A derelict spaceship from the 51st century drifting aimlessly through the void. The Royal Court at Versailles in 17th century France. Deadly clockwork androids with dissection on their minds. Love and kisses. And a horse. It? DOCTOR WHO but not as we?e ever known it before – and Steven Moffatt, writer of last year? memorable ?mpty Child?two-parter is back with ?he Girl in the Fireplace? the most extraordinary, dazzlingly-imaginative, heart-breaking 45 minutes of television I?e been fortunate enough to watch in the lastUoh, ever. This is DOCTOR WHO far better than anyone ever dreamed it could be – this is DOCTOR WHO transcendant, this is art.

No, really. ?he Girl in the Fireplace?is something very special indeed – and it? certainly an episode that demands repeated viewings, such are its delicate nuances, its evocative themes and, frankly, it? eloquent script. It all starts routinely enough; there? a bit of a panic on in Versailles and an attractive young blonde woman gazes into the fireplace, begging for help from her old friend the Doctor as the palace comes under ferocious attack by something distinctly non-human. 3,000 years later and the TARDIS materializes on board a dark, abandoned spacecraft. The Doctor, Rose and new boy Mickey (the ever-improving Clarke) discover that the ship is peppered with ?ime windows? spatial portals which all have one destination, albeit in different time zones. All doors lead to Madame du Pompadur, the famous mistress of King Louis XV and, according to the Doctor, one of the most important women who ever lived. The Doctor travels through a time window and finds himself in the bedroom of the young Pompadur, when she was just known as Reinette. But something creepy is lurking in the shadows – it? tall, it ticks and it tocks and it? stalking the young Reinette.

What unfolds it, quite simply, a gorgeous and understated love story. The Doctor quickly comes under the spell of Reinette (an enchanting performance from Sophia Myles, who went on to become Tennant? squeeze when filming finished – and you can actually see their mutual attraction growing on screen) and their relationship develops over the course of the years as the Doctor nips back to the spaceship and then back to France to find Reinette growing in years and in stature. But this is DOCTOR WHO and there? always something nasty lurking behind the doors; here it? the clockwork robots, repair androids from the spaceship who will stop at nothing to do what they?e been programmed to do -repair their spaceship at any and all cost. Here the storyline has interesting parallels with Moffatt? ?mpty Child?where the villains of the piece (there the nanobots) turned out not to be evil but just doing what they were programmed to do – repair damaged flesh. In ?he Girl in the Fireplace?the androids are doing the same – crossing Time and Space to find the necessary raw materials to repair the spaceship, damaged a year before in an ion storm. The androids, togged out in their regency frills and with grotesque, grinning face-plates, are the stuff of junior nightmares and while their ?ick tock?motif might not be this year? ?re You My Mummy??there? enough menace in their presence to chill the odd spine – particularly in the moment where one of the androids is hidden under young Reinette? bed and the Doctor confronts it with his sonic screwdriver.

But the monsters and the special effects – and they?e all good bar a slightly-dodgy shot where the Doctor jumps through a mirror on horseback – aren? what this episode is all about. This episode is about the Doctor and it? about Reinette. And – deep breath – it? about the Doctor falling in love. This isn? the wide-eyed huggy-huggy love subplot we?e seen with Rose over the last seventeen episodes; this is real, full-on stuff with snogging and tongues and everything! Moffatt returns to his ?ancing-as-sex?allegory from ?he Doctor Dances?last year and it? hard to put any other interpretation than the obvious on the scene where a horny Reinette drags the Doctor away for a bit of?ance practice. It? a special tribute to Moffatt and, indeed, to Tennant and Myles (both of whom just own this episode) that in less than an hour we can really believe that Reinette has done something very special and shown the audience a side to the Doctor we?e never suspected exists before and which is likely to make some hardcore fans a bit queasy. But this is the way it is with DOCTOR WHO 21st century style – the show is populated by real people these days, and these people – even the Doctor – have emotions and they?e as vulnerable to them as any of us are.

The threat from the androids defeated, the Doctor makes the ultimate sacrifice (albeit one which might seem unlikely bearing in mind that he knows he? leaving Rose and Mickey to a grisly fate, trapped aboard a dead spaceship three thousand years away) and doesn? seem too unhappy about it. Maybe life with the beautiful Madame du Pompadur might not be such a bad thing? but fortunately there? a way back and DOCTOR WHO unleashes its ultimate romantic tragedy when the Doctor returns to the spaceship and promises Reinette he?l take her off to visit the stars she? dreamed of for so long. When he returns for her just moments later several years have passed and his first true love is dead, having succumbed to illness in her forty-third year.

The final scene is just devastating. The Doctor, a shattered man, returns to the TARDIS and reads the last plaintive love letter written to him by Reinette on the very edge of death. Tennant is incandescent here, the emotion pouring from his features as we see the Doctor broken-hearted (both of them?) and we see it depicted so brilliantly in a script which is practically poetic in its beauty. But we?e not done yet; for those in the audience wondering just why the droids were so obsessed with Madame du Pompadur, just before the credits roll, and with the TARDIS fading back into Space and Time, we see a portrait of the woman on the wall, and the name SS Madame du Pompadur emblazoned on the side of the spaceship as it turns silently in space. The androids were trying to repair the spaceship by using the only frame of reference they had – by using its name and the real person it commemorated, in the mistaken belief that her brain could replace the ship? damaged computer system.

?he Girl in the Fireplace?is a stunning and audacious work, worlds away from old school DOCTOR WHO. The focus here is firmly on the Doctor and Tennant gives his finest performance yet. Billie Piper is effectively sidelined and there are clear signs yet again that her relationship with the Doctor is far from what she and the audience had assumed it was. Noel Clarke provides some of the comic relief as Mickey, finally on board as a fully paid-up TARDIS crew-member (for now!) and the tiny supporting cast is as good as it needs to be (although, in honesty, King Louis looks more like a market trader than a seventeenth century French monarch but we?l let that one pass). With many modern DOCTOR WHO adventures being fairly linear, it? nice to see a quite taut, complex science-fiction narrative, a story which requires its audience to think about what? happening instead of just expecting to be spoon-fed easy explanatory dialogue. But ?he Girl in the Fireplace?all comes together to make something rare and something we ought to cherish; a genuine masterpiece.

Next week, for those of a more traditional disposition?e have some Cybermen.


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