Doctor Doctor Who Guide

Reviews


List:
28 May 2006The Idiot's Lantern, by Bruce Sharp
28 May 2006The Idiot's Lantern, by Gareth Thomas
28 May 2006The Idiot's Lantern, by Michael Hickerson
28 May 2006The Idiot's Lantern, by Vincent Truman
28 May 2006The Idiot's Lantern, by Frank Collins
28 May 2006The Idiot's Lantern, by Geoff Wessel
28 May 2006The Idiot's Lantern, by Adam Leslie
28 May 2006The Idiot's Lantern, by Simon Fox
28 May 2006The Idiot's Lantern, by Richard Walter
28 May 2006The Idiot's Lantern, by Nathanael Nerode
28 May 2006The Idiot's Lantern, by A.D. Morrison
28 May 2006The Idiot's Lantern, by Mike Eveleigh
28 May 2006The Idiot's Lantern, by Billy Higgins
28 May 2006The Idiot's Lantern, by Steve Manfred
28 May 2006The Idiot's Lantern, by James McLean
28 May 2006The Idiot's Lantern, by James Maton
28 May 2006The Idiot's Lantern, by Ed Martin
28 May 2006The Idiot's Lantern, by Paul Clarke
28 May 2006The Idiot's Lantern, by Angus Gulliver
28 May 2006The Idiot's Lantern, by Eddy Wolverson
28 May 2006The Idiot's Lantern, by Paul Hayes
28 May 2006The Idiot's Lantern, by Joe Ford

I thought it was good.

Is that a criticism ?...only in as much as it wasn't GREAT, and with Unquiet Dead being one of my favourites from last season I was really really hoping for GREAT.

So why didn't it achieve greatness?

I suspect because the script was tinkered with just a little too much by outside hands. I think R.T.D. is doing a brilliant job of holding it all together and making it fit the big picture, but from what was said on confidential, it sounds like some very nice and 'important' monologues were cut and I'm struggling to understand why, because that was exactly what I felt was missing from this episode. It needed just a little more intellectual and emotional depth from the doctor, which the monologues would undoubtedly have delivered.

There was also too much running to and from the house. The answers the doctor sought seemed to be split between two sides of the city and he had to keep running back and forth in order to piece them together. I found my self asking 'why hadn't he just stuck around long enough in the SAME place to find out all he needed in one go?'.

And the line "No power on this planet is going to stop me" as well as being very 'Parting of the Ways...I'm coming to get you', also sounded suspiciously like an R.T.D. intervention and one I could have done without. I know it's meant to show the ever deepening bond developing between the Doctor and Rose ( let's face it, he's already died for her once ) but a line like that is never going to be subtle and it felt a little forced dramatically.

This brings me to the Doctor himself. There seems to have been a real inconsistency in TennantÂ’s performance over the season so far. I caught myself looking back today, thinking about this time last year and the excitement of 'New Who' and I began comparing Tennant with Chris Eccleston.

I was always uneasy about Chris as the doctor. Don't get me wrong, he's a 'fantastic' actor and it worked brilliantly, but I always had trouble seeing past the Eccleston persona. He's not really a character actor, he is the strengths of his own personality focussed on a particular part.

The thing I was looking forward to with Tennant was the genuine realisation of a 'CHARACTER. I was hoping he would be the Sylvester McCoy that Sylvester should have been...with a big chunk of Baker thrown in for good measure.

In many ways however, Eccleston was actually more like Baker than Tennant. They were best when they were themselves, but charged up the by the character and the situation. It gave them a real edge and strength. I'm kind of missing that in Tennant at the moment, that level of unearthly intensity. He touched on it during the stand off with Finch in Reunion ( the first time I got a real sense of his age and universal authority ) and I want more please.

Over all however I really liked this episode. It certainly delivered scare wise, with the face melting energy sucking television sets. And it got Rose to shut up for a while, which has got to be good!

I loved the concept and the period setting. Returning to the source of television ( the tower) as the delivery system of evil was a brilliant idea.

The acting was excellent throughout this week with the possible exception of the father, who kind of peaked character wise in the first few lines and didn't leave himself anywhere else to go dramatically after that other than 'nasty shouty man'...but he certainly achieved loathsome, so he did serve the character well.

Maurine Lipman was superb and achieved a perfect balance of creepy British aloofness and seething malevolent evil. I was a little disappointed we didn't get to see a transformation into her true self at the very end ( the evil energy of the Wire made flesh just before it's destruction ) ...and I know it would have been a bit of a cliché, but it's the sort of cliché that can work really well in Who.

I liked the 'worm that turned' aspect of Magpie in the end too.

The direction was smooth, coherent and the dark elements of the script brilliantly handled.

As always, the 45 minute time slot deprives us of some potentially worthwhile character development and contemplation time but the upshot is a faster paced energetic delivery of the story. If they'd only give in to the full 60 minutes we could have the best of both worlds. I do wonder if it's so they can sell it to commercial stations allowing advert time to be slotted in. If that is the case, then why can't they just shoot the extra 15 minutes and release it on a special edition extended DVD?

So, a thoroughly enjoyable episode that will be remembered as having impact and depth. Sadly, it didn't have the richness of Unquiet Dead.

As I said, I would love to see a copy of Gattis' script prior to edits. I would dearly like to know what extra elements he included as I suspect they would have tipped the balance of this episode from good to GREAT.

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Oh dear... Doctor Who has often tried to mix social commentary and moral purpose with good stories, but here we saw the combination buckle under the pressure of being asked to do too much too quickly.

Think how discretely and poignantly Remembrance of the Daleks drew parallels between the inter-racial Dalek conflict and the latent racism/fascism of elements of post-war Britain. Then think how clumsy and bombastic The Idiot's Lantern was by comparison.

Eddie Connolly's character is not properly introduced or developed - except that he enjoys Muffin the Mule. We are just asked to accept at face value that, because he represents post-war British, working class, patriotic masculinity, he must be a crypto fascist/Stalinist bully. I'm sorry, but this is very lazy writing and deeply off-putting. The episode seems to have been a vehicle for the programme makers' prejudices about the ills of pre-1960s society - ills which the camp contemporary combination of the Doctor and Rose are able to cure through sheer force of smug, self-righteous personality.

As for the story - yeah, great. A good idea and well realised through a wonderful performance by Maureen Lipman. I'm not quite sure why draining electricity from the brain should leave people without their faces, but I guess it was a clever metaphor for robbing people of their personalities, which brings us back to the unimaginative critique of conservative 1950s society.

Rose had a good week, being more proactive and independent than of late - particularly in the scenes with Magpie - but it didn't really get her anywhere. She didn't contribute to the resolution of the problem, which was another too-easy techno-babble resolution. And the 10th Doctor seems to going through some of the insecure emotions of his predecessor - loss turns to anger turns to petulant self-importance and self-righteousness.

The pseudo-historical used to be a good means of exploring alternative situations, but in this episode it was just a vehicle for sloppy political correctness. Doing a critique of post-war Britain is one thing - and perfectly fair. But making it so simplistic and heavy-handed is an insult to the social conscience and historical traditions of the series.

In The Aztecs, when Barbara challenges the barbarity of the human sacrifice, we are certainly inclined to agree with her. But that point of view is at least balanced by the Doctor's insistence that you can't change history and that (by implication) you have to take cultures as you find them. Doctor Who today has traded this element of moral questioning for a less sophisticated cultural imperialism.

Next week's episode looks great, but haven't we been here before?!

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Last season, Mark Gatiss's The Unquiet Dead showed that you could incorporate elements of an old-fashioned Dr Who story into the context and sensiblity of the new series. Of all the series one episodes, The Unquiet Dead felt like it would be the one story most easily transplanted into a season of classic Dr Who and not feel radically out of place.

This year, Gatiss returns to that sensibility with The Idiot's Lantern.

And while all the elements of an old-fashioned Dr Who adventure were there--historical setting, monster in everyday things, aliens bent on world domination--I still felt as if The Idiot's Lantern were missing something. It's nothing I can put my finger on directly and say--yes, this is definitively what's wrong with the episode. Instead, it's just an overall feeling of the episode trying very hard but just not quite connecting in the way it could or should.

Part of that may be that it seems like a greatest hits of a lot of various Dr Who elements.

TARDIS lands in the right time but wrong place--check.

Alien is using a big historical event to cover its own agena--check.

The Doctor is the only one who recognizes the threat and can stop it--check.

Shoot, this one even borrowed elements from Terror of the Autons and Logopolis with images of the Doctor climbing up a broadcast tower. Yes, I'll give you that in both of those stories it was a radio tower and here's a TV transmission tower, but it still felt simliar enough to me.

The thing is, on paper, The Idiot's Lantern seemed to have a ton of potential. Here you have an almost Robert Holmes like twist with televisions turning nasty. The idea of an alien creature using the TVs during the queen's coronation to feed upon the unsuspecting masses is a great idea. But despite some really intersting effects and some memorable moments of victims with no faces, we're not quirte sure exactly what the overall purpose and agenda of the Wire is--I mean other to make speeches and cackle with laughter (seriously, she could be the Rani for all we know). And there were isolated scenes that worked well, such as the Doctor becoming angry once Rose falls victim to the Wire and the Doctor's charging into a situation and setting himself up immediately as an authority figure.

I think the biggest thing that didn't work was the family dynamic. The family where the grandmother has been taken over by the Wire and is hidden in the upstairs bedroom. I think part of that is that if the father is turning in his neighbors, why'd he take so long to turn in the grandmother? Other than setting it up so the Doctor and Rose see what's happened to the victims of the Wire, it makes little sense. Oh sure, it does set up the family conflict, but even that felt a bit stitled and forced. As we kept cutting back to the scenes of the faher blustering and being a blow-hard, I kept wondering if time wouldn't be better spent with the Doctor and trying to figure out just why the Wire needed to feed off the unsuspecting television viewers.

In many ways, The Idiots' Lantern is the first major mis-step of series two. It's not Boomtown bad, but it still left me with an empty feeling at the end of 45 minutes. I'd just watched an epiosde of Doctor Who and while I was mildly entertained, it just wasn't on par with the depths of School Reunion or Girl in the Fireplace. And maybe that's my fault since when I heard Mark Gatiss was writing it and that it'd be a historical story with a monster twist, I had high expectations for it. Maybe when I've watched it a few dozen more times, something more about it will sink in and I will find more to it.

Until then, I have to chalk it up as a lot of good idea that don't add up to a great whole.

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The best thing I can say about "The Idiot's Lantern" is that the period set design was beyond reproach. Although I appreciate the effort and talent that goes into designing the set from the focus of a scene to the peripherals, I have never particularly watched the good Doctor for this reason (anyone who has treasured any Doctor Who episode from the 1960s onward might agree).

After a thrilling teaser, the episode proper begins with more or less a flashback to 'Tooth and Claw' earlier in the season (Doctor and Rose go to see a concert, miss the target) before they are drawn into a mystery involving an alien who lives in a television and derives nourishment and power by sucking peoples' souls (and, inexplicably, faces) into itself. The B Plot concerns a single family victimized by this alien and the wife's declaration of independence from her overbearing and socially-conscious husband.

This B Plot feels forced throughout the episode, especially when Rose's face gets injested by the alien in question. At that moment, Tennant's Doctor breathes fire, snapping that nothing will stop him in getting Rose back and vowing vengence with his eyes. The very next scene, the Doctor arrives at the family's home, burning with no-nonsense intensity, and has to then stand idly by while the father, son and wife have an extended dialogue at their front door. At no point did I truly expect Tennant to lean in, push the father aside, and say, 'There's more pressing matters here' - actually, that would have been nice - but Tennant's furious Doctor just stands there and lets the family go through its plays for power and understanding.

