Sunday, January 23, 2011

"The Girl in the Fireplace"

So is the Doctor a lover or not?
That's the question I feel like asking after "School Reunion" followed by "The Girl in the Fireplace". As it is, The Girl in the Fireplace doesn't seem to fit the continuity very well - the Doctor's suddenly off romancing a human, Rose bears absolutely no ill-will towards Mickey, who she was extremely put out about joining them on the TARDIS mere moments ago (Mickey does say this ship is his first go), and we're back in the sodding fifty-first century again. Please give us another century of human activity! Are humans really going to have trans-galactic capabilities and time travel in the space of three thousand years?
Who knows, maybe they will. I doubt it, but maybe they will.
Anyway there's a lot of visual trickery in this story. It's trickery in the sense that you're supposed to be impressed with the incongruity and think it's all incredibly clever, but it's mostly fireplaces in spaceships and revolving doors. It makes absolutely no sense, and the Doctor's use of the term "magic door" is saddeningly appropriate. More unscientific science to facilitate a character drama then. Of course Moffat manages to write it in a way which makes it seem intelligent to cover up the fact that it sadly is bollocks. There are clockwork robots too, as absurd as it sounds, who apparently are able to work even though the engines aren't working because this ship's been pretty damaged. Yet the 'quantum warp drives' or whatever are working hard enough to open up doors in time, so clearly the power situation isn't that bad. What does that make the clockwork men, then? Gimmicks? Oh, right.
Maybe if other parts of the ship had been clockwork. Maybe if the clockwork men hadn't used so much decidedly non-clockwork technology, like teleporters and electronic speech. Maybe if it wasn't for the fact that the 'time windows' make absolutely no sense. They apparently weren't programmed to not use bits of the crew's bodies for repairs - what kind of rubbish clockwork men are they, then? Who the hell let these clockwork men out?! Sadly Monsieur Moffat has a tendency to sacrifice external logic for the sake of 'cool effect' and creepiness, and it's a little unsatisfying. Travelling through the time windows causes a delay, but talking through them doesn't... for some reason. All links to the ship are severed by breaking through the mirror time window for... some reason. The fireplace from Reinette's childhood still works for... some reason. The Doctor actually utters a breathtaking amount of technobabble this episode and, as stated above, even admits it. I think I expect more from Monsieur Moffat.
So anyway, what about all this malarkey with Madame de Pompadour? Well apparently the Doctor's not prepared to keep a human with him for a very long time but he is prepared to fall for her. As we know, she's talented and successful, although we never see any of this in action on screen. She's nicely played, although her dialogue gets a bit purple at times to represent the 'manners of courtly France' or something. Rose and Mickey mostly stand around like lemons getting captured or exchanging humorous one-liners, and there's a cringe-inducing scene where Tennant staggers in pretending to be drunk and funny. He also apparently performs a Vulcan Mind-Meld on Madame de Pompadour at one point and she discovers all sorts of secrets about the Doctor which are deliberately ambiguous to create a sense of mystery. The thing is, we already know full well that the Doctor's real name and childhood are pretty mysterious without someone going "Ooh, that's mysterious" during a Vulcan Mind-Meld. Then the Doctor gets stuck with her in the past but then finds out about the 'offline' magic door (however the hell that works) and goes back for 'something' even though he knows full well it takes years before he can get back, but he does come back, is surprised to find that she's dead, gets a letter from her and has a bit of a cry. Was he expecting her to die or was he actually going to take her with him? It's impossible to tell.
The story is clever but is full of so much hand-waving plot-expediency silliness that it's impossible to take it seriously, and the characterisation of the Doctor basically contradicts the rather more profound message of the previous episode, which had much more impact due to our prior knowledge of the Doctor's relationship with Sarah. Madame de Pompadour is very talented, yes, but she'll still age and 'wither' just like Sarah or Rose or whoever else would, and unless the Doctor plans on taking the (admittedly wise) suggestion offered by the Prime computers he advertised in the Eighties and marries Romana, I don't see what else he can do. These episodes also seem to repeatedly shoot in the foot this Doctor/Rose relationship thing RTD seems to want us to care about. Is the Doctor in love with Rose? Do Rose and Mickey still have something happening? Which relationship are we meant to care about? Is the Doctor taking his own advice about becoming close to humans or isn't he? Is it all astoundingly out of place in an escapist science fiction programme like Doctor Who? Yes!
One thing I will say is that I really enjoy the music in this episode. It's fairly restrained and it's so unlike the music played pretty much anywhere else in the show that it's always stuck with me since I first saw The Girl in the Fireplace back in 2006. Tennant's pretty good apart from the drunk scene and saying "I just snogged Madame de Pompadour!" like the randy schoolboy he is rather than a wise and venerable Time Lord, Rose barely appears, Mickey has some funny lines and Madame de Pompadour is pretty, and to be honest even though both the story and characterisation are completely out of place, inconsistent and jarring it's clever enough and lacks the kind of juvenile melodramatic/lowbrow-farcical nonsense that makes most RTD scripts incredibly dire, and it's actually probably one of the better episodes this series. Not sure if that really counts for much. Apparently Moffat never read the script for "School Reunion" before he wrote this, which explains why it's such an anomaly. Don't worry, Moffat will get his redemption next series. Well, as much redemption as you can have with the Tenth Doctor still in play.

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