Doctor Who: The Idiot's Lantern

Tommy: 'Don't you get it? You were fighting so little twerps like me could do what we want, say what we want. Now you've become just like them.'

This was a hard episode to write about—mainly because I neither loved nor hated it. It inhabited that dreaded dead-space reserved for all things unremarkable. There were bits of it I liked, but it felt far too much like Who-by-numbers. The characterisation was uneven, the plot lacklustre, and I hate to say it, but even the Doctor got on my nerves this week.

That's not to say there wasn't things to like about the episode. The period stuff I enjoyed immensely. What's not to like about Rose in a pink dress, and the Doctor, hair slicked back and riding a Vespa? The idea of going back in time to watch Elvis on The Ed Sullivan Show (despite somehow feeling like a misuse of time travel), was also a nice touch, and the attention to detail set-wise was seriously impressive. The 50's were way, way (and I'll add another 'way' to really stress the point) before my time, but I recognised much of the period d├ęcor from old family photos. Which is all part of the fun, I suppose.

I started off liking the Wire, but towards the end of the episode she started to annoy me. At first she was splendidly sinister, with her slightly out-of-focus face and stilted vocal delivery (a likely homage to those dreadful voice overs they used to have on public information films), but after a while, her incessant cries of 'feed me' started to make her sound like Audrey 2 from Little Shop Of Horrors—which kind of blew apart the illusion. Plus, they never really explained the Wire's method to us. Why were her victims faces trapped inside TV sets? How did they breathe once they'd had their faces sucked off? I think the Doctor mentioned something about them 'ticking over', so I can buy that they perhaps needed less oxygen—but none whatsoever?

I also think that they overdid the Doctor's dialogue. I'm not blaming Tennant, he can only say the words he's been given, but all this 'there's no power on this earth that can stop me' stuff, was a bit much. I get it that he's all powerful, and Time Lordy, and that he has a massive TARDIS and whatnot—I'm just not sure that we need to hear him blowing his own trumpet so loudly. I enjoyed the Doctor saying 'I'd call you a genius, but I'm in the room' (in 'Age Of Steel') because, although slightly narcissistic, it was meant to have a comedic effect. But shouting out that no power on the earth can stop you? Well, firstly, it's just not true—he gets stopped all of the time (if he didn't, there would be no drama and thus no show)—but, more importantly, it all just sounds terribly big headed.

Tommy's story wasn't too bad—it just seemed to get in the way of the more interesting story elements. I was glad to see Rita kick out her cowardly, domineering husband, and it was nice to see the effect his expulsion had on her. She actually started to take control of her life and began to act like a human being again, instead of the downtrodden doormat Eddie had reduced her to.

But what's that business about the Union Flag only being called the Union Jack when it's at sea? What nonsense! Didn't Rose herself refer to the Union Flag as the Union Jack in 'The Empty Child'? Make your mind up, Rose!

Other Thoughts:

—David Tennant didn't ride the scooter in this episode. He wasn't qualified to do so and had to be wheeled in and out of shot. A stuntman rode the cycle on-screen—so a dozen fail points for DT this week.

—A humble DI knew about Torchwood? I was under the impression (from watching 'The Christmas Invasion'), that Torchwood was some kind of big secret that even the PM wasn't supposed to know about.

—Is it just me or are the Torchwood references becoming tiresome? They don't seem to hold the same interest the Bad Wolf references did last season. Plus, we already did the 'let's thread a word/phrase through the whole of the season' thing last year. Do we need to do it again?

—On the TV we saw clips of Muffin The Mule, a 1950's TV show for children.

—This was our second story by Mark Gatiss, the writer responsible for last seasons 'The Unquiet Dead'.

Billie says...

I really disliked this episode.

The biggest reason was the totally unpleasant Eddie Connolly, home from fighting the Nazis in time to become one himself. He was such a miserable, irredeemable character. Yes, his wife finally had enough and threw him out, but you just know he's the type that'll be back, banging on her door in the middle of the night, taking her to court for custody of Tommy, making her life a living hell. When Rose told Tommy to go after his dad, I just wanted to shake her and say, Rose, come on! Eddie is not Pete! The story might have been more effective if Connolly had been even slightly likable and the crisis had made him see the light and start treating his family as he should.

