The Girl in the Fireplace

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    Craig @craig

    This week’s Moffat episode is his first for Tennant, and it’s a doozy. The Doctor, Rose and Mickey find “time windows” on a 51st century spaceship to 18th century France. They discover clockwork androids are stalking Madame de Pompadour throughout her life.

    What do monsters have nightmares about?


    PhaseShift @phaseshift
    Time Lord

    I watched this afternoon, as it’s quiet.

    I think this is a fantastic episode, and clearly is a tale that Moff wanted to do for a long time, returning to it in an expanded form with the story of Amy.

    As a basic setup – the mad introduction between a young girl and the Doctor as he saves her from a monster in her own house. A bewildering exciting encounter with the Doctor which she takes with her to adulthood – a protector against nightmares that even the monsters under the bed are afraid of.

    The interruptions in time, and the young girl growing, remembering it like a dream, the sudden re-acquaintance and the realisation that imaginary friends can be real.

    Reinette: “It is customary, I think, to have an imaginary friend only during one’s childhood. You are to be congratulated on your persistence.”

    Thereafter, the intersection between two lives in a way that only time travel can make possible, the slow path and the fast path.

    Reinette: “How could you be a stranger to me? I’ve known you since I was seven years old.”
    The Doctor: “Yeah. I suppose you have. I came the quick route.”

    And when it comes to the end, as all people do, we have the final message delivered in writing. Many of the criticisms about how Amy and Rory ended their story could be applied here. The Doctor as a Time traveller could surely circumnavigate that problem and revisit her before her death? The problem is that he has just been told he doesn’t.

    I think with Mickey joining Team TARDIS it was a perfect opportunity to see how a three handed crew would operate. You have Rose showing Mickey the ropes, just as Amy did Rory, and echoes of the tensions between them as everyone is a bit unsure of the status quo.

    Tennant’s drunk scene is hilarious, as is “Look what the cat dragged in – the Oncoming Storm” from Billie.

    I love the sense of the absurd as well “There could be anything on this ship” – Sees Horse. Shortly followed by:

    Mickey: “What’s a horse doing on a spaceship?”
    The Doctor: “Mickey, what’s pre-Revolutionary France doing on a spaceship. Get a little perspective.”

    You can easily see those lines being performed by Eleven and Rory.

    I think it has that fairytale feel to it in a way.I love the production design, and the clockwork droids are stunningly beautiful. And then we have the name reference.

    Reinette: “Doctor. Doctor who? It’s more than just a secret, isn’t it?”

    It’s funny that the early fiftieth century has almost become a touchstone reference point for Moff. Jack was from that era, the ship here is, Silence is set around that time, and so therefore much of the future River plotline.

    Really enjoyed watching it again.

    wolfweed @wolfweed

    @phaseshift The 51st Century in BG Who saw the era after the Galactic Federation’s (and so the Earth’s dominance) demise. The ecological ruination of the planet Earth, the rise of the Supreme Alliance and much Time-Agent activity.

    Most significantly, the rise of Artificial Intelligence throughout the cosmos.

    K-9, Xoanan and the Robots of Death all hail from this time.

    So it’s no surprise that (AG) this story features robots with great responsibility.

    Or that The Papal Mainframe runs the Church of this time.

    Or that Captain Jack is from this era.

    I half expect to return there to wrap up the overall Moffat arc at some point…

    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip

    It is a lovely episode, and introduces themes that would later be examined by other Who scriptwriters. And yes, @phaseshift, I became very aware when I watched it that Moffat’d taken the chance to explore the slow path/quick path in greater depth with Amy.

    Here he visits Reinette’s life from childhood to death in what – for him – is a few hours. But he doesn’t have the devastating effect on Reinette that he does on Amy; possibly because he encourages little Reinette to believe that she’s dreaming. Little Amelia, on the other hand, knew her imaginary friend wasn’t imaginary.

    In Hide (writer: Neil Cross) the Doctor takes another ‘quick path’ – Earth’s birth to its death. And Clara questions what it’s doing to him. Are we ghosts to him, those of us who take the slow path? To the Doctor we both haven’t been born and have been dead for thousands of years. Can we be anything but phantoms, the not-quite real?