The A and B plots come together at the end quite cleverly, with the Doctor and Rose giving the son differing advice about the vanquished father (the Doctor, ever the loner, suggests the boy let his father go; Rose, with her respect for her father, recommends he chase after his dad - and he does, wisely). Prior to that, there is a fairly by-the-numbers chase scene across London to the high transmitter (ala 'Logopolis') to defeat the alien.

As mentioned by other reviewers for other shows, I am still pulling in vain for David Tennant to really put his teeth into the character of the Doctor. His heights equal those of all of his predecessors (ie, his confrontation with Rose in 'School Reunion', his sadness in 'Fireplace'), but they are few and far between. He reminds me of Peter Davison's Doctor with a bit of extra electricity, which should make him unpredictable and alien but instead make him come across a bit unfocused and inconsistent.

Although he is saving the day much more than Eccles' Doctor, Tennant's is doing so very, very, very easily ('New Earth', 'School Reunion'). One is reminded of the Tom Baker/Lalla Ward era, when John Nathan-Turner even opined that with a Time Lord and Time Lady, nothing has a hard solution.

And that is my ultimate gripe with this particular episode. The A Plot is linear to the extent that no surprises are revealed, except that it is not completey derailed by the B Plot.

Of course, I'll be watching next week.

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Well...are we sitting comfortably? Good...I'll begin.

The Idiot's Lantern isn't really about aliens invading via our television sets. It's about human monsters, as Rita in the story observes, 'living under our very own roofs'. The episode is very much concerned with Britain of the '50s. Gatiss really does encapsulate the approaching floodtide of the bold, new Britain that would be ushered in with Wilson's Labour government in the early 60s and its focus on the 'white heat of technology'. He also cleverly lines up the paranoia of the 50s with the moral panics of the present day. Many of the debates are similar.

This is post-war, austerity Britain. You have to remember that many families were torn asunder by the Second World War and then forced back together again after VE day. This is Eddie Connelly's dilemma. He fights for the 'British' way of life and then returns home to find that Empire supposedly being infiltrated by Communist and Fascist and other 'alien' elements. The very enemy he defended the country against seems to him to have sunk its claws into his community. This is ' Churchill's England - not Stalin's Russia'. Or is it...in the mind of Eddie Connelly? Eddie's actions arise because he thought he was doing the 'right thing' through a very distorted view of his own patriotism. A final thread is also visually represented by the Doctor and Rose in their ' rock and roll' personas. Don't forget that rock and roll was perceived as yet another bad influence on the teenagers of the 50s and this is regularly iterated throughout the episode.

These themes are as relevant today as they have ever been when we see the BNP taking council seats because the Eddie Connellys of this world see a threat in anything that is 'other'. Hence, two very resonant scenes - the family all gathered round the TV and the Aunt of the family observes that Tommy is a 'Mummy's boy' and hopes that Eddie 'can beat it out of him' and the later scenes where Tommy turns on Eddie - where Gatiss cleverly uses the ' we fought for you' argument to allow Tommy to state his case against a rather brutal father. Having had a similar relationship to my own father, I really recognise the in-fighting in this family. These are the archetypical arguments of a 50s parent trying to stem the tide of 60s liberalism in the name of patriotism. Nothing much has changed, I'll warrant.

The meat of the episode for me is the relationship between Tommy, Rita and Eddie. It is as much about a young boy finding his own voice despite the threat of violence, possibly discovering his own sexuality, as well as an adult woman realising that the man who came home from the war is still fighting that war and still believes a woman's place is in the home as a subordinate. For me the episode triumphs with Rita's emancipation from Eddie. Yet, in an echo of 'Father's Day' (how we keep coming back to this episode!) Rose advises Tommy not to abandon his father. Eddie is not painted so black - there is hope for that relationship. It is a fitting resolution.

Thematically, Gatiss weaves in observations on fascism and communism and a direct link to classic 50s SF movies and television - 'Invasion Of The Body Snatchers' and 'Quatermass' are particular examples. as well as links to Who's own history with 'The Faceless Ones'. Indeed, there is also a visual link to 'Sapphire And Steel' with the faceless victims of the Wire and it captures some of the mood of that series. Other visual clues include the swastika style TV antennas to really underpin the message as well as Euros Lyn's slightly over used film noir composition and strange angles.

Symbolically, the disembodied faces are a representation of the Wire's appearance or projections into our outside world. The Wire represents the mistake of trying to deal with problems and anxieties in the outside world without coming to grips with them in the subconscious, interior world first. This relates to Tommy's relationship with Rita and Eddie. However hard Tommy tries to deal with a problem in the outside world (his father's contempt, his budding adulthood, his desire to be himself) it is made to recur in the threat of the Wire's subjugation. Tommy's diffculty in relating to his father is transfered to the Wire's manifestation on the TV screen. It is the Doctor who takes on the role of surrogate father that allows Tommy to become himself and help defeat the Wire. Rose then transfers her knowledge (from 'Father's Day') to Tommy in an effort to get him to connect to his own parent because she knows all about disconnection in the outside world..

The multi faces on the many TV screens in Mr. Magpie's shop are representative of the fragmenting of a fragile society. Individuals without voice, without the strength to argue with those that demand conformity ( Eddie and The Wire). I loved all the links to early television as this translates to a general fear of all that is new. People did really think that television would 'rot the brain into soup till it comes pouring out of your ears'. There is a fear of the unknown potential of the medium ably articulated here. The antennas become lightning rods for transmissions of a different kind. Bright serpents that come to steal the minds and bodies of the innocent. Lovely nods to early television shows such as Muffin The Mule and What's My Line as well as the landmark coverage of the Coronation.And to balance out the references to the past, Gatiss even throws in a nod to Kylie.

Ron Cook's marvellous Mr. Magpie is also another highlight. A wonderfully rich performance that details a man's journey, bird-like, from the earth to the sky above (the transmitter at Ally Pally). It is about his transcendence from misbegotten businessman to a sacrifical lamb who paves the way for the Doctor to defeat the Wire. Maureen Lipman's playing of the Wire was sublime. She got that Sylvia Peters BBC intonation just right and then added in the malevolence of the alien entity to the mix. Her 'feed me now...I'm hungry' will no doubt be echoed by many chldren up and down the land. It is also a playful acknowledgement of the alien plant from 'Little Shoppe Of Horrors' as well as a symbol of the oncoming explosion of the consumer society that would replace the austerity of 50s Britain.

Euros Lyn is now one of the top directors working on the show. His noirish sensibility and evocation of the period through pulp fiction and comic strips really comes across on the screen. It is a tad over-laboured but it makes the episode very distinctive.

Finally, we literally do see God Save The Queen...as the Doctor resigns the Wire to a Betamax video tape. The white heat of technology still-born with an obsolete recording format.Let us not forget that the current monarch became a constant in the life of 50s and 60s Britain. A figure that stands in the midst of continual upheaval. Her coronation was an act that reassured the populace that in the midst of turmoil there still would be one standard bearer. It is also symbolic of women achieving power in a very patriarchal society and Rita's dismissal of Eddie is yet another, domestic echo of this. It is all about renewal after a period of vulnerable uncertainty.

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So I was pretty interested in this from the preview last week, looked like it coulda been a little somethin' different. And then I saw who wrote it: Mark Gatiss.

Awwwww CRAP!

Sorry, kids, this is kinda gonna be the opposite question I asked of Steven Moffat earlier this season: will Gatiss repeat the suckage from "The Unquiet Dead"?

Well, thankfully, no, he didn't. But only just. Things started out right good, alien menaces travelling via TV transmissions and stealing faces, juxtaposed against the story of a family held hostage by an abusive father figure, the day before the coronation of Elizabeth II. OK, seems about right for this new breed of Doctor Who tale.

And I liked the Wire...when she/it was mimicing the personality of the TV presenter whose image it/she appropriated. When we got into "HUNGRYYYYY HUNNNNGRYYYYYYY" I wanted to stick spikes into my ear canals.

No, I was a lot more interested in how much of a cowardly bullying sell-out PRICK Mr. Connelley (sp) was. Thinks he's lord of his domain and did everything in his power to make sure everyone knew it. Until, well, someone who had no fear of him came along...

And the Doctor. Wow. That was actually quite an... angry performance from Tennant. I liked it. Quite a bit. For once the 4th Doctor comparisons really came to fruition.

Rose, of course, didn't really figure into the action past a certain point. In a way that's relieving sicne she's been annoying me the past couple episodes. But of course here she comes at the end because she still has unresolved Daddy issues so of course she puts them onto Tommy... blurgh.

And what's with the bad character continuity this season? Or do they really just not care about the kinda shitty way they parted terms with Mickey?

Oh, and "idiot's lantern," featuring TVs that suck off your face and suck out your soul? Real subtle there guys....for 1970.

As for next week...ALIEN WORLD?! CTHULHOID MONSTERS?! SIGN ME UP DADDY-O!

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This was a well-made – if unoriginal – Doctor Who adventure: a casserole of bits from last week’s cyberman two-parter (a newfangled gizmo turns people into monsters), The Empty Child (a similar period setting) and the author’s own The Unquiet Dead (a being without corporeal form manifesting itself in one of the utility services... I fully expect water monsters emerging from the faucets of the 1920s next year, Mark).

The build-up was all very well done, though. Maureen Lipman is always a welcome presence and hammed it up less drastically than Roger Lloyd-Pack last week, Rose has come back to life again now that Mickey has disappeared, and the whole 1950s period setting was all much more tastefully and authentically portrayed than in the obnoxious Delta And The Bannermen (possibly the most screen-kickingly bad Doctor Who story of all time, in my less-than-humble opinion).

For all its unoriginality, this was one of the scariest Whos for years. After the sanitised off-screen Auton invasion in Rose, it’s wonderful to see some real horror back on TV of a Saturday teatime. The scenes in which grandma was alluded to having become a monster scared even me, and the cage full of faceless people – and later the faceless Rose – would have had Mary Whitehouse foaming at the mouth in apoplectic rage. Always a good thing. That was terrifying Doctor Who at its best.

The rushed ending was a let-down though. The day was saved by a boy changing a fuse; the whole mast-climbing silliness deflated an otherwise thoughtful and very creepy episode; and the 45-minute constraint meant that the family issues were solved in a pat and convenient way, Rose’s ‘fatherly’ advice being the least convincing heartstring-tugging so far.

So all in all, a brilliant made and very creepy episode that was let down by a botched ending and – like the X-Files and some of the other New Doctor Who stories – disappointingly demystified by the need for a sci-fi alien invasion explanation.

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Well, what an utter delight that was. After the slightly mediocre Cyber-tale last week, we're back in the more than capable hands of Mark Gatiss. The man is a skilled, imaginative writer who loves to use the things around us and make them scary which is arguably a main staple of the show. Mark Gatiss just "gets" Doctor Who like RTD does and David Tennant "gets" the Doctor. The best episodes are always rollocking good adventures where you don't notice the direction or the writing until it's all over, and The Idiot's Lantern had this in spades.

