This week in our Doctor Who re-watch Andy and Pete swoon over Madame de Pompadour and Jackie is mean to everybody.
Episode 4: The Girl in the Fireplace
Andy: When we started this project, I felt an awful lot like Rose introducing Mickey to the universe in this episode. I’m still so excited to see your reactions to something I love so much, and a little bit smug about it (as if I had anything to do with how awesome it is). But you know, now I think we are all Mickey Smith in this episode. It’s an adventure.
Pete: I love how Mickey is so incredulous about the Tardis being able to translate French! Sure, alien languages are a given, but French? That’s where he draws the line.
Andy: The juxtaposition of the ultra-futuristic spaceship and 18th century France is charmingly ridiculous, and I love each and every time the show highlights this. Mickey isn’t the only one out of his depth here, everything in this episode subverts our expectations. This episode about the future and the past, Mickey learning the rules of traveling with the Doctor on a trip where nothing happens as it should.
And of course, the spaceship itself, besides being disturbingly creepy, is also tragically, facepalm-ingly senseless in pursuing the brain of Madame de Pompadour over literally any other solution.
Pete: If the human race ever invents AI repair bots the programmers should all be required to watch this episode as a lesson on how not to program them. Did no one tell them about Isaac Asimov and his three laws? Someone told them about Madame de Pompadour cause they named their ship after her, but I guess these clockwork creatures don’t acknowledge anything that happened after the steampunk era.
Andy: I admit that I find the clockwork men and their ship to be fascinating, because I think it’s exciting to explore the possibilities of biological/computer interfacing. Replacing a camera with a human eye wouldn’t even be possible with today’s technology, but think of how cool it would be to flip that around, and give humans extraordinary sight via an advanced camera lens. That said, yes, whoever did the QA for this spaceships programming missed a few edge cases.
Madame de Pompadour is one of my heroes, and even more impressive in real life than she is in this episode. It’s true that she became the mistress of the King of France when she was very young, only 23, and was his Maîtresse en Titre until her death at age 42. What this episode doesn’t touch on was the fact that she worked round the clock to maintain that position, and stopped having sex with the King after only a few years.
Think about that: the quintessential royal mistress did not maintain her position through sex. Instead, she became the King’s best friend and councillor, entertaining him, comforting him, and advising him. She essentially ran France for several years as the unofficial Prime Minister, including directing the Seven Years War (which I’ll admit is not something to brag about). In a time when women were not allowed to hold power, she gained it through the only avenue available to her, and used her extraordinary brilliance and tireless charisma to influence the King.
Pete: As usual, the showrunners did a great job with the secondary characters. Andy has been regaling me with historical data on Madame de Pompadour, and combined with Sophia Myles outstanding performance and extreme attractiveness, by the end of her second scene you could tell she was beautiful, intelligent and clever, powerful, passionate, and compassionate. Oh and let’s not forget strong (in the real way). She is ALL of the things. The Doctor (and Andy) aren’t the only ones who are in love with this woman.
Andy: I think it’s interesting that this episode follows on the heels of the Doctor’s reunion with Sarah Jane, which brought up Rose’s insecurity about her role in the Doctor’s life. The show isn’t exactly subtle about the romantic subtext between them, and this episode sets up Rose to be jealous of the Doctor’s infatuation with Reinette.
Pete: I was surprised to see them introduce a love interest for the Doctor. It almost felt like a response on the writer’s part to Mickey tagging along. It didn’t feel like a forced romantic rival though, more like a balancing of an equation. Rose and Reinette’s interaction wasn’t hostile in nature nor did Rose appear to be jealous of her at any point. Her emotional response to the whole situation was as it always was, sympathy and compassion for those who are hurting. Man this one really hit me in the feels.
“One may tolerate a world of demons for the sake of an angel.”
