There’s a rampage in Versailles as well-born nobles are attacked! But not by peasants, because that would be gauche. *flicks out fan and looks over it pointedly* No, they’re full-faced masque-wearing 18th-century-imitating Paris-France-fashion-flaunting automatons, perhaps first cousins of the Mannequins Who Lived To Shoot or maybe next-door neighbors to the Creepy Brass-Playing Santas of the Sycorax. “I need you now, you promised,” a buxom woman cries into a fireplace after dispatching her lover/King to his wife. Her body is ready! Er, it is actually, but we’ll get to that in a sec. “It is time!”
3,000 years later, the Doctor, Mickey, and Rose step out of the TARDIS. “Brilliant, I got a spaceship on my first go,” Mickey says. Upon looking out a viewing area, he breathes, “It’s so realistic!” Haha, I feel like that about life ALL THE TIME, Mickey! The books and movies describe it so well! Nothing terribly dangerous here, the Doctor says after scanning, though hey, there are warp engines running with the strength to punch a hole in the universe. Hmmm.
When the gang steps into a genuine 18th-century French room on the otherwise super duper modern spaceship, their suspicion grows (as does our desire to see more people in period costume stat). The Doctor realizes there’s a room on the other side of its fireplace. It belongs to an adorable French girl, Reinette, who wakes up in 1727 Paris to find the Doctor having a chat with her.
The two places/points in time connect via a spatio-temporal hyperlink (or for the technically inclined, a “magic door”). The Doctor cah-jiggers the fireplace; it brings him to Reinette. For her, it’s months after their first meeting. Wait, what’s that loud ticking in a room with only a broken clock? Mon Dieu, it’s one of those creepy auto-masquers, about to say something scathing, slaying all and sundry with his rapier wit! Wait, nope, he’s just been scanning Reinette’s brain. “What could there be in a little girl’s mind worth blowing a hole in the universe?” the Doctor wonders. It wants Reinette, only “you are incomplete” it tells her.
The Doctor reassures Reinette not to worry about her nightmare, when “What do monsters have nightmares about? Me!” He spins back to the spaceship-side and halts the automaton with fire-extinguisher spray. “Oh, you are beautiful!” he marvels when he removes its “camouflage protocol” face: the auto-man’s “brain” is “space age clockwork”.
It would be vandalism to disassemble it, the Doctor notes, “but that won’t stop me.” When it short-range teleports, he warns Mickey and Rose to stay put and follows.
“It is customary, I think, to have an imaginary friend only during one’s childhood,” an all grown-up Reinette remarks when the Doctor arrives. “You are to be congratulated on your persistence.” While he physically slams his jaw shut again so he can manage, “goodness, how you’ve grown” (her eyes are up here, okay, Doctor?), she adds “reason tells me you cannot be real.” “Oh, you never want to listen to reason,” he says playfully, and with so many questions and so little time, she pushes him against a wall and kisses him decisively in the manner of the French. When she runs off to join her mother and a manservant appears calling for Mademoiselle Poisson, the Doctor asks incredulously, “Later Madame Etoiles? Later still mistress of Louis the Fifteenth, uncrowned Queen of France? Actress, artist, musician, dancer, courtesan, fantastic gardener!” Hey, he just “snogged Madame de Pompadour!”
“Every time!” he complains when he fireplace-spins back and realizes of course his companions wandered off. There is, however, a horse hanging about. Neigh? Meanwhile, Mickey executes some sweet drop and roll maneuvers with the extinguisher he nabbed, but after going all tough-guy, “Are you looking at me?” to a camera, shrieks in horror when it turns out to be a real human eye. Also, there’s a human heart in the ship’s furnace. Thought you ought to know.
“I’m not your mother,” the Doctor complains to the horse, following him around. He darts through another door, ending up on the grounds of Versailles, where he spots Reinette and a friend trash-talking the King’s recently-dead mistress. Classy. Oh, I see how you’re ambitious to be his lover, her friend jibes. “He is the King, and I love him with all my heart, and I look forward to meeting him, Reinette parries (hoh hoh hoh!) before catching sight of the Doctor.
The Doctor ducks back onto the spaceship and finds Rose and Mickey. He sums up his escapades thusly: “Became the imaginary friend of a future French aristocrat, picked a fight with a clockwork man…Oh, and I met a horse.” What’s a horse doing on a spaceship? Mickey asks. “What’s pre-Revolutionary France doing on a space ship; get a little perspective!” the Doctor scolds him.
The entire ship seems built around the life of Reinette, “stalking a woman from the 18th century”, the Doctor explains as he, Mickey, and Rose watch the King and some companions speak in a salon. The men leave and Reinette enters alone. Rose notes Reinette’s a bit like “Camilla”, working to be the King’s mistress, but in contrast “they get on very well,” the Doctor clarifies of the two women in the King’s life. After all, miss, THIS IS FRANCE!
