The Girl in the Fireplace
|171 – "The Girl in the Fireplace"|
|Doctor Who episode|
The Doctor searches Madame de Pompadour's mind.
|Script editor||Helen Raynor|
|Executive producer(s)||Russell T Davies
|Incidental music composer||Murray Gold|
|Originally broadcast||6 May 2006|
"The Girl in the Fireplace" is the fourth episode of Series 2 of the British science fiction television series Doctor Who. It was first broadcast on 6 May 2006 on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), was directed by Euros Lyn and is the only episode in the 2006 series written by Steven Moffat. Sophia Myles guest-starred as the historical figure Madame de Pompadour. The episode is inspired by Audrey Niffenegger's novel The Time-Traveler's Wife.
In the episode, the Doctor—an alien time-traveller played by David Tennant—and his companion Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) and Mickey Smith (Noel Clarke) find time windows on a 51st-century spaceship leading to 18th-century France and a group of clockwork androids using them to stalk Madame de Pompadour throughout her life.
The programme's executive producer Russell T Davies, who conceived the idea while researching for Casanova, described the episode as a love story for the Doctor. The episode was filmed in England and Wales. It was well received by most critics, was nominated for a Nebula Award and won the 2007 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form.
The TARDIS materialises on a seemingly derelict spaceship drifting in space. The Doctor, Rose, and Mickey explore the ship and are puzzled to find an eighteenth century French fireplace. When he looks through the fireplace, the Doctor sees a young girl and asks who she is. She replies that her name is Reinette and that she lives in Paris in 1727. The Doctor deduces that the fireplace is a time window, a device that allows direct access to another time and place. The Doctor steps through the time window and arrives in Reinette's bedroom only to find that months have passed there. He discovers a ticking humanoid wearing eighteenth century clothing and a jester's mask hiding under Reinette's bed. The Doctor tricks the creature into returning through the time window to the spacecraft, where he and his companions learn that it is actually an intricate clockwork android. The android teleports away, and the Doctor warns Mickey and Rose not to go looking for it. The Doctor returns to Reinette's bedroom while Mickey and Rose arm themselves and go looking for the android. Returning to Reinette's bedroom, the Doctor discovers that she is now a young woman. She flirts with the Doctor and they kiss, but she is forced to leave to answer a summons. The Doctor then realises that she is Madame de Pompadour, the mistress of King Louis XV.
Back on the ship, the Doctor and his companions find several additional time windows and learn that each leads to a different moment in Madame de Pompadour's life. In one of them, the Doctor sees another clockwork creature menacing her and steps through the window to defend her. The Doctor tells Reinette to give the android orders, and it obeys her. It tells her that it is a repair android and that their spaceship was damaged in an ion storm. The androids did not have the parts necessary to repair the ship and killed the crew to use their organs for parts. The androids need one last part; Reinette's brain. Confused, the Doctor creates a telepathic link with Reinette, but is startled to find that she can also see into his mind. The androids capture Rose and Mickey and are about to harvest them for parts when the Doctor rescues them. The Doctor discovers that the androids plan to open a time window to Reinette's life at the age of 37, believing that her brain at that age will be compatible with the ship's systems. The clockwork androids appear at a costume ball and take Reinette and her guests hostage. At one end of the room is an enormous mirror, which is actually a time window. The Doctor and his companions can see through it, but they cannot enter without smashing the window and breaking the connection as the androids locked it after the Doctor's previous interruptions.
The androids threaten to decapitate Reinette, but the Doctor on horseback crashes through the mirror to save her. The androids give up and shut down when the Doctor tells them that they now cannot return to their ship to finish the repairs. Reinette tells the Doctor that she had her fireplace moved to Versailles in the hope that he would return. The Doctor finds that the fireplace is still an operating time window and uses it to return to the spaceship. He tells Reinette to pack a bag and prepare to leave. The Doctor returns to the fireplace seconds later but discovers that six years have passed in Reinette's time. King Louis XV finds the Doctor, tells him that Reinette has died and gives him a letter in which Reinette expresses her hopes for the Doctor's quick return and confesses her love for him. The Doctor returns to the TARDIS and watches the time windows close before leaving the ship. The TARDIS crew muse about the reasons the androids wanted Madame de Pompadour's brain to complete their repairs, and the Doctor conjectures that the android's memory banks were damaged by the ion storm. As the episode ends, the lifeless ship drifts through space; its name is SS Madame de Pompadour.
