2.04, The Girl in the Fireplace

When I revisit these episodes in the future, I will have only one rule: never watch Steven Moffat episodes at night. Ever. Just thinking about “Girl in the Fireplace” gives me the creeps. Thank you, Steven Moffat, for bringing back our childhood nightmares and making them real and even more dangerous. But I have to hand it to Moffat. Like in “The Empty Child” and “The Doctor Dances,” the fear is just the hook. Yes, it’s sustained throughout the episode but he uses it as a set-up for a believable and sometimes quite powerful emotional arc. I like the “Empty Child” two-parter better but “Girl in the Fireplace” is definitely the most memorable episode of the second series so far.

In this episode, we are introduced to another one-off character, Madame de Pompadour (hereafter known as MDP), whom The Doctor visits at various stages of her life. Because this is all seen from the Doctor’s perspective, it would be difficult to show the audience how life progresses for MDP but I thought the actress did a good job doing just that. MDP and the Doctor’s unsynchronized timelines is not entirely original (the Narnia books were known for this device) but I think it’s the first time we’ve seen it in Doctor Who. I loved the contrast between 18th century France and the 51st century spaceship, and the way this particular trip was like a buy-one-get-one-free time period. It’s just really inventive. Aside from that, it also serves the plot and the relationships in this episode. I still think “Empty Child” is stronger because everything came together beautifully in the end, and we actually felt a real connection to creepiest kid ever to grace television. Whereas in “Girl in the Fireplace,” we learn that this entire episode happened because the ship was named Madame de Pompadour. That is a crap name for a spaceship and it does not make me sympathize with the clocks at all. And yes, it does make a difference in my enjoyment of the episode.

Another thing I found seriously lacking in this episode: Mickey Smith. Really, what is the point of bringing him in if you’re not going to deal with it seriously? Mickey’s bound to have issues with the Doctor and Rose, so why are we not discussing this? But I guess he’s too excited about time and space travel to care at the moment, so alright. I will wait. In the meantime, he did deliver one my favorite line from this episode: “It’s so realistic.” And it’s interesting on a number of levels. First, within the narrative itself, the outer space Mickey sees isn’t realistic at all – it’s real. He is actually in outer space. Mickey’s excited not so much by the fact that it’s there, but that it looks like it’s there. It’s the highest compliment he can give. And it’s quite telling of how image-based humans are today. Second, as viewers who know that the image of space is fake, we are the ones who are supposed to judge if it’s realistic or not. They used for a few seconds but from what I could tell, it looked realistic enough. It could be a comment on how much their special effects have improved as well. It felt a bit weird having Mickey stand in for us in this moment, but alright, good for you, show. May you have more money for better explosions and alien costumes in the future.