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Sunday, 28 May 2006 - Reviewed by Adam Leslie

This was a well-made – if unoriginal – Doctor Who adventure: a casserole of bits from last week’s cyberman two-parter (a newfangled gizmo turns people into monsters), The Empty Child (a similar period setting) and the author’s own The Unquiet Dead (a being without corporeal form manifesting itself in one of the utility services... I fully expect water monsters emerging from the faucets of the 1920s next year, Mark).

The build-up was all very well done, though. Maureen Lipman is always a welcome presence and hammed it up less drastically than Roger Lloyd-Pack last week, Rose has come back to life again now that Mickey has disappeared, and the whole 1950s period setting was all much more tastefully and authentically portrayed than in the obnoxious Delta And The Bannermen (possibly the most screen-kickingly bad Doctor Who story of all time, in my less-than-humble opinion).

For all its unoriginality, this was one of the scariest Whos for years. After the sanitised off-screen Auton invasion in Rose, it’s wonderful to see some real horror back on TV of a Saturday teatime. The scenes in which grandma was alluded to having become a monster scared even me, and the cage full of faceless people – and later the faceless Rose – would have had Mary Whitehouse foaming at the mouth in apoplectic rage. Always a good thing. That was terrifying Doctor Who at its best.

The rushed ending was a let-down though. The day was saved by a boy changing a fuse; the whole mast-climbing silliness deflated an otherwise thoughtful and very creepy episode; and the 45-minute constraint meant that the family issues were solved in a pat and convenient way, Rose’s ‘fatherly’ advice being the least convincing heartstring-tugging so far.

So all in all, a brilliant made and very creepy episode that was let down by a botched ending and – like the X-Files and some of the other New Doctor Who stories – disappointingly demystified by the need for a sci-fi alien invasion explanation.





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Sunday, 28 May 2006 - Reviewed by Simon Fox

Well, what an utter delight that was. After the slightly mediocre Cyber-tale last week, we're back in the more than capable hands of Mark Gatiss. The man is a skilled, imaginative writer who loves to use the things around us and make them scary which is arguably a main staple of the show. Mark Gatiss just "gets" Doctor Who like RTD does and David Tennant "gets" the Doctor. The best episodes are always rollocking good adventures where you don't notice the direction or the writing until it's all over, and The Idiot's Lantern had this in spades.

To make television a possibly evil thing is a master-stroke. Nowadays, with every kid glued to their screens far too much, the demonisation of the familiar has chosen a perfect target. Of course, the underlying social comments are there to see for everybody - watch too much of it and it takes your personality away. Literally. Thank God for the Doctor and Rose. The first sight of Gran sans visage was shocking because it's such an unnatural thing to see - our faces are quite often intrisically linked to our personalities. It did put me in mind, however, of The Face from the Dick Tracy movie (if you've ever seen it, it was Madonna in the end, but I digress...) but this did not detract from the horror of The Faceless Ones (sorry), particularly when they advance on the Doctor in the cage.

Which brings me to David Tennant. This man can act. This man can act his socks off and shows a wonderful range of emotions with gravitas and pluck, often turning on a sixpence within the same scene. The bit where he confronts the bullying Dad and shouts at him after discussing telly with the boy is wonderful and made me realise why I fell in love with the character in the first place - he stands up to bullies big and small, be they meglomaniacs or weak shouty kings in their little castles. Perhaps this is another underlying message we could all do well to take note of. David Tennant really is the Doctor, and what's more he makes you believe it with every breath and reaction. There's no doubt about that. And for the first time since Tooth and Claw, Rose gets a better deal and is no longer sidelined or given bum lines. The focus is quite rightly back on the pair of them chiefly having fun and taking on the wrongs of the world with smile and spring in their step. Rose shows the pluck and the intelligence Billie embued her with in Rose and The Unquiet Dead. As I said last week, it's an absolute crime to underwrite for her so this week I was bouncing up and down with joy when she confronted first the Dad then Mr Magpie.

