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.

The one with the ship made of people!

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 TARDIS dematerializes to reveal a portrait of Reinette on the wall, and the camera pulls out, revealing the name of the spaceship: S.S. Madame de Pompadour.


  • Absurdly Dedicated Worker: The maintenance robots had been programmed to keep the ship running at all costs. They followed these orders so well that they dismembered all of the ship's crew members and used their various body parts to supplement the ship's systems when they ran out of conventional parts. That's right, they destroyed their programmers in the course of following their programming.
    The Doctor: It was just doing what it was programmed to. Repairing the ship any way it can, with whatever it could find. No one told it the crew weren't on the menu. What did you say the flight deck smelt of?
  • 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.
  • Anachronistic Clue: It never gets completely resolved, but one clue that things aren't quite right on the spaceship they've landed on is there are multiple portals to 18th century France, first seen by the Doctor as a fireplace.
    Doctor: Well, there's something you don't see in your average spaceship. Eighteenth century. French. Nice mantle. Not a hologram. It's not even a reproduction. This actually is an eighteenth century French fireplace. Double sided.
    Mickey: What's a horse doing on a spaceship?
    Doctor: Mickey, what's Pre-Revolutionary France doing on a spaceship? Get a little perspective!
  • 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?
  • Automaton Horses: The Doctor says he needs a truck to break through the window, then uses a horse to do so. The impact would likely kill 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!
  • Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: The episode follows the life of Madame de Pompadour as she faces clockwork robots.
  • Big Damn Heroes/Big Entrance: 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.
  • Broken Angel: Reinette calls the Doctor her Lonely Angel.
  • 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.
  • Comically Missing the Point: Defiant to the End, Reinette declares that she will not set one foot inside their spaceship.
  • Continuity Nod:
  • Costume Porn: In all of her many gowns, Reinette looks gorgeous.
  • Crapsack Only by Comparison: Reinette briefly visit the 51st century, seeing the inside of the space ship that has the unexplained windows into her time. This, combined with whatever she saw in the Doctor's mind, has her firmly convinced that she is better off staying in 18th century France.
  • Dirty Mind-Reading: The Doctor picks up some clearly erotic memories when Mind Melding with the famous courtesan. Reinette isn't bothered in the least.
  • 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.
  • Doing In the Wizard: Lampshaded: the Doctor suggests that the "windows" are "spatio-temporal hyperlinks". When Mickey asks what that means, the Doctor replies, "No idea. Didn't want to say 'magic door.'"
  • The Doll Episode: The main antagonists are life-size clockwork dolls seeking to Madame de Pompadour and use her body to fix their spaceship.
  • Double Entendre: Reinette asks the Doctor to dance with her. Notably, this episode also features the Doctor utilizing a banana. (He visits a really wild party, gets very drunk and may have invented the banana daiquiri. Except that he doesn't.)
  • 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. It's a different planet.
  • Evil Plan: The clockwork droids are looking for the key component to repair their ship. This means stalking a woman 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.
  • Expospeak Gag: Sent up when the Doctor admits that he said "spatio-temporal hyperlink" because he didn't want to say "magic door".
  • 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.
  • Foreshadowing:
  • Fruit of the Loon: The Doctor brought a banana to the ball, and, according to him, amazed the 18th century French aristocrats with it, in addition to prematurely inventing the banana daiquiri. He also gives this sage advice:
    "Always bring a banana to a party, Rose."
  • 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.
  • Holding Back the Phlebotinum: 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.
  • Horseback Heroism: How does the Doctor save the day in the end? Charging through a mirror on a White Stallion! (with the obligatory Rearing Horse afterwards).
  • 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 the intro.
  • Human Resources: The Clockwork Droids rebuilt the ship out of parts of the crew.
  • I Can't Dance: With an implied Unusual Euphemism too.
  • 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.
  • In Media Res: The episode begins with all of the people at Versailles running and screaming, and Reinette shouting for the Doctor through the fireplace. After the opening credits, the story is begun again, from the Doctor landing on the spaceship.
  • In the Past, Everyone Will Be Famous: The Doctor has a romance with Madame de Pompadour that lasts several years.
  • I Will Wait for You: Reinette waited the rest of her life to see the Doctor again. Unfortunately, she died of illness before he was able to come back.
  • 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.
  • Meanwhile, in the Future...:
  • 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".
  • Meanwhile In Te Future: Time windows have been opened onto various points in the life of Madame de Pompadour. These progress in real time, making the trope justified.
  • Missed Him by That Much: The Doctor meets Madame de Pompadour at various points of her life. Eventually, he tells her he will come back and take her travelling with him, and she eagerly awaits. However, when he does come back, she has just died and her body is being taken from her mansion.