Suddenly an intruder turns out to be another automaton. “Fireplace man!” Reinette gasps when the Doctor bursts in to save the day (what an awesome superhero identity that would be!). When the extinguisher-frozen automaton begins to show signs of movement the Doctor tells Reinette to order it to speak. “Let’s see if you still got it,” from when she was a child, he comments (ew, this is a little too Time Traveler’s Wife for me).
The Clockwork Droid is a repair droid from the ship, which has 82% of its systems failing after an Ion storm. The ship’s been in place for a year because “we did not have the parts,” the Droid answers (“always comes down to that doesn’t it, the parts,” mechanic!Mickey agrees). They used the crew as “parts” (say, that’s what that delish cooking smell on the deck was! *gags*) but “one more part is required” from currently-incomplete Reinette. Why her? “We are the same,” it intones.
Horrified at the presumption that a sassy sexy aristocrat has to hear some gear-and-wheels man talk about how aren’t they alike, really, Reinette orders it to leave. The Clockwork Droid teleports back to ship-side. The Doctor, needing to find more answers, tells Rose to take Mickey and Arthur (he’s named the horse, d’awww!) and follow it on the ship. “You’re not keeping the horse,” Rose says crossly. “I let you keep Mickey,” the Doctor objects. Neigh?
While the Doctor stays behind to scan Reinette’s brain, Mickey cheerfully adds her name to the list of the Doctor’s past loves (including Sarah Jane Smith and “Cleo” Cleopatra), making Rose fume. Luckily the Clockwork Droids inject them with something horrible so they don’t have time to get into a tiff!
“To walk among the memories of another living soul; do you ever get used to this?” Reinette wonders as the Doctor reads her mind. Old memories reawaken as part of the process, and “Such a lonely childhood,” Reinette says sympathetically, for it’s the Doctor’s lonely life she’s seen. He breaks the link, amazed. “A door once opened may be stepped through in either direction,” she notes, before persuading him to dance with her. Uh, isn’t she supposed to dance with the King? the Doctor wonders. Oh, she totes has time to dance him all up first, Reinette assures him. I’ve been really tryyyying, baby! Trying to hold back this feeling, for so long!
Rose and Mickey wake on Frankenstein-esque operating tables, strapped down and ready for chopping. Rose threatens, “You wouldn’t want to mess with our designated driver,” and tries to scare them with the whole Oncoming Storm thing. The Doctor swoons in, seemingly drunk on champagne and the French arts. You know which ones I mean. Aww yeah. He’s invented the banana daiquiri a couple of centuries early, apparently: “Always take a banana to a party, Rose; bananas are good,” he babbles in a little tip of the hat to the Ninth Doctor’s banana fancy. Yes, bananas are good at parties — as long as there aren’t too many bananas on the dance floor.
The Doctor’s figured out why the ship and its droids are stalking Reinette: he calls the head droid “Thick Thickity Thick Face from Thicktown, Thickania. And so’s your dad,” for thinking that because the ship is thirty-seven, when Reinette is thirty-seven, her brain will be “compatible” and fix their ship. For that kind of nonsense, they should have a little taste of what’s in the Doctor’s wine glass — and that turns out to be multigrain anti-oil that freezes them all.
The Doctor frees Mickey and Rose. They have to close all the windows of time connecting Reinette’s world with the ship, but one window won’t shut. It’s an “override” from the field: one of the Droids is still out there. The lead Droid pours the anti-oil from his finger, rousing the others who assemble to troop into the right time-window: “and this time, they’re bringing back her head.” *pauses* It’s a bit weird, Steven Moffatt first uber-crushing on Madame de Pompadour (because, at its roots, what else is this episode about?), and essentially turning the Doctor into as much Reinette’s stalker as the ship is, however inadvertently. But weirdest of all: how the mindless harvesting Droids by extension stand in for the unremitting forces of the Terror, and also, by extension, the Revolution. I mean. There are actually peasants starving outside Versailles. I know Reinette’s pretty and witty and gaaayyyyy, but it takes lots of pre-Revolutionary blood and toil so nobles and their mistresses can swan around elegantly.
For some reason, the Doctor goes off to find the appropriate “Happy 37th Birthday Madame de Pompabadonkadonk!” room to send Rose in to speak to Reinette. Probably so Billie Piper can get some screen time. Rose enters five years prior to the Birthday Massacre, warning her to keep those Droids talking, and promising on the Doctor’s behalf he’ll help when she most needs it.
Smart-as-a-whip Reinette immediately gets the concept of space/time travel, and stoutly says, “one may tolerate a world of demons for the sake of an angel!” when Rose demurs this wasn’t supposed to happen. She really likes that Doctor! Bow wow chicka chicka — anyway, Mickey calls for Rose, because they’ve found the right room. Reinette briefly follows them to the spaceship, horrified to hear her own voice calling for help and the screams of her fellow courtiers. Deciding “the Doctor is worth the monsters,” she exits back to her world via tapestry.
