Every now and then, we pick a Doctor Who story that we feel represents that particular Doctor best of all. It's not necessarily the best of that Doctor's run, just the one that sums up that Doctor's era and the show best. This week, we pick the quintessential 10th Doctor story, "The Girl in the Fireplace".
"The Girl in the Fireplace" was Steven Moffat's first script for the 10th Doctor in the new show's second series in 2006. Russell T. Davies was still showrunner and the show was just starting to hit the peak of its popularity with David Tennant in the lead role. Davies commissioned Moffat to write an episode that featured Madame de Pompadour and Moffat took Audrey Niffenegger's novel The Time-Traveler's Wife as his inspiration for the Doctor's first real love story. Moffat would use The Time-Traveler's Wife as a source for much of his run as showrunner when he took over after Davies left.
For all the old school fans' insistence that the Doctor was platonic and non-sexual, "The Girl in the Fireplace" blew a huge raspberry at that notion once and for all to depict The Doctor as a full-blown romantic hero capable of falling in love. It fit with Davies' gleeful mission to show the Doctor as a Fantasy Boyfriend in making David Tennant the most snoggable Doctor of them all. This is a major reason Tennant is the most popular Doctor amongst the show's newly earned female fans. Davies had previously cast Tennant as the lead in his "Casanova" miniseries and knew exactly what Tennant's appeal was to a female audience. Davies and Moffat also used the story to point out that Madame de Pompadour is a far more interesting historical figure than Marie Antoinette, being smarter, hipper, and more sophisticated, a feminist heroine worth knowing.
The Time Lord's Lost Love
It's all here: a time travel mystery. A time portal that links a dead 51st Century spaceship and a fireplace in 17th Century Versailles that endangers a historical figure that the Doctor has to save in order to preserve history. Where the story goes is entirely new for the show in many ways – more emotion, a love story, the Doctor falling in love unambiguously for the first time on the show.
No other story before this ever worked so hard to portray the Doctor as a romantic swashbuckling hero, including showing him riding to the rescue on horseback and smashing through a window into a ballroom. He falls in love with Reinette for her intelligence and her strength, and the chemistry between David Tennant and Sophia Myles was real – the two ended up dating in real life, though that didn't last.
The Seeds of Steven Moffat's "Doctor Who"
It's interesting to look back and see so many of Moffat's recurring themes for his future run as showrunner. The Doctor meeting a companion during her childhood before meeting her again when she's an adult is echoed in Moffat's first season when the 11th Doctor (Matt Smith) meets Amy Pond. A young girl menaced by a time-traveling monster. Moffat indulges his favorite plot here: the geeky hero that women fall in love with. There's Moffat's love of timey-wimey shenanigans, but most poignantly used here to facilitate a heartbreaking ending where the Doctor returns too late to see his love again. Murray Gold composed one of his best and most unique scores for the show here, evoking clockwork, fairytales, and heartbreak. David Tennant's full range is also on display in this story for the first time here: the history geek, the cheeky trickster, the clown, the lethal, calculating Time Lord, the romantic hero, the lonely angel forever cursed to wander eternity on his own. This is how the modern Doctor was defined under Davies and Moffat in the eyes of the fans.