  • The Mistress: The plot revolves around Madame de Pompadour, the mistress of King Louis XV Bourbon of France.
  • Narnia Time: The time portals between the future and 18th century France work like this. But it isn't consistent, leading to a Tear Jerker ending.
  • Necktie Headband: The Doctor has his tie wrapped around his head when he pretends to be drunk.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: All the actors portraying French characters speak with English accents.
  • 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).
  • Not-So-Imaginary Friend: Reinette encounters her Imaginary Friend, muses on the incongruity, then promptly snogs him.
  • 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?
    • Rose when she sees a clockwork robot behind an unaware Mickey while his back is turned, accompanied by a Say My Name.
  • Parent Service: There's an unintentional pan over Rose's tightly-clad body while she was Strapped to an Operating Table. When the production team saw it in the edit, they kept it.
  • Playing Drunk: The Doctor.
    Rose: What have you been doing? Where've you been?
    The Doctor: Well, among other things, I think I just invented the banana daiquiri a couple of centuries early. Do you know they'd never even seen a banana before?
  • Portal to the Past: The Doctor and co. come across a 51st century spaceship full of portals to the 18th century, including the titular fireplace. There's an element of Narnia Time as well, because the portals tended to jump ahead inconsistently.
  • Powered by a Forsaken Child: The spaceship crew was taken apart to be used as spare parts by the clockwork repair droids.
  • 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."
  • Remember When You Blew Up a Sun?: Subverted when Rose give a long speech along about how the bad-ass Doctor is coming to save them, referencing many of his previously amazing feats, and when he turns up he's apparently highly intoxicated and the opposite of every impression she has just given.
    Rose: Well look what the cat dragged in: the Oncoming Storm.
  • Rule #1: "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 traveller, must always take the slower path.
  • Smart Girl: Reinette is exceptionally sharp and insightful, turning the Doctor's telepathy back on him.
  • Spotting the Thread: On the night she met King Louis XV, Reinette noticed someone else in the room with her who had been standing still and staying quiet for an unnaturally long time, and asked the figure to show themselves. It turned out to be another robot.
  • Strapped to an Operating Table: Rose and Mickey so they can be harvested for spare parts.
  • Super Window Jump: The Doctor crashes through a window — on a horse, no less. Technically it was part Time Portal, part mirror, but 100% awesome!
  • 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".
    Rose: What's that mean?
    The Doctor: No idea, just made it up. Didn't want to say "magic door".
  • The Television Talks Back: The fireplace talks back!
  • Temporal Paradox:
  • The Knights Who Say "Squee!": The Doctor is overjoyed to realise the woman who just snogged him is the famous Madame de Pompadour.
  • Things That Go "Bump" in the Night: The monster under the bed.
  • Time Portal: The clockwork robots created several so they could stalk Madame de Pompadour. The titular fireplace is one of them.
  • Timeshifted Actor: Reinette is played by Jessica Atkins as a child, and Sophia Myles for the rest of her life.
  • Time Travel Escape: The Doctor tries to do this to Reinette but she dies before he can.
  • 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 spaceship doors leading to pre-Revolution France are so unusual the Doctor has to make up words for describing them, and once using them, the TARDIS can't enter the same region.
  • 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.
  • Translator Microbes: Rose, Mickey and the audience all hear the French characters speaking English. The Doctor, however, can tell what language they're actually speaking (and recognises what period it's from).
    Rose: That's the TARDIS. Translates for you.
    Mickey: Even French?
  • Trapped in the Past: This almost happens to the Doctor. Luckily for him, the portal in Reinette's fireplace is still online.
  • Unnecessary Combat Roll: Mickey does one for the fun of it while scoping out the spaceship, rather than in an actual fight.
  • Wham Shot: Two in a row at the end. The TARDIS dematerializes to reveal a portrait of Madame de Pompadour on the wall, and the camera then pulls out of the ship to show its name.
  • 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.
  • Year Inside, Hour Outside: Upon arriving on the abandoned spaceship, the Doctor finds an 18th century French fireplace, which is actually a 'time window'. The first time he looks through it, he speaks to the eponymous girl ("Reinette") who lives in France in 1727. He goes through the time window and Reinette informs him that it was months ago that he last spoke to her a few seconds before. Each time he goes back to the spaceship and returns through the fireplace, years have passed. At the end of the episode, the Doctor tells her to pack her bags and come with him. He runs off to find his companions in the spaceship, in his excitement forgetting about the time differential. When he returns to the fireplace, he finds that Reinette has died waiting for him.
  • Young Future Famous People: The episode features young Madame de Pompadour.
  • Your Mom: Kind of subverted: when the Doctor (who is Playing Drunk) confronts the clockwork robots, he says "You're Mr Thick Thickity Thick-Face from Thick Town, Thickainia... and so's your dad."
  • Zeerust: Deliberately invoked. The clockwork robots were created to look old-fashioned so as to look fancy and whimsical for people on board the starship.

Alternative Title(s): Doctor Who NSS 2 E 4 The Girl In The Fireplace