To make television a possibly evil thing is a master-stroke. Nowadays, with every kid glued to their screens far too much, the demonisation of the familiar has chosen a perfect target. Of course, the underlying social comments are there to see for everybody - watch too much of it and it takes your personality away. Literally. Thank God for the Doctor and Rose. The first sight of Gran sans visage was shocking because it's such an unnatural thing to see - our faces are quite often intrisically linked to our personalities. It did put me in mind, however, of The Face from the Dick Tracy movie (if you've ever seen it, it was Madonna in the end, but I digress...) but this did not detract from the horror of The Faceless Ones (sorry), particularly when they advance on the Doctor in the cage.

Which brings me to David Tennant. This man can act. This man can act his socks off and shows a wonderful range of emotions with gravitas and pluck, often turning on a sixpence within the same scene. The bit where he confronts the bullying Dad and shouts at him after discussing telly with the boy is wonderful and made me realise why I fell in love with the character in the first place - he stands up to bullies big and small, be they meglomaniacs or weak shouty kings in their little castles. Perhaps this is another underlying message we could all do well to take note of. David Tennant really is the Doctor, and what's more he makes you believe it with every breath and reaction. There's no doubt about that. And for the first time since Tooth and Claw, Rose gets a better deal and is no longer sidelined or given bum lines. The focus is quite rightly back on the pair of them chiefly having fun and taking on the wrongs of the world with smile and spring in their step. Rose shows the pluck and the intelligence Billie embued her with in Rose and The Unquiet Dead. As I said last week, it's an absolute crime to underwrite for her so this week I was bouncing up and down with joy when she confronted first the Dad then Mr Magpie.

Maureen Lipman also was a pleasure to watch giving The Wire her all while treading the fine line of Doctor Who villiany without falling off one side into underplayed or the other into pantomime. She relished every single word and it showed. My parents gave wry smiles at her performance and when Muffin the Mule came up. Of course, they were born into that world and they commented on how accurate the whole feel was compared with their memories. Churchill was still PM when they born, which I'd never thought of before. You see, Doctor Who still educates! Still, it would have been nice to have seen The Wire materialise into the real world, but that's a tiny, tiny gripe and thinking about it more might have spoiled the whole TV effect of the episode.

This episode sees a marked upturn after last week, and I say Thank Goodness for that. Exciting, educating and enthralling, it was an episode even Lord Reith would surely have been proud knowing the BBC had produced it. Well done, all. Now bring on the Ood!!

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Well the Doctor has already met Lady Penelope this season so it was inevitable that he should meet Parker in the guise of actor Ron Cook playing the misguided TV salesman Mr Magpie. 1953 - Coronation year - and a quaffed Doctor brings Rose to New York to see an interview with Elvis although of course the Tardis ends up in London. Equipped with a scooter (the latest version of Bessie perhaps??) the two time travellers soon get caught up in the evil doings of the Wire magnificently performed by Maureen Lipman - quite obviously revelling at the chance to play a Doctor Who baddie. Being a Mark Gatiss script, there was an inevitable black theme to this story - indeed even the squint camera angles gave the story a weird atmosphere whilst steeped in 50s reality.

As the Wire consumes and feeds on her captive TV audience, Rose quite literally loses face and again we see that dark and troubled side of David Tennant's Doctor. This regeneration has a charming and mischievous side but rile him and . . . beware! As Mark Gatiss has pointed out, the climax of the Doctor and Magpie scaling the TV transmitter mast at Alexandra Palace had memories of Tom Baker's fatal fall in Logopolis and indeed a line was cut from the scene which would have been a nice little part of continuity with the past. Oh well - it wasn't crucial to the plot!!

Some nice vintage touches thrown in - footage of the Queen's Coronation, Muffin the Mule and the betamax tape - which was the Wire's downfall! This was a good sound story to tell in 45 minutes although the sub-plot of the manipulative, bullying and traitorous Dad was a little baffling - a political message being thrown in perhaps?

For me the favourite scene has to be the Doctor emerging from the Tardis on his scooter - maybe not quite as dramatic as when he crashed the ball during The Girl in the Fireplace on a horse but nevertheless a nice touch.

Season Two goes from strength to strength - I have enjoyed every story so far and find it hard to believe that we are past the half way mark!!

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Spectacular.

We've got a clever, creepy concept -- the Wire, living in the TV sets, stealing people's faces. We've got a solid subplot about a dysfunctional family; and some relatively subtle commentary on current political affairs in there too. (Such as the policemen just locking people up and hiding them away, rather than actually trying to figure out what's going on, because "the nation has an image to maintain".)

Rose excels: she figures out what's going on very quickly, way ahead of the Doctor -- and then gets her face stolen, so the Doctor still has to save the day. A very insightful way to allow the companion to actually be competent and do something on her own, without sidelining the Doctor.

It's nice to see the Doctor's unreliablity pointed up again. Aiming for 1958 New York, he gets 1953 London. But he doesn't want to admit it. The psychic paper is used -- and it sort of works, but you can see why he doesn't always use it, when he's mistaken for the King of Belgium.

Mark Gatiss manages to move smoothly between comedy and horror without ever letting one undercut the other. This is quintessentially appropriate for Doctor Who. On the whole, this is a very traditional, classic Doctor Who episode, right down to the Doctorless opening scene where the monster arrives on Earth. The "surface plot" is simple; but there's actually a lot of issues brought up (and not resolved) under the surface. It really is exactly what I hope for from Doctor Who.

And all the actors do an excellent job. Even the smallest parts feel *right*. I find it hard not to gush about this episode.

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Normally I prefer to view an episode twice before reviewing it but on this occasion I’m going by my gut instinct of a fairly concentrated initial viewing. My pre-broadcast observation was that this was an intrinsically intriguing scenario, lifted, I know, from the writer Mark Gatiss’s own previous Who novel, Nightshade – so fair enough for self-plagiarism; tapping into the pernicious superstitions of televisual technology is something very apt for a quirky series like Doctor Who, and its puzzling how this has taken so long to emerge in TV Who. The title, however, is a little unsubtle and rather tongue-in-cheek (though by no means as crass and unimaginative as the impending Fear Her – and to think I used to think Survival was bloody bizarre for a title!).

What I became aware of throughout this very oddball episode though was that it seemed to be a ‘story’ completely beholdent to its core motifs, those being the highly evocative and creepy ones of a specious Children’s Hour presenter, viewers having their facial features sucked off them by the TV screens (a nice twist to CGI grotesques) and then reappearing trapped inside them. All brilliant images but in many ways lifted – perhaps unconsciously – from the superb fourth adventure in the largely forgotten series Sapphire and Steel. In that episode, often referred to by S&S fans as ‘the Man Without a Face’, a Time entity uses old photographs as a means to manifesting itself (without a face) and bringing the dead subjects of the photos back to life, in a beautifully realised sepia form. By the end of the adventure a person is actually trapped in a photograph and burns to death when it is ignited by a match.

What Gatiss has done is transpose this plot to the medium of television, and this is an inevitable and welcome progression and in itself well-suited to Doctor Who. Gatiss’s intrinsic Dickensian sensibilities still surface even in the 1950s with the quaint Magpie Electricals shop. His incidental characterisations are also like Dickens’s rather unleavened caricatures, such as the preposterously inept ‘father’ character whose catchphrase ‘I am TALKING’ seems to have come straight out of Harry Enfield’s equally caricaturish catchphrases such as ‘I AM ‘AVIN’ A FAG’. A repressed Black-Shirt, this paternal tyrant is laughably portrayed by a familiar-looking actor, and serves as a fun-figure for Rose’s post-Girl Power teasing. Not sure what the point was here but I suppose it was nice to see the Doctor display Gallifreyan puzzlement at the way Fifties’ housewives seemed to be treated, drawing up the analogy of the Queen’s gender. Rose’s mocking the father at the evident sacrilege of putting up the Union Jack upside down – a really callow vestige of the pointlessly self-promoting ethos of the Brit Pop Nineties – was to say the least, excessively irritating, inappropriately patriotic and just plain parochial, smacking of the equally puerile national onanism of Empty Child/Doctor Dances (as if a Timelord from Gallifrey should find it instinctive to wax lyrical about how Great a piddling island on a distant primitive planet is in the face of tyranny. Laughable – and a far cry from the near-misanthropy of the Fourth and Seventh Doctors). We’re also supposed to seriously believe that a girl who struggles to pronounce the names of all and sundry aliens and planets, is privy to the not popularly known fact that the Union Jack is only the ‘Union Jack’ when flown at sea, but is otherwise the ‘Union Flag’. I’m sorry, but it’s a bit late in the day to start investing Rose with any real vestiges of intellect. The name Rose has been niggling at me for some time, mainly because it sounds slightly old-fashioned, and now I think I see what it is alluding to: the motif of the English Rose. Interestingly also, if you put the initials of Rose and The Doctor together, what do you get? Or indeed if you put those of Rose Tyler and Doctor together? Am I simply analysing things too much?

I’m also very disconcerted by a producer who claims to be an anti-Royalist atheist, and yet in the series so far we have had almost ubiquitous Union Jacks, mystical, supernatural explanations for plots, and now tedious footage of the 1953 coronation. I don’t get it. RTD’s idea of satire so far is the Doctor saying ‘Margaret Thatcher – urrr’ in Tooth and Claw, and his slightly sarcy recognition of the Queen in this episode’s footage.

So the plus points of this episode were the suitably creepy distortions of a Children’s Hour TV presenter (particularly the random off-shot images of her face, slightly distorted), the faceless viewers, the trapped faces in television screens, the understated and moody character of Mr Magpie (whose initial scene toiling over his debt calculations was very amusing) and some – albeit rather drunken – lop-sided camera angles to add to the tension. Oh and the now fairly typical Season 28-ish shot of the darkly shadowed back of a figure in a dark room (i.e. the faceless grandmother), which was creepily directed. The finale was also fairly dramatic with a clamber up a TV aerial, though by this point I’d gone beyond even asking what the heck it was all about!

And this brings me to my main criticism: namely, what the heck was it all about? Who or what on Earth – or off it – is The Wire? Why did Maureen Lipman keep saying ‘I’m hungry’ in a way disturbingly reminiscent of the Great Architect in Paradise Towers? This could very well have been down to The Gelth from Gatiss’s superior debut, Unquiet Dead. But it wasn’t. Instead it seemed to be down to an escaped Sapphire and Steel entity straying accidentally into the Whoniverse. So we get no real explanations about the nature or motives of The Wire, only a disarming representation in an insidious Children’s Hour presenter. Gatiss effectively taps into what a modern viewer can easily empathise with as the initial TV superstitions of a Fifties’ audience (one’s worst paranoia, that a face on a TV screen can actually see you) which echo those similarly morbid preoccupations of those originally exposed (excuse pun) to photography: that it traps your souls. In The Idiot’s Lantern, TV’s do just that by stealing your features: those physiognomic aspects which makes you ‘you’. An interesting slant, but the fact remains this story seems to stretch facelessly around its core motifs and ingredients, and the insistence of a producer to include the 1953 coronation as a plot pre-requisite smacks instantly of JNT’s irrelevant brief of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee of 1977 in Davison’s Madwryn Undead. This needless appealing to the nation’s inimitable introspection is palpably played out in this odd episode. As is the excuse to have Rose in an outfit from Grease and the Doctor sporting a Teddy Boy ducktail haircut. Utterly bizarre. Could you have imagined the Seventh Doctor with a similar cut in Delta and the Bannermen? Seemingly David Tennant can get away with it due to youth and the sort of looks with women find a little more ingratiating than McCoy’s craggy own. My main confusion as to how to take the Tenth Doctor revolves largely around his haircut to be honest: I know Troughton, even more eccentrically considering his mature cragginess at the time, had a topical Beatles’ haircut, but somehow that sat far better on him than Tennant’s irritating Romanic forward-combed quiff. It just doesn’t look right at all.