Andy: I disagree with you a little bit. Yes, Rose certainly acted compassionately towards Reinette, but there were several moments where the camera focused on her face in a way that showed that she was hurt. It’s not hard to see why: Reinette is a larger than life figure, and she quickly establishes a unique bond with the Doctor, first through the two-way telepathy, and later when the Doctor crashes through the time window to save her. He even wants to bring Reinette traveling with them. It’s easy to imagine how Rose could feel that the Doctor’s relationship with Reinette has eclipsed her’s. This episode doesn’t exactly offer a counter argument to that, either, since the only reason Reinette doesn’t come with them is because she dies.
In ‘School Reunion’ Rose argued with the Doctor about what she meant to him. She doesn’t do that here, which shows growth, but I don’t think she’s at peace with it either. I don’t want to downplay how maturely she manages her emotions after the Doctor returns at the end of the episode, but I think it’s important to acknowledge that Rose is feeling a bit insecure about her relationship with the Doctor as we head into the next couple episodes.
Pete: That ending was ridiculously heartbreaking. I had a feeling it wasn’t going to end well when the Doctor offered to bring Reinette along, but for a second I saw a bright shiny future where the four of them traveled the cosmos and had only the finest shenanigans. Why did he tell her to pack?! He didn’t tell Rose to pack! And speaking of Rose, she so wanted to run over and hug him and tell him everything was going to be okay. (Or maybe that was just me.)
Andy: I know that the show wanted to keep the focus on the Doctor’s reaction at the end of this episode, but it was such a missed opportunity for them to omit King Louis XV’s actual words as he watched her coffin drive away. Before her death, they had been forced to say good-bye to each other so that she could receive last rites. (She was allowed to die at Versailles, a rare honor.) “These are the only respects I can pay her!” Louis XV isn’t exactly the stuff of great stories, but he loved her, and that is why my dog is named after him.
Episodes 5 ‘Rise of the Cybermen’ and Episode 6 ‘The Age of Steel’
Andy: So fun fact: remember the episode ‘Tooth and Claw’ with Queen Victoria? The show originally planned to have the werewolf kill Queen Victoria, thus seeding this alternate universe. They dropped the idea because they thought it would be too confusing to the audience.
Pete: That totally made it more confusing. Maybe your average bear can’t comprehend that altering past events can cause alternate universes to become a thing, but this ain’t my first rodeo. I would’ve given the viewers the benefit of the doubt and given them the more “complex” version. As a viewer I like complex. I take a fair amount of pleasure in dissecting a storyline and all its intertwining parts, and I refuse to believe I’m in the minority on this. It would have been much more interesting for them to serialize this story.
Andy: Dropping that storyline, also, in my opinion actually had two unintended consequences:
- They drop through the “crack in time” with absolutely no explanation. “It just happened!” seems like an awfully lazy way to get around what should be impossible.
- There’s the implication that Pete is still alive in this universe because Rose was never born. This makes Rose feel terrible.
Pete: So what makes this universe different? I’ve seen zeppelins pop up in other AU stories before and it’s fun to consider what might’ve happened in our world had the Hindenberg disaster not occurred. Would subways not be a thing? Would there be skyways and passenger ramps on every building in all of the downtowns instead?
My name sake, who we met in ‘Father’s Day’, is alive and well here, and he seems like an alright fellow in this universe too. I’m glad we got to see him again. Even if it is a totally different Pete, he’s still kind of Rose’s dad.
Andy: Is he though? This Pete never had a daughter. His DNA might be similar, but this man apparently had a totally different set of life experiences. I tend to take a harsh view of alternate universes and believe that for all intents and purposes they don’t exist for the people of the first universe. When alternate timelines are created they are inherently untouchable. They may both exist at the same time, but they can’t interact without immediately sprouting off new timelines, which means they can’t ever really come together.
Pete: I tend to think of alternate universes like different planets, just because you’ve never been and never will be to a place, doesnt mean it doesn’t exist or isn’t real. Especially in regards to this episode, because our characters have actually managed to get there. They weren’t supposed to be able to but they are there all the same. It’s a tangible world and it has real people, like Mickey’s Grandma and she is real dammit!