Maureen Lipman also was a pleasure to watch giving The Wire her all while treading the fine line of Doctor Who villiany without falling off one side into underplayed or the other into pantomime. She relished every single word and it showed. My parents gave wry smiles at her performance and when Muffin the Mule came up. Of course, they were born into that world and they commented on how accurate the whole feel was compared with their memories. Churchill was still PM when they born, which I'd never thought of before. You see, Doctor Who still educates! Still, it would have been nice to have seen The Wire materialise into the real world, but that's a tiny, tiny gripe and thinking about it more might have spoiled the whole TV effect of the episode.

This episode sees a marked upturn after last week, and I say Thank Goodness for that. Exciting, educating and enthralling, it was an episode even Lord Reith would surely have been proud knowing the BBC had produced it. Well done, all. Now bring on the Ood!!





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Sunday, 28 May 2006 - Reviewed by Richard Walter

Well the Doctor has already met Lady Penelope this season so it was inevitable that he should meet Parker in the guise of actor Ron Cook playing the misguided TV salesman Mr Magpie. 1953 - Coronation year - and a quaffed Doctor brings Rose to New York to see an interview with Elvis although of course the Tardis ends up in London. Equipped with a scooter (the latest version of Bessie perhaps??) the two time travellers soon get caught up in the evil doings of the Wire magnificently performed by Maureen Lipman - quite obviously revelling at the chance to play a Doctor Who baddie. Being a Mark Gatiss script, there was an inevitable black theme to this story - indeed even the squint camera angles gave the story a weird atmosphere whilst steeped in 50s reality.

As the Wire consumes and feeds on her captive TV audience, Rose quite literally loses face and again we see that dark and troubled side of David Tennant's Doctor. This regeneration has a charming and mischievous side but rile him and . . . beware! As Mark Gatiss has pointed out, the climax of the Doctor and Magpie scaling the TV transmitter mast at Alexandra Palace had memories of Tom Baker's fatal fall in Logopolis and indeed a line was cut from the scene which would have been a nice little part of continuity with the past. Oh well - it wasn't crucial to the plot!!

Some nice vintage touches thrown in - footage of the Queen's Coronation, Muffin the Mule and the betamax tape - which was the Wire's downfall! This was a good sound story to tell in 45 minutes although the sub-plot of the manipulative, bullying and traitorous Dad was a little baffling - a political message being thrown in perhaps?

For me the favourite scene has to be the Doctor emerging from the Tardis on his scooter - maybe not quite as dramatic as when he crashed the ball during The Girl in the Fireplace on a horse but nevertheless a nice touch.

Season Two goes from strength to strength - I have enjoyed every story so far and find it hard to believe that we are past the half way mark!!





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Sunday, 28 May 2006 - Reviewed by Nathanael Nerode

Spectacular.

We've got a clever, creepy concept -- the Wire, living in the TV sets, stealing people's faces. We've got a solid subplot about a dysfunctional family; and some relatively subtle commentary on current political affairs in there too. (Such as the policemen just locking people up and hiding them away, rather than actually trying to figure out what's going on, because "the nation has an image to maintain".)

Rose excels: she figures out what's going on very quickly, way ahead of the Doctor -- and then gets her face stolen, so the Doctor still has to save the day. A very insightful way to allow the companion to actually be competent and do something on her own, without sidelining the Doctor.

It's nice to see the Doctor's unreliablity pointed up again. Aiming for 1958 New York, he gets 1953 London. But he doesn't want to admit it. The psychic paper is used -- and it sort of works, but you can see why he doesn't always use it, when he's mistaken for the King of Belgium.

Mark Gatiss manages to move smoothly between comedy and horror without ever letting one undercut the other. This is quintessentially appropriate for Doctor Who. On the whole, this is a very traditional, classic Doctor Who episode, right down to the Doctorless opening scene where the monster arrives on Earth. The "surface plot" is simple; but there's actually a lot of issues brought up (and not resolved) under the surface. It really is exactly what I hope for from Doctor Who.

And all the actors do an excellent job. Even the smallest parts feel *right*. I find it hard not to gush about this episode.





