Monday, 9 January 2017

Story 171 - The Girl in the Fireplace

In which Mickey Smith gets a spaceship on his first journey in the TARDIS. The vessel hails from the 51st Century. It appears to be abandoned and in a poor state of repair. It is stationary, yet the engines are operating at full power. The Doctor and his companions discover an ornate fireplace just off the control room. Looking into it, they are shocked to find a blonde-haired girl looking back at them from the other side. Her name is Reinette, and she is in her bedroom, in Paris, 1727. The Doctor discovers a hidden mechanism that can rotate the fireplace, and he uses this to visit the girl. She is in bed, and the room is silent save for the ticking of a clock on the mantelpiece. Reinette informs the Doctor that it was months ago that she spoke to him through the fireplace. he becomes alarmed when he sees that the clock is actually broken, yet he can still hear the ticking. Checking under the bed, he finds an ornately dressed android is hiding there. It wears 18th Century costume, with a Venetian carnival style mask. It has been scanning the girl's brain, and states that she is not ready yet. The Doctor forces it back through the revolving fireplace to the spaceship, but it teleports away before he can learn anymore from it.

Mickey and Rose decide to go off in search of the Droid, whilst the Doctor returns to Paris - only to find that time has moved on much further. Reinette is now a young woman, about to leave this home for the court of King Louis XV at Versailles. The Doctor discovers that she is really Madame De Pompadour. Mickey and Rose discover that the spaceship has been repaired using organic material from its dead crew - such as an eyeball in a CCTV camera, and a human heart acting as a fuel pump. The Doctor returns and they learn that the ship's engines are powering temporal portals to 18th Century France, all focusing on Reinette at different stages of her life. The Droids are repair drones, using any means at their disposal to maintain the vessel. When the Doctor returns to France, Mickey and Rose are captured by the Droids, who plan to use their bodies for further components. The Doctor returns in time to save them.

He visits France a number of times more, keeping watch over Madame De Pompadour, as he tries to work out why the Droids are stalking her through time. He finds himself attracted to her. At one point he tries to read her mind to look for clues as to why the Droids are so interested in her, only to discover that she can also read his thoughts. A horse, which he names Arthur, wanders onto the spaceship after him. Rose goes to see the Royal Mistress to warn her and update her on the Doctor's investigations. Determined to know more, Reinette follows her back to the spaceship, just as the Doctor identifies the moment when the Droids will attack her. She is sent back to her own time, and the Doctor asks her to call for him when she comes under attack. The Doctor attempts to close the time-windows, but finds he can't as one of the Droids is still in the 18th Century. The Droids launch an assault at Versailles during a masque-ball, determined to remove Reinette's head. The Doctor arrives in the ballroom - smashing through the time-window (hidden behind a mirror) on the back of Arthur. The portals are disabled. As they cannot now complete their mission, the Droids deactivate.

It transpires that they needed her brain to complete the repairs to their ship - to fix the computer. As the vessel is 37 years old, only Reinette's brain at that age would suffice. The Doctor finds that he is now stranded in the France of 1759. He will have to live his life by the "slow path". Reinette reveals that she had the fireplace brought to Versailles, and the Doctor discovers that the link to the spaceship is still active. He offers to take her travelling through Time and Space, to which she agrees. He returns to the ship to inform Mickey and Rose, then slips back to France. However, it is now 1764. He meets the King, who informs him that Reinette has just died - her body leaving Versailles for the last time. She left him a letter, which he reads back on the TARDIS, which tells of how she waited for him. The Doctor never does work out why the Droids singled out Reinette. He leaves, unaware that the spaceship was named the SS Madame De Pompadour...

The Girl in the Fireplace was written by Steven Moffat, and was first broadcast on Saturday, 6th of May, 2006.
It is the second celebrity-historical of the season, though sadly most of the viewing public would have known very little of Madame De Pompadour, or the reign of Louis XV. Louis XIV - the Sun King - possibly, and Louis XVI, husband of Marie Antoinette, who got his head chopped off in the Revolution - probably.
Moffat took as his inspiration the story of the chess-playing automaton known as The Turk, as well as the story of a real revolving fireplace that allowed secret lovers to meet. This was after Russell T Davies had given him the brief to write a story featuring Madame De Pompadour. Davies had carried out a considerable amount of research for his David Tennant-starring series Casanova, and had become fascinated by the famous courtesan. The story was designed to show that the Doctor was capable of falling in love, particularly with someone who had demonstrated great accomplishments in a number of fields. The nature of her role at Louis' court obviously had to be downplayed due to the age range watching.
The Turk turned out to be a fake, but 18th Century Europe was obsessed with genuine automata of all kinds. Moffat also had an eye for what would scare people, after including creepy children and skull-like gas masks in his Series One script. He went for the monster hidden under the bed - something he would revisit majorly in Series 8.

