Recap: Doctor Who S28 E4 "The Girl in the Fireplace"
Madame de Pompadour: Oh. This is my lover, the King of France.
The Doctor: Yeah? Well, I'm the Lord of Time.
Hold on to your hearts — king of nightmares Steven Moffat
is in the writer's seat. This episode was nominated for a Nebula and won a Hugo.
The Doctor, Rose, and Mickey all land on a spaceship in another galaxy and 3000 years in the future. It's abandoned, all grimy future-tech... except for an 18th-century French fireplace, complete with an actual 18th-century French fire. That's because 18th-century France is on the other side of it. Specifically, a little girl's room in Paris, 1727.
You don't need to dangle a juicy plot hook like that
in front of the Doctor twice. Why
the little girl's room is hooked up to a spaceship 3000 years in the future and a few galaxies away, the Doctor doesn't know. He also doesn't know what poor little Reinette has done to warrant being followed around by masked, grinning, desperate clockwork robots, but he chases them out from under her bed and back aboard the spaceship. note
On the other side of the fireplace, the little girl ages years each time the Doctor steps through — even pleasantly surprising him with a makeout session once she's old enough — and eventually becomes Madame de Pompadour, the elegant and accomplished courtesan who was mistress to King Louis XV. After the Doctor saves her from another Droid, he finally figures out what's going on: the spaceship they came from was badly damaged during a space storm and the droids are simply the ship's repair crew, trying to fix the damage with the few spare parts they had available. During the conversation, the droid reveals a detail that Rose and Mickey have already discovered: the robots were overzealous in their maintenance tasks, and since they didn't had enough spare parts, the organs of the ship's missing crew have been repurposed as sources of ship repair parts. For some still unexplained reason the droids have decided that Madame de Pompadour's brain would make a fine addition to the ship's navigational system.
However, they want her brain at a particular point in her life, which means that they have to waste enough time opening and closing doors, while the Doctor tries to piece together what's going on. Madame de Pompadour, meanwhile, grows to love the Doctor, and is very quick to understand just what he is and how he can be in her bedroom at all those different points in her life. When he gently scans her brain for any information he can find, she unexpectedly uses the open mental link to explore his mind in turn — once again pleasantly surprising the Doctor, but finding nothing that could protect her from the inevitable entrance of the robots later on in her life. She does ask him something tremendously important: "Doctor Who? It's more than just a secret, isn't it?
When Mickey and Rose appear to her, years later, she decides to find out what the Doctor's world is like. So, dressed in her elaborate Versailles gown, she simply ignores them and steps through the open door and into the spaceship. From a distant open portal elsewhere on the ship, she can hear her future self screaming in despair. There's nothing she can do for now, and she resigns herself to waiting in fear in her own world.
When the droids finally appear, again years later, the Doctor makes a tremendously grand entrance — smashing through
a mirror, on a white horse, into a Versailles ballroom. (Which incidentally, after much deliberation, was deemed literally impossible by the production team. When they told Steven Moffat
, he broke down and cried like a child, and so the production team decided to film it anyway.
) By doing so, however, he destroys the portal and consigns himself to a life on The Slow Path
together with Reinette.
Until she shows him her painstakingly-reconstructed childhood bedroom, whose fireplace is still linked to the ship... The Doctor leaves, but promises to take her along to the stars, and tells her to wait two minutes.
Two minutes later, when the Doctor comes back, years have passed in Versailles and Reinette has died of illness. King Louis hands him a letter, which the Doctor silently walks off to read.
Just before they leave in the TARDIS, Rose wonders why the robots would have wanted Madame de Pompadour. The Doctor states that he doesn't know, it could've been anything, and they leave. Then comes The Stinger
. The camera pulls out, revealing the name of the spaceship: S.S. Madame de Pompadour
- Admiring the Abomination: The Doctor admits that the droids are beautiful, and that damaging them would be a crime. He then admits that's not gonna stop him.
- Affectionate Nickname: The Doctor calls Cleopatra (Queen of Egypt) "Cleo".
- A.I. Is a Crapshoot: The droids were programmed to repair their ship using whatever they had around. Unfortunately, bad programming made them interpret this as Exact Words and include living people as spare parts.
- Arbitrary Skepticism: Mickey wonders what a horse is doing on a spaceship.
The Doctor: What’s Pre-Revolutionary France doing on a spaceship? Get a little perspective!
- Arc Words: Someone asking what the Doctor's name is.
Madame de Pompadour: The Doctor. Doctor who? It's more than just a secret, isn't it?
- Badass Boast: The Doctor has a good one early on as he saves Reinette from the first Clockwork Robot and pursues it.
The Doctor: It's just a nightmare, Reinette, don't worry, everyone has nightmares. Even monsters under the bed have nightmares.
Young Reinette: What do monsters have nightmares about?
The Doctor: Me!
- Big Damn Heroes: The Doctor crashing through the mirror on a horse at the climax. Complete with Crowning Music of Awesome.
- BFG: Well, Big Freaking Fire Extinguisher, which is more than enough to temporarily stop the clockwork automatons. Rose and Mickey still play the trope for all its worth, clearly enjoying themselves.
- Bitter Sweet Ending: The villains are thwarted, Everybody Lives, but a Timey-Wimey Ball prevents Reinette from becoming the Doctor's latest companion.
- Call Back: The automaton going Broken Record until our heroes figure out the obvious, which happened just one ep before.
- Chekhov's Gun: Most didn't expect Arthur the horse to be that important.
- Clingy Jealous Girl: Rose, once more, doesn't like the idea of the Doctor hanging around another attractive woman. Mickey notices, and teases her for it.
- Clockwork Creature: Under the mask, the droids have clockwork brains.
- Clock Punk: The clockwork droids. The Doctor is impressed.