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Sunday, 28 May 2006 - Reviewed by A.D. Morrison

Normally I prefer to view an episode twice before reviewing it but on this occasion I’m going by my gut instinct of a fairly concentrated initial viewing. My pre-broadcast observation was that this was an intrinsically intriguing scenario, lifted, I know, from the writer Mark Gatiss’s own previous Who novel, Nightshade – so fair enough for self-plagiarism; tapping into the pernicious superstitions of televisual technology is something very apt for a quirky series like Doctor Who, and its puzzling how this has taken so long to emerge in TV Who. The title, however, is a little unsubtle and rather tongue-in-cheek (though by no means as crass and unimaginative as the impending Fear Her – and to think I used to think Survival was bloody bizarre for a title!).

What I became aware of throughout this very oddball episode though was that it seemed to be a ‘story’ completely beholdent to its core motifs, those being the highly evocative and creepy ones of a specious Children’s Hour presenter, viewers having their facial features sucked off them by the TV screens (a nice twist to CGI grotesques) and then reappearing trapped inside them. All brilliant images but in many ways lifted – perhaps unconsciously – from the superb fourth adventure in the largely forgotten series Sapphire and Steel. In that episode, often referred to by S&S fans as ‘the Man Without a Face’, a Time entity uses old photographs as a means to manifesting itself (without a face) and bringing the dead subjects of the photos back to life, in a beautifully realised sepia form. By the end of the adventure a person is actually trapped in a photograph and burns to death when it is ignited by a match.

What Gatiss has done is transpose this plot to the medium of television, and this is an inevitable and welcome progression and in itself well-suited to Doctor Who. Gatiss’s intrinsic Dickensian sensibilities still surface even in the 1950s with the quaint Magpie Electricals shop. His incidental characterisations are also like Dickens’s rather unleavened caricatures, such as the preposterously inept ‘father’ character whose catchphrase ‘I am TALKING’ seems to have come straight out of Harry Enfield’s equally caricaturish catchphrases such as ‘I AM ‘AVIN’ A FAG’. A repressed Black-Shirt, this paternal tyrant is laughably portrayed by a familiar-looking actor, and serves as a fun-figure for Rose’s post-Girl Power teasing. Not sure what the point was here but I suppose it was nice to see the Doctor display Gallifreyan puzzlement at the way Fifties’ housewives seemed to be treated, drawing up the analogy of the Queen’s gender. Rose’s mocking the father at the evident sacrilege of putting up the Union Jack upside down – a really callow vestige of the pointlessly self-promoting ethos of the Brit Pop Nineties – was to say the least, excessively irritating, inappropriately patriotic and just plain parochial, smacking of the equally puerile national onanism of Empty Child/Doctor Dances (as if a Timelord from Gallifrey should find it instinctive to wax lyrical about how Great a piddling island on a distant primitive planet is in the face of tyranny. Laughable – and a far cry from the near-misanthropy of the Fourth and Seventh Doctors). We’re also supposed to seriously believe that a girl who struggles to pronounce the names of all and sundry aliens and planets, is privy to the not popularly known fact that the Union Jack is only the ‘Union Jack’ when flown at sea, but is otherwise the ‘Union Flag’. I’m sorry, but it’s a bit late in the day to start investing Rose with any real vestiges of intellect. The name Rose has been niggling at me for some time, mainly because it sounds slightly old-fashioned, and now I think I see what it is alluding to: the motif of the English Rose. Interestingly also, if you put the initials of Rose and The Doctor together, what do you get? Or indeed if you put those of Rose Tyler and Doctor together? Am I simply analysing things too much?

I’m also very disconcerted by a producer who claims to be an anti-Royalist atheist, and yet in the series so far we have had almost ubiquitous Union Jacks, mystical, supernatural explanations for plots, and now tedious footage of the 1953 coronation. I don’t get it. RTD’s idea of satire so far is the Doctor saying ‘Margaret Thatcher – urrr’ in Tooth and Claw, and his slightly sarcy recognition of the Queen in this episode’s footage.