    In Girl in the Fireplace the Doctor is visibly attracted to Reinette, visibly affected by her death. But by the time of Hide, he doesn’t understand why Clara is so upset.

    Yes, the Fifty-first Century has almost been set up as the Doctor’s other ‘home’ century. And I think this was the first episode where Moffat started to hint that there’s a reason the Doctor hides his name.

    PhaseShift @phaseshift
    Time Lord


    Yes, it’s interesting the differences in the dynamic. When I first saw GitF, I immediately thought that his interest in Reinette was almost in reaction to Mickey, or somehow trying to prove a point to Rose, but I decided on a rewatch shortly after that doesn’t really fit. There is an obvious attraction, perhaps fascination between them.

    Hide though, I’m not sure. I think the Doctor is like many in that we know people, stars and planets live and die as a fact, but it tends to hit you harder when it’s people that you come to know. River’s line about “never let him see the damage” in AtM was a really good one in retrospect. Perhaps the letter and book entry by Reinette and Amy, finding out about the Bridadiers death make it real to him?


    Good summary, and I wouldn’t be surprised at a return either.

    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip

    @phaseshift – yes, but I think in ‘Hide’ the point is that the Doctor does know Earth. He’s lived there. He knows people from there. He’s having a nice chat with someone from there. And he’s just gone from its birth to its death and it should mean something to him. Whereas it’s very clearly played as if such a journey means nothing at all beyond a possible solution to a mystery worth solving.

    That scene is, I think, riffing off Toby Whithouse’s similar scene in Vampires of Venice:

    I can’t see it any more… I’m 907. After a while… you just can’t see it!…I look at a star and it’s just a big ball of burning gas and I know how it began and I know how it ends and I was probably there both times. After a while, everything is just stuff! That’s the problem.

    And now, by the time of Hide (probably about 200 years later in his personal time line), he doesn’t even understand that there is a problem. It’s just stuff – and he has to have it explained to him why Clara is upset.

    PhaseShift @phaseshift
    Time Lord


    I’ll have to rewatch Hide (doesn’t it seem a looong time ago now?), but that lack of consideration may play more into his relationship with Clara at the time. At this point, isn’t she really the mystery to unravel rather than a real person? If I get the chance, I’ll rewatch. I’m pretty sure there were a few examples of him not really taking her feelings into account (forcing her to explore the house when she didn’t want to for example) that seemed more to highlight how distant he was from her.

    Brynwe @brynwe

    I didn’t really like this episode when I saw it.  Granted, I think they definitely did the best they could  with it.  It was beautifully shot and well acted.  I just didn’t get why or even the physics behind using human body parts to repair a ship.  I just couldn’t get past that.  But after reading the replies here, I like it a little more because I see a little deeper.  It just seems silly, they have enough energy to blast a hole in time to ANYWHERE where parts may be more readily available, but they use the human crew and go to 1700s France for more human body parts?  Seems a little morbid to me.  Like maybe something went wrong with their wiring–I think The Doctor even assessed as much?  I did like the big reveal at the end where they showed why the bots had chosen Madame Pompadour.

    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip


    Hide’s well worth a re-watch – I think it’s slowly becoming my favourite episode of 7.2, despite my not liking Jessica Raine’s performance very much.

    The Doctor only seems to recognise Professor Palmer’s feelings – and that because they’re clearly a reflection of his own. Otherwise, he cheerfully talks about how terribly lonely empaths are – in front of Emma -doesn’t get that the monster’s not a monster but another lost traveller and doesn’t get that Clara might not be too keen on exploring a haunted house.

    Craig @craig

    Confidential – For those who want that old Saturday feel…


    my not liking Jessica Raine


    Anonymous @

    @phaseshift @bluesqueakpip – Finally had a chance to watch this one, and I thought you both had all angles covered – the details, the overall themes, the links to future Moff episodes and such.  Wonderful stuff to read from both of you.

    But I picked up two additional things:

    1) looking out the window with the Doctor near the end, Reinette says of the stars ‘You know all their names – I saw that in your mind’.  The Doctor replies ‘What’s in a name?  A name is just a title.’   Which links beautifully to The Name of the Doctor.

    2) in Reinette’s letter, she wrote ‘Hurry now my love’.  ‘My love’ is a classic River epithet.