While the episode appears to follow immediately from the previous episode "School Reunion", Moffat says in the DVD audio commentary that when he wrote "Girl in the Fireplace" he had not yet read the end of "School Reunion", hence the lack of Rose's continuing animosity shown towards Mickey after he joins the TARDIS crew. After reading the Doctor's mind, Reinette says "Doctor who?", a reference both to the series' title and to the long-running mystery about the Doctor's actual name – this same question would eventually become an important plot point during the Eleventh Doctor's era, specifically in the episode The Wedding of River Song. She also says that it is "more than just a secret", but does not elaborate further. Moffat said that he added the dialogue because he believes that because the Doctor does not tell even his closest companions his name, there must be a "dreadful secret" about it. Again, this issue reappears in the Eleventh Doctor's era, in The Name of the Doctor. Moffat also says that he did not include the word "Torchwood" (an "arc word" in the second series) in the script because Davies did not ask him to do so.
Writing and characters
In 2004, Russell T Davies—Doctor Who's executive producer—was responsible for Casanova, a serial set in the 18th century. During his research, Davies become fascinated by Madame de Pompadour and wanted to include her in a story which also involved The Turk—a clockwork man who played chess around the same period and which was later revealed to be a hoax. In early 2005, Moffat—who had written "The Empty Child" and "The Doctor Dances" for the series—was assigned to write the story. Euros Lyn was later assigned to direct it. Sophia Myles stated in an interview on Doctor Who Confidential that she did not have to audition for the role of Madame De Pompadour, she was offered it.
In an interview with The Independent, Russell T Davies said the episode is "practically a love story for the Doctor ... It's very understated, very beautifully done, but it's nonetheless a Time Lord falling in love and Rose's reaction to him falling in love with someone else." Moffat was inspired by Audrey Niffenegger's novel The Time-Traveler's Wife, though the episode's structure is different from that of the novel. During the production, Moffat considered "Madame de Pompadour", "Every Tick of My Heart", "Reinette and the Lonely Angel" and "Loose Connection" for the episode's title. "The Girl in the Fireplace" was planned as the second episode of the 2006 series, however when Davies realised how experimental it had become in Moffat's hands, he decided to move it to fourth in the running order between "School Reunion" and "Rise Of The Cybermen".
While Moffat was creating the clockwork automata he first decided to hide their faces with wigs, but when producer Phil Collinson told him this would severely limit camera angles, and that it could appear comical, the androids were given carnival masks to wear. Neill Gorton of Millennium Effects designed the androids and they were constructed by Richard Darwen and Gustav Hoegan.
Filming for the episode took place between 12 and 27 October 2005. The scenes set in Versailles were filmed elsewhere; the first scenes filmed in which Reinette's body is taken away from city were filmed at Culverhouse Cross in Cardiff, Madame de Pompadour's sitting room and bedroom scenes were filmed at Tredegar House—a 17th-century mansion in Newport, Dyffryn Gardens in the Vale of Glamorgan was used as the set for the palace gardens, and Ragley Hall near Alcester was used for the ballroom scenes. The scenes on the spaceship, which were shot by the second unit, were also filmed in Newport.
Two horses were used in the episode; one was used for the scenes in close quarters on the spaceship, and another for jumps. According to Doctor Who Confidential, the horse was not allowed into the ballroom for the climactic scene. Thus, the elements of the Doctor riding through the mirror, the horse, the mirror breaking and the reactions of the extras in the ballroom had to be filmed separately and then composited together with chroma key. Tennant's head was superimposed upon that of the stunt rider in post-production. Initially, the programme's staff considered the use of special effects but realised this would be very expensive and rejected the idea.
