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The Girl in the Fireplace

November 2006   |   Written by DWM

While researching his series about the eighteenth-century adventurer Casanova, Russell T Davies became fascinated with the historical figure of Madame de Pompadour, a modern and independent woman who was the official mistress of King Louis XV of France. Unlike the ‘celebrity historical’ figure of Queen Victoria, Davies found Pompadour interesting because she was not well known to a general audience.

Having written The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances in 2004, Steven Moffat was commissioned for an episode of the second series in early 2005 while on holiday in Australia, prior to the March launch. Davies requested this feature Madame de Pompadour and possibly a clockwork man. As this was his first true “period piece”, Moffat read up on the historical figure in both Nancy Mitford’s 1954 biography Madame de Pompadour (although he ignored much of the fine detail) and on a website dedicated to her. Mitford’s book made reference to one of Louis’ courtiers realising that his wife was cheating on him because of a revolving fireplace which she used to meet her lover, and the writer used this as a cornerstone for his story. As such, he took the basic idea and developed it in a very different direction.

The day that he started writing the episode at the end of March, Moffat received a message from fellow writer Paul Cornell to say that Christopher Ecclestone was leaving. E-mailing Davies, Moffat confirmed his suspicion that David Tennant would be taking over; back in November 2004, he had been the fourth person to email Davies recommending Tennant as a future Doctor having seen him in BBC One’s musical drama Blackpool.

Moffat wanted to meet Davies’ high emotional demands for Doctor Who and assembled a story which left the Doctor changed a little by its conclusion. he had no problem with the Doctor falling in love with Reinette, since he felt the Doctor’s strong feelings towards his assistant Jo Grant were made clear at the end of the 1973 serial The Green Death.

When Reinette first appeared in the pre credits, she was described as “Late thirties. Clearly once a thrilling beauty, and striking even now. Almost other-worldly in her absolute poise and calm. She has had different titles at different times in her life – at the moment her title is Madame de Pompadour, but for the purposes of this script she was always be Reinette.” The real Madame de Pompadour was born Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson (spelt Jean-Antoinette Poisson in the script) on 29 December 1721 in the Rue de Clery in Paris; the family moved to the Rue Neuve-de-Bon-Enfants in 1727, the year in which the Doctor first meets Reinette. The script described her as “a very pretty seven-year-old girl” and also made references to her brother, Francois-Abel, born in 1725. When she was nine, a fortune teller called Mme Lebon predicted that one day she would be the king’s mistress, earning her the nickname “Reinette”, meaning Little Queen; Moffat’s script suggested that she was using this name at the age of seven. In there formal education, Reinette learned to sing and act, as indicated in the dialogue. The adult Reinette was “perhaps nineteen years old, kick-a-hole-in-the-wall beautiful, dressed to the nines, cleavage that could start a war – and recognisable to us as a much younger Madame de Pompadour from the first scene …Cool. Calm … Years of refinement has gone into this perfect girl.” When Reinette looks at Rose she has “Absolute command. Absolute confidence. And a burning intelligence” and her kiss with the Doctor was a “Full on snog!!”

In real history, at the age of 19 in March 1741, Reinette married Charles Guillaume le Normant d’Etoiles and the couple had a daughter, Alexandrine, in 1744; thus the Doctor referred to her as Madame E’Tioles. However, Reinette still had her sights set on King Louis XV, and had her chance when the Duchess de Chateauroux died in 1744, as referred to in the script. On 25 February 1745, Reinette met Louis at the masked Yew Tree Ball, part of the wedding celebrations for Louis’ son at Versailles; this too was accurately referenced. She was subsequently given a room at the palace and – following a formal separation from her husband on 15 September 1745 – was pronounced the Marquise de Pompadour, the King’s official mistress, a position she held until 1750. Loyal to the King, she became a Duchess in 1752 and toiled for the state all her life. She died from tuberculosis on 15 April 1764 and was buried beside her daughter (who had died in 1754) in Capuchin Friars in Place Vendome.

