Eleanor Herman wrote a very captivating book, Sex With Kings, which is a historical account of royal mistresses. According to her, royal mistresses were de rigueur in European courts. Most, if not all, royal marriages were tragedies for the king and queen, since they were married based on dowries, political strategies, and other things that are far cries from love. In order to ensure the integrity of the bloodline, the queens were raised so rigidly that they were very virginal and were often at a loss with what to do about their husbands. Most kings thus turned to royal mistresses. Court officials and nobles scurried around to gain the favor of the mistress, because she was the king’s favorite and could use her influence to their benefit. Royal infidelity was so common that Royal Mistress was considered an ‘official’ position.  I even read about a king who loved his wife dearly, but kept a mistress because it was expected of him (all they did was play card games).

Royal mistresses were either renowned for their beauty or had the most pleasing and entertaining personalities.  Madame de Pompadour was blessed with both brains and beauty. She is considered the quintessential royal mistress. Royal mistresses could expect plenty of rewards (money, land, titles, gowns, jewelry), so plenty of noble families tried to push their daughters into the king’s arms. In return, they were expected to be a one-man show for the king — apart from physical pleasures, they had to entertain him, always listen to him, always soothe him, and never complain. They were forever at his beck and call — they had to accompany him on hunts, host balls, and always look magnificent. Since the king could have anyone in the country, most royal mistresses complied with the tiring requirements.

Madame de Pompadour was a patron of the arts and good causes, and she lead the French court in fashion, music, and theatre. Her tireless dedication contributed to her early death. She was a rather otherworldly character, so I was pleased with Sophia Myles’ acting. I felt it was an accurate portrayal of Madame de Pompadour. The character was pretty, refined, and obviously a high-class member of the court, but she had a mischievous glint to her. I only wish the writers had shown more of French court life and the rigors of being a royal mistress, instead of relying on Madame de Pompadour’s glamorous reputation. It would have added more color to the character. However, not revealing more of her side could have been a strategy to heighten the aspect of the time windows — a few minutes of our time are decades of hers. The French characters also should have had proper French accents — I understand the TARDIS translates inside people’s heads, but the lack of accents diluted the Versailles effect.

It is mind-boggling to consider that although the Doctor knew her for only a few hours, Madame de Pompadour’s entire life had been peppered with her encounters with the Doctor. Who is amazing because it constantly unravels our ‘stereotypes’ of time travel. Time travel is complex and chock-full of contradictions — it is never simple back-and-forth movement. Imagine how it would feel to discover that your imaginary childhood friend was actually an actual (and handsome) guardian angel. No wonder she fell in love with the Doctor!

Madame de Pompadour would have been a picture-perfect companion for the Doctor. She was very polished and intelligent, so she would have been a match for the Doctor’s cosmopolitan ways. She could have coped with the myriad challenges that face the Doctor and his companions daily — in fact, she could rise magnificently to the occasion and outsmart any villain. However, the episode’s Madame de Pompadour and the actual Madame de Pompadour would have disliked the grittier side of the Doctor’s adventures. After all, she grew up in Versailles. Madame de Pompadour exclaimed that she did not like the Doctor’s world after she encountered the butchered ship. She was game, however, to visit beautiful stars.

Thus, it makes sense to me that Rose continued as the Doctor’s top companion. She does not glitter like Madame de Pompadour, but she has the gumption to face ugly and frightening situations. If the Doctor had a companion who was equally intelligent and talented, the show would be less exciting and the viewers would never learn anything. Also, part of the bittersweetness of Who is the fact that he always lives on while his companions age. It seems poignant and fitting that he met his equal only by chance, and that their relationship could not last. I loved this episode because it peeled back another layer of the Doctor’s facade to show more of his vulnerability. It paints him as a more lovable character. I am sure a lot of female viewers were sighing at the end of this episode.