Steven Moffat wasn't a writer I associated with Doctor Who. I enjoyed Coupling, but I couldn't quite grasp how writing a sit-com about the lives and loves of four friends qualified you to write an episode of Doctor Who. That said, Russell Davies' previous writing credits don't exactly scream "TIMELORD!" Despite my concerns, Moffat's two parter from last season (“The Empty Child” and “The Doctor Dances”) are possibly my favourite episodes from Eccleston's stay in the Tardis. They're unsettling and edgy, even for an adult audience, and the performances and effects are superb across the board.
“The Girl in the Fireplace,” Moffat's only episode this season, is every bit as good as his last two episodes but in a totally different way. The whole episode is one lovely juxtaposition of science fiction and period drama; taking place in both eighteenth century France and several thousand years in the future. The concept is one which is so genuinely baffling that it shouldn't work. The two time periods are so diametrically opposed that any attempt at blending them should result in an unwatchable episode. And yet this is such a compelling hour of television.
The responsibility for the success of TGITF lies with three people. The first is Moffat; without his script, concept, and skill as a writer this episode would be a confusing, laughable mess. David Tennant and Sophia Myles complete the trio. Myles is delightful as Madame Du Pompadour, conveying every emotion with enthralling conviction. The chemistry between Myles and Tennant is electric, although this should come as no surprise – back in the real world, the two are apparently engaged. Speaking of Tennant: He has arrived! Finally I am totally convinced by his portrayal of The Doctor. I have no complaints with this episode at all; he owns the role here and I can only hope that he's equally superb in future episodes.
Mickey and Rose don't get a great deal to do here, but as a result this is the first episode where I don't really mind Mickey. Their fire-extinguisher/rifles appear to be silver painted rolls of cardboard, and surely qualify as some of the worst props yet seen in new Who?
The villains of the piece are a strange mix of good and bad. Beyond the first appearance, they aren't the scariest of Who creatures, although I suspect anyone with a fear of clowns will be terrified. They are well conceived though, and when their mask is removed, the work of the design team is a wonder to behold. Where can I get one of those mechanical heads?
None of the above matters though, really. This episode is purely about Tennant and Myles; The Doctor and the woman who, for the briefest of moments, he is in love with. I can forgive the episode its somewhat indulgent use of The Doctor's new-found Vulcan mind-meld technique (a trick which I don't think we've seen before) as it is so well executed. It even has a fantastic punch line, which is timed to perfection and allowed to simply float past the viewer without the heavy-handed "look how clever we are" finger waving that would usually accompany an ending like this.
This is my favourite episode of the season so far, and possibly my favourite episode of the last two seasons. Next week: Cybermen!