Fast-forward to our opening, the Birthday Party of Brainless Doom. Spaceship-side, the Doctor can’t enter; the Droids closed that link. The Doctor insists they can’t use the TARDIS to get in: “we’re part of events now.” I should say so, nudge, nudge! Ballroom-side, Reinette scolds everyone screaming, “Kindly remember that this is Versailles! This is the Royal Court, and we are French.” So chill the eff out. She has decided, she announces to the Clockwork Droids, that she won’t be attending their little beheading soiree.
The Droids continue to menace her, while she denounces them as “the nightmare of my childhood, the monster from under my bed, and if my nightmare can return to plague me, then rest assured, so will yours!” There couldn’t be a better cue for the Doctor (AKA “The Monster’s Nightmare” AKA “The Oncoming Storm” AKA “Madame de Pompadour’s Bit on the Side”) to burst through the ballroom gate on Arthur, his heroic steed, Arthur!
The Doctor gives Reinette a dashing wink and grin, telling her, “You look younger every day.” When Louis objects to this ballsy gate-crashing, Reinette intervenes with introductions:, “This is my lover, the King of France.” “Yeah? Well, I’m the Lord of Time, and I’m here to fix the clock,” the Doctor snaps. As the Droids threaten him, he takes relish in explaining the exits are all blocked (we see the broken mirror now reveals a brick wall). Talk about seven years bad luck, “try three thousand” — it’s over for them (and also, for the Doctor, who has no means of escape). “I’m not winding you up,” he adds, because he’s a man of many puns the best of times, and the worst of times. The Droids wind down; they no longer have a purpose.
“How’s he going to get back?” Mickey asks anxiously. Rose stands stoic, crying, near the TARDIS neither of them can fly. Versailles-side, the Doctor and Reinette gaze out a window, while she murmurs of the stars, “You know all their names, don’t you?” Titles don’t tell you anything, he notes. “Like the Doctor,” she offers. “Like Madame de Pompadour,” he returns. He knew in saving her he’d trapped himself, and yet he still came, she says feelingly. “So here you are, my lonely angel, stuck on the slow path with me.” They toast to the slow path, and he does actually seem not just resigned but slightly devil-may-care about trapping himself with a woman who’s become one of the loves of his life in a few (of his) short hours.
When he says he’s not going anywhere, “Oh, aren’t you?” she replies. Hand-in-hand (a nice return to that Doctor-and-companion gesture of solidarity), they walk into her childhood room. It’s the original moved to Versailles, exact in every detail (and again, those day laborers, probably not treated terribly well — just saying!). She re-created it years ago (probably after Rose’s warning?) “in the hope that a door once opened may someday open again.” After all, “One never quite knows when one needs one’s Doctor.” It’s undamaged, and somehow “offline” when the mirror broke (I have no idea, but whatever), so the link is still there. Finding a “loose connection” the Doctor finds he’s very lucky indeed, and maneuvers back into the spaceship.
That Doctor and companion hand-holding gesture wasn’t merely for show; the Doctor calls back through the fireplace, telling Reinette to pick a star, any star, and pack a bag. He catches up to Rose and Mickey, who waited five and a half hours for him to return. “Great, always wait five and a half hours,” he says, relieved. But when he steps back to Versailles, no one’s there. “You just missed her,” the King, alone in a dreary hall, tells the Doctor. “She’ll be in Paris by 6pm.” She spoke of him many times over the year, wishing he’d visit again. “There she goes, leaving Versailles for the last time,” he says quietly, as out the window in the courtyard below horses draw a hearse away. He hands the Doctor her last letter to him.
Back in the TARDIS, Rose asks, “Why her?” “We’ll probably never know” why the ship thought it needed her, the Doctor says gruffly (though he doesn’t answer the more personal why her for him). Its memory banks were so damaged; perhaps it was confused. “You all right?” Rose asks awkwardly. “I’m always all right,” he answers, grim. “Come on, Rose, time to show me around the rest of this place,” Mickey says, gently drawing Rose away so the Doctor can be alone.
He reads her letter, and though I crossed my fingers we’d somehow not be privy to that intimate message, we hear her voice read it. Though she feared her end, she was determined not to listen to reason. “All things are possible…Hurry though, my love; my days grow shorter now, and I am so very weak. God speed, my lonely angel.” He watches on a screen as the fire goes out in the fireplace. The TARDIS dematerializes to reveal a portrait of Madame de Pompadour; a wider shot of the ship outside reveals it as the SS Madame de Pompadour. Well. She’s a lady! That explains that. Sorta.
Whoo-ee-wooo-oooh! Join me tomorrow as the Doctor, Rose, and Mickey take a flying leap off the Time Vortex and right into a madman’s alternate universe in 2.05 – “Rise of the Cybermen”!