The clockwork androids were inspired by the Turk, a hoax devised by Viennese inventor Wolfgang von Kempelen in 1769. Seated at a desk, this clockwork man could play chess against an opponent, but was in fact operated by an assistant secreted in the desk. Originally exhibited in Austria in 1770, the Turk toured Europe and was exhibited in Paris. Moffat used the androids the scary element to hook young viewers, and he realised that with its unnerving ticking sound it would be ideal to have one hidden under a child’s bed – a basic childhood horror not referenced in Doctor Who before. The Doctor became a reassuring figure who banished monsters, inspired by his comment “I’m what monsters have nightmares about!” in Love and War by Paul Cornell, published as part of the Doctor Who: The New Adventures in October 1992. Moffat had already used a version of this in his short story Continuity Errors for the anthology Decalog 3: Consequences published in July 1996; in this, Gwenny asked “What do monsters have nightmares about?” with the Doctor answering “Me.”

The outline had the title Madame de Pompadour, and was originally the second episode of the series. Moffat’s draft scripts were developed with titles such as Every Tick of My Heart and – briefly – Reinette and the Lonely Angel, while Moffat also considered the title Loose Connection for half an afternoon before assigning the final title, The Girl in the Fireplace. His first draft was very close to the finished programme; the main addition of the second draft was the mind-melting (a notion adapted from the 1960s US science fiction series Star Trek) and the Doctor apparently being drunk. As with The Doctor Dances, ‘dancing’ was again used as a euphemism for sex. Davies was unhappy about the notion of having the Doctor drunk, so Moffat toned this down. Moffat knew that Madame de Pompadour had actually been quite cold, and believed that all the Doctor and Reinette had done on the night of the Yew Tree Ball was to dance.

The writer realised that if the androids could enter France via the time windows, French people could wander into the spaceship. As such he toyed with the Doctor’s party finding a lost servant girl on the ship, but this would ultimately become a horse. The Doctor claimed to have invented the Banana daiquiri, apparently first concocted inn the 1950s at the St Thomas’ Mountaintop Bar by Harry K Yee. Dialogue referred to the Doctor as being known to the Daleks as “The Oncoming Storm” as stated in The Parting of Ways; this also had its roots in Love and War. The material about the TARDIS’ translation abilities was added by Moffat, unaware that this trait was reiterated by Davies in The Christmas Invasion. The reference to ‘Camilla’ – as in Camilla Parker-Bowles – was the quickest way of conveying the concept of a courtesan to a pre-watershed audience. When writing his script, Moffat had not read School Reunion and was unaware that Rose had seemed unhappy a Mickey travelling aboard the TARDIS, hence her apparent rapid mood change. In the third draft, Moffat and the team tried some different ideas. There was an out-of-sequence meeting between Reinette and the Doctor where she remembered him peering through a school window which he had not yet done. Later on, the Doctor peered through the window and ended up being chased by nuns. The team were keen for an out-of-sequence encounter by realised that it caused problems. Also, it was the Doctor’s mental contact with Reinette which created the element in her brain which the androids required; Rose then visited Reinette to give her a special gem which would remove this information from her mind, but Reinette realises this would erase her memories of the Doctor. “The future is promised to no one,” she said, refusing the gem, “But I insist upon my past.” In this version the Doctor saw the name of the spaceship before departing, and used the TARDIS key to destroy the time windows before throwing it back to to Rose, who told Mickey that the TARDIS would take them home. These ideas were subsequently dropped and the team went back to the second draft.

The script was completed in May 2005, before broadcast on Moffat’s The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances episodes. In contrast to these, Moffat felt his new script was romantic and colourful. On receiving the script, Tennant phoned Moffat to say how much he liked it. A late addition was the dialogue between Rose and Mickey just prior to their capture – as Moffat had since read about the events in School Reunion. Moffat had originally decided not to reveal the contents of Reinette’s note, but then realised that viewers would feel conned by such a conclusion.

Doctor Who Confidential attended the episode’s tone meeting on Friday 5th August. The shooting script for Episode 4, The Girl in the Fireplace, was issued on Friday 2nd September, and opened with a caption reading “250 Years Ago”. King Louis XV was described as “Dressed spectacularly, but overweight, scarlet faced. Perhaps once an athlete – but those days are long gone.” After the opening titles, another caption set the scene as “3000 Years Later” aboard a spaceship where a security camera was shown: “bulging out where a lens should there is what appears to be a real human eye…”

The clockwork man that the Doctor confronted was described as being