Friday, 4 April 2014

The Girl in the Fireplace written by Steven Moffatt and directed by Euros Lyn

This story in a nutshell: He was a Time Lord from Gallifrey and she was the King of France's lover...

Mockney Dude: One David Tennant's more assured performances in his first season, The Girl in the Fireplace offers the actor an opportunity that no other performer in the part has ever had before, a chance to play the Doctor involved in a love story. He rises to the challenge magnificently, producing a charismatic and sexy Doctor who is as convincing protecting a little girl from clockwork soldiers in her bedroom as he is seducing one of the most important figures in pre-revolutionary France. He does gabble and get a little hysterical in parts (What do you want with a little girls mind?’) but on the whole this one of his shining moments in season two, thanks to a sparkling Steven Moffat's script that gives lots of wonderful things to do. The moment the Doctor, Rose and Mickey step out of the TARDIS and start exploring I am transported back to the height of the classic series; a smart, sexy team, an intruiging location and a thought provoking mystery. It could be the Doctor, Sarah and Harry on Nerva Beacon. Or the Doctor, Polly and Ben on Vulcan. I love how he invents technobabble to save himself saying ‘magic door.’ He does not seem to age which Reinette finds incredibly impolite. It’s a common complaint in Moffat scripts but he cannot seem to find companions that don’t wander off. Life with him means an end to average days but then I guess that is a given when you are travelling through time and space in a police box. It’s fantastic when the intrusive Doctor probes Reinette’s mind, thinking he is fully in control when she returns the favour and gets the rarest of opportunities - access to the Doctor's thoughts and his insecurities. No wonder he finds her so intoxicating, they have nothing to hide from each other any more. I like the idea that he was a lonely little boy on Gallifrey, an outcast. Lonely then but even lonelier now despite being surrounded by people all of the time. Take a trip back to the Graham Williams era and you were seeing sequences as slapstick and joyful as the one where the Doctor pretends to be drunk to get close enough to the droids to incapacitate them. I could imagine Tom Baker playing that scene quite naturally with a few little tweaks. If Moffat was trying to make the Doctor look as heroic as possible he sure succeeded as he comes bursting through the mirror on horseback. By this stage I was already more than convinced of Tennant's suitability to the role but if there had been any doubt this would have sold it to me on its own (and all he had to do was wink). Aside from his period of exile on Earth there has never been the need for the Doctor to even consider settling down. That's simply not his bag. So it is fascinating to see his weary acceptance of his grounding once the portals back to the ship are all sealed up. It’s interesting to see how much he is looking forward to his life with Reinette, it is the one adventure he has never been able to experience and now he finds it pleasing that it is foisted upon him. This is not the last time the idea would be touted this year (The Impossible Planet sees the Doctor and Rose having a remarkably awkward conversation about settling down together) and it is one that the new series would go on to favour during the Eleventh Doctor's era (The Lodger, The Snowmen, The Bells of St John, The Time of the Doctor). This is the first time we get to experience a lovesick tenth Doctor and it works so well here it is no wonder Davies favoured it so often. The difference in approach between Moffat in The Girl in the Fireplace (the funereal atmosphere of the last few scenes, the subtle reaction of Tennant in the TARDIS reading the letter, the absence of a goodbye scene) and Davies in Doomsday (massive fireworks as the the Doctor and Rose are torn apart as dramatically as possible, long reaction shots of them crying, the agonised performances of Tennant and Rose on the beach) couldn't be more different. I wouldn't condemn either though, they both brought tears to my eyes.

