"It'll pass. Stay with me."

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A tender love story. A bittersweet parting. A touching moment as the Doctor realises he can't take the woman he loves with him but he can't forget her either.

Yeah, The Aztecs is really great, isn't it? The Girl In The Fireplace, on the other hand, is a moist, fragrant and gently steaming pile of compost.

Yes, we've heard all the stuff about how old school Doctor Who fans want the Doctor to be asexual because they're asexual themselves. (Thanks, Russell T Davies). We say bollocks to that. First, we can assure you that none of us are remotely asexual and we'd be very surprised if any of you were either. Second, we think anyone who insists the Doctor's always been asexual has been watching Tellytubbies DVDs by mistake. And third, we have absolutely zero objection to the Doctor being romantically entangled if - and this is the important bit - it's done right. The Doctor isn't just some guy: his mystery is a large part of what makes him so interesting. So if you're going to make him fall in love, it's not enough to see him wearing his hearts on his sleeve. It has to be as special as he is.

And that's why we think Girl In The Fireplace is a failure. It tries ever so hard to work up a tear-jerking romance for the Doctor, but it falls flat on its face.

We can't understand why the decision was made to put this episode right next to School Reunion. Not only is there too much repetition of theme, The Girl In The Fireplace seriously suffers in comparison. In School Reunion, the point is underscored with great effectiveness that it's impossible for the Doctor to have a tenable relationship with a human, and that as a result the Doctor's spent several lifetimes avoiding emotional investment. If you're human, you can love him as much as you like, but he can't and won't ever feel the same about you. It's powerful, it's touching, it's harsh but makes utter sense, and its emotion is absolutely genuine. As far as we're concerned, it's the definitive text on human/Doctor relations, not because it confirms any particular prejudices of ours, but because they made it make so much sense.

One episode - one episode! - later, Girl In The Fireplace chucks all that in the rubbish. Yes, the Doctor describes Reinette as one of the most accomplished women in history, but so what? She's still human, and that means her lifespan, as the Doctor pointed out, is to him the equivalent of a butterfly's. And if that was significant five minutes (for the Doctor) ago, how come it suddenly doesn't matter?

Suppose we were feeling generous and charitable. You're right, that hasn't happened yet. But suppose. In that case, we could advance the theory that the Doctor thought that's how things were, but all it took was the right girl to change his mind. We hate that idea on the grounds of sheer stupidity, but generous and charitable, generous and charitable. Even if that were the case, the "love story" (generous and charitable! Let's try that again), er love story, still leaves us unconvinced and what's more, utterly unmoved. The contrast between School Reunion, where we cried enough to require lifejackets, and this story, where we sat there completely dry-eyed making snarky remarks, couldn't be more pronounced.

No matter how pretty Reinette is, no matter how good a gardener she is, the point is that we barely know her. Yes, we say "we", not "the Doctor": it's very clear that Reinette's stroll round the Doctor's neural synapses plus the "dancing" are meant to indicate that he's had enough opportunity to form a deep and soulful bond. But we haven't. They wheel her on, tell us the Doctor's in love with her, and expect us to feel cut up about it when forty-five minutes later she's carked it. Sorry, no can do. The reason School Reunion's so affecting is that it references a relationship that spans years, not minutes: we've seen the Doctor and Sarah's whatevership develop over a long time, and as a result, their reunion really matters to us. Even in The Aztecs the Doctor had six episodes to fall in love with Cameca. Here, Reinette is just some bint we hardly know, and we couldn't care less.

Where Girl In The Fireplace does succeed is in demonstrating to us exactly the relationship we heard described by the Doctor in School Reunion. Reinette feels she's had a relationship with the Doctor that spans almost all her life, whereas to the Doctor it's been a series of brief meetings over a very short period. That must be exactly what it's like for him knowing humans, even when he's known them for years, so it's a great demonstration on a scale humans can understand of how different human and Doctorly perceptions are of time. Unfortunately, it also shoots the story in the foot. How are we supposed to believe in this great romance when, mind melding notwithstanding, they've known each other only for hours? It's possible, of course, that the Doctor spent a lengthy time with Reinette during the "dancing" (how we hate that coy euphemism) period: Mickey says the Doctor's been away for hours, which could translate to years on the other side. However, nothing else in the episode supports that: when he returns to the ship, it seems to be immediately after the dancing, and Reinette's comments at the end that she would have enjoyed the slow path indicate that she hasn't yet trodden it with the Doctor.

It isn't helped by the writing, either. At times, we felt we could have sawn up Sophia Myles's perfomance to keep the fire going, but to be fair, much of that was due to some really hideous lines. For every "There is a vessel in your world where the days of my life are pressed together like the chapters of a book" there are twenty awful clunkers. Try making something of "The clock on the mantel is broken! It is time!", for instance. We could only watch in horror as the poor girl had to say "Oh, such a lonely childhood... so lonely, so very very alone... such a lonely little boy - lonely then and lonelier now... my lonely Doctor." We get it! He's lonely! And God help any actor who has to try and say "God speed, my lonely angel" without the audience reaching for the sickbag. (She didn't succeed. Who could?)

