The Idiot's LanternBookmark and Share

Sunday, 28 May 2006 - Reviewed by Gareth Thomas

Oh dear... Doctor Who has often tried to mix social commentary and moral purpose with good stories, but here we saw the combination buckle under the pressure of being asked to do too much too quickly.

Think how discretely and poignantly Remembrance of the Daleks drew parallels between the inter-racial Dalek conflict and the latent racism/fascism of elements of post-war Britain. Then think how clumsy and bombastic The Idiot's Lantern was by comparison.

Eddie Connolly's character is not properly introduced or developed - except that he enjoys Muffin the Mule. We are just asked to accept at face value that, because he represents post-war British, working class, patriotic masculinity, he must be a crypto fascist/Stalinist bully. I'm sorry, but this is very lazy writing and deeply off-putting. The episode seems to have been a vehicle for the programme makers' prejudices about the ills of pre-1960s society - ills which the camp contemporary combination of the Doctor and Rose are able to cure through sheer force of smug, self-righteous personality.

As for the story - yeah, great. A good idea and well realised through a wonderful performance by Maureen Lipman. I'm not quite sure why draining electricity from the brain should leave people without their faces, but I guess it was a clever metaphor for robbing people of their personalities, which brings us back to the unimaginative critique of conservative 1950s society.

Rose had a good week, being more proactive and independent than of late - particularly in the scenes with Magpie - but it didn't really get her anywhere. She didn't contribute to the resolution of the problem, which was another too-easy techno-babble resolution. And the 10th Doctor seems to going through some of the insecure emotions of his predecessor - loss turns to anger turns to petulant self-importance and self-righteousness.

The pseudo-historical used to be a good means of exploring alternative situations, but in this episode it was just a vehicle for sloppy political correctness. Doing a critique of post-war Britain is one thing - and perfectly fair. But making it so simplistic and heavy-handed is an insult to the social conscience and historical traditions of the series.

In The Aztecs, when Barbara challenges the barbarity of the human sacrifice, we are certainly inclined to agree with her. But that point of view is at least balanced by the Doctor's insistence that you can't change history and that (by implication) you have to take cultures as you find them. Doctor Who today has traded this element of moral questioning for a less sophisticated cultural imperialism.

Next week's episode looks great, but haven't we been here before?!