Chavvy Chick: There is a world of difference between Rose's jealous behaviour in School Reunion (she's like a kid who has had her sweets taken away) and in The Girl in the Fireplace where it is mostly portrayed through subtle reaction shots. It is an unfortunate juxtaposition to have the two stories placed back to back, not only because you will compare the two and one will ultimately come up short but also because it seems to be really pushing Rose the Green Eyed Monster. I am not the biggest fan of Rose in season two anyway but having her act anxiously and possessive two stories in a row was hardly the best way to intensify her appeal In season one it was Rose who was in total control, making the Doctor jealous more often than not and I prefer it that way round, she seemed so much more sassy when playing him on a long string. Moffat was extremely adept at pushing that approach in The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances. Despite this, Billie Piper plays Rose's anxieties far more sensitively here than the playground pushing and shoving of School Reunion (as funny as that was). I really like how Rose swallows down her feelings and comforts Reinette when she is confronted with the world of the future. It's also nice to see that Rose is the seasoned traveller and showing the ropes to Mickey, it’s a lovely dynamic that I wish had continued throughout the season. Watch as she puts her arms around him to comfort him as he looks out into space for the first time. Rose’s quiet vigil by the broken mirror fearing that she will never see the Doctor again is very touching and a far better expression of her love for him than the melodrama to come. Even at the climax she can see how devastated the Doctor is to be separated from Reintette and quietly pulls Mickey out of the way so he can be alone to read his letter. It’s quite a sophisticated way of exploring the theme of jealousy, one of my least favourite characteristics.

Cheeky Monkey: Moffatt writes a great Mickey so it’s a great shame he would never get to do so again. I love how much of a realist he is because he is not as obsessed with the Doctor as Rose is…he asks the question ‘where’s your precious Doctor now?’ when they are in danger. The Doctor makes several lovely digs at him (see sparkling dialogue) which makes you want to cuddle him even more. He thinks in terms of special effects, which as seasoned science fiction fans we would also do – the idea of somebody looking out at the universe and considering it 'realistic' says a lot about today's culture. His little scream as the eye on a stalk leaps at him is lovely too, proof that it isn't just the ladies who shy away from danger on these travels. I don’t think the tenth Doctor, Rose and Mickey are the best combination we have ever seen (Donna is my favourite with Tennant and I think both Piper and Clarke worked better with Eccleston) but this is certainly a very strong showing for all three. The next story will pervert this threesome into something quite ugly and uncomfortable so enjoy the fun while it lasts.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Can you smell that? ‘Yeah, someone cooking.’
Who the hell are you?’ ‘I’m the Doctor and I’ve just snogged Madame de Pompadour!’
‘What’s a horse doing on a spaceship?’ ‘Mickey, what’s pre-revolutionary France doing on a spaceship? Get a little perspective!’
‘You’re not keeping the horse!’ ‘I let you keep Mickey!’
‘There is a vessel on your world where the days of my life are pressed together like the chapters of a book so that he may step from one to the other without increase of age while I, weary traveller, must always take the slower path?’ – that is just lovely, there’s the premise for this striking fairytale adventure.
‘One may tolerate a world full of demons for the sake of an angel.’
‘I’m not winding you up’

The Good Stuff: I automatically new we were onto something special when the pre and post title sequences mirrored each other, both beginning with the same magical star scape and one panning down on the court of Versailles and the other panning up to the SS Madame de Pompadour. Murray Gold’s music for this episode is so accomplished it can (and should) be listened to as a piece of classical music in its own right. The next time somebody complains that Gold is still scoring the show, stick the score for The Sea Devils on followed by the soundtrack to The Girl in the Fireplace and explore the differences in quality. I love how Moffat slaps two incongruous elements together to really grab your attention; the fireplace on the spaceship, the horse trotting down the corridor illuminated by artificial lights, the beating heart wired into the ship, Reinette in her ball gown surrounded by ugly technology. Any one of these moments pushes the magic of Doctor Who button, the juxtaposition of these elements is extremely appealing. Our glimpse at ethereal, ashen Paris is typical of this episode's attention to detail. A literal monster under the bed…Moffat loves preying on those childhood fears and the way the droid snatches at the Doctor from the darkness still makes me leap out of seat even though I know it is coming. Space age clockwork gives me chills; I am a shameless lover of horology and this intricately designed droid is a work of beauty. Look at how exquisitely detailed the sets are, they are vast and beautifully lit so you can drink in the elegance of the designs. A romance needs a great deal of opulence and the location work is elegant and alluring, perfectly in tune with it's tone. The scene where the droids terrorise the ballroom are so gorgeous to look at I forget that I am watching Doctor Who for moment; extravagant, artistic costumes and an exquisitely decorated hall (those chandeliers). I have seen big budget period movies that haven’t looked this good. The idea of cannibalising the crew for spare parts gives an otherwise delicate story a touch of the macabre. Sophia Myles gives a gentle yet imposing performance as Reinette and she is more than a match for Tennant. I have heard people suggest that she is quite wooden in the role but as far as I am concerned the key to a successful romance is the central relationship and the chemistry between the actors and the real life attraction between Tennant and Myles bleeds on screen during their scenes. When they are together a great episode becomes a classic, eyes longing, gently touching, playing with each other with words. The camera rushes down on Reinette’s mock execution like a guillotine blade, one of countless awesome directional touches by Euros Lyn. When the Doctor asks Reinette to wish him luck she lets out a quiet ‘No’ and his reaction speaks volumes. The director does an excellent job of capturing the elegiac mood after Reinette’s death; Lyn uses solemn light and much slower camera movements (the camera work is extremely fluid throughout except in these scenes). Has the console ever been lit as beautifully as it is in the last scene with the Doctor standing alone with the weight of feeling pressing down on him? The final shot explains what has been happening, simply and effectively. I miss Moffat scripts that are this subtle and concise without having to be overly clever and sexy.