So the plus points of this episode were the suitably creepy distortions of a Children’s Hour TV presenter (particularly the random off-shot images of her face, slightly distorted), the faceless viewers, the trapped faces in television screens, the understated and moody character of Mr Magpie (whose initial scene toiling over his debt calculations was very amusing) and some – albeit rather drunken – lop-sided camera angles to add to the tension. Oh and the now fairly typical Season 28-ish shot of the darkly shadowed back of a figure in a dark room (i.e. the faceless grandmother), which was creepily directed. The finale was also fairly dramatic with a clamber up a TV aerial, though by this point I’d gone beyond even asking what the heck it was all about!

And this brings me to my main criticism: namely, what the heck was it all about? Who or what on Earth – or off it – is The Wire? Why did Maureen Lipman keep saying ‘I’m hungry’ in a way disturbingly reminiscent of the Great Architect in Paradise Towers? This could very well have been down to The Gelth from Gatiss’s superior debut, Unquiet Dead. But it wasn’t. Instead it seemed to be down to an escaped Sapphire and Steel entity straying accidentally into the Whoniverse. So we get no real explanations about the nature or motives of The Wire, only a disarming representation in an insidious Children’s Hour presenter. Gatiss effectively taps into what a modern viewer can easily empathise with as the initial TV superstitions of a Fifties’ audience (one’s worst paranoia, that a face on a TV screen can actually see you) which echo those similarly morbid preoccupations of those originally exposed (excuse pun) to photography: that it traps your souls. In The Idiot’s Lantern, TV’s do just that by stealing your features: those physiognomic aspects which makes you ‘you’. An interesting slant, but the fact remains this story seems to stretch facelessly around its core motifs and ingredients, and the insistence of a producer to include the 1953 coronation as a plot pre-requisite smacks instantly of JNT’s irrelevant brief of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee of 1977 in Davison’s Madwryn Undead. This needless appealing to the nation’s inimitable introspection is palpably played out in this odd episode. As is the excuse to have Rose in an outfit from Grease and the Doctor sporting a Teddy Boy ducktail haircut. Utterly bizarre. Could you have imagined the Seventh Doctor with a similar cut in Delta and the Bannermen? Seemingly David Tennant can get away with it due to youth and the sort of looks with women find a little more ingratiating than McCoy’s craggy own. My main confusion as to how to take the Tenth Doctor revolves largely around his haircut to be honest: I know Troughton, even more eccentrically considering his mature cragginess at the time, had a topical Beatles’ haircut, but somehow that sat far better on him than Tennant’s irritating Romanic forward-combed quiff. It just doesn’t look right at all.

But the biggest solecism regarding the Tenth Doctor’s characterisation is his tendency to frequently champion pop culture replete with puerile aphorisms snatched from some of the most dubious contemporary sources: in this episode we get ‘It’s Never Too Late – who said that? Kylie I think’. A far cry from the days of Tom Baker quoting from Shakespeare (Planet of Evil) and Kipling (Face of Evil). Mr Gatiss, what are you playing at? We thought the series was in safe hands with your scripts. No doubt a lot more than we thought rubbed off on the Doctor during his spell in the Big Brother household last season. We now have a Doctor, a tenth incarnation we are supposed to seriously believe is weary with timeless age and wisdom, frequently quoting third-rate modern pop lyrics as some philistine attempt to proffer sagacious aphorisms. This has to stop! As do such crass lines as ‘There is not higher authority than me’ and ‘This stops tonight!’ and, in this episode, ‘Nothing in this world can stop me!’ (or some such pulp). What’s going on with this incarnation? I haven’t a clue, and sadly neither do the writers seem to.

