Here's what Daddy Richard thought:
If last week was a bittersweet romance, this week was a grand tragic passion. Beautiful was probably the word for the tone meeting, from the eighteenth century palace to the intricate clockwork robots to the lovely Sophia Myles as Madame de Pompadour herself.
Through an accident of his "crazy-paving" lifestyle, the Doctor manages to spend all of Reinette's lifetime with her in little more than an afternoon of his own. He saves her from the monsters and wins her heart, and in return she captures his with a kiss and a look into his mind.
The fireplace is a magic door and like the wardrobe to Narnia time passes at different rates on either side, underlined by the irony of the broken clock on the mantelpiece. The tragedy is that the Doctor – after willingly giving everything up for Reinette – forgets this and lets her slip away through time when he finds his way back to the other side.
David Tennant gives a performance truly joyful to watch, even when it turns so sombre at the end. Returning from a party in Versailles in dark glasses and with his tie around his forehead he seemed ever so much the inheritor of Patrick Troughton. (Alex tells me that I’m thinking of episode three of “The Underwater Menace” with the mighty Trout in “gypsy” disguise – to the delight of the Daily Mail, even in 1967). I really don't know that Christopher Eccleston could have done this episode, certainly it would have been very different.
Acting kudos should also go to the extras playing the clockwork robots. The body language never gives away the fact that the villains of this piece are anything other than artificial. It's a terrific piece of mime that really only became obvious on watching Doctor Who Confidential and seeing them relaxing between takes: suddenly it all looks horribly wrong, and it's because they've become just people in costumes.
I have a niggle, but it's not about the episode itself. I'm not sure that had I been in charge of the great scheme of things, or at least Doctor Who 2006, I would have followed "School Reunion" with "The Girl in the Fireplace". There's a case to be made that the Doctor is open to this intense emotional relationship because he's still recovering from the effect of crashing into Sarah Jane again and thematically the two are of one heart. But viewed more pragmatically, it's a mushy one followed by an even more mushy one – might have been better to separate them, pacing the season a bit better and making sure that not only is there something for everyone, but the varieties are spread around a bit more, giving different groups their reasons to keep watching.
On a similar point, something Alex said: for Mickey's first trip in the TARDIS (as he explicitly says) he doesn't actually get an awful lot to do. What he does is done very well – particularly his "naughty schoolboy" expression as Rose talks him into breaking the Doctor's "Rule One". Steven Moffat freely confesses in the commentary that he had not seen the end of Toby Whithouse's episode three leading to the slightly jarring change from Rose being deeply dischuffed when the Doctor invites Mickey aboard to her chirpy happiness to be with him this week. But on the whole he and Rose are rather sidelined aboard the spaceship for the majority of the story. Another reason, perhaps, to have let this one fall later into the series.
Phil Collinson was probably right that it was too expensive properly to realise the climax where the Doctor crashes into the ballroom through the (magic) mirror. On horseback. But really, what possible other way could you finish this fairy-tale story of mechanical demons and an angel with two hearts? I'm glad that they fought for it, and that Steven Moffat cried for it, and that they put it in anyway. Hoorah!
All in all, a crazy-charming-witty episode right down to the last perfect reveal, so tragic-comic it's almost Hitchhiker-esque, that with the TARDIS gone explains it all at last.
Next week: Do I really have to tell you it's the Cy…