Doctor Who focuses mainly on the fast-paced adventure sequences that make it palatable to many different audiences. Once in a while, the format changes slightly and there is something different. The Season 2 episode, “The Girl in the Fireplace” is one such episode. Sure, there are alien robots running around 18th century France, but I focus on the dynamic between the Doctor and Madame de Pompadour throughout the episode every time I see it. What always strikes me the most is that this is an episode where the Doctor doesn’t know everything and explains it to his companions like they should know what he’s saying. In this particular episode, the Doctor is discovering France and getting to know the person of Madame de Pompadour throughout her life. Remarkably, she is a strong and intelligent woman, something rarely seen in Doctor Who episodes. Her command of her life goals and her sensibilities in the face of a robot attack both attest to her character and strength. The Doctor is only there once in a while to assist when defeating foreign and advanced technology is slightly beyond her power
Another interesting note is that the viewer gets a better sense of what time travel really does to a person and their perceptions of things. In this episode, the Doctor is jumping around Madame de Pompadour’s timeline while she lives it out once day at a time. Seconds to him are years to her, and that is the danger of time travel. The Doctor and Rose miss so much of the daily grind in the TARDIS, and it is specifically pointed out here. As the Doctor is forming a relationship with Madame de Pompadour, she is getting on with her life-as she must-because she can never be sure when the Doctor will show up again. What did she feel during all those years? Did she wait for him and think of him often, or forget him and put it aside in the greater goal of getting on with her life?