Sadly The Idiot’s Lantern, promising though especially its gripping opening was, does not live up to the plot strengths and characterisations of Gatiss’s debut, The Unquiet Dead. Lantern is steeped in curiosities and lingering images, but this time round the story seems to have been written around these, betraying a rather thin plot anaemically developed from a far more promising premise, and little in the way of substantial explanations regarding the true nature of the ‘token’ extra-terrestrial adversary. If ever a new Who story so far desperately needed a second episode to fulfil its potential, The Idiot’s Lantern does. In time the drawn-out comic strip of Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel will come to be seen as the Battlefield to Idiot’s Lantern’s Ghost Light. The opportunity for a truly intriguing story was lost here due to the restraints of a one episode format. Stylistically the episode can’t be faulted much, its direction, though often agonisingly lop-sided – making one feel rather drunk watching it – is impeccable, but sadly the plot and characterisations are lacking and the overall impression is of a series of intriguing glimpses swamped by unnecessary Coronation footage, caricaturish characters and directorial onanism.

Maybe it will improve on re-watching. A tentative 7/10; possibly 6. Interesting, but disappointing.





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Sunday, 28 May 2006 - Reviewed by Mike Eveleigh

I personally don't believe that there is such a thing as a 'perfect' Doctor Who story. And that's fine with me. Call it 'the Hand of Sutekh effect'. Or maybe 'the Magma Creature syndrome'. Doctor Who can be brilliant, great, good, average and occasionally well dodgy...but it is seldom dull!

So I like to refer to the stories that *really* work for me big time as "nigh on perfect." Ridicule is nothing to be scared of, so I'd give 'Enlightenment' as an example here. I loved this story on first viewing as a kid and many subsequent viewings have not withered it's appeal for me. Perfect? No. Nigh on perfect? For me, absolutely.

Well, add another story to the list, because I thought 'The Idiot's Lantern' was sublime. Where to start? Well, as it's called 'Doctor Who', I'll start with the Doctor. I've found David Tennant hugely appealing so far, and I would say that this was his best performance as the Doctor to date. At the start of the episode, we see his humour and his infectious delight in his travels, even when he's got the wrong time and place...again. As the story progresses, we see extreme anger, sadness, warmth and a strong determination to 'sort things out'. A quirky hero who *obviously* has a betamax video recorder. 'Course he does. Great stuff, Mr Tennant.

I've said before that I think the programme works particularly well when it is confidently mixing 'light' and 'shade'. I loved the sequence where the Doctor furiously shouts down Eddie (who is clearly happier bullying women and children), then we see Tommy's faceless grandmother (shivery echos of 'Sapphire & Steel') and then the Doctor typically tries to talk himself out of a tight spot...and gets one heck of a right hook before he can really begin. Dramatic, creepy, funny...my kind of 'Who'.

The most outstanding scene for me was probably the one with the faceless Rose; beautifully acted, scored and directed (welcome to the elite of superb 'Who' directors, Euros!) Tennant's portrayal of anguish and fury is great here, and this image of Rose was arguably the most disturbing moment of the new series since 'The Empty Child'. Bet it scared the kids...I found it pretty horrible myself.

So, Mark Gatiss has 'done the double'...I was impressed by 'The Unquiet Dead', but would rate this higher. The atmosphere of an austere post-war Britain was evoked marvellously, and the performances were excellent. Ron Cook in particular stood out as the rather tragic Magpie and Maureen Lipman was great as the Wire. Lovely enunciation! (Blimey, even the dog on the sofa was spot on!)

Lovely details abound. Like the DI with his name written in his collar; Like the policeman curiously wrapping his hand around his elbow; like the fact that 'Magpie Electricticals' becomes a, ahem, little shop of horrors. ("Feed me!) I thought it was also the best Rose story of the season so far.It's Rose that figures out a lot of what is going on here, and almost as spine-tingling as her featureless face was the scene where we see her stuck inside a television, mouthing "Doctor!" You see the Doctor's devastated face reflected onto the screen here, and suddenly, after weeks of Reinettes and Sarah-Janes and Mickeys, you see their bond back as strong as ever. Well played again, Billie Piper.

I liked the scripts generosity of spirit too. Of course, Eddie is the titular 'idiot', but Rose knows about parental loss and nudges Tommy (another nice performance here) in the right direction at the end. After all, these events might possibly make Eddie a better person...

So...nigh on perfect. (I do wish they'd kept Mark Gatiss' line about the Doctor being nervous of transmitters because he "fell off one once", though)

That'll be a 10/10 from me then...