    Whisht @whisht

    really enjoyed watching this again – thanks!

    and god, the scenes between Sophia Myles and David are lovely. Really affecting (for me at least).

    now she’d make a great Doctor… (oops – wrong thread!)

    PhaseShift @phaseshift
    Time Lord

    @craig (many thanks for finding this)

    I’ve just watched that Confidential for the first time in full form since it was broadcast (the DVDs being cut down) and it really is entertaining. A great look at transferring the script to screen and the compromises of budget. Loved the confession from SM that he had a bit of a moment when he was told they couldn’t do the horse scene and some of the comments from RTD “ooooh that’s marvellous ….. marvellous …. and cheap.”

    As I think we’ll be doing Blink next, I’ve just noticed the Confidential that went with it is on YouTube as well. That’s a great one for a Moff retrospective as it’s the David Tennant directed “Do You Remember the First Time” with David, SM and many others talking about growing up with Who. Something for next time.

    MzellePoisson @mzellepoisson

    To Brynwe,

    I think the clocks wanted Madame de Pompadour because of the name of the ship, you can see on the very last images that it was  “SS Madame de Pompadour”.

    By the way, “Marquise de Pompadour” is not her name, but her title, her birth name was Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson (i.e. fish in French). Mofat plays the very long game on this one.

    Brynwe @brynwe

    @mzellepoisson  I’m well aware of that and I’m also aware that Pompadour was her title, but I still think blasting a hole in time when they could do it to anywhere, someplace else where non-human parts may be readily available may be better?  I just think it was one of those things that was like “oh wouldn’t it be cool if” and it wasn’t given that much thought like about how believable something like that is.  Although with Sci-Fi  a lot of it stretches the imagination, this one just…didn’t quite make it for me.



    The whole point is that the robots/ ‘droids were obsessively following the letter of their programming  – knowledge + programming != to intelligence (the ‘Hal’ problem).  More to the point, being left alone they went bonkers. Being alone is not a good thing – a point Reinette makes very clearly when exploring the Doc’s head.

    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip

    @brynwe – I think @pedant makes the point very well. But it is also picked up subtly within the script, when Reinette talks about ‘reason’ a couple of times.

    ‘Reason’ versus common sense. The clockwork droids have ‘reason’. They need parts. Parts are available. They use those available parts. They need a brain for SS Mme de Pompadour. There is a ‘Mme de Pompadour’ brain available – in Eighteenth Century France. They go to Eighteenth Century France.

    Two seconds of applying common sense would tell you that all this is stupid. Unfortunately, the droids don’t have any common sense to apply. They only have reason.

    As an engineer once said (Charles F. Kettering)

    Logic is an organised way of going wrong with confidence.


    Brynwe @brynwe

    @bluesqueakpip @pedant that makes a little more sense, I guess the ep went a little over my head 🙂

    Anonymous @

    @bluesqueakpip @pedant

    All this talk of ‘reason’ made me remember ‘The Age of Reason’ which applies to 18th century Europe (Reinette’s period) so I looked this up:

    “The 18th century in Europe saw the flowering of the Age of Reason, otherwise known as the Enlightenment. This period of intellectual curiosity and experimentation was based on an abiding faith in the power of human reason to unlock the mysteries of nature and society.”

    I think your explanations fit the script/story of GitF better, but there is also solid historical fact for Reinette speaking so much about ‘reason’.

    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip

    @Shazzbot – oh, yes, it’s all very neatly tied together. I don’t think Moffat picked his historical period by accident – Mme de Pompadour knew Voltaire pretty well.



    I think your explanations fit the script/story of GitF better, but there is also solid historical fact for Reinette speaking so much about ‘reason’.

    Reinette was quite the sponsor of the arts and sciences (although sciences weren’t called that for another 50 years or so – to her it would have been philosophy).


    PS @Shazzbot too – you’ve nailed the distinction and relationship between plot and theme.

    Anonymous @

    A bit late to this one, but here goes.

    I love this story and would personally rate it as the best of Steven Moffatt’s RTD-era stories. (I realise that that statement is probably considered sacrilege and that that honour is traditionally meant to go to Blink. But where Blink is merely very clever indeed, this story has real heart (and not just the one wired into the SS Madame de Pompadour). I can never watch it without having to wipe a manly tear from my eye by the end.)

