Review: The Girl in the Fireplace

Last Alteration: Monday 08 May 2006


A change of pace as Doctor Who gets back to handling unusual ideas. Bizarre, macabre and emotional, though some may find it low on action.


How do you follow School Reunion? With a story that feels so very WHO that you may be surprised it hasn't been done before. As with last year's The Empty Child, Steven Moffat has come up with a script full of ideas which even as vague descriptions on a page would be striking though of course the production team have realised them wonderfully.

This really makes an effort to crack what the show does at its best- throw odd concepts together and make the audience reconsider their perception of things.

Mixing historical imagery with a fractured-time theme may bring obvious visual comparisons with Sapphire & Steel and some of the set-up might seem reminiscent of that old Star Trek story where a library is used to bundle the inhabitants of a doomed planet back into its past. This still feels like a very original episode however, and if it doesn't sound patronising, I'm hoping it's one that general viewers will have the patience to stick with rather than switching over when things aren't explained immediately.

Thankfully though, the script goes beyond presenting a weird concept and actually tells a story. Without spoiling what's in store I'll just say that if you had a lump in your throat during School Reunion then you'll probably find this pretty moving too.

This is in many ways a companion piece to last week's episode, building on the notion that the Doctor will always be lonely with a procession of transitory humans sharing his life. It also hints at more about the Doctor's motives and outlook than we've traditionally been privy to.

Hard core fans who hate the McGann kiss and tend to brush over that whole Cameca thing in The Aztecs may consider this to be pushing the Doctor's character into directions it shouldn't be going. That's up to them, but for my part I was far more miffed with a scene, which in order to avoid spoilers I'll tag, '...always take a banana to a party' which was just a mess and seemed like something better left to Red Dwarf.

So is there a downside? Well by concentrating on the emotional side of the story, this perhaps has less action than we've been used to recently. Personally this isn't a problem; it's nice that the show's made the decision to take things down a notch, but others may find that it drags a bit.

With the Doctor in the middle of things, Rose and Mickey are left to wander about and get confused. It's a shame that after all this time Mickey's first TARDIS trip seems to include him merely so Rose has someone to talk to. Perhaps he is the tin dog after all.

Sophia Myles does a perfectly good job in her guest role and I'm assuming that her stilted delivery is an intentional move to convey a period drama feel. Sadly her attachment to the Doctor is rather less convincing though this may come down to the speed with which the audience is marched through their time together.

A striking and distinctive episode then and one that I hope won't be forgotten, sandwiched as it is between the high-profile returns of both Sarah Jane and the Cyberblokes.

Jim Hall

  • Read Jim's review of School Reunion and Rise of the Cybermen