As the story focuses so much on the Doctor's relationship with Madame De Pompadour, there is a relatively small guest cast list. Sophia Myles was given the part of Reinette. Tennant had worked with her once before - in an episode of the wartime detective series Foyle's War. He had found her a bit remote then. She had been at school with Ben Turner, who was chosen to play King Louis, and he was a friend of Noel Clarke. Billie Piper convinced Tennant that Myles was not really standoff-ish, and of course the pair would go on to have a romance in real life. The younger Reinette is Jessica Atkins. In a brief role, as Reinette's friend Katherine, is Angel Coulby, who was Guinevere in the BBC's Merlin series.
Story Arc: Nothing this week. Unless you count the banana references viz Moffat's season one script. No "Torchwood" mentioned, or overt links to other stories, but see below for links to the future.

Tardisode: A spaceship in the Dagmar Cluster has been hit by an ion storm. The crew try to send out an SOS. One of the survivors hears a ticking sound and screams as a shadow falls over her. We then see the face crack on an ormolu clock, sitting on a mantelpiece.

Overall, it's an excellent episode. Very clever and moving at the same time, with wonderful monster designs - both the masked and unmasked versions of the Clockwork Droids.
Things you might like to know:
  • As mentioned above, this episode doesn't contain any significant current story arc points, but it does have some ideas that Moffat will revisit, especially once he gets to run the show himself. He'll bring the Droids back, this time from the sister ship SS Marie Antoinette, in Deep Breath. The something under the bed will be the starting point for Listen. That episode also dwells on the notion of the Doctor's loneliness and unhappiness as a child - something Reinette sees as she reads the Doctor's thoughts. There will be a chess playing automaton - again fake - in Nightmare In Silver. The main thing, though, will be his fascination with the Doctor meeting a girl at different times throughout her life. Compare Reinette with Amelia / Amy Pond, and Sally Sparrow. Moffat has claimed that the novel The Time-Traveler's Wife was another inspiration.
  • It was originally intended that this would be the second episode of the series, but as Moffat added more elements to the story it got pushed back.
  • The Turk was actually created a decade or so after Madame De Pompadour's death. 
  • Poor Rose. This story immediately follows the one where she gets to realise that she isn't unique - the Doctor has had other companions, and he has left them behind. Add to this her ex, Mickey, is now accompanying them on their travels - so she doesn't have the Doctor to herself anymore. Then he obviously falls in love with this woman from History. However, as the story focuses so much on the Doctor and Reinette, she and Mickey have very little to do, so her reactions to all of this aren't made a big deal of. It turns out that Moffat had not read the ending of School Reunion, so had not included any friction between the characters.
  • Two different horses played Arthur - and one of them was actually called Arthur. The other was named Bolero.
  • An unfilmed scene had the Doctor seeing Arthur being mistreated by a servant, which is why he allowed it to follow him. Davies and Moffat toyed with the idea of Arthur staying on in the TARDIS, to be brought out occasionally in future episodes.
  • David Tennant was allergic to horses, but his main scenes on horseback were achieved with him sitting on top of a wheeled trolley, or having his face superimposed on top of the stunt rider. Of course the location for the ballroom wouldn't permit a horse to clomp around indoors. 
  • Steven Moffat was not remotely happy when the Radio Times, as part of its preview for this story, gave an in-depth account of how the horse-smashing-through-mirror sequence was filmed - this being the big hero moment of the episode.
  • Until late in the day, the script had the horse shying at the last moment and the Doctor being somersaulted through the window without it.
  • It was originally intended that the Doctor really would have been drunk on his return from the 18th Century party. Mention is made of Zeus Plugs being used as castanets. These TARDIS tools were first mentioned in the closing scenes of Hand of Fear.
  • It was only two weeks before this that the programme was insulting the Royal Family, with its reference to Princess Anne being a werewolf. Here, Camilla gets a mention, as Rose compares the future Duchess of Cornwall's relationship with Prince Charles to that of Reinette's to Louis.
  • The Droids were originally going to be faceless, with their wigs obscuring the face or simply having a dark void where the face would be, but this was deemed as looking silly so the masks were added.
  • Davies would later claim that Moffat's scripts were the only ones that he never heavily rewrote. We do know, however, that it was Davies who pushed for the contents of Reinette's letter to be heard on screen. Moffat had simply left it for the viewer to surmise what she might have written.
  • The Doctor dances yet again - something he only ever seems to do when Steven Moffat is writing the scripts. If you thought it might mean something else, well now we know.
  • The real Madame De Pompadour died from TB. She and the King stopped having sexual relations around 1750, but she arranged a number of other mistresses for him and remained a close confidante. Her main successes were in the spheres of architecture, gardening and the arts (especially porcelain manufacture). She was an Enlightenment thinker, championing Voltaire (who was supposed to appear in this episode). Her political advice to the King was generally bad - advising alliances that led to France's defeat in the Seven Years War and the loss of French colonies in the Americas. The phrase "Apres nous, le Deluge" - after us, the flood - is credited to her, said as she tried to console the King after military set-backs. The rain as her coffin leaves Versailles in the story is accurate. The King is reported to have said "The Marquise won't have good weather for her journey" as the coffin was transported away to Paris. She was buried in the Capuchin convent in the city. Some historians claim that the French Revolution can be owed at least in part to her legacy.

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