But the biggest solecism regarding the Tenth Doctor’s characterisation is his tendency to frequently champion pop culture replete with puerile aphorisms snatched from some of the most dubious contemporary sources: in this episode we get ‘It’s Never Too Late – who said that? Kylie I think’. A far cry from the days of Tom Baker quoting from Shakespeare (Planet of Evil) and Kipling (Face of Evil). Mr Gatiss, what are you playing at? We thought the series was in safe hands with your scripts. No doubt a lot more than we thought rubbed off on the Doctor during his spell in the Big Brother household last season. We now have a Doctor, a tenth incarnation we are supposed to seriously believe is weary with timeless age and wisdom, frequently quoting third-rate modern pop lyrics as some philistine attempt to proffer sagacious aphorisms. This has to stop! As do such crass lines as ‘There is not higher authority than me’ and ‘This stops tonight!’ and, in this episode, ‘Nothing in this world can stop me!’ (or some such pulp). What’s going on with this incarnation? I haven’t a clue, and sadly neither do the writers seem to.

Sadly The Idiot’s Lantern, promising though especially its gripping opening was, does not live up to the plot strengths and characterisations of Gatiss’s debut, The Unquiet Dead. Lantern is steeped in curiosities and lingering images, but this time round the story seems to have been written around these, betraying a rather thin plot anaemically developed from a far more promising premise, and little in the way of substantial explanations regarding the true nature of the ‘token’ extra-terrestrial adversary. If ever a new Who story so far desperately needed a second episode to fulfil its potential, The Idiot’s Lantern does. In time the drawn-out comic strip of Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel will come to be seen as the Battlefield to Idiot’s Lantern’s Ghost Light. The opportunity for a truly intriguing story was lost here due to the restraints of a one episode format. Stylistically the episode can’t be faulted much, its direction, though often agonisingly lop-sided – making one feel rather drunk watching it – is impeccable, but sadly the plot and characterisations are lacking and the overall impression is of a series of intriguing glimpses swamped by unnecessary Coronation footage, caricaturish characters and directorial onanism.

Maybe it will improve on re-watching. A tentative 7/10; possibly 6. Interesting, but disappointing.

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I personally don't believe that there is such a thing as a 'perfect' Doctor Who story. And that's fine with me. Call it 'the Hand of Sutekh effect'. Or maybe 'the Magma Creature syndrome'. Doctor Who can be brilliant, great, good, average and occasionally well dodgy...but it is seldom dull!

So I like to refer to the stories that *really* work for me big time as "nigh on perfect." Ridicule is nothing to be scared of, so I'd give 'Enlightenment' as an example here. I loved this story on first viewing as a kid and many subsequent viewings have not withered it's appeal for me. Perfect? No. Nigh on perfect? For me, absolutely.

Well, add another story to the list, because I thought 'The Idiot's Lantern' was sublime. Where to start? Well, as it's called 'Doctor Who', I'll start with the Doctor. I've found David Tennant hugely appealing so far, and I would say that this was his best performance as the Doctor to date. At the start of the episode, we see his humour and his infectious delight in his travels, even when he's got the wrong time and place...again. As the story progresses, we see extreme anger, sadness, warmth and a strong determination to 'sort things out'. A quirky hero who *obviously* has a betamax video recorder. 'Course he does. Great stuff, Mr Tennant.

I've said before that I think the programme works particularly well when it is confidently mixing 'light' and 'shade'. I loved the sequence where the Doctor furiously shouts down Eddie (who is clearly happier bullying women and children), then we see Tommy's faceless grandmother (shivery echos of 'Sapphire & Steel') and then the Doctor typically tries to talk himself out of a tight spot...and gets one heck of a right hook before he can really begin. Dramatic, creepy, funny...my kind of 'Who'.

The most outstanding scene for me was probably the one with the faceless Rose; beautifully acted, scored and directed (welcome to the elite of superb 'Who' directors, Euros!) Tennant's portrayal of anguish and fury is great here, and this image of Rose was arguably the most disturbing moment of the new series since 'The Empty Child'. Bet it scared the kids...I found it pretty horrible myself.

So, Mark Gatiss has 'done the double'...I was impressed by 'The Unquiet Dead', but would rate this higher. The atmosphere of an austere post-war Britain was evoked marvellously, and the performances were excellent. Ron Cook in particular stood out as the rather tragic Magpie and Maureen Lipman was great as the Wire. Lovely enunciation! (Blimey, even the dog on the sofa was spot on!)

Lovely details abound. Like the DI with his name written in his collar; Like the policeman curiously wrapping his hand around his elbow; like the fact that 'Magpie Electricticals' becomes a, ahem, little shop of horrors. ("Feed me!) I thought it was also the best Rose story of the season so far.It's Rose that figures out a lot of what is going on here, and almost as spine-tingling as her featureless face was the scene where we see her stuck inside a television, mouthing "Doctor!" You see the Doctor's devastated face reflected onto the screen here, and suddenly, after weeks of Reinettes and Sarah-Janes and Mickeys, you see their bond back as strong as ever. Well played again, Billie Piper.

I liked the scripts generosity of spirit too. Of course, Eddie is the titular 'idiot', but Rose knows about parental loss and nudges Tommy (another nice performance here) in the right direction at the end. After all, these events might possibly make Eddie a better person...

So...nigh on perfect. (I do wish they'd kept Mark Gatiss' line about the Doctor being nervous of transmitters because he "fell off one once", though)

That'll be a 10/10 from me then...

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As a Doctor Who fan, I’m sure Mark Gatiss was delighted to be asked to write an episode of Series Two. Whether he was quite so thrilled when he found out where his contribution featured in the pecking order, I’m not so sure. The midpoint episode, The Idiot’s Lantern was coming hot on the heels of the Cybermen’s return, plus an episode from the writer of last year’s fans’ No.1 story, plus the high-profile return of Sarah Jane Smith and K9. It was a tough position, the most difficult of the season, but Gatiss filled it admirably with a lovingly-crafted story, full of imagery and strong performances, especially from the three lead players.

Structurally, The Idiot’s Lantern wasn’t a million miles away from Gatiss’s well-received contribution to Series One, The Unquiet Dead. Both were set in Earth’s past, they featured an alien presence with designs on the planet’s population for their own needs and also called for a lot of computer-generated flashing lights! Both were also adorned with a cracking pre-credits sequence (although, as I seem to point out every week, their excellence is now almost a given) complete with an iconic image – in this case, a fork of strobe light protruding from a 1950s TV set to suck the face from its viewer. Great stuff! Usual great work from The Mill.

Billie Piper in her flowing pink dress looked fantastic and she really appeared to be enjoying herself – as did David Tennant. I think the relationship between Rose and The Doctor benefited greatly from Mickey’s departure (although, as a continuity fan, it might have been nice had he merited at least a mention in passing!). The old adage “two’s company” was never more applicable than to Rose and The Doctor. It still doesn’t have the intensity of the relationship pre-regeneration, but we have six more episodes this season – we might get there.

I thought the core of the story – The Wire using the TV sets of the nation to “feed off” the population – was a strong one, and perfectly paced, which isn’t easy in this single-episode format. Again, it’s worth stressing how difficult it is to build up characterisation in such a short space of time. Russell T Davies is exceptional at this aspect, and Gatiss followed suit here. The Connolly family were an important part of the story, but a poor writer would never be able to make you care about them in one episode. Gatiss managed that, and was able to weave in a subtext about an authoritarian post-war patriarch, who essentially ruled the roost by fear – a subtext still applicable in many family dynamics today.

Maureen Lipman as The Wire was an inspired piece of casting – can you imagine anyone else playing that role? She portrayed it absolutely perfectly. Lipman has the gravitas to carry off the part of a 50s BBC announcer, but brought out the dry humour in the script by not sending it up, and also delivered no little menace. A fabulous performance. Piper and Tennant were also excellent, with the former delivering her finest episode of the season. Or, to be more accurate, Rose was given a better slice of the action than has been the case in every other episode except New Earth. Now it’s “just the two of us” again, I expect The Dynamic Duo to grow ever stronger together until the season’s end.

There were plenty of good moments along the way. I don’t recall The Doctor being laid out by a punch too often – he took a decent slap from Jackie in Aliens Of London, of course – and I found that rather refreshing, showing it’s not all psychic paper and sonic screwdrivers. He can be floored by a whack like everyone else. To use a footballing metaphor, it was Route One . . .

Rose falling victim to The Wire was obviously a strong part of the tale, as was The Doctor seeing her face “trapped” on one of the TV sets. The scene of all the stolen faces on the bank of screens was quite creepy – rather reminiscent of the denouement to The Five Doctors, when the Time Lords seeking immortality were entombed for all eternity . . . being buried alive taps into a natural fear of most people, and that was the sort of vibe given here.

And, of course, it was an exciting climax. The Doctor chasing the unfortunate Mr Magpie and The Wire up the transmitter mast of Alexandra Palace was good fun, and really well shot. Imagine what that would have looked like on the show’s previous budget . . .

There are fans who don’t like Doctor Who historicals period, so The Idiot’s Lantern – like The Girl In The Fireplace – won’t take top rank when the post-season gongs are handed out. This is an individual’s review, though, and, for this individual idiot, Episode Seven shone brightly on his lantern. Like Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss is a safe pair of hands for a Doctor Who script, with an appreciation of the show’s rich history. I look forward to his third contribution to the series.

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There is a fantastic old story of Tom Baker's about how, one Saturday afternoon, he and a colleague were out attending some exhibition or other and realized they wouldn't be back home in time to see that day's episode of "Doctor Who." (Usually Tom didn't watch the show, but there was something specific he wanted to see about this one, part three of "The Deadly Assassin.") Tom told his colleague to drive into the nearest suburban neighborhood, and then they picked out a house at random and knocked on the door. The father of the household answered and Tom asked, "Excuse me, do you watch 'Doctor Who' here?" And the father said, "Please, just come in!" And then this family sat round their television, with Doctor Who, watching that day's Doctor Who! Here in "The Idiot's Lantern," there is a scene that's very nearly the same thing, where the Doctor sits down to watch the television with a monster in it with a normal family, though he's not quite so welcomed by the father in this instance, and tells said father a thing or two. I can't help but wonder if Mark Gatiss didn't have that old Tom anecdote in mind when he wrote this episode.

And it's a decent, solid little episode. You sort of always know that with a Mark Gatiss story, it will be dependable. It doesn't really take any risks or wow you with some amazing development or revelation, but it does go through all the familiar moves spot on. Terrance Dicks is somewhat similar, and again I wonder if that's an approach Gatiss deliberately tries to mimic... make sure you've got it all right. That said, though the moves are familiar and perhaps a tad predictable, they aren't boringly so, as the basic subject of the story isn't one that "Doctor Who" has really tackled before, certainly not in the TV series anyway.

