THIS EPISODE TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
SHORT STORIES IN THE
2007 STORYBOOK AND
THE TV EPISODE "THE
'THE COMPLETE SECOND
SERIES' CYBERMAN HEAD
AMAZON EXCLUSIVE DVD
BOX SET (BBCDVD2122)
RELEASED IN NOVEMBER
THE CORONATION OF
QUEEN ELIZABETH II -
BUT THERE ARE
MONSTERS ON THE
STREETS OF LONDON...
27TH MAY 2006
And so this year we’ve had to wait a little bit longer for our Mark Gatiss episode, but was it worth the wait? The short answer, of course, is ‘yes’.
The Idiot’s Lantern has a tremendous amount going for it. Television sets (the titular “Idiot’s Lanterns”) that suck your face off is a great hook to hang a Doctor Who story on, particularly when set amidst the festivities surrounding the Queen’s Coronation back in 1953 which is when, for many, television really began.
The story itself reeks of Gatiss’ trademark black humour, however much like last year’s Unquiet Dead it is also a superbly written character piece. The bullish Eddie Connolly
in particular is wonderfully portrayed by Gatiss’ script (as indeed are the family that he dominates), and Jamie Foreman does an astounding job of bringing the character to life.
All those overemphasised aitches…
But what I find so astonishing about the story is that, for all his flaws, The Idiot’s Lantern makes us feel sorry for Eddie, who is much a victim of the institutionalised bigotry that
he represents as those that he bullies. It’s a real testament to Gatiss’ skill as a writer and Foreman’s as a performer that I actually felt sorry for this character at times; there is one scene that especially sticks in my mind, where whilst arguing with his son, Tommy, Eddie says (mockingly) “I fought a war just so that little scum like you can call me a coward”, to which Tommy agrees. Yes he did, and yes he can, and in trying to stop him doing so he’s becoming the very thing that he fought to destroy. You can almost see the dawning truth in Eddie’s eyes.
The villain of the piece, the Wire, is an alien entity that has become trapped in television signals and needs to feed on humanity in order to restore herself. Represented by the prim and proper visage of a textbook 1950s BBC presenter (as portrayed by the outstandingly unnerving Maureen Lipman), each and every one of the Wire’s exceedingly polite, clichéd one-liners take on a whole new darker meaning as she delivers them. “Goodnight children, everywhere...”
“Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Then we’ll begin…”
However, it’s the Doctor’s solution to the Wire problem that I really have to applaud: trap her on video, and then rub over her! And on Betamax too – talk about salt in the wound.
The episode’s climax set atop the Alex-
andra Palace transmitter inevitably had
me thinking about the fourth Doctor’s
demise in Logopolis, and so I found it
quite amusing when it was revealed in
the corresponding episode of Doctor
Who 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 his script, chuckling to himself and wondering if he’d get away with sticking that one in there!
This late omission notwithstanding, The Idiot’s Lantern is replete with flourishes of sparkling, mischievous dialogue (“I should’ve known your Mother would be a Cliff fan…” etc), as well as some very amusing set pieces to boot - the Doctor being knocked out, his being mistaken for the King of Belgium, the way Rose cartoonishly ducks under Eddie’s arm when fleeing; it’s all delightful, slapstick stuff. Not quite League of Gentlemen fodder, but certainly of the same ilk.
On a final note, further to Queen Victoria’s warning to the Doctor and Rose in Tooth and Claw, it is interesting here that an overconfident Rose comes unstuck. She arrogantly struts into Mr Magpie’s shop, confronts the Wire and ends up getting her face sucked off and her brain wiped! As well as once again highlighting the danger inherent in this amazing life that our heroes lead, this also makes for some unsettling television as we see Rose’s body left without a face, the same being trapped inside a television signal.
Getting Rose out of the way also affords the impressive youngster Tommy Connolly (Rory Jennings) a more central role in the story, taking on the companion’s mantle and helping the Doctor to save the world, helping to freshen things up a bit here at the season’s mid-point.
Just over a year ago when I reviewed The Unquiet Dead, I simply wrote ‘wow’, and then there wasn’t all that much intelligent comment after that. Now for all its merits, I don’t think
that The Idiot’s Lantern is even in the same league as The Unquiet Dead, but I’m hard pressed to explain why, beyond that I just didn’t enjoy it nearly as much. I just can’t bring myself to write that ‘wow’.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006
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