The Idiot's LanternBookmark and Share

Sunday, 28 May 2006 - Reviewed by Michael Hickerson

Last season, Mark Gatiss's The Unquiet Dead showed that you could incorporate elements of an old-fashioned Dr Who story into the context and sensiblity of the new series. Of all the series one episodes, The Unquiet Dead felt like it would be the one story most easily transplanted into a season of classic Dr Who and not feel radically out of place.

This year, Gatiss returns to that sensibility with The Idiot's Lantern.

And while all the elements of an old-fashioned Dr Who adventure were there--historical setting, monster in everyday things, aliens bent on world domination--I still felt as if The Idiot's Lantern were missing something. It's nothing I can put my finger on directly and say--yes, this is definitively what's wrong with the episode. Instead, it's just an overall feeling of the episode trying very hard but just not quite connecting in the way it could or should.

Part of that may be that it seems like a greatest hits of a lot of various Dr Who elements.

TARDIS lands in the right time but wrong place--check.

Alien is using a big historical event to cover its own agena--check.

The Doctor is the only one who recognizes the threat and can stop it--check.

Shoot, this one even borrowed elements from Terror of the Autons and Logopolis with images of the Doctor climbing up a broadcast tower. Yes, I'll give you that in both of those stories it was a radio tower and here's a TV transmission tower, but it still felt simliar enough to me.

The thing is, on paper, The Idiot's Lantern seemed to have a ton of potential. Here you have an almost Robert Holmes like twist with televisions turning nasty. The idea of an alien creature using the TVs during the queen's coronation to feed upon the unsuspecting masses is a great idea. But despite some really intersting effects and some memorable moments of victims with no faces, we're not quirte sure exactly what the overall purpose and agenda of the Wire is--I mean other to make speeches and cackle with laughter (seriously, she could be the Rani for all we know). And there were isolated scenes that worked well, such as the Doctor becoming angry once Rose falls victim to the Wire and the Doctor's charging into a situation and setting himself up immediately as an authority figure.

I think the biggest thing that didn't work was the family dynamic. The family where the grandmother has been taken over by the Wire and is hidden in the upstairs bedroom. I think part of that is that if the father is turning in his neighbors, why'd he take so long to turn in the grandmother? Other than setting it up so the Doctor and Rose see what's happened to the victims of the Wire, it makes little sense. Oh sure, it does set up the family conflict, but even that felt a bit stitled and forced. As we kept cutting back to the scenes of the faher blustering and being a blow-hard, I kept wondering if time wouldn't be better spent with the Doctor and trying to figure out just why the Wire needed to feed off the unsuspecting television viewers.

In many ways, The Idiots' Lantern is the first major mis-step of series two. It's not Boomtown bad, but it still left me with an empty feeling at the end of 45 minutes. I'd just watched an epiosde of Doctor Who and while I was mildly entertained, it just wasn't on par with the depths of School Reunion or Girl in the Fireplace. And maybe that's my fault since when I heard Mark Gatiss was writing it and that it'd be a historical story with a monster twist, I had high expectations for it. Maybe when I've watched it a few dozen more times, something more about it will sink in and I will find more to it.

Until then, I have to chalk it up as a lot of good idea that don't add up to a great whole.