, the real name of famous French aristocrat Madame Du Pompadour (Sophia Myles). The Ship is now crewed only by a set of Clockwork Androids disguised to fit into 18th Century France, who are obsessed with finding and harvesting Reinette's brain. The Doctor, by passing through various different portals, manages to form a relationship with Reinette over her lifetime and after he saves the day, he tries to return through the fireplace, only to find that he has skipped too far and that she has died awaiting his return.
      Moffat's key mechanic here borrow very, very heavily from The Time-Traveller's Wife concept, which is either an amazing coincidence considering the book had just hit shelves or was a total and blatant ripoff that was mangled enough to seem original. I'll leave that for you to decide. Luckily for Reinette, and the viewer, The Doctor's interactions with her are fairly linear, the focus being on the gaps between their meetings. The romance takes definite precedence, contrasting rather deliberately against the general Rose/Ten ship that this season presents, and it works because Myles and Tennant have a natural chemistry together.
Reinette, otherwise known as "Rose Rival of the Week".
     But those characterisations do cause a few problems in the long run, and one can't help but wonder whether Moffat knew what he was doing in presenting a character whose singular goal seems to be to act as a man's posing pouch. When she's not being the mistress of the King of France, she's lusting after the Doctor and waiting for him to return to her. Sure, we're told about the stuff that the real Madame Du Pompadour did in her lifetime, but she never seems to do any of that stuff in the episode. On the home front, and Mickey reads like an audition for Rory while Moffat's writing of Rose, similar to that in his previous story, takes her completely out of the action for the majority of the story. The Doctor here is a swaggering action hero who boasts of his sexual prowess and flirts with every passing woman, something that seemed so strange at the time but is almost typical now.
       Perhaps I'm focussing a little too much on the similarities with Moffat's Tenure. By itself, the narrative of The Girl In The Fireplace manages to balance an interesting concept and a relatively well-done love-story that is in many ways better than Moffat's later timey wimey romances for virtue of sheer brevity. It is, fundamentally, an incredibly enjoyable story simply from the way that the story is woven. I do however wonder whether beneath its beautfiul tapestry of star-crossed lovers there lies something a little more tired, a little more hollow and, perhaps, a forgetfulness for who our characters really are.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: I let my inner fan take over as I discuss the rights and wrongs of Cybus Industries in Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel.

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