“…take the slower path”
After a tentative season one two-parter, Steven Moffat burst onto the Doctor Who scene with this instant classic which established his keen eye for sci-fi story concepts, demonstrated the excellent flashy execution he could give them, and calcified a new Doctor’s personality. It tackles a potent, but rarely examined angle of a Time Lord’s emotional attachments – something our hero’s tragic background, dangerous lifestyle and heightened intellect sometimes preclude.
Ten (David Tennant, still the most agreeable and representative choice for best Doctor ever) is a complex incarnation of the character. His genial showmanship is on full display here, along with its function as a mask for deeper pain and a large ego. After Nine’s genteel selflessness, Ten feels guilt over his role in the Time War and overcompensates with compassion, avoidance and manic strategizing.
More than anything, Moffat knows how to use the Doctor’s tenuous mastery over time and space as a tool for dramatic storytelling, to such an extent that the trick still hasn’t run out of mileage. In this case, the focus is on the unintentional damage the Doctor can wreak on a human life, which is another common theme with his long-suffering companions, even down to the most eager ones.
Speaking of which, Rose (Billie Piper) is a perfectly charming audience surrogate who has a less-than-ambiguous romantic affection for the Doctor. Her affability and adventurous spirit is immediately evident after being plucked from her everyday life and shown the magic of the universe, but she isn’t without a pensive side.
The Girl In the Fireplace is also an example of a certain category of DW episodes, wherein our heroes go to a particular era or setting in world history and goof around. Renaissance-era France is only glimpsed here, but in other stories the period piece premise would be front and center.