And we had yet more Nazi allegory, as the Wire was taking people's faces away so that they would be carried off in secret and put in television concentration camp. The TV antennas were even shaped like swastikas. Subtle, huh? I did think they cast the Wire well; she seemed so like someone who should have been on television in the fifties. But after a promising start, she failed to scare me; she was too remote, and like Paul, I started hearing Audrey 2 in my head. And I actually started to doze off when she was taking over London.

The period stuff was fun, I'll give you that, although I desperately wanted to muss up the Doctor's Elvis do. Rose in a pink fifties dress and heels was a nice change after the purple tee shirt and denim she wore for Queen Victoria. And the block party at the end was a nice touch. Not enough to make this episode worthwhile, though.

Quotes:

Rose: "Me and Mum, Cliff Richard movies every Bank holiday Monday."
Doctor: "Cliff! I knew your mother would be a Cliff fan."

Doctor: "Union Flag?"
Rose: "Mum went out with a sailor."
Doctor: (sniggers) "I bet she did."

Eddie: "I am talking!"
Doctor: "And I'm not listening."

Doctor: "Hell of a right hook. Have to watch out for that."

Doctor: "Never too late, as a wise person once said. Kylie, I think."

Tommy: "What happened?"
Doctor: "Sorted. Electrical creature, TV technology, clever alien life form. That's me, by the way."

Doctor: "Just to be on the safe side though, I'll use my unrivaled knowledge of trans-temporal extirpation methods to neutralise the residual electronic pattern."
Rose: "You what?"
Doctor: "I'm going to tape over it."
Rose: "Just leave it to me. I'm always doing that."
---
Four moor peaces eye rote, sea hear.

8 comments:

Mark Greig said...

"There's no power on this earth that can stop me" – Sounds like a misguided in-joke to ‘The Underwater Menace’. All that’s lacking is for the Doctor to do a dodgy German accent.

shawnlunn2002 said...

It really was a neither here nor there type of episode. Not terrible, but not entirely memorable really, though Rose did look cute in that dress.

I read somewhere that originally it was supposed to be revealed that Tommy had a crush on the Doctor. I sort of got that vibe as well.

I like Maureen Lipman so when I heard her villain was called The Wire, I did think of a certain HBO programme.

Eddie was a twat and that's the only thing I can say. Oh wait, the next two episodes are stunning.

daniel c w said...

I never heard the the term: "Idiot's Lantern" before I looked up this episodes title.

Is it a common thing to say in Great Britain?

Paul Kelly said...

Hi Daniel,

It's not a common expression in my neck of the woods (unlike "my neck of the woods" which is), but I'm from up north. I've heard it called the idiot box before, but never the idiot's lantern.

Paul

Mark Greig said...

the idiot's lantern was a comman saying in the 50s that has since gone out of use evolving into the idiot's box because once more poeple started buying tellys they realised they looked more like boxes than lanterns.

Patryk said...

I started watching Who recently from scratch (well as much from sratch as can be done watching only new who) and i have to say, this episode is the worst from all eps up to this point (love and monsters and fear her would rectify that soon enough...). Hard to find redeeming qualities especially if you're not British and unable to pickup on the cultural references from the 50s.

Michael Colvin said...

One minor thing that DT did that I loved: when he found the portable television and didn't know what it was (yet) he licked it! I'm a new who fan, but that's just wonderfully odd and yet perfect. So kuddos.

As far as the "no power on earth..." line goes I think it was meant to demonstrate the Doctor's affection to Rose (and perhaps her connection to him) I agree that it was a sore line, but it does help make them more than friends or even companions.

Laura said...

I never thought of the "no power on earth" line being cocky or having anything to do with power, I just thought it was a sign of his affection. I could see a parent saying the same thing about their child, even if they have no special abilities or strengths.