The Idiot’s Lantern

Posted in Episode by - April 12, 2016
The Idiot’s Lantern

Aired 27 May 2006

Doctor Who has always been quite good at taking innocuous objects and putting a horrific spin on them to add resonance to its stories. Plastic is perhaps the best example when the Autons and Nestene Consciousness get involved in events, but there are many other examples through the programme’s long history, and now it sets its sights on television itself.

‘The Idiot’s Lantern’ takes place in 1952 as preparations are underway for the Queen’s coronation, and the promise of seeing the event broadcast live for the first time means televisions and viewing space are both at a premium. The premise here is quite simple and ingenious as an alien presence is able to get into peoples’ television sets and suck out their minds. The visuals of the faceless victims it leaves in its wake are genuine;y creepy and leave a lasting impression of just how dangerous The Wire can be.

The score and set design do well in evoking a sense of 1950s Britain, but unfortunately the overall script just doesn’t live up to the clever and strong individual concepts upon which it builds itself. It can certainly be said that some of the supporting characters don’t always act in the most sensible fashion, but the more glaring issue that doesn’t sit so well is just how smug and cliquey the Doctor and Rose are throughout. Clearly this is an intent of the writers since it has progressively become more noticeable with each passing episode, but it’s increasingly hard not to be turned off by their behaviour. After so much personal growth in the last series, Rose is sadly becoming seemingly more entitled and obnoxious, though she does manage at least one good scene with Mr Magpie that hearkens back to the smart and bold Rose of old. The Doctor himself has shown in his previous incarnations that he as a temper and is unafraid to let loose when necessary, but the shouting he does throughout the entirety of this episode is more difficult to fully relate to than most times just because there’s little nuance to balance it out.

Of course the Doctor figures out the cause of the problem and resolves the issue, but it almost seems like he doesn’t want to help until Rose herself is attacked. It’s not until this point that he takes a more truly proactive stance, going against centuries of the Time Lord’s behaviour. David Tennant is an incredibly charismatic and likeable man, but for some reason the scripts are turning his Doctor into a much more manic and haughty persona that the earlier incarnations of the character, whether it fits the scene or not. Tennant proved very adept and convincing in the slower and more reflective piece ‘The Girl in the Fireplace,’ and it would be nice to see his character allowed to grow in that capacity rather than on the trajectory he’s currently heading.

‘The Idiot’s Lantern’ is a bit of a mixed bag in terms of supporting performances. Ron Cook’s Mr Magpie becomes the standout success as his luck changes suddenly with a hidden price behind it. Deborah Gillett ad Margaret John are both very good as well as the long-suffering feminine side of the Connolly home; however, Jamie Foreman Eddie Connolly is simply a one-dimensional bully figure that fails to resonate and suffers from unnecessary overacting, intentional or not. The villain of the piece, The Wire, falls into the same category as an idea that sounds good on paper but just fails to fully deliver. Maureen Lipman is suitably eerie as the face of The Wire initially, but her increase in strength also brings out an increase in hysteria that sinks to levels of caricature.

The visuals and direction within ‘The Idiot’s Lantern’ are stunning, and so it’s a shame that the episode itself fails to deliver on that same level. It delivers some suitably creepy ideas, but the relationship between the Doctor and Rose again detracts from the overall proceedings and this is another episode where it seems as though some cartooniness and humour were forced into the script after the fact when not needed narratively.

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