Who here has seen Doctor Who? It’s been on BBC for over 50 years, so a lot of people. For those who haven’t yet, it’s a show about a time traveling alien called the Doctor who changes his body to prolong his life, which has led to 12 actors in the lead role. There, you’re caught up.
According to my extremely scientific method of “Just Asking People on Facebook”, the most popular version of The Doctor is David Tennant as the Tenth. I agree, and despite amazing portrayals by Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi as the Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors respectively, the Tenth remains my favorite. Maybe it’s because Tennant is immediately likable and relatable the instant you see him in this role, or because he’s the one who was in the lead role when the revived Doctor Who really took off. My theory is that he had more bad episodes than Smith or Capaldi where his portrayal was the only redeemable quality (The Idiot’s Lantern anyone)?
During the Tenth Doctor era from 2006-2010, a lot of the best episodes were written by Steven Moffat, who would go on to become the showrunner for Doctor Who from 2010-2017. Among these are Blink, which I recommend as the first episode that should be shown to someone new to the series, The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances which makes the question “Are you my mummy?” creepy, and my favorite Doctor Who story of all time. Also noteworthy is the two-parter, Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead, which introduces the character of River Song.
However, there’s one Moffat episode with the Tenth Doctor which has won multiple awards and is a fan favorite that I don’t really care for, and that’s The Girl in the Fireplace from 2006. In this episode the Doctor and his travelling companions stumble across a spaceship that has been damaged. Clockwork repair droids, to fix the ship, have used body parts from the crew to replace broken components and, for some reason, have opened time portals to different times in the life of a French noblewoman from the 1700s. The noblewoman, who turns out to be Madame de Pompadour (mistress to King Louis XV), meets the Doctor and falls in love with him throughout her life as he tries to save her from the robots that want to harvest her brain. He never finds out why they’re chasing after her and the audience doesn’t until the final shot of the episode.
As usual, David Tennant’s performance as the Tenth Doctor is excellent, especially as he delivers a range from acting drunk to realizing that he’s trapped himself. Sophia Myles plays Pompadour and likewise turns in a great performance, many times acting as someone that the Doctor could see as an equal and would command the respect of a king. The revelation of how the ship is being repaired is fairly creepy, as well as the masquerade masks being worn by the droids.
That’s about the only thing I find creepy about the droids. Whenever I see clockwork gears that are in any way exposed, I keep thinking that one stray pebble or a screw from making repairs could get jammed in there and shut the whole thing down. These droids, throughout the episode, are incapacitated by fire extinguishers, some kind of oil that jams engines that the Doctor just pours on them (bet they wish their gears weren’t exposed now!), and by shutting themselves down. I never bought them as a credible threat and have no idea why the crew didn’t just tip them over and watch them break apart.
I didn’t really see any point in the Doctor’s companions Rose and Mickey being present for this episode. Usually I like both of these characters; Billie Piper as Rose and Noel Clarke as Mickey did fine with their performances. However, if the Doctor was alone on that spaceship while Rose and Mickey were at a space resort the episode would have felt less padded. All they do is get rescued by the Doctor, which I feel was something of a disservice for these characters.
Finally, this was the only one of the episodes written by Moffat for the Tenth Doctor where none of the elements became staples in the series. The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances gave us Captain Jack Harkness, who became a recurring character and even got his own show. Blink gave us the Weeping Angels, which have not yet had a bad episode, and Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead gave us my favorite companion to the Doctor, River Song. This one, nothing. Yeah, the clockwork droids make an appearance for 5 seconds 7 seasons later, but that’s it.
Do I think this is a bad episode? No, it’s well acted, has some creative ideas, and excellent set and costume design. Did it deserve the Hugo award and to be considered one of the best episodes of the series? No, I don’t think so. If you like Doctor Who then watch this one at some point, but don’t make it your first priority.
Have you seen this episode? What is your favorite episode if you’ve watched this show?
Rating: 3/5 ★★★