I know it seems the Doctor and I have been a little harsh on Mickey. I think it’s important to emphasize that it isn’t because we don’t like him; I actually find Mickey to be a very sympathetic and super relatable character. But he just doesn’t feel like he belongs, and by the end of the episodes even he realizes this fact.
Andy: I actually think the Doctor’s treatment of Mickey is pretty callous. He does ignore him, and even when Mickey explicitly calls him out on that, he continues to do so. When he assigns jobs to everyone in the second half of the two-parter, he still forgets about Mickey, which drives Mickey to take on a dangerous task (which he rocks!) to prove to the Doctor that he’s not worthless. This is an important part of Mickey’s character arc, but it doesn’t excuse the Doctor’s behavior.
I don’t think the Doctor is malicious towards Mickey, by the way. I think he forgets about Mickey because he didn’t really choose him. The Doctor said early on that he only takes the best as his companions, and there was something special about Rose. He does later invite Mickey to travel with him, true, but he doesn’t make an effort to make Mickey feel special the way he does with Rose. Mickey chooses to be great despite the Doctor, which I think is inspiring.
Pete: When the Doctor gave up ten years of his life to recharge the Tardis crystal, I had to question all the assumptions I had made about Time Lords. The last time I checked, infinity minus ten was still infinity. But this implies that there is some sort of limit! And not to his regenerations but to his actual body. Everyone says he doesn’t age but maybe he just hasn’t been in a body long enough to actually get older what with the hazards of the job and all. So many questions!
Andy: So many answers! Spoilers from the classic series: Time Lords get 12 regenerations. And this gives me a great excuse to quote Neil Gaiman’s thoughts about the regeneration limit.
“Well, that was the rule when we had Time Lords running the show. There aren’t any Time Lords any more… MY OPINION (which is not Canon) is that the regeneration limit is a lot like the speed limit. You can break it, but things get a lot more dangerous if you do.”
Andy: Regardless of my opinions on alternate universes, I can’t blame Rose for wanting to explore this one and see what her family is like.
Pete: Not only do the Doctor and rose have unsatisfactory covers (again!) but this universe’s Rose is a dog. And it’s not even made of tin! I was right there with the Doctor laughing about until I saw how Rose took it. And of course she didn’t take it well, because it’s Rose. And dammit now it’s just kind of sad.
Andy: Ultimately, however, this episode is all building up this world to introduce the Cybermen. The Cybermen are another old enemy of the Doctor’s from the classic series, but in this universe they have a different origin story. That doesn’t seem to make any difference to their motivation though: they want to convert everyone to cybermen. It’s horrifyingly simplistic that no matter what universe they come from, the Cybermen are really just metal containers for the brain, and they have to shut down their emotions in order to function.
Pete: Becoming a cyberman has to rank in the top five things I would never want to experience, right between being boiled in oil and eaten by a shark. The fact that they have to cut out people’s’ feelings because otherwise it would hurt too much to exist is horrifying on a level normally reserved for clowns and dummies.
The Doctor was devastated when he realized the emotion dampening chip in the one cyberperson broke and she had to remember who she was before she died. But in the same exact scene, he decides to do that to all of them. I know that was the only way to destroy them all at once and I’m not even arguing that he should’ve (or could’ve!) done something different. But if he was that distraught from seeing that happen to just one person, he should’ve been crippled with guilt and remorse from doing it to thousands. They aren’t even real people and I felt a bit sick about it.
I have a feeling Mickey is going to flourish in this new universe. He’ll find a girlfriend that won’t leave him for a guy who wears a leather jacket and drives a police box. And Rose can finally let him, and her guilt, go so she can pursue a relationship with The Doctor.
Goodbye, Mickey. We’ll miss you.
Images courtesy of BBC. Please do not spoil Pete in the comments!