"What do monsters have nightmares about?" "Me!"
IN THIS ONE... The Doctor meets Madame de Pompadour at different points in her life to save her from clockwork men.
REVIEW: Finally a hit, a palpable hit, for Series 2, even after you know the punchline, and even though Rose gets sidelined AGAIN, even as a romantic interest. While she scampers around the 51st-century ship with Mickey, like they're kids with toys (even their clothes have a bratty feel to them), the Doctor has this grand romance with one of the most famous courtesans that ever lived, just intermittently. In retrospect, it's Moffat's most used plot, and under his pen, he'll have relationships that skip over the years with other women he knew as little girls, see if you can name which ones. At this point though, it makes the point the Doctor awkwardly made in the previous episode about the so-called "curse of the Time Lords". In the span of a single episode, he sees someone he cares about, someone with enough companion potential that he actually tied to bring her on board, grow old and die before his eyes, while he doesn't age a tick. It's what being immortal might always feel like, the idea in fast forward.
It wouldn't work if Madame de Pompadour wasn't a convincing match for the Doctor, so thankfully, Sophia Myles has all the necessary grace and beauty, and her character a Wildean wit coupled with a sharp logical mind. She's as bold as she is precise and so insightful she can see into the Doctor's mind when he access her memories. (Oh my Lord, Moffat laid in stuff about the secrets behind his name wayyyy back!) My feeling is that the "cowboys" she's has up in her brain have somehow prepared her for it being turned into a supercomputer, which is why she can surprise the Doctor with telepathic tricks. But it's more than that. The speeded-up relationship has a pressure cooker intensity that quickly goes from "I'm a fan of this historical celebrity" to joking about snogging her to a willingness to take what she calls the slow path as her companion. If she intrigues him so much, it's because she's a complex woman, a product of the Age of Reason who nevertheless accepts the monsters under her bed and the strange affair she believes she's having with her childhood imaginary friend. She's taken "don't listen to reason" (one of early Tennant's most successful puns, along with "I'm not winding you up" in this same episode) to heart. Can the Doctor fall in love? The show has been asking this for a while, and though it's obvious he can, it's acting on it with mere mortals that's difficult. Notably, it's Reinette who's the aggressor, trotting out Moffat's dance metaphor and kissing the Doctor without asking. She calls him "my love", but it's not clear how far he's ready to go beyond some blokey competitive zingers thrown at King Louis. It might be that it's in the waiting that Rose's hopes are dashed. Going from strength to strength, the episode's climax isn't the face-off with the clockwork men, but the moment where the Doctor happily finds a way back set against Reinette's despair as his hopes are rewarded, refusing to wish him luck.
It's a beautifully designed piece too, using gorgeous locations and clothes, but also some really neat clockwork robots and a spaceship that looks like a turning wind-up key. Using the starry sky to connect the past and future is a good trick, almost lyrical. The horse is a nice touch, and though absurd, the moment where it bursts through a mirror is pretty epic. Between the look, the cleverness and the emotion, it's easy to ignore the more ridiculous aspects of the story, like the idea this ship (and thus any ship of the era) can punch holes in the universe WHILE DISABLED. Or that it be programmed to turn on the crew and cannibalize it for parts. Historical scholars would probably take exception at the historical "facts" depicted in the story as well. How many bananas does the Doctor carry exactly? And anti-oil? The problems pop up more readily on subsequent viewings, like Reinette's voice from the teaser being heard at a point when the fireplace is meant to be off-line. But we forgive the nits we can pick when the rest of the production is so strong.
VERSIONS: A deleted scene on the DVD reveals that Arthur the horse was being abused by the stablemaster.
ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: The TARDISode shows the ion storm that caused the damage to the ship happening, and the crew (not at all dressed in anything remotely like their robots) getting attacked.
REWATCHABILITY: High - It's lost some of its luster with familiarity, but its high notes continue to resonate. Rose fans will continue to be disappointed with her Series 2 presence, however.