But what about the Wire villain being basically another version of the Great Intelligence from the 60s, you may ask. Yes, that's true, but that's not the basic subject of the story. That subject is that family that the Doctor barges in on and watches TV with. On my first go-around in watching this, I bristled a bit at the family as they seemed to be too stereotypical dysfunctional to me. On my second viewing, I realized that was entirely the point. They're like a typical 50s TV sitcom family, but in negative, meaning all the non-subtle broadstrokes are all still there, just showing the opposite picture of what we'd see in a TV show of the period. This is most evident in the scene on the doorstep of the house after Rose has been de-faced, where all the family members gather together to argue out the moral of the family's story in perfectly written speeches that are nothing to do with the real world.... exactly as TV shows of the time did, only the sermon here is about how the ideal 50s family wasn't at all happy, how the father was the bully and how the wife shouldn't have put up with him, and so on. And now I've no problem with this at all, apart from thinking that Jamie Forman as Eddie Connolly was perhaps a bit too one-note and one-volume even for this approach. Debra Gillett and Rory Jennings seemed to be tuned just right though.

If there is one thing that's wrong with this episode, it's the sidelining of Rose 20 minutes into it. Now, it does make David Tennant's Doctor angrier than we've seen him yet, and that was fun to watch, but I didn't like being without Billie Piper so long. It was often said last season that they'd perhaps given too much time to developing Rose in the scripts, and now I'm wondering if they haven't oversteered the other way this season, giving too much time to the Doctor. The only episode this year that really showed off Billie Piper's skills was "New Earth," and most of the time there she was playing Cassandra, not Rose. Hopefully this will turn around in the back half of the season. As I half-suspect that this was deliberately done because Billie's time was really needed on another set for another episode, that may well turn out to be the case. That said, Rose does get good moments in the screen time she does have, like telling Mr. Connolly how a union flag should be flown, or telling Tommy at the end not to just cut off his father or he'll regret it in future, and especially when she tracks down Mr. Magpie in his shop and challenges him, and then realizes halfway into that that she's walked straight into the lion's den and is in real trouble.

Meanwhile David Tennant really gets some nice material to shine with here. I especially liked the almost "Ark in Space" moment where he suddenly recovers consciousness after having been knocked out and starts talking about it at a million miles an hour at the same time his eyes open. "Hell of a right hook!" On first viewing, I thought that maybe he was getting too one-note, one-volume as well, but on second thought, he really isn't, as though he does get as loud as he can get a lot in the second half, each time he does it's interrupted with another scene of him just being intense. One thing I think he should watch out for in future though, and this is probably more the director's and producer's job to keep an eye on really, is how we're starting to get too many shots of him posing dramatically at a door he's just opened and is about to walk through. It's not there yet, but at the end of this road is Paul Darrow in season 4 of "Blake's 7," and we don't want that.

Well, what of the Wire and Maureen Lipman's performance? She is the cosmic villain in this after all, and she's brilliant. Like I said, it's by no means a very original idea, but it is executed very, very well. We're all familiar with the evils of continuity announcers... they delight in nothing more than ruining the b-section of our favorite theme music for example, and so it was nice to see one be revealed for her true colors. Literally so, on one brilliant occasion, when her TV image shifts into color for one scene of her taunting the Doctor. I do feel the need to point out one massive flub in the final scenes on the tower, however. The Wire tries multiple times to electrocute the Doctor as it did poor Mr. Magpie (oh, and well done Ron Cook, by the way), and the reason we're given for its failure is that the Doctor's wearing rubber soled shoes. That would be fine... if he were standing on the ground when she tried this and not clinging with his bare hands to a huge metal tower as he is and grounding himself that way. Oh, and one other faux pas I wonder about... how do the people who've had their faces taken breathe? I'm not seeing any visible airways open there. On the plus side, I love the idea of trapping the monster by rerouting into a recording, on a Betamax tape no less, then later taping over it to kill it, though they really should've put a "With thanks to the writer of "The Ring"" credit on the end of the episode at this.

Two fan-wishes. In the "Doctor Who Confidential" episode that accompanies this, Mark Gatiss and David Tennant confirm that there was a line that would've referenced the Doctor's death-fall from a radio telescope tower in "Logopolis" just before he went up after Magpie and the Wire. I really wish that could've stayed in, darn it. Also, in the scenes of people all over London starting to get their faces sucked off by the Wire near the end, I wish we could've had one shot of someone with a photo camera pointed at his TV, taking tele-snaps of the big occasion, with a nameplate somewhere in shot that says "John Cura" on it.

Overall then, it was decent, solid, and enjoyable. Just OK, but in a good way. 7 out of 10 from me.

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With Mark “The Unquiet Dead” Gatiss at the helm, we are whisked off into England’s past to see the Queen’s Coronation, Squiffy haircuts, archaic BBC footage and most importantly, the year 1953.

“The Idiot’s Lantern” is a stand-alone episode that takes Doctor Who away from the action epic of the Cyber Saga and back to its more New Series orientated character drama. Period drama is what the BBC has always excelled at and The Idiot’s Lantern is a lavish slice of fifties Britain. While I’ve never had the chance to dip my twinkly toes into the 1950’s, I’m assured by several elder sources this was a pretty authentic take on the time and captured the atmosphere of the Queen’s Coronation.

The tale is a fairly simple: The Doctor and Rose unintentionally land in London, 1953 just before the Queen’s Coronation. In usual style, they find themselves slap bang in the middle of a rum mystery involving missing faces, cutting edge TV sets and a new callous villain called “The Wire”.

To a certain degree, the fantasy element of The Idiot’s Lantern plays a relatively minor role for the majority of the story allowing Gatiss to immerse the viewer into the characters and social dynamics of the period. The whole episode is focused around the Queen’s Coronation and that not only plays an important story role, it also successfully roots the audience in the 1950s via a major event.

In the forefront of the story is Mr. Magpie, a debt riddled television salesman under the control of villainous The Wire. Magpie is a beautifully tragic character lucklessly doomed from the show’s teaser. We also have the Connelly family - an atypical 50s household with a dominating husband, a submissive mother and son who is gradually rebelling against his father’s authority. As much as they are an example of the post war family unit, the challenge between the father and son convey the transition between the rigidity of the 1950s to the liberalism of the following decade. Eddie the father is a portrayal as to how historically rigid many family sets were in post war England, trapped in their need to retain a sense of order after a decade filled with uncertainty. The irony as to how so many who fought against the unrelenting power of German forces would assert a similar dictatorship in their own home – particularly against the shift in a younger more liberal generation - is not lost in this story. As with Tommy Connelly, the youth of the 1950s began experiencing a life beyond the constraints of fear, death and rationing as times became wealthier and more stable. As the stability grew, the young began to balk at the controlling older generation and we see Tommy do with his father. These historical movements are neatly encapsulated in this episode - quite a feat for a little teatime sci-fi drama.

This intense and rich focus on the 1950s characters works in more ways than one. Not only does it bring the period to life, it actually supports the story’s weaker arc -the fairly uninteresting alien threat.

The interstellar invasion of the week - The Wire - is consuming the faces of the local populace by absorbing their energy. The Wire’s intention is to escape its non-corporeal form via the communities TV sets. It is all very quirky science fiction, replete with that unique Who flavour. The Wire’s visual identity of a televised 50’s BBC announcer (played by Maureen Lipman) fulfils that Doctor Who requirement of being both eccentric and British all at once.

Unfortunately, people being left as faceless zombies was a key threat of “The Empty Child” last season and this concept doesn’t really evolve beyond Moffat’s gas masked creations. The Wire’s demands of being “Hungry!” is overused and Lipman’s abrasive cries become rapidly irritating. Furthermore, when Rose has her own face absorbed, the story automatically loses the threat value because we know the process will be resolved in order to save the heroine.

That said, Rose’s dilemma does benefit the story as much as it dissipates the danger. The Doctor’s reaction to the faceless remnant of Rose does add some extra energy to the story; by making the attack personal, it brings the Doctor even further into the mix. Tennant plays his more edgy Doctor persona perfectly.

Personally, I had a second benefit to this plot turn - we loose Rose for half the story. From being pleasantly surprised with Rose’s character in Series One, I’ve grown to find her presence detrimental to my viewing pleasure. For this story she is – as always – perfectly performed by Billie Piper and realistically written by Mark Gatiss. In The Idiot’s Lantern, dear Miss Piper is really pushing her all into the role, clearly looking for ways to give the audience a fresh take on Rose Tyler. Piper pulls off all her lines with ease and Rose never feels contrived, nevertheless Miss Tyler is simply frustrating to watch. Throughout Series One, many viewers have struggled to see what the Doctor saw in Rose; just what for him put this companion beyond all his others. We are now half way through Series Two and it feels as if we’re still no closer to understanding what makes her so special. Yes, she does occasionally see things which one wouldn’t expect a 19 year old to notice, for instance, the mass of aerials on the houses they pass in this story was unusual for 1953 – it is indeed Rose who spots this. However, she seems to retain far more negative attributes compared to the Doctor’s past associates and certainly far from the perfection he seems to see. She is demanding, cocky, selfish and when it suits, quite manipulative. These characteristics are indeed a perfect portrayal of a teenager, but unlike Mickey or the Doctor, Rose doesn’t feel like she’s evolving through the Doctor’s travel. Maybe this is realistic - she is a fairly arrogant and confident character, and such are the types who rarely change, but as we watch the Doctor’s presence affect so many (and in this episode we see how several characters break their shackles in his company) we see no advancement with Rose and this is frustrating. There is no progression from irritating selfish love struck teen, to anything further.

Perhaps, the reason why Rose can’t evolve is that she’s locked in a deep relationship with the Doctor and akin to Whedon’s Angel and Buffy characters they are trapped within the limits of their relationship. With no signs of any catalyst to change this dynamic and with Rose’s background fully explored, the chemistry stagnates.

In fact, I’m not even sure whether it’s Rose who is so frustrating – maybe the Doctor, for whom Rose’s importance overrides all else. We see in “Rise Of The Cybermen” how he follows Rose on one of her impulsive whims leaving Mickey alone, clearly doubting his worth to Rose or the Doctor. He and Rose seem blissfully unaware or uncaring when their travels ice others out and this has long term damage to the audience’s relationship with the lead characters.

Thankfully, both Tennant and Piper do their very best to keep The Idiot’s Lantern fresh and visually exciting. Nevertheless, if there is a weakness to Doctor Who at the moment, it is Rose. In fairness, Rose was actually fairly fun this week, so any audience animosity – in this reviewer’s opinion – comes down to an overspill of her more negative presence in previous episodes.

Regardless, having her absent for half the episode didn’t do the show any harm at all and with Rose, I’m wondering if less is more; if having a reduced role actually makes her more likeable.

While the characters really captures the British values of the 50s, the resolution has a little too much contemporary social value. I would be surprised if Eddie Connelly would have been so easily kicked out of the house in 1953 - even if the house were in his mother-in-law’s name. In the 1950s, courts did not favour divorces filed by the wife unless there was evidence of extramarital affairs. While there is no explicit reference to divorce, it is fairly clear the family is heading towards break up. One wonders whether Eddie is suffering a resolution at the whims of 21st century expectations and this does jar with my understanding of the period. The outcome is not an impossible solution for 1953, but one that feels contrived to appease the audience than to be true to the era. Perhaps one could argue this is just evidence of the Doctor’s presence - once again affecting those who meet him.

I was also a little uncomfortable with the advice Rose gave to Tommy about not cutting off his father. This maybe a realistic piece of advice to come from Rose bearing in mind her own personal feelings towards her dad, but the implication is that Eddie is not just mentally abusive, but physically. I’m not sure having the narrative imply that such relationships should be continued simply because of blood relations is healthy. I would go so far to suggest there would be few in the medical field that would generally advise someone like Tommy to retain ties with Eddie. Mental abuse alone can wreck a child’s ability to function in the world and any such ties should be broken until the kid is at an age to deal with parent on an even footing. It is certainly a questionable moral to end the show on.

