The Dalek in the Fireplace

Friday night the Sci Fi channel reran The Girl in the Fireplace, a Doctor Who story in which some alien robots punch a hole through time and space to steal the brain of Madame Pompadour from pre-revolutionary France. This plot makes about as much sense as it sounds. In fact, it makes so little sense that the Doctor repeatedly comments on this fact during the episode. He does save Madame Pompadour of course, and he figures out why the robots needed a human brain, but he never figures out why they wanted Madame Pompadour’s. The audience does get a big clue, though, at the end of the episode that the Doctor never sees; but on reflection I think there’s another meta-reason.

Evil robots punching a hole through time and space to end up on Earth for no apparent reason. Does this plot sound at all familiar to you? It certainly does to long time Doctor Who fans, who should recognize it as the basis of possibly the single stupidest Dalek episode of all time, Resurrection of the Daleks. As near as I’ve ever been able to tell, the time tunnel the Daleks set up in that episode was nothing more than a plot device to enable shooting on the South bank of the Thames and let the Doctor drop Tegan off somewhere close to home because Janet Fielding was leaving the show. There was no logical reason whatsoever for any part of that episode to take place anywhere on Earth, much less in the middle of London.

Maybe, just maybe, Russell Davies remembers that episode too and detests it just as much as I do. While The Girl in the Fireplace certainly stands on its own as a story, I suspect the tenth Doctor’s constant harping on how little sense any of this makes is a little jab from Davies to John Nathan-Turner about how little sense his evil robots punching a hole in time made. Is that plausible? And if so, what other hidden commentary on earlier episodes might we find in the new series if we look a little deeper?

P.S. Yes, of course I know the Daleks aren’t really robots; but they’re close enough for the connection to be plausible.

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