Thursday, July 02, 2009

My Review of Doctor Who's 2x07: "The Idiot's Lantern"

Written by Mark Gatiss
Directed by Euros Lyn

Just what the doctor ordered! Another episode of Doctor Who taking a satirical spin on viewers! If negative thoughts in regards to Season One’s lacklustre episode “The Long Game” appear to your mind, don’t worry – “The Idiot’s Lantern” is a lot better in its attempts of proving the old chestnut about television rotting your brain cells. Although to be more precise with this episode, it’s a lot more about stealing your very essence as well.

After doing battle with the Cybermen in the last two episodes, this week sees our TARDIS team land in London in 1953 during the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth, which incidentally enough plays a part in the big threat this week. Proving this series love their history lessons, this Coronation is now given a new pop culture impact all thanks to this very episode.

Late one night, a harangued TV owner Mr Magpie muses over financial woes before a woman appears on his TV and begins talking to him in a rather creepy tone. As a result, Magpie makes a quite a nasty new friend in a trapped being called The Wire, who’s presence has devastating effects on local TV owners.

Following on the old chestnut of “TV being bad”, we soon learn The Wire, wonderfully played by Maureen Lipman (The Pianist, Coronation Street) is an electrical monster killed by her own race and desperate to escape being imprisoned inside a television forces a grudging Magpie to help her feed by having him virtually give away his TV’s and throughout this episode, I can tell you that The Wire is one hungry beast as many of her unfortunate victims are left faceless. Perhaps to be expected, it’s not entirely surprising that two of these victims playing an integral part to the plot.

The first pivotal victim is a Grandmother of the Connolly’s family who The Doctor and Rose are introduced when they begin investigating the suspicious arrest of a covered victim just as they take the time to take in their new surroundings and seemingly hit a dead end.

Ruling the Connolly abode with an iron fist, we’re introduced to Eddie, a misogynistic brute, whose values and attitude towards women are appropriate for this time period so much that Gene Hunt from Life On Mars looks to be the modern thinking man in comparison. Eddie believes that The Doctor and Rose are Representatives of the Queen and although reluctant lets them in but you can tell this guy is a total belligerent moron from the way he handles people and it isn’t with logic.

His pure belittlement of Rita and his almost resentment for poor Tommy is downright, but almost nothing compared to his attitude in regards to his “changed” Grandma or his eventual hostility and suspicion of The Doctor and Rose after the police pay a visit and take away Grandma. Its little wonder Tommy has deep seated with this man – he’s an absolute pig of a person and even The Doctor and Rose took offence to his Neanderthal attitude to life.
Along with being a sexist pig, it also turns out rather quickly enough that Eddie also a rat as it’s revealed that it’s him who has been telling the police when to find and arrest his faceless neighbours and relatives. Grandma may have gotten The Doctor curious but it’s Rose who made it a personal mission for him this week to beat the bad guy.

Before discussing how she got into danger, you have to praise the writing staff for the modern approach that has been taken with Rose as the show’s clear love for “girl power” and equality among the sexes is wonderfully utilised here. Aside from putting Eddie the brute in his place on a few occasions, it was Rose who actually spotted earlier on that every house on the street had a new set of antennas on their roofs and it was also her who knew to interrogate Mr Magpie after spotting a red bolt of electricity coming from the TV in the Connolly’s house.

Beautiful and with brains, Rose did appear to be sympathetic when she came into the shop to talk to Magpie after her attempts of small talk got her nowhere. It did however take her a moment to realise that The Wire was talking to her directly before it fed from her but still Rose deserves points for going to the source of the disaster first, even if did end up with her being trouble as a result.

As for The Doctor, wasn’t it a little silly to drive off without Rose on his scooter, given that’s he has lectured so many times about Rose doing the same thing from time to time? I did find really strange and irresponsible of him but his determination to find out what was going on really must’ve taken over, huh?

Still though at least he found the faceless victims and after being interrogated by Detective Inspector Bishop, it was nice to learn that the police were actually trying to do good even if Bishop knew that he was seriously out of his depth in regards to the faceless victims of The Wire.

The Doctor was always going to help with solving the problems in this time but he really needed a determined motivation and upon learning that Rose was another one of The Wire’s victims who was then abandoned in the street by Magpie, this was it. The incandescent fury of The Doctor when learning of his companion’s fate made for a brilliant TV moment and David Tennant once again excelled with some us that glimpse of The Doctor’s darker side.