While the show’s pacing is fairly fluid, the finale gets a little confused. I certainly wasn’t sure if DI Bishop would become such a believer in The Wire affair so quickly as he seems to accept the situation all too fast. Furthermore, the time differences between Magpie and the Doctor’s race to Alexandra Palace appear a little garbled. The Magpie rushes to Alexandra in a van and races up the transmitter, yet the Doctor manages to find time to grab some gadgets from Magpie’s shop, go to the TARDIS, grab some more gadgets, run to Alexandra Palace, set up said gadgets and then make it up the transmitter in what seems like relatively the same space of time. Be there a missing scene with a car or TARDIS, whether there was some serious stalling by a drained Mr. Magpie on his climb up the tower, the final cut just doesn’t flow evenly to the story’s climax.

Nevertheless, The Idiot's Lantern is a good story. It does suffer from a couple of minor glitches in pacing and a diminished threat value but in the overall scheme, it doesn’t damage the production. It has to be said that the acting is excellent throughout and the incidental music complements the drama. However the highlight of the story is Gatiss’ script - there are so many intelligent and witty touches to the dialogue it truly is a delightful experience.

The Idiot’s Lantern is another great episode from a generally excellent second series. The fifties are very much brought to life and Elvis would be proudly rocking in his grave at such a decent rendition of the era – that is if he was actually dead of course.

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Am new to this but I thought I would add my 4 penneth worth about last nights New Who episode.

I have been so disappointed with this season so far that I was worried I would lose interest in the show altogether.

I thought 'New Earth' was weak camp drivel and underused a potential 'monster' considerably, Tooth and Claw fared better but ended up being something disappointingly different from what was promised/marketed. I enjoyed 'School Reunion' but that I feel was more due to the nostalgia and dark humour than anything much more, the 'jealous' bit was o.k in some parts but grated on my nerves a bit after a while.

Girl in the Fireplace brightened things up a bit and added spice where much needed; this was a brilliant idea and tip-toed into the 'very good' category but paved way for the atrocious Cyberman story which was a big let down in my opinion.

The gushing sentimentality seemed to overrule any menace and although the direction created dark 'industrialised' threat it was marred by more in depth focus on the characters personal wranglements than the Cybermen.

Cybermen should be ruthless automatons, calculated, cold and downright frightening ; these guys could have been but unfortunately just weren't. Where was all the 'bursting out of bondage' imagery so iconic to a good cyber tale. Shiver up the spine stuff.

I remembered Mark Gatiss' Gelth yarn for Christopher Ecclestons incarnation of the Doctor and recall thinking how under rated it was and how pleasing I found the story to be.

To my delight I awaited this story with a mixture of feeling as I didn't want to be really let down by the show again, to my delight I have to say that this was one of the best episodes ever, so far. At last back from Soap Opera land and back into brilliant sci-fi drama.

The Wire (amazingly chilling performance by Ms.Lipman) was genuinely menacing and the demonisation of an everyday object as a thing of malevolent power was truly nightmare stuff. The acting ability of the cast made the whole thing so believable and despite the 'retro' element would've no doubt pleased many generations of age.

I also found the featureless creatures a marvellous nightmare creation, although this has been used on other productions to great effect this brought the whole concept chillingly up to date in a 1950's sort of way.

The 'humanistic' element wasn't so 'in your face' as the other stories which, in my opinion had began to suffocate and therefore weaken stories. This ran parallel with the 'grittiness' of the much darker doings at work and thankfully didn't dominate too heavily in the story.

The direction and set design were also perfect replications of a bygone era, you could also imagine the aroma of must,tea and the biscuits or the bits of fluff that smelled smouldering on the electric heated bars,

The cast seemed to be enjoying themselves despite the mayhem in suburbia which added such a charm to the story. The Doctors emergence from the TARDIS via a Vesper was a classic moment and I found I didn't wince as I did in the similar sequence in the 'Fireplace' story.

Finally it seemed to me, Mr.Tennant seemed like a Doctor Who not a weakened version of his Casanova in a brown suit.

Its not as though I object to Mr.Tennants clowning about but I just wish there was less of it and a pinch more seriousness, a deepness, something more 'alien'.

Thank you Mr.Gatiss for creating one of the best highlights in this series so far.

9/10.

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I enjoyed this episode when it was first transmitted, but I’m beginning to think now that it’s one of pros and cons. On the one hand we have an episode here that actually bothers to tell a story, which puts it higher than many of the season’s other episodes. And yet, here in the 21st Century’s new character-driven Doctor Who, we are presented with some of the shoddiest characterisation the programme has ever seen. Apples and oranges then? We’ll see.

The BBC’s flair with period detail is well documented by myself and others, and it doesn’t let them down here as the episode begins with an excellent pre-titles sequence, and Mark Gatiss clearly hasn’t forgotten the idea of the opening credits being the equivalent of the famous cliffhanger. It is directed by Euros Lyn however, and that means it’s going to be way too flashy for its own good. Despite the jaunty camera angles and jump-cuts this remains a visually strong episode though, and the imagery of having an ethereal television presenter as the villain is supremely engaging.

What’s immediately obvious about the regulars’ opening scene is that Billie Piper hardly shuts her mouth, which I’m going to use as shorthand for her portrayal through the entire episode; throughout my reviews of series two I’ve been tracking the character’s descent from tough chick into obnoxious brat, and I have to say that The Idiot’s Lantern sets a new low for the companion. I’ve got more bones to pick with The Impossible Planet though, so I don’t want to dwell on this too much – especially since I’m repeating myself now – although I would highlight it as an example of series one’s superiority over this one. The real problem with The Idiot’s Lantern is that the other characters are just as bad, as the usual saving grace of an episode is that while Tennant’s enforced goofiness and Rose’s simpering deference to it grates they’re usually surrounded by likeable foil like Mickey or Ida Scott. With The Idiot’s Lantern though, while I can hang on to the large amounts of decent mystery and atmosphere being produced I have to mentally fight to prevent it all being undone by the relentlessly two-dimensional Eddie and his family. With stagy delivery of didactic lines, I really feel like as a viewer I’m being spoken down to and the Doctor’s “is housework a woman’s business” scene doesn’t help matters. Wait, what’s this? Tennant’s raised his voice again! That means he’s angry, you know.

The faceless people help as in design terms they’re very good and it’s certainly a shock to see them for the first time. There is the old “how do they breathe” question, but if I went on about how visuals are being favoured over the idea actually being plausible even in a fantasy sense then I wouldn’t have anything left to say about a certain scene from Love & Monsters.

Once the Doctor and Rose have left the house and start creeping around looking for answers, things start to pick up: the fact that this episode takes a bit of time out to tell a proper story is a seriously big factor in its favour. The shots of the Doctor creeping round the cage of faceless people are fantastically done, and his conversation with the police detective is a highlight of the episode. Meanwhile, Ron Cook puts in an excellent performance as Magpie that forces even Billie Piper to restrain herself – and any episode that removes Rose’s big flapping mouth for much of its runtime has to score bonus points, right? It does lead to Tennant shifting into the standard “force of nature” role though, so I don’t know whether to take those bonus points back off again.

Meanwhile the aunt’s line that “it” should be beaten out of young Tommy sees more writing down (what is “it”? Someone explain, it’s just too subtle!) and his speech about freedom is humiliating to sit through. My usual complaint about big moralising speeches applies here, but this is a particularly bad example. When the characters sound like they’re reading something off rather than saying what’s come into their heads, the writing has failed.

Things get back on track again in the shop with the chilling imagery of the faces on the screens, although they do over-literalise the idea of the victims’ souls being stolen. The idea of the Wire being an executed non-corporeal entity is nothing new but it still works, and there’s a genuinely dramatic scene where she attacks the Doctor. However, her comment that the Doctor is armed upon seeing the sonic screwdriver is a sad indictment of the magic wand the device has become. The ending is great in set-piece terms, but the resolution itself is the standard new series cop-out of plugging something into something else and pushing a button. The Wire, as arguably the best original villain the new series has seen, deserved better.

It seems that there’s been a positive comment for every negative one. The Idiot’s Lantern is worthy for its story and its imagery, but with some dreadful characterisation it really isn’t as good as I remember and not a patch on Gatiss’s earlier The Unquiet Dead.

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Having penned ‘The Unquiet Dead’ for series one, Mark Gatiss returns with more of the same for series two in the shape of ‘The Idiot’s Lantern’. What is striking about the episode is that, in the classic series, it would have been unremarkable, whereas in the new series, so resolutely traditional is it in so many ways, it stands out as an oddity. So traditional is it in fact, that in many respects it feels almost wholly unoriginal.

Doctor Who has always worn its influences on its sleeve, but ‘The Unquiet Dead’ draws so heavily on both the series’ past and other sources that it that it feels less like homage and more like plagiarism. Wittingly or unwittingly, Gatiss draws upon various Doctor Who stories here; the disembodied megalomaniac executed for crimes committed who demands bodies and cries out “Hungry!” is hugely reminiscent of ‘Paradise Towers’, whilst the Doctor’s struggle atop and aerial to prevent his enemy interfering with a broadcast recalls ‘Logopolis’. The Doctor rigging up a MacGuffin to defeat the monster invokes large chunks of the Pertwee era, specifically ‘Spearhead from Space’ as the machine malfunctions at the last minute and the Doctor’s assistant has to hurriedly effect repairs. And it isn’t just Doctor Who that ‘The Idiot’s Lantern’ draws inspiration from: nasty things coming out of televisions have been explored in various films from Poltergeist to The Ring, and the ending, in which the Doctor traps the villain on a betamax tape and then promises to record over it is straight out of The Mighty Boosh episode ‘The Priest and the Beast’.

‘The Idiot’s Lantern’ also suffers from lapses in logic. The faceless victims of the Wire are all very creepy, but why exactly does a creature that feeds on the electrical activity of the brain even manage to steal faces? The Doctor’s explanation is gibberish, and there is also the question of why the victims don’t immediately die of suffocation. The restoration of the victims at the end once the Wire has been trapped on the tape is equally nonsensical: does the creature, as the script claims, actually feed on the activity of the brains, which would devour it, or merely sequester it, which makes no sense in the context of Gatiss’ script? If the former is the case, then why do they get their faces and personalities back once it is trapped? It’s a bit like imprisoning a cat in a box and expecting to magically resurrect any mice it’s eaten. Gatiss’ script also features one of the most cringe worthy overwrought lines of the entire season, as the Doctor discovers that Rose has become another faceless victim, and bellows, “Now, detective inspector Bishop, there is no power on Earth that can stop me!” It isn’t a plot hole, but it is another example of the Russell T. Davies school of “tell, don’t show” writing.

And yet, despite all of this, ‘The Idiot’s Lantern’ actually works. Largely this is because Gatiss has such a great love for the old series that he distills the ingredients listed above to actually make something guaranteed to please rather than something experimental, rather like cooking somebody’s favorite meal. The episode perfectly fits its running time, with a beginning, middle and end, with no unexpected padding in the last ten minutes, and is perfectly paced so that it builds nicely from an intriguing mystery to a dramatic climax. The Wire, a ranting megalomaniac, is the sort of villain that people think Doctor Who always used to do, and works very well, partly because Gatiss gives it odd but striking speech patterns (“He’s armed and clever! Withdraw, withdraw” and “The Wire is feasting!”) and partly because Maureen Lipman is superb in the role, simultaneously portraying a nineteen-fifties television presenter to perfection, whilst delivering dialogue such as “Hungry!” and “Feed me!” surprisingly effectively, making the Wire rather creepy.

