The Idiot’s Lantern

Doctor WhoIntending to go see Elvis perform live in the 1950s, the Doctor and Rose wind up in London instead, on the eve of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Among the last-minute preparations, though, the time travelers witness an event that suggests that there’s more going on than a celebration. Black cars are pulling up to homes, and men spill out to abduct someone and leave again. The Doctor and Rose, after being urged by one family to turn their backs and say nothing, instead invade that family’s home under the guise of government inspectors to find out what’s happening. The truth that emerges is horrifying: something in this part of London is robbing people not just of their consciousness, but their faces. As the Doctor discovers where the police are taking the victims, Rose visits an electrical store selling TVs at a ridiculously low price and finds out that an alien intelligence called the Wire is behind the strange occurrences – but she becomes the Wire’s next victim moments later.

Download this episodewritten by Mark Gatiss
directed by Euros Lyn
music by Murray Gold

Guest Cast: Maureen Lipman (The Wire), Ron Cook (Magpie), Jamie Foreman (Eddie Connolly), Debra Gillett (Rita Connolly), Rory Jennings (Tommy Connolly), Margaret John (Grandma Connolly), Sam Cox (Detective Inspector Bishop), Ieuan Rhys (Crabtree), Jean Challis (Aunty Betty), Christopher Driscoll (Security Guard), Marie Lewis (Mrs. Gallagher)

LogBook entry & review by Earl Green

Review: Another winner from the pen of Mark Gatiss, The Idiot’s Lantern does a fantastic job of both creating a nostalgic period setting, and then delivering a suspenseful and scary story within that framework. The ’50s atmosphere is a thing of beauty, and it’s recreated wonderfully. Gatiss pokes some fun at the styles and mores of the era, and yet somehow remains almost reverent about it. I’m always impressed with how the Doctor Who production team turns pieces of Cardiff into London or somewhere else, but they outdid themselves here. The period props and costuming lend the whole thing a remarkable authenticity.

The Idiot's LanternAll of that wouldn’t mean a thing if there wasn’t a villain worthy of threatening the idyllic setting, and The Idiot’s Lantern has that as well, with Maureen Lipman combining menace and innocuous charm to create one of the new show’s most memorable villains to date. I’m really hoping we get a rematch with the Wire at some point, but only if there’s a worthy story that makes good use of the Wire’s unique nature without just parroting this story in a different setting.

And just when you think one of the story’s characters is about to be dismissed as irredeemable, there’s a list-minute course change that portends a hopeful resolution for them as well. It’s an unusually cheerful ending even for the new Who, and overall this episode ranks up there as one of the best hours of the new series. Keep ’em coming, Mr. Gatiss.