The Idiot's LanternBookmark and Share

Sunday, 28 May 2006 - Reviewed by Vincent Truman

The best thing I can say about "The Idiot's Lantern" is that the period set design was beyond reproach. Although I appreciate the effort and talent that goes into designing the set from the focus of a scene to the peripherals, I have never particularly watched the good Doctor for this reason (anyone who has treasured any Doctor Who episode from the 1960s onward might agree).

After a thrilling teaser, the episode proper begins with more or less a flashback to 'Tooth and Claw' earlier in the season (Doctor and Rose go to see a concert, miss the target) before they are drawn into a mystery involving an alien who lives in a television and derives nourishment and power by sucking peoples' souls (and, inexplicably, faces) into itself. The B Plot concerns a single family victimized by this alien and the wife's declaration of independence from her overbearing and socially-conscious husband.

This B Plot feels forced throughout the episode, especially when Rose's face gets injested by the alien in question. At that moment, Tennant's Doctor breathes fire, snapping that nothing will stop him in getting Rose back and vowing vengence with his eyes. The very next scene, the Doctor arrives at the family's home, burning with no-nonsense intensity, and has to then stand idly by while the father, son and wife have an extended dialogue at their front door. At no point did I truly expect Tennant to lean in, push the father aside, and say, 'There's more pressing matters here' - actually, that would have been nice - but Tennant's furious Doctor just stands there and lets the family go through its plays for power and understanding.

The A and B plots come together at the end quite cleverly, with the Doctor and Rose giving the son differing advice about the vanquished father (the Doctor, ever the loner, suggests the boy let his father go; Rose, with her respect for her father, recommends he chase after his dad - and he does, wisely). Prior to that, there is a fairly by-the-numbers chase scene across London to the high transmitter (ala 'Logopolis') to defeat the alien.

As mentioned by other reviewers for other shows, I am still pulling in vain for David Tennant to really put his teeth into the character of the Doctor. His heights equal those of all of his predecessors (ie, his confrontation with Rose in 'School Reunion', his sadness in 'Fireplace'), but they are few and far between. He reminds me of Peter Davison's Doctor with a bit of extra electricity, which should make him unpredictable and alien but instead make him come across a bit unfocused and inconsistent.

Although he is saving the day much more than Eccles' Doctor, Tennant's is doing so very, very, very easily ('New Earth', 'School Reunion'). One is reminded of the Tom Baker/Lalla Ward era, when John Nathan-Turner even opined that with a Time Lord and Time Lady, nothing has a hard solution.

And that is my ultimate gripe with this particular episode. The A Plot is linear to the extent that no surprises are revealed, except that it is not completey derailed by the B Plot.

Of course, I'll be watching next week.