Broadcast and reception
"The Girl in the Fireplace" was first broadcast in the United Kingdom on BBC One on 6 May 2006. The final rating for the episode was 7.90 million, making it the thirteenth most watched programme on BBC One that week. It received an Appreciation Index of 84, considered "excellent". The episode's script was nominated for the 2006 Nebula Award, and "The Girl in the Fireplace" won the 2007 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form.
Writing for IGN, Ahsan Haque praised Tennant and Myles' acting, the episode's pacing and the "extremely touching" story. He wrote that "with a little more attention to temporal details, this episode would have been considered as one of the series' greatest moments". In particular, Haque wrote that the episode would have worked better had the writers explained more precisely why the Doctor could not use the TARDIS to visit Madame Pompadour before she died. Metro said the clockwork androids were one of "most memorable villains" while The Guardian's Daniel Martin said, "The Girl in the Fireplace" is "one of the most acclaimed episodes from the Davies era".
Ross Ruediger from Slant Magazine wrote that the episode "may be the crowning achievement" of Doctor Who's second series. Ruediger called it an episode "for the new millennium" as he thought it "could never exist under the banner of the old series." He called it a "thought-provoking piece", and wrote that episodes like this could not be broadcast every week since it "would be too taxing on the average viewer's brain". IGN's Matt Wales ranked "The Girl in the Fireplace" the third best Tennant Doctor Who story, calling it "one of Doctor Who's most touching adventures".
- Clarke, Noel; Moffat, Steven. The Girl In the Fireplace Audio Commentary (MP3). BBC. Retrieved 19 January 2008.
- "A Brief History of Time (Travel): The Girl in the Fireplace". www.shannonsullivan.com. Retrieved 19 May 2013.
- Narrator: Mark Gatiss (6 May 2006). "Script to Screen". Doctor Who Confidential. Season 2. Episode 4. BBC Three.
- Byrne, Clar (10 April 2006). "Russell T Davies: The saviour of Saturday night drama". The Independent. Retrieved 11 April 2006.
- Johnston, Garth (21 April 2011). "Steven Moffat, Executive Producer of Doctor Who". Gothamist. Archived from the original on 18 March 2013. Retrieved 16 October 2011.
- "The Girl In The Fireplace locations guide". Wales, UK: BBC. Archived from the original on 5 June 2010. Retrieved 8 May 2006.
- "Doctor Who – Fact File – Episode 4: The Girl in the Fireplace". BBC. Retrieved 19 May 2013.
- "The Girl in the Fireplace Broadcasts". BBC. Retrieved 19 May 2013.
- "2006 Final Nebula Award Ballot". Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Retrieved 12 April 2007.
- "2007 Hugo Awards". World Science Fiction Society. 1 September 2007. Retrieved 1 September 2007.
- 23 October 2006. "Doctor Who: "The Girl in the Fireplace" Review". IGN. Retrieved 19 May 2013.
- "Doctor Who’s Matt Smith: Steven Moffat has ‘written his best script yet’". Metro. 27 September 2010. Retrieved 19 May 2013.
- Martin, Daniel (18 March 2010). "Doctor Who: Matt Smith makes debut". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 May 2013.
- Ruediger, Ross (20 October 2006). "Doctor Who, Season Two, Ep. 4: "The Girl in the Fireplace"". Slant Magazine. Retrieved 19 May 2013.
- Wales, Matt (25 January 2010). "Top 10 Tennant Doctor Who Stories". IGN. Retrieved 19 May 2013.
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- The Girl in the Fireplace on TARDIS Data Core, an external wiki
- TARDISODE 4
- Episode trailer
- Episode commentary by Phil Collinson, Helen Raynor and Eugene Washington (MP3)
- "The Girl in the Fireplace" episode homepage
- "The Girl in the Fireplace" at the BBC Doctor Who homepage
- "The Girl in the Fireplace" at Doctor Who: A Brief History Of Time (Travel)
- "The Girl in the Fireplace" at the Doctor Who Reference Guide
- "The Girl in the Fireplace" at Outpost Gallifrey
- "The Girl in the Fireplace" at TV.com
- "The Girl in the Fireplace" at the Internet Movie Database
- "The Girl in the Fireplace" reviews at Outpost Gallifrey
- "The Girl in the Fireplace" reviews at The Doctor Who Ratings Guide