It’s a good job that with Rose being locked up with every other faceless victim in that warehouse that The Doctor then used the double help of Bishop and a concerned Tommy because this wasn’t going to be a one person victory, even if he had a few aces up his sleeve.

The confrontation between The Doctor and The Wire was an interesting moment because a part of me got the feeling that she knew who he was but not the extent of his being if you catch my drift. What I’m trying to is that maybe she knew things like Time Lords existed but none quite like The Doctor himself. Her attempts of feeding on the three in Magpie’s shop resulted in a bad outcome for Bishop but at least The Doctor and Tommy were able to stop her and an unwilling Magpie as an oblivious London all sat down to watch the Coronation.

As a character, Magpie is a debatable choice. He’s played by a good actor like Ron Cook but as a character I’m divided. His unwillingly and unhappiness to help The Wire make him sympathetic but the fact that he’s only doing it spare himself is a little pathetic as he sits idly by and watches as The Wire goes after his neighbours. I’m actually surprised that The Doctor didn’t punch him, considering how furious he was when he entered his shop.

Battle-wise, this episode has a great tense moments with The Doctor and Magpie with The Wire climbing up the top of the transmitter at Alexandria Park both trying to fill out their individual objectives. Although The Doctor’s victory was inevitable, the episode plays on the possibility of The Wire actually succeeding her goal when she begins feasting on the people in the Connolly residence but her defeat at the hands of the transmitter being used as a receiver and her being trapped in a blank video tape was a fitting end for this particular creature.

Although we had a brilliant plot here with a great actress playing a highly quotable (she’s kind of like Cassandra in that way), I had to admit the final act with Rose and The Doctor encouraging Tommy to talk to his father after Rita rightly kicked him and all the personal stuff was a little more exciting for me this week.

Also in “The Idiot’s Lantern”

Original Destination: The Doctor and Rose were supposed to land in 1950’s New York but ended up in London instead. The TARDIS is playing up again.

The Wire (to Magpie): “Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin.”

I have to say, I liked the 50’s attire this week. Rose looked suitably cute in that pink dress and The Doctor’s overly gelled hair worked well too.

The Doctor (re police): “How did they get away from us?”
Rose: “I’m surprised they didn’t arrest you for reckless driving. Did you even pass your test?”

The Doctor: “Are you suggesting the Queen does the housework?”
Eddie: “Not at all.”

Jackie is a fan of Cliff Richards? I don’t think that they are enough “yuck” in the world to cover my feelings on that choice of music.

Eddie: “I am talking.”
The Doctor: “And I’m not listening.”

Rose (to Eddie): “Only an idiot hangs a Union Jack flag upside down. Shame on you!”

We got a Churchill/Stalin throw in this week in the show’s growing love for getting political. HBO would be proud of this kind of name and shame, TV series wise.

Rose: “Are you talking to me?”
The Wire: “Yes, I’m talking to you.”

Betty (re Tommy): “You’d want to beat that out of him.”
Eddie: “Oh, I will.”

Was this exchange supposed to be a dig at Tommy’s sexuality? A following argument between Tommy and Eddie gave me the impression that the character may be gay.

Rita (to Eddie): “We had a ruddy monster under my roof but it wasn’t my mother.”

The Doctor (to Magpie): “Tell me who’s in charge here.”
The Wire: “Yoo-hoo, that would be me.”

It’s a shame that besides a brief comment about Jackie, we didn’t get any reference from last week’s episode. How much time has passed for The Doctor and Rose between “The Age Of Steel” and “The Idiot’s Lantern”?

Magpie: “You promised me peace.”
The Wire: “And peace you shall have.”

The Doctor: “It’s closed down I’m afraid and with no epilogue.”

Was the phrase “Idiot’s Lantern” even mentioned in this episode? I don’t recall hearing it.

Rose (re Eddie): “He’s your Dad.”
Tommy: “He’s an idiot.”
Rose: “Course he is.”

Standout music: I liked the 50’s soundtrack. Some good use of music here!

Something of an interesting and different style of episode, “The Idiot’s Lantern” is another creative coup for “The Unquiet Dead” tag team of Mark Gatiss and Euros Lyn. Although not quite as good as the previous four episodes or the aforementioned Season One episode, points have to be given for the great plot, nice array of guest stars and the continuing daring of the show’s writers as well as the chilly atmosphere with this instalment.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

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