Setting ‘The Idiot’s Lantern’ in 1953 also pay off well. This is an era rarely visited in Doctor Who (‘Delta and the Bannermen’ is the most obvious example, but that story set out to capture the rock ‘n’ roll spirit of the time and is a very different beast), and exploiting the coronation is a stroke of genius; in the twenty-first century, with multiple television channels and with the Royal family virtually just another set of tabloid celebrities, it must be fascinating for any kids watching to realize just how big an event both the coronation and the ability to watch it on television actually was. Gatiss captures the spirit of the times perfectly, with families gathered round the television, and the street party at the end, but he also looks at it from a contemporary point of view whilst questioning nineteen fifties stereotypes. Thus, Eddie Connolly is portrayed as a bully, and described as a monster for reporting the faceless people to the police, but he’s visibly afraid, motivated by fear of losing everything he holds dear. Which of course he ends up doing because of, not in spite of, his efforts, as his wife throws him out. Bristling with pride and patriotism, and desperate to maintain a stiff upper lip and appearances for the neighbours, he’s recognizable character type, but Gatiss never lets the viewer forget that this a man who obviously cares for his wife and son, even if he isn’t very good at showing it. So whilst he challenges the oppressive views of nineteen-fifties Britain, with ??? angrily telling his father, “You fought against fascism! You were fighting so that little twerps like me could do what we want, say what we want!”, Gatiss also adds a coda in which the Doctor pointedly asks the boy, “New monarch, new age, new world? No room for a man like Eddie Connolly?” and he and Rose send him after his father.

‘The Idiot’s Lattern’ has several other characters who work just as well, including Detective Inspector Bishop, who amusingly switches from being a typical hard-nosed copper to suddenly deflating and bemoaning, “Twenty years on the force, I don’t even know where to start” when the Doctor asks him if he wants to be doing more to find out what is stealing people’s faces. The unfortunate Magpie, a man down his luck even before the Wire enslaves him and subsequently doomed, is not unsympathetic, frightened and wracked with guilt. But most important perhaps is Gatiss’ use of the regulars. Rose is well-utilized here, immediately questioning the fact that everyone has a TV aerial, and demonstrating the intelligence to follow the Magpie lead, albeit not the common sense to at least try and leave a message for the Doctor. She also, amusingly, gets to take Eddie down a peg or two, icily informing him, “That’s the Union flag. It’s only the Union Jack when it’s flying at sea” and later, “Only an idiot hangs the Union flag upside down.” Best of all, whereas in ‘The Unquiet Dead’, Gatiss’ gave us a Doctor who let the monsters in through gullibility and then had to rely on the sacrifice of a supporting character to save the day, here he is a man of action, dealing with the Wire as he hangs perilously off the transmitter aerial, effortlessly taking command of the police, and putting Mr. Connolly in his place, furiously responding to Eddie’s, “I am talking!” with an angry cry of “And I’m not listening!” Gatiss also has fun with the increasingly annoyingly over-convenient psychic paper, deliberately taking things over the top, as the security guard at Alexandra Palace believes that the Doctor is King of Belgium.

‘The Idiot’s Lantern’ also looks great, the location filming showing nice attention to detail, and meshing seamlessly with the sets. Director Euros Lyn once more demonstrates his abilities as a Doctor Who director, but perhaps what is most astonishing about the episode is that even Murray Gold does a half-decent job, providing a dramatic incidental score that manages to build tension with resorting to the same tired riffs that have repeated throughout previous episodes.

Overall, ‘The Idiot’s Lantern’ manages, despite being somewhat unoriginal in many aspects, to be hugely entertaining, and an enjoyably traditional nod to the past. Which isn’t at all unwelcome every now and then.

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Some years ago my dad, incidentally a Doctor Who fan since november 1963, told me how everyone crowded around the only telly in the street to watch the coronation in 1953. When I read that Mark Gatiss thought this an excellent idea for a Doctor Who story, with the 'monster' transmitted through the airwaves I instantly agreed with him.

I had very high hopes, not least because Gatiss' "Unquiet Dead" was one of the highlights of last year. While this installment was satisfying and a nice slice of Doctor Who, it wasn't great. The only thing I can pinpoint as being missing is an explanation of where The Wire came from, what its nature is...why has its people denied it a body? Having watched the story twice I don't recall any explanations...again the downfall of the 45 minute format.

On the other hand we have David and Billie on great form enjoying 50's London, a lovely set in the family home and some cracking performances once again from the guest cast - especially Maureen Lipman as The Wire and Magpie, the TV/Radio dealer down on his luck who has no option but to go ahead with The Wire's plans. 1953 is depicted wonderfully, almost in Kodachrome colours, there is colour everywhere as if to emphasise the nation throwing off the shackles of postwar austerity and entering a new age of hope.

I also enjoyed the chance to see vintage TV equipment, and the wonderfully macabre faceless victims. Oh and the thrilling climax at the top of the Alexandra Palace transmitter, almost reminded me of Logopolis.

I did find Euros Lyn’s direction somewhat strange. There were some un-necessarily odd camera angles, and instead of adding to the atmosphere they were merely distracting. I believe it helps to change directors to give different "feel" to some of the episodes, but it wasn't quite right here. Hence 7.5/10

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And so this year we had to wait a little bit longer for our annual Mark Gatiss episode, but was it worth the wait?

“The Idiot’s Lantern” certainly has a lot going for it. The Coronation being broadcast live on TV is an inspired basis for a Doctor Who story, both in terms of the solid sci-fi / horror story that could be told by the writer and also in terms of the great fun that the cast and crew had in producing the episode, which ultimately translated into the great fun that we, the audience, had in watching the episode. The period costumes, the Doctor changing his hair (unprecedented!), sparkling dialogue – “I should have known your Mother would be a Cliff fan…” etc. – and best of all, the very dark, very human, very wonderful characters that only Mark Gatiss can write. If anything, they’re too real!

If you look back through Mark Gatiss’ quite extensive Doctor Who contributions (as a writer) over the years, it is clear that he is at his absolute best when he’s writing a period story with human characters. When he does what he’s good at, without doubt he’s one of the nation’s best writers. In “The Idiot’s Lantern,” he uses the extremely effective ‘gimmick’ of having TV sets that suck your face off – they quite literally eat you – combined with some superbly written character drama and of course, his trademark black humour.

“Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Then we’ll begin…”

Gatiss seems to have a great handle on the fifties, best represented I feel by two of his characters – Eddie Connolly and The Wire. The latter is an alien life form that we don’t know all that much about (and to be honest we don’t actually need to know that much about!) that has become trapped in TV signals and needs to feed on humanity in order to restore herself. She (it?) is represented by the prim and proper visage of a textbook 1950s BBC presenter (as portrayed by the outstandingly unnerving Maureen Lipman), and it is one of these cases where all those well-meant and exceedingly polite cliché one-liners take on a whole new darker meaning - it makes for some great television: “Goodnight children, everywhere...”

Eddie Connolly, in contrast, is a very human character. He’s not evil; he’s not even a ‘baddie’ as such… he’s just incredibly misguided and incredibly unlikeable! Jamie Foreman is superb in his performance. The way he speaks (all those overemphasised ‘H’s because he’s trying to sound posh), the way he dominates his family… he’s just such a believable character. It is a testament to Gatiss’ skill as a writer that I actually felt sorry for him at times, especially when the Doctor and Rose are tearing him to shreds with their ‘radical’ views on feminism and all the “Union Flag” (Doctor Who is still educational!) stuff. There is one scene in particular which completely encapsulates Eddie’s character. He is arguing with his son, Tommy, saying things like “I fought a war just so little scum like you can call me a coward”, and his son basically says, yeah, that’s the whole point! I can say what I want; you’ve become like a Nazi! By the end of the episode I was glad that the Doctor and Rose encouraged Tommy to try and make up with his Dad!

I really enjoyed the scene where Rose cockily struts into Mr. Magpie’s shop, confronts the Wire and ends up getting her face sucked off and her brain wiped! I didn’t see that one coming! Once again, it shows us just how dangerous this life that the Doctor and Rose lead is, and just how complacent they have become. Seeing Rose’s face on TV calling for the Doctor is quite disturbing! Getting Rose out of the way also allowed the impressive youngster Tommy (Rory Jennings) to become more involved in the story, taking on the companion’s mantle and helping the Doctor to save the world, really helping to freshen things up a bit.

The episode’s climax set on the Alexandra Palace transmitter had me thinking about the fourth Doctor’s demise in “Logopolis,” so I found it quite amusing when it was revealed on Confidential that the Doctor’s line about not liking big transmitters because he’d “fell off one once” had been cut at the last minute! I can just imagine Gatiss sat writing the episode, chuckling to himself and wondering if he’d get away with sticking it in there! I also liked the Doctor’s solution to the Wire problem; trap her on video, then rub over her! And on Betamax no less! Trust the Doctor! Unsurprisingly, I think “The Idiot’s Lantern” is definitely the funniest episode of the season so far – the Betamax; the Doctor getting knocked out; his being mistaken for the King of Belgium; the way Rose cartoonishly ducks under Eddie’s arm; the line about Jackie and her sailor boyfriend; “You can’t wrap you arm around your elbow…” et al. - Fantastic!

Just over a year ago when I reviewed “The Unquiet Dead” I simply wrote “WOW!”, and then there wasn’t really much intelligent comment after that. Now I don’t think that “The Idiot’s Lantern” is as good as “The Unquiet Dead,” but I really can’t say why. I just didn’t enjoy it quite as much. It could have been Eccleston. It could have been Dickens. It could have been that a year ago it was all so new and I’ve got rose-tinted glasses on. That said, I can’t really think of a bad word to say about this episode. The cast, the design… everything is just flawless, really. For some reason though, I just can’t bring myself to write that “WOW!” Maybe I’m getting spoilt by having one amazing episode after another! I think I could do with a “Paradise Towers” or something next week just so that I can learn to appreciate just how good each episode is!

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One of my passions is the history of British television, from its dark and murky beginnings in the nineteen-thirties through to the explosion of popularity in the fifties, the great days of the sixties, seventies and eighties through to all that’s happened over the past twenty years. So an episode that deals, or at least touches upon, those great and glorious days of the fools on the hill at Alexandra Palace was always like to be a winner with me. The fact that it comes from the pen of Mark Gatiss, author of The Unquiet Dead, which was one of my favourite episodes of the 2005 run, was an extra bonus, so all-in-all it’s safe to say that I sat down to watch this one with high hopes.

Afterwards, I must admit I was disappointed – but only a little. This is not a spectacular episode of Doctor Who, not one of those epic ‘event’ episodes that will lodge themselves in the memories of even casual viewers. But it is a nice little slice of enjoyable television, and perhaps a little lighter and frothier fare than some of series two has been to date, which is no bad thing at all. Never taking itself too seriously or feeling too laboured, The Idiot’s Lantern is the filling in a two-parter sandwich, and slots into place as a breathing space for the series quite nicely.

We’re in the nineteen-fifties, so it’s slightly exaggerated theme park history time again, although the show has pretty much always worked this way with its historical settings, perhaps arguably excepting only the very earliest ‘pure’ historicals, and painting the background with such broad strokes at least helps to ground us quickly in where we’re supposed to be. Once again, however, the TARDIS has gotten it slightly wrong, taking the Doctor and Rose to where there’s trouble in store rather than to where they actually intended to be, which always gives you the impression that the rusty old ship knows more about what’s going on in the multiverse than it’s letting on.