The Bad Stuff: More of a comment on the period but those puffed out dresses really are some of the most impractical fashions ever to have appeared on Doctor Who. The sun keeps vanishing outside the palace depending on whether we are watching the Doctor or Reinette, proof that these scenes were filmed at different times. There’s a political dig about Camilla that I didn’t find funny at all (and please don't think that is me coming out in support of her). Sometimes political subtext isn't in order. ‘You wouldn’t want to mess with our designated driver’ – sometimes Rose’s dialogue is horribly stilted and she keeps repeating this horrendous line. Will they ever manage to pull of a pure historical?

The Shallow Bit: Rose’s hair looks so utterly fantastic crimped and when the light hits it it positively glows. I don’t want to harp on too much about Tennant but he really is gorgeous, it’s the dazzling charisma, the sparkling eyes, the fact that pulls of geek chic and has great hair. Do you remember when kissing the Doctor was a really huge deal? When certain members of fandom fell about themselves feeling betrayed because their hero had finally done the one thing that they couldn’t? Perhaps it is the context that matters, perhaps it felt tacked onto the TV Movie whereas it was integral to this plot (although I would vehemently deny the former whilst totally agreeing with the latter). Whatever, the Doctor’s snogging boys and girls these days and…shock horror, the world didn’t end.

Result: So much to say about the Doctor in 45 minutes. I think the testament to The Girl in the Fireplace should go to one of my mates who cannot abide Doctor Who and claimed that this, that she happened to have to watch because her little boy is in love with the show, was one of the most beautiful pieces of drama she had ever seen. The overall effect of Fireplace is just dazzling; it is so alive with inventiveness, so radiant in its confidence and the execution courtesy of Euros Lyn results in one of the most attractive looking Doctor Who stories ever. Should Doctor Who be attempting a love story? You might think not but the success (critical reception of this episode was extremely positive) of this episode is a good indicator of why Davies and Moffat have continued with he same approach countless times since. Personally I don't think it has been bettered since (although the split of the Doctor and Rose in Doomsday is very powerful) and it has become a little old hat (especially with the companions) but the accomplishment of The Girl in the Fireplace does at least explain why they have both been chasing its success ever since. Tennant and Myles share sizzling chemistry as is usually the case with off screen lovers who work on screen together (Tom’n’Lalla anybody?) but there really isn’t a performance out of place and this is one of Rose’s high spots in series two despite the fact that she is kept out of the action for the most part. A treat for the senses, this episode will whip up your imagination and your emotions into a giddy frenzy and cements Moffatt’s name as the one to watch: 10/10


kurumais said...

this might be my all time favorite episode of doctor who. it encapsulates what doctor who is so well. its got time travel on multiple levels, its got creepy robots, its funny and scary, and heartbreaking all at once.

Martin Hudecek said...

I love this story as much as you do Joe, it really is something special. Some prefer The Empty Child or Blink, but for me this was the Moff's best RTD show.

David Pirtle said...

Maybe my favorite 10th Doctor episode, epending on whether I have watched it or Midnight more recently. It really has just about everything that represents the new series (for better or worse) - timey wimey, romantic drama, the Doctor as an imaginary friend come adult crush - none of it done better before or since. Moffat recycles a lot of this for his first series with the Eleventh Doctor, but not half so successfully as here. Even Rose is great when she isn't being jealous.