The season 2 Doctor Who episode “The Girl in the Fireplace” was one of the most tragic and emotional stories of the show’s entire run, blending an intimate story of love and sacrifice with the series’ classic sci-fi roots. It features David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor and Billie Piper as Rose Tyler, a time-traveling duo that went on plenty of exciting adventures together. They battled a wide range of alien species on countless unique planets – though many of their most exciting stories took place back home on planet Earth. “The Girl in the Fireplace” takes advantage of both possibilities, crafting an earthbound story that quickly becomes sinister.
The saddest thing about the Tenth Doctor is undeniably how many friends he’s had to say goodbye to. Throughout his time on the show, he lost three full-time companions and countless friends that he’s failed to save for various reasons. These losses really had an impact on this incarnation of the Doctor, quickly transforming him from an optimistic adventurer into a much more bitter, lonely Time Lord. The tragedy of Madame de Pompadour in “The Girl in the Fireplace” is the first time Tennant’s Doctor was faced with real loss and defeat – and it’s immediately clear that he doesn’t know how to cope with it.
How The Crew Of SS Madame de Pompadour Died
In “The Girl in the Fireplace”, the Doctor finds himself aboard an abandoned spaceship that has time portals leading to different moments in Madame de Pompadour’s life. From the concept alone, it’s immediately one of the best Tenth Doctor and Rose episodes, but it’s the horrifying truth of the ship that solidifies the story as a classic. After traveling through the portals and building a close relationship with the Marquise, the Doctor discovers the truth – the spaceship’s repair droids were attempting to repair the vessel using human body parts, and Madame de Pompadour was their next victim.
The droids had already murdered the ship’s entire crew for their spare parts, but none of them was deemed worthy enough to serve as the engine. Some crew members’ eyes were used to replace the camera lenses, and one’s heart was wired into the ship’s conduit. Since the repair droids had been programmed to maintain the ship at any cost, the death of its crew was a necessary sacrifice. It was this bold storytelling that made “The Girl in the Fireplace” a fan-favorite episode for many, since many Doctor Who episodes were hesitant to include such dark and morbid concepts.
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The exact moment of SS Madame de Pompadour’s destruction was detailed in a short video named “Tardisode 4,” which explained how the ship was struck by an ion storm and quickly lost all function. From there, the droids began slaughtering the crew – and the main episode explains the rest. It’s one of Doctor Who’s biggest tragedies, not only because so many innocent people were killed, but because they were killed at their ship’s own command. There’s no real villain in the episode – just droids that are completing the exact orders that they’d been programmed for. The whole tragedy was completely avoidable, and that makes it even more emotional.
Why The Clockwork Droids Were After Madame de Pompadour
The clockwork droids were trying to recreate the ship as efficiently as possible, and since they’re not Doctor Who’s smartest villain, they look to the spacecraft’s namesake for inspiration. The ship is named in honor of Madame de Pompadour, which leads the droids to believe that she’s the only body capable of powering it. However, their portals weren’t exactly accurate and they found themselves split along her time stream. They wanted to kill their target at exactly age 37 because their ship was the same age and they believed that her body would need to be of the same maturity to be compatible.
Specifically, the clockwork droids needed Madame de Pompadour’s brain to power their computer. The other aspects of the ship (cameras, wiring, etc) were disposable, so they used random crew members for that – but the computer was the ‘brain’ of the ship, and they believed that only one person’s brain would suitably power it. This made the tragedy even greater, because despite the Tenth Doctor’s often-romantic relationship with Rose, he formed a close bond with Madame de Pompadour and was quite fond of her.
The whole episode is needlessly devastating because the droids had no bad intentions in their plan. Their pursuit of Madame de Pompadour was simply a human error, a fault in their programming – so the Doctor couldn’t even blame them when their actions caused a time disruption that led to de Pompadour’s death. This marked a huge turning point for the Tenth Doctor, forcing him to learn that not everybody can be saved. Although the tragedy stuck with him for a long time, it ultimately made him a stronger and more resilient fighter.
The Pompadour Webcast Added New Tragedy To “The Girl In The Fireplace” Episode
Although Madame de Pompadour only appeared in one episode of Doctor Who, an online webcast “Pompadour,” proved her story continues (and with David Tennant returning to Doctor Who, there’s every possibility that this short story could become something bigger). The webcast provides a heartbreaking epilogue to “The Girl in the Fireplace”, confirming that the clockwork droids were successful in making a scanned copy of Madame de Pompadour’s mind. After downloading the copy into the ship’s computer, the craft gained her memories and consciousness, believing that it was human. This makes her story even more tragic, as she loses not only her life but also her identity.
Throughout “The Girl in the Fireplace”, de Pompadour spoke extensively about her fear of loneliness. She worried that her isolated lifestyle would leave her without any friends or company, which is why the Doctor was such a huge comfort to her. This new information makes her fate even worse than even some of Doctor Who’s saddest companions’ exits, as her worst fear became reality. Her consciousness continues on the abandoned ship, filled with the same memories and fears, alone and without company. It’s not rare for Doctor Who to include emotional stories like this, but Madame de Pompadour’s fate is even more tragic given how unnecessary and avoidable it was.
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