It’s the right decade though, which means the Doctor and Rose don’t seem to stand out too much in all their fifties get-up, and Tennant and Piper seem to relish getting into the feel of the decade as much as their characters do. I thought that Tennant in particular was rather good this week, being the wise-cracking, moralising kind of a Doctor that Tom Baker was always so good at playing, although of course he does it in a rather different way to Baker. You can see, however, the direction in which Gatiss writes the Tenth Doctor from, and it’s very much a fannish one – once again, no bad thing at all.

Piper, curiously, isn’t actually in the second half of the episode very much – perhaps they wanted to give her some time off, which with the gruelling schedule they have to work on this show would be no great surprise. She does get a great scene where she goes investigating on her own at Magpie’s shop – although perhaps Rose ought to have learned the dangers of wandering off on her own by now! – but as soon as she has her face sucked off, she’s pretty much written out of the episode just as she was when being locked in a room for the last third of The End of the World. It’s not an entirely satisfying way of dealing with too many characters and lends the episode a somewhat unbalanced feel at times, although on the other hand it does provide some genuine drama for the audience – if this thing can do this to one of the regulars, then it must be scary!

It’s funny how the blank face effect isn’t actually light years ahead of that used in Sapphire & Steel Assignment Four, which clearly inspired it, despite twenty-five years having passed between the two productions. That’s not to say that the effects on the faces here were in any way bad, because they weren’t, just goes to show how impressive the ATV make-up people were all those years ago.

The blank faces give the episode one of its genuinely creepy moments, when the Doctor is in the cage with them all and they begin to move around. It’s a shame there wasn’t a bit more menace, really, but most of this I am afraid can be put down to Maureen Lipman as The Wire. An intriguing concept, albeit not exactly an original one, I’m afraid I just wasn’t sold on Lipman’s performance at all, which is a shame as she’s normally quite likeable. She just overdid the cackling villainess business for me, and she wasn’t helped by some lines which put you more in mind of The Little Shop of Horrors than anything more Quatermass-tinged.

However, she wasn’t the only guest star, and this week’s other main guest turn was the ever-excellent Ron Cook. Never, sadly, a leading man, Cook is one of British television and film’s finest supporting players, and the veteran of many a classic production from The Singing Detective to… erm… Thunderbirds. Ahem. But seriously, he’s as excellent as ever as the tortured Mr Magpie, and seeing him crop up in Doctor Who was a real treat. Danny Webb next week, too! They really are getting the solid guest actors in this series, and no mistake.

The family stuff was a bit naff, although it gave a good excuse to break out the archive coronation footage as the residents of Working Title Street gathered to watch the tiny grey pictures. But why does it already look like a telerecording if it’s going out live, hmmmm, hmmmmmmmm? That’s sloppy, that is. (And that’s humour, just in case you’re worried I’ve been hanging around Doctor Who websites for too long). Mind you, I bet that episode of Animal, Vegetable or Mineral wasn’t even broadcast until 1955 or something, too…

I did like young Tommy, mind, the “pretty boy”, “mummy’s boy” who evidently wants something “beaten out of him”. Wonder what that could be? Matthew Graham has talked about his forthcoming episode involving his fascination with the idea that the TARDIS could materialise on your street corner and you could get involved in the adventure, and that’s exactly what happens to Tommy, becoming a pseudo-companion for the Doctor and even getting to save the day into the bargain. All because he’s a bit of a saddo electronics geek. Hurrah for anorakism!

Euros Lyn – when will he be allowed into the present day? – took charge of the cameras again, and while he mostly did as excellent a job as ever, he did seem a bit overkeen on the slanty camera angles. Anybody who’s ever seen Russell T Davies’s Dark Season will know that some directors think they have to make something seem a bit sci-fi by constantly tilting their tripods to thirty degrees to make stuff look a bit weird, which is a cheap trick that succeeds only in irritating, as far as I can tell. But apart from that it all seemed to be directed with a flourish, and all the other behind-the-scenes departments seemed to be as on-the-ball as ever. Even a bit of a retro feel in some respects this week, given that there didn’t appear to be huge amounts of CGI involved. Maybe they’re saving it all up for Gabriel Woolf’s comeback.

Speaking of which, didn’t the trailer for The Impossible Planet look great? Oddly, the Tardisode for it is pretty pants, but I’m really looking forward to this two-parter. We’ve had a bit of fun with The Idiot’s Lantern, now let’s go into the deep dark depths… of outer space!

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That was…unexpected. That was the lightest episode of the new series yet, lighter even than Boom Town and far more irrelevant because at least that episode had some things to say about the Doctor’s adventures. Mark Gatiss has always been famous for providing us with typical Doctor Who adventures your gran would love to watch with you on a Saturday evening (Phantasmagoria, Last of the Gadrene and The Unquiet Dead all fall under that category) and now he has proven that that is his forte. Unfortunately on this occasion, I was left wanting and for once it wasn’t because I wanted more from the story we got but because I want more from the series.

This is the third historical episode of the year (yes I know setting a story in 1950’s is hardly what you would traditionally coin a historical, what with your gran sitting watching with you actually remembering that glowing period) which has chickened out of exploring the past over some alien threat. I read in DWM that there was a complaint last year that the historicals lacked jazz and the result has been that this year you have a story set around disposing Queen Victoria (with warewolves), a story about the lovely Madame de Pompadour (with clockwork soldiers) and now a story set in the marvellous Hovis (I kept hearing that music in my head as this episode played on) street with an energy being that zaps you from your TV set. Tooth and Claw is by far the most successful of three because it devoted equal time to its surroundings and its plot, The Girl in the Fireplace was cleverly written but much of the atmosphere was lost on a SF driven plot and now The Idiot’s Latern fails to capture the toastiness of the era because it is far interested in some obscure and (frankly) boring alien threat. Why can’t we have a pure historical story? One which allows us to soak in the richness of history. I watched The Aztecs the other day and it was as gripping as any of the new series episodes and featured a culture as alien as Daleks or Cybermen. I wanted to see more of the jazziness of the era, more of the domesticity…but instead we end up on a transmitter with a monster screaming out “HUNGRRRRRRRYY!” Yaaaaaaawn.

Whilst I’m having a moan I would like to point out that Euros Lyn’s direction of this story was extremely jarring. The first scene out of the TARDIS is pure Grease, with jazzy music and sickly costumes and sharp cuts. Then there is the soap opera scenes inside the Connelly household, filmed at the most bizarre angles, so distracting I kept trying to angle my head so I could see the shots straight. Then we are into horror territory with the old woman silhouetted by the window and the Doctor trapped admist the shadowy domain of faceless beings. Finally its action set pieces, with rapid scenes cutting between Magpie and the Doctor on the tower as the story reaches its hectic conclusion. Now Lyn is a fantastic director and none of these scenes are bad, in fact seen isolation they are beautifully lit and stylishly shot. But there is an inconsistency of tone, which is very disturbing; I was never quite sure which genre I was watching. The director even finds a spot for a piece of film noir, with high angles shot through the ceiling fan and a long shot through a smashed window of the Doctor and the detective talking. Lyn interprets the schizophrenic script with as much flair as we have come to expect but I felt as if I was being pulled in a ten different directions at once.

Performances are generally strong but two of the most important ones are slightly off kilter, which contribute to the uneasiness of the episode. Mr Connelly was a bit OTT for my liking, okay so this is a guy who holds his household together with strong discipline but his constant cries of “I AM TALKING!” were more hilarious than they were dramatic. He keeps upping the eye boggling shouting throughout, although despite this I did feel for him when he was kicked out of his own home. I was really looking forward to Maureen Lipman’s performance in this episode, as she is an actress I have always admired, but she was never given material of her calibre. Anyone can stare at screen and scream “HUNGRY!” and “FEEEEEEED MEEEEEE!” and during her tiny scenes taunting the Doctor and Rose she is superbly menacing but there isn’t enough of these moments. It feels like a big name guest star wasted and that is never a nice feeling.

Billie Piper surprised me because she was able to give the loosest performance of the years thus far and it is astonishing how much fun Rose can be when she is not ignoring Mickey, emoting over her Dad or mooning over the Doctor. Rose is really spunky in this episode, from her clothes to her dialogue and I found this to be Piper’s most appealing performance since The Doctor Dances. I adored her “Shame on you!” and then that cheeky grin. I hope she keeps up this sense of fun. David Tennant continues to add layers to his already textured performance as the Doctor. Isn’t he dangerous? You just want to hug him all over when he springs from the TARDIS on that motorbike but when he discovers Rose without a face he turns nastier than we have ever seen him before, with eyes that could sour fruit and a vicious line of biting dialogue. When the 10th Doctor gets like this he is far, far scarier than any monster we have ever seen. His protective nature towards Rose is terrifying and I fear we may be seeing some nasty consequences of this darker side to his character soon. Tennant is still a manic ball of energy, impossible to take your eyes off and giving a mesmerisingly considered performance, choosing him to play the Doctor is still the best decision this production team have ever made.

Didn’t this episode have a touch of Matt Jones’ Bad Therapy about it…I mention it only because Jones is writing the very next episode. In Jones’ excellent New Adventure Bad Therapy (which is set in the fifties) there are black cabs roaming the London streets abducting people and blank faced monsters! The character of Tommy even reminded me of gay boy Jack who assists the Doctor in saving the day! Well only steal from the best I say! The blank faced victims were the scariest thing about this episode and something I have always found absolutely terrifying (anyone remember that horrific episode of Sapphire and Steel?). The make up (or CGI, I couldn’t decide which!) was horribly convincing and the scene where the Doctor is surrounded by them gave me the shivers. The black cab-stealing people from their homes was less interesting but it did lead to that marvellous sequence where the Doctor and the detective interrogate each other, with the Doctor slowly getting the upper hand throughout the scene. Oh and I must mention the scene where Rose realises the Wire is talking to her directly from the TV screen, that moment invoked a feeling of wrongness that really creeped me.

By far the most impressive thing about this entire episode was the performance from Rory Jennings as Tommy which was so on the mark for a child actor I felt like applauding. Doctor Who has a terrible track record when it comes to kid actors (let us all remember the Conrad twins and Matthew Waterhouse) but Jennings gave a warm, realistic and sensitive portrayal of a young man trying to break from his Dads shadow and help his family. I loved it when he turned on his father reminded him why he fought the war and frankly the only reason I was so wrapped up in the finale was because he was still involved. I would have loved to have seen him leap into the TARDIS at the end, it would be fantastic to see the universe from the point of view of a child, I should imagine those horrors would be all the more terrifying. Sod Adam, forget Jack (he’s got his own spin off show) and now Mickey is out of the way (saving the universe with his new boyfriend) we need a new fella in the show…and it would have been a smart (and interesting) move to see Tommy join the crew. Alas it was not to be but the acting on display still deserves recognition.

In fact it was the domestic scenes that I enjoyed most about this episode, a story that Mark Gatiss clearly relished writing but did not put enough through into. He’s all for atmospheric settings and crafted characters (both present here) but the alien threat is really poor here and the explanation and exploration behind it is handled in a insultingly cack handed manner.

The Idiot’s Lantern is not the weakest episode of the series to date (The Long Game, Father’s Day and New Earth were all less interesting) but it is something of a misfire for the series, some tasty ingredients but overall leaves a bitter taste in your mouth.

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Filters: Television Series 2/28 Tenth Doctor