- Continuity Nod:
- Costume Porn: In all of her many gowns, Reinette looks gorgeous.
- Distracted by the Sexy: This happens to the Doctor when he sees Reinette as an adult for the first time. He's uncharacteristically speechless for a bit.
- The Dulcinea Effect: The Doctor dooms himself to The Slow Path without the TARDIS for a woman he's known for the period of a party.
- Europeans Are Kinky: The entanglements in Versailles prompt this exchange:
Mickey: King's wife and the king's girlfriend?
The Doctor: France. Different planet.
- Evil Plan: The clockwork droids are looking for the key component to repair their ship. This means stalking a girl with plans to cut her head off and extract her brain.
- Exact Words: The maintenance androids were programmed to repair damage using whatever they have around to use as spare parts and that's exactly what they did.
- Foil: Madame de Pompadour is one to Rose — Reinette's cultured, intelligent and very powerful, despite being in a society where it wasn't normal for women to be so, and well in control of both the men in her life (the King and the Doctor), loving them both equally. Rose is from a society that encourages equality but isn't that special, and she can't find a balance between the two men in her life, meaning one always feels left out. Also, they're both blonde.
- Genre Blind: The Doctor failing to realize that he can't leave Reinette for "two minutes" without the "Slower Path" taking effect. It overlaps into What an Idiot territory, since if he wanted to take her with him, he could have just led her through the fireplace there and then.
- Gorgeous Period Dress: They're accurate, too. Reinette sports some of the most beautiful robes à la française ever seen on television.
- Harmless Freezing: The freeze gun that incapacitates the clockwork men. Justified on account of the fact that they are robots, so incapacitation without significant damage is far more reasonable than it would be with an organic freeze-ee.
- Horseback Heroism: How does the Doctor save the day in the end? Charging through a mirror on a white horse!
- Historical-Domain Character: Madame de Pompadour did all the things the Doctor talked about in real life.
- Historical In-Joke: "I'm the Doctor, and I just snogged Madame de Pompadour!"
- How We Got Here: "The clock on the mantle is broken! It is time! Doctor! Doctor!" Cue intro theme.
- Imminent Danger Clue: The Doctor realizes something is amiss when he notices that the only clock in the room is broken... yet a ticking sound can still be heard.
- Just Following Orders: The clockwork robots were given orders to repair the spaceship. Unfortunately, no one informed them that farming the crew for spare parts was off limits, or that trying to murder the ship's namesake to replace the ship's computer was a bad idea.
- Mayfly-December Romance: Reinette's romance with the Doctor who never ages.
- Meet the New Boss: Lots of soft recycling of the classic Cybermen (from their role in "The Tenth Planet"): the repair droids have degraded into wandering cyborgs seeking some sort of enlightenment. Note also the repeated use of "spare parts."
- Necktie Headband: The Doctor has his tie wrapped around his head when he pretends to be drunk.
- Not Quite Saved Enough: The Doctor spends the whole episode protecting Reinette from the droids, but she ends up dying of illness (after another several years, but only minutes for both the Doctor and the viewers).
- Obliviously Evil: The androids have absolutely no idea that killing people and grafting their organs to a damaged spaceship is bad. Neither do they seem to be aware that murdering the entire crew of their spaceship made all their repairs useless, as there's nobody alive to pilot it anymore.
- Oh, Crap: When the Doctor points out that, if the clock is broken... then what's that [ticking sound]?
- Playing Drunk: The Doctor.
- Pun: When the Doctor explains to the clockwork droids that their plan has failed and they're going to run out of power soon, he wraps it up with, "I'm not winding you up." This has two meanings:
- Before batteries, clocks and watches were powered by winding them up, so he's saying he's not going to save the clockwork droids when they stop running.
- "Winding one up" is a British colloquialism for joking/kidding; e.g., "I'm not winding you up" means "I'm not kidding you."
- Rule Number One: "Don't wander off!" The Doctor is exasperated how often Rose breaks this rule.
- Shout-Out: The Doctor swinging in, singing "I Could Have Danced All Night".
- The Slow Path: Trope Namer.
Madame de Pompadour: There is a vessel in 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 traveler, must always take the slower path.
- Strapped to an Operating Table: Rose and Mickey so they can be harvested for spare parts.
- Talking the Monster to Death: The robots simply stop functioning once the Doctor makes it totally clear that they can no longer return to their ship.
- Techno Babble: "Spatial temporal hyperlink."
- Time Travel Romance: The Doctor meets Reinette when she is seven and pops back into her life at various periods up until age 37.
- Timey-Wimey Ball: The Doctor offers only vague explanations as to why the TARDIS is unable to affect events and how they must rely on the time corridors. The real reason is that the TARDIS could easily solve the central conflict of the episode (finding the right door before the automatons do), to say nothing of negating the tragedy of the ending by jumping back in time before Madame de Pompadour's death.
- Took a Level in Badass: Part of Mickey's Character Development. Having been told by the Doctor to stay put, Rose declares that she's going to go exploring anyways. Mickey hesitates, then grabs another fire extinguisher, hoisting it like a BFG and grinning, much to Rose's approval.
- Unnecessary Combat Roll: Mickey does one for the fun of it while scoping out the spaceship, rather than in an actual fight.
- Wham Shot: The camera pulling out at the end of the final scene to reveal the name of the ship.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: After the Big Damn Heroes moment at the climax, the Doctor dismounts Arthur, and that's the last we see of him. It seems logical that he was left in France — that's where he came from, after all — except he's standing in the ballroom at Versailles.
- Whole Plot Reference: The episode was inspired by The Time Traveler's Wife.
- Zee Rust: Deliberately invoked. The clockwork robots were created to look old-fashioned so as to look fancy and whimsical for people on board the starship.