And that lonely angel stuff underlines another of the episode's weak points: a streak of sentimentality a mile wide. This seems to be Steven Moffat's weak point: the rather too saintly character of Nancy in his episodes The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, and the rather too heartwarming ending, seriously undermines their excellent chill factor. And there's the same problem here: the love story might possibly have been more affecting if only it were a bit more understated. Think about the brooch in Aztecs and how well that works. Did we really have to hear that all-lonely-all-the-time speech? Did we really have to have spelled out to us that the Doctor is worth the monsters? Did we really have to hear Reinette's letter read out loud? And seriously, did we really have to have inflicted on us the phrase "lonely angel"?

And then there's the Doctor. We know we're supposed to feel all heartbroken for him, but we don't think he deserves it. The riding to Reinette's rescue on a white horse is all very heroic (to the point of cliche: we groaned in unison), but in order to save his girlfriend, he abandons Rose and Mickey without a second thought. Which would you pick: being decapitated by robots, or spending the rest of your life wandering ever more decrepitly round the corridors of the TARDIS? We're really not sure the second is better than the first. [Edit: US reader Andrew C Stevens has written to tell us Steven Moffat has said that they thought the audience would assume Emergency Program One was still in place. The line about this was cut, but Moffat thinks now that the line "should probably have been kept in". Ya think? Knowing Rose hasn't been abandoned to her fate changes the entire complexion of the the story.]

And what about his feelings for Rose? Only a few hours ago, he was telling her she was different from all the others and he would never abandon her. So much for that, as Rose is clearly realising: she certainly can't trust him as she used to the Ninth Doctor. We don't think we've ever seen a Doctor with quite such a callous attitude, especially towards someone he's meant to be close to, and it's not particularly endearing.

Oh, yes. Did Reinette shag him? Probably. Do we believe this is the first time he's ever done the horizontal tango? Like hell we do. Are we bovvered that he does it here? Not in the least. Since we have no investment in her or in their relationship, all we can do is shrug.

So nul points for the love story. But what about the rest of it? Oh dear, we seem to have written down "sheer blithering idiocy". A ship that thinks it needs Madame de Pompadour's brain because it's named after her? And her brain has to be the same age as the ship? That's got to be the dumbest McGuffin in history. As for the clockwork robots, they're a fantastic idea, but they're utterly wasted. They've got that terrifying uncanny almost-human thing going on that makes the Autons so scary, and the powered aspect that makes the Yeti so scary too. But instead of exploiting this to send us all behind the sofa, instead the script has the Doctor treating the robots as if they're no threat at all, therefore letting all the air out of them. What a shame.

Also, the sheer moronicity surrounding the robot plot chokes the life out of it. Brain and brain: what is brain? Are we supposed to believe that the intelligent Ms Pompadour, given five years' warning that evil monsters are coming for her head, does absolutely nothing about it? After all, there aren't that many of them, and they don't seem all that ferocious. Why doesn't the Doctor just give her a few hints on how to deal with them? She has a lot of resources at her disposal, and it can't be that hard. Instead, she's reduced to bleating through the fireplace for the Doctor, which frankly just makes her look pathetic. This is the most accomplished woman in history?

It is, at least, a good story for Rose and Mickey. Their easy camaraderie, which would be mystifying if we didn't know Steven Moffat hadn't read the end of School Reunion, makes their scenes a delight, and as with School Reunion Mickey has some great lines. "I got a spaceship on my first go!"? "It's so realistic!"? Brilliant. And Billie Piper does an excellent job at realising her perfect Doctor might just have feet of clay. It's subtle and understated, and as a result it's probably the best thing in here.

A miss. A palpable miss.

MORAL: Speak softly and carry a big fire extinguisher.



How come Reinette can see through the fireplace when she's talking to the Doctor through it, but at other times it just looks like an ordinary fireplace?


We're getting awfully bored with the Doctor telling various lifeforms they're beautiful. We appreciate that he's not stigmatising them as monsters and all, but can't he think of something else to say?


We know Sarah Jane said she was clever, but isn't it a bit eyebrow-raising that Rose manages to identify a human heart so easily?


In the glorious tradition of the glitter gun, isn't it lucky that monsters always surround themselves with the very weapons guaranteed to knock them out?


We're no experts in French history, but isn't it ever so slightly unlikely in an era of slavery that there was a black woman at the court of Louis XV?


Mind meld? Warp drive? Hey, why bother making up things yourself when you can just steal someone else's ideas?


The less said about that excruciating tie and sunglasses scene the better. We're especially not mentioning that dreadful sub-Blackadder Thickania stuff. And what's this bizarre obsession Steven Moffat has with bananas?


What's a horse doing wandering around free in the gardens of Versailles?


They'd need a truck to break through the time window, and instead the Doctor uses a horse? Ouch.


They can't use the TARDIS because they're part of events now? We don't want to keep thrashing the word bollocks, but bollocks. Pure, untainted, unadulterated bollocks. Also, the fireplace works because it was offline? Bollocks.


"I'm not winding you up"? Argh!

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