    As others have pointed out, in this story you have Moffatt’s Amy/River/Rory era arc distilled into one story. Reinette and her out-of-sequence love affair with the Doctor and the slightly tense menage a trois with the Doctor, Rose and Mickey would later be replicated and expanded upon with River, Amy and Rory.

    In fact, re-watching it now with that in mind was something I found rather fun. You could for the most part imagine Eleven, Amy and Rory in this story. Certainly I could imagine how Amy and Rory would have played the ‘about to be chopped up’ scene. But Rose’s empathy for Reinette was not something I could see Amy offering. (This is a great story for reminding oneself just how good a companion Rose was and just how much Billie Piper aced this part.)

    Similarly, there are moments you could imagine Smith’s Eleven playing but much of the Doctor in this is pure Tennant at his best. The ‘didn’t want to say magic door’ line is one of them. Smith, I feel, would love to say ‘magic door’. Also his Doctor is far too emotionally gauche for the ‘I just snogged Madame de Pompadour’ line too. Or at least he would have played completely differently — more embarrassed perhaps, and that would have possibly been even funnier.

    But something that did cross my mind in watching this is that it contains all of Moffatt’s Big Ideas, which Seasons 5-7.1 explored in great detail. As much as I enjoyed 7.2, the Clara arc didn’t really seem to have the same power or enthusiasm behind it and it makes me wonder slightly if Moffatt is now running on empty. Mind you, what with ‘hidden’ Doctors and a new Doctor on the horizon maybe these fears are somewhat unjustified.

    rosetyler @rosetyler

    This is one of my favorite episodes. I JUST SNOGGED MADAME DE POMPADOUR!

    Anonymous @

    The girl in the fireplace was not a special episode not even an important episode to the series it was like a normal episode but briliantly made.

    AnnaMarie @annamarie

    I decided to rewatch the series. When I watched this particular show, something jumped out at me.

    Why does the android say that Rose is compatible?

    They are waiting for Reinette to be 37 to be compatible. Rose is much younger.

    But more importantly, the ship is called Madame de Pompadour which is why Reinette is compatible. But, how does Rose fit in with that?


    Probably not related, but the next show in the series is about the Cybermen and they also use the word compatible. (Rose, the Doctor, Mickey and Ricky and not compatible.)

    Anonymous @


    that’s a good question: welcome to the Forum if you are new! You’ll have heaps of fun here.

    I haven’t seen that terrific episode in a while. Regards compatibility I would suggest that Rose was compatible in terms of her particular body parts for the ship.  A heart was used, an eye etc so I would think that the brain had to be Madam D’Pom’s to ‘work’ according to the ship’s programme



    Specifically, Reinette’s brain was compatible. Any old part of Rose would do.

    Abaath @abaath

    Just watched this episode.

    Really, really enjoyed it.    The interaction between Tennant and Myles was fantastic.    Very subtle romance between them and their lines were great.


    @rosetyler I second that part where he yelled, “I just snogged Madame……”   Hilarious.

    I also really enjoyed the Clockwork “monsters” too.  Unique creatures in the Doctor Who universe.

    I haven’t seen “Hide” yet so not sure on the comparisons between the two but this one is one I’ll watch again.

    Craig @craig

    A little extra made during our lockdown, for after the Twitter watch-along. Written by Steven Moffat and voiced by Sophia Myles (of course).

    winston @winston

    @craig  That was haunting.

    janetteB @janetteb

    @craig. My eyes are a little moist after watching that. Beautifully written and of course acted.

    I am rather behind with the rewatches but we watched “Girl in the Fireplace very recently so I can say, it is still as brilliant as it was back when first screened. An episode that really plays with time travel, it is fun, very very scary, well costumed and heartbreaking. An aside, one of the costumes worn by Madame Pompadour was made for the Fifth Doctor story, Black Orchid.






    An aside, one of the costumes worn by Madame Pompadour was made for the Fifth Doctor story, Black Orchid.


    I didn’t know that. That’s an interesting little fact.

    AmeliaG @ameliag

    Amazing episode by the moff..

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