The Girl in the Fireplace 2.5
In what has to be one of the greatest modern Doctor Who episodes, and certainly a highlight of season 2, the Moffat-written “The Girl in the Fireplace” sees the Doctor (#10, Tennant) and Rose arrive on a derelict spaceship in the 51st century. This is to be Rose’s boyfriend Mickey’s first (intentional) adventure. Problem is, unlike episodes like “The Impossible Planet” where the TARDIS shows up on a spaceship full of unsuspecting crew members, the crew are nowhere to be found. Seemingly unrelated, Mickey points out that the ship smells like barbecue. This is soon dismissed when we discover a link to another time and place via fireplace. The girl on the other side, who grows up to be Madame du Pompadour, ages years while only a few minutes pass on the spaceship, which shares her name and is sister ship to the SS Marie Antoinette.
Soon we learn that clockwork droids are after du Pompadour’s brain because they need to fix their ship and have been using pieces of the murdered crew to replace broken parts, and somehow they’d short circuited themselves into believing that a 37-year-old spaceship called SS Madam du Pompadour could only be sorted if wired into the extracted brain of 37-year-old Madam du Pompadour herself. These rogue droids from the future are some of the most beautiful of Doctor Who villains. When they are in costume, they are elegantly dressed in Venetian masks and royal French garb. When they are defrocked, they are a transparent case enclosing intricate golden gears like something out of steam punk. They are just doing their job–fix the ship by whatever means necessary. Nobody told them the crew were not on the supply list.
So it’s up to the Doctor (and a horse) to save the day, even at the expense of getting trapped in old France without his TARDIS. But no matter. He’s fallen for du Pompadour anyway. In fact, what makes this the most heart breaking episode is not that the Doctor is now forced to take the slow path, but that he is saved, and du Pompadour is left to live out her destiny as we have seen it in history books.
If you’re into Trock, this one is pretty cool.
Deep Breath 8.1
Six years later, we continue the saga of sad droids using living bodyparts when they’ve run out of mechanical ones. This time, they’re not only trying to fix their ship, but patch up themselves. The SS Marie Antoinette in the 51st century time traveled backward, for reasons unknown, to the dawn of the earth, not unlike Douglas Adams’ “City of Death” and Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. The droids manning the ship are forced to take the slow path through time, living one day at a time toward the 51st century, patching themselves up with people and animal parts as things break off. Eventually, in Victorian London, they disguise their spaceship as a restaurant…not unlike Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Over time, the droids have more human pieces than robot pieces.
Enter the new Doctor (#12, Capaldi) and his companion Clara. Capaldi’s routine stumbling out of the TARDIS fainting, and winding up in somebody’s jim-jams is reminiscent of #10’s first episode (#10 made a Douglas Adams reference in that episode, too, when he pointed out that wearing a dressing gown was “very Arthur Dent.”) As Clara tries to get her head around the regeneration, while mourning the loss of #11 (Smith), she is taken in by Madam Vastra and her companions Jenny and Strax. Vastra is a reoccurring character in Doctor Who, and is either Moffat making a case for a spin-off or his outlet for a Victorian Sherlock Holmes while he had set his own Sherlock TV series in the modern day (Vastra even says “The game is afoot!” and has a Lestrad-esque police friend). Though mostly an outlet for commentary on prejudices and ridiculous cavalry scenes, Vastra does help Clara get over her shock at the Doctor’s new look and personality.
The Doctor struggles more than Clara to understand what’s happened to him. New Doctors are always funny at first, unable to use their new body parts (he can’t tell his hands apart) and strange comments like “If I see anything I don’t like–and that includes karaoke and mimes…,” but there is a deep internal struggle going on. He knows that his subconscious chose this face for a reason and that he’s seen it before, though he can’t remember. We know that he’d met a man at Mount Vesuvius, also played by Capaldi, so viewers would do well to watch The Fires of Pompeii again to look for clues. The Doctor’s identity crisis comes to a climax when confronted by a bum, played by Elizabeth Sladen’s widower. He says later that he traded his favorite watch for the bum’s coat, and we’re forced to wonder whether this was the watch seen in Human Nature. He does pause to take a few cheeky jabs at Tom Baker’s long scarf and Scotland seeking independence from England via eyebrow metaphor.
So anyway, it’s up to the Doctor (and once again a horse) to save the day, and like Tennant on the cliff with a sword, he regains his Doctor-ness and takes a stand against the bad guys. We already know that it’s not against his “programming” to kill, so it isn’t difficult, even when the head droid is now mostly human. This is a big difference from The Girl in the Fireplace where he was able to defeat the droids simply by breaking their link back to their spaceship. You can tell this Doctor’s going to be darker, especially with the religious references. The droids are devout believers that they will reach “the promise land,” while the Doctor doesn’t believe in such things. In the end, we’re introduced to Missy (I love Michelle Gomez!) in a place she calls Heaven.