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Sunday, 28 May 2006 - Reviewed by Bruce Sharp

I thought it was good.

Is that a criticism ?...only in as much as it wasn't GREAT, and with Unquiet Dead being one of my favourites from last season I was really really hoping for GREAT.

So why didn't it achieve greatness?

I suspect because the script was tinkered with just a little too much by outside hands. I think R.T.D. is doing a brilliant job of holding it all together and making it fit the big picture, but from what was said on confidential, it sounds like some very nice and 'important' monologues were cut and I'm struggling to understand why, because that was exactly what I felt was missing from this episode. It needed just a little more intellectual and emotional depth from the doctor, which the monologues would undoubtedly have delivered.

There was also too much running to and from the house. The answers the doctor sought seemed to be split between two sides of the city and he had to keep running back and forth in order to piece them together. I found my self asking 'why hadn't he just stuck around long enough in the SAME place to find out all he needed in one go?'.

And the line "No power on this planet is going to stop me" as well as being very 'Parting of the Ways...I'm coming to get you', also sounded suspiciously like an R.T.D. intervention and one I could have done without. I know it's meant to show the ever deepening bond developing between the Doctor and Rose ( let's face it, he's already died for her once ) but a line like that is never going to be subtle and it felt a little forced dramatically.

This brings me to the Doctor himself. There seems to have been a real inconsistency in TennantÂ’s performance over the season so far. I caught myself looking back today, thinking about this time last year and the excitement of 'New Who' and I began comparing Tennant with Chris Eccleston.

I was always uneasy about Chris as the doctor. Don't get me wrong, he's a 'fantastic' actor and it worked brilliantly, but I always had trouble seeing past the Eccleston persona. He's not really a character actor, he is the strengths of his own personality focussed on a particular part.

The thing I was looking forward to with Tennant was the genuine realisation of a 'CHARACTER. I was hoping he would be the Sylvester McCoy that Sylvester should have been...with a big chunk of Baker thrown in for good measure.

In many ways however, Eccleston was actually more like Baker than Tennant. They were best when they were themselves, but charged up the by the character and the situation. It gave them a real edge and strength. I'm kind of missing that in Tennant at the moment, that level of unearthly intensity. He touched on it during the stand off with Finch in Reunion ( the first time I got a real sense of his age and universal authority ) and I want more please.

Over all however I really liked this episode. It certainly delivered scare wise, with the face melting energy sucking television sets. And it got Rose to shut up for a while, which has got to be good!

I loved the concept and the period setting. Returning to the source of television ( the tower) as the delivery system of evil was a brilliant idea.

The acting was excellent throughout this week with the possible exception of the father, who kind of peaked character wise in the first few lines and didn't leave himself anywhere else to go dramatically after that other than 'nasty shouty man'...but he certainly achieved loathsome, so he did serve the character well.

Maurine Lipman was superb and achieved a perfect balance of creepy British aloofness and seething malevolent evil. I was a little disappointed we didn't get to see a transformation into her true self at the very end ( the evil energy of the Wire made flesh just before it's destruction ) ...and I know it would have been a bit of a cliché, but it's the sort of cliché that can work really well in Who.

I liked the 'worm that turned' aspect of Magpie in the end too.

The direction was smooth, coherent and the dark elements of the script brilliantly handled.

As always, the 45 minute time slot deprives us of some potentially worthwhile character development and contemplation time but the upshot is a faster paced energetic delivery of the story. If they'd only give in to the full 60 minutes we could have the best of both worlds. I do wonder if it's so they can sell it to commercial stations allowing advert time to be slotted in. If that is the case, then why can't they just shoot the extra 15 minutes and release it on a special edition extended DVD?

So, a thoroughly enjoyable episode that will be remembered as having impact and depth. Sadly, it didn't have the richness of Unquiet Dead.

As I said, I would love to see a copy of Gattis' script prior to edits. I would dearly like to know what extra elements he included as I suspect they would have tipped the balance of this episode from good to GREAT.





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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?!





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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.





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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.





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Sunday, 28 May 2006 - Reviewed by Frank Collins

Well...are we sitting comfortably? Good...I'll begin.

The Idiot's Lantern isn't really about aliens invading via our television sets. It's about human monsters, as Rita in the story observes, 'living under our very own roofs'. The episode is very much concerned with Britain of the '50s. Gatiss really does encapsulate the approaching floodtide of the bold, new Britain that would be ushered in with Wilson's Labour government in the early 60s and its focus on the 'white heat of technology'. He also cleverly lines up the paranoia of the 50s with the moral panics of the present day. Many of the debates are similar.

This is post-war, austerity Britain. You have to remember that many families were torn asunder by the Second World War and then forced back together again after VE day. This is Eddie Connelly's dilemma. He fights for the 'British' way of life and then returns home to find that Empire supposedly being infiltrated by Communist and Fascist and other 'alien' elements. The very enemy he defended the country against seems to him to have sunk its claws into his community. This is ' Churchill's England - not Stalin's Russia'. Or is it...in the mind of Eddie Connelly? Eddie's actions arise because he thought he was doing the 'right thing' through a very distorted view of his own patriotism. A final thread is also visually represented by the Doctor and Rose in their ' rock and roll' personas. Don't forget that rock and roll was perceived as yet another bad influence on the teenagers of the 50s and this is regularly iterated throughout the episode.

These themes are as relevant today as they have ever been when we see the BNP taking council seats because the Eddie Connellys of this world see a threat in anything that is 'other'. Hence, two very resonant scenes - the family all gathered round the TV and the Aunt of the family observes that Tommy is a 'Mummy's boy' and hopes that Eddie 'can beat it out of him' and the later scenes where Tommy turns on Eddie - where Gatiss cleverly uses the ' we fought for you' argument to allow Tommy to state his case against a rather brutal father. Having had a similar relationship to my own father, I really recognise the in-fighting in this family. These are the archetypical arguments of a 50s parent trying to stem the tide of 60s liberalism in the name of patriotism. Nothing much has changed, I'll warrant.

The meat of the episode for me is the relationship between Tommy, Rita and Eddie. It is as much about a young boy finding his own voice despite the threat of violence, possibly discovering his own sexuality, as well as an adult woman realising that the man who came home from the war is still fighting that war and still believes a woman's place is in the home as a subordinate. For me the episode triumphs with Rita's emancipation from Eddie. Yet, in an echo of 'Father's Day' (how we keep coming back to this episode!) Rose advises Tommy not to abandon his father. Eddie is not painted so black - there is hope for that relationship. It is a fitting resolution.

Thematically, Gatiss weaves in observations on fascism and communism and a direct link to classic 50s SF movies and television - 'Invasion Of The Body Snatchers' and 'Quatermass' are particular examples. as well as links to Who's own history with 'The Faceless Ones'. Indeed, there is also a visual link to 'Sapphire And Steel' with the faceless victims of the Wire and it captures some of the mood of that series. Other visual clues include the swastika style TV antennas to really underpin the message as well as Euros Lyn's slightly over used film noir composition and strange angles.

Symbolically, the disembodied faces are a representation of the Wire's appearance or projections into our outside world. The Wire represents the mistake of trying to deal with problems and anxieties in the outside world without coming to grips with them in the subconscious, interior world first. This relates to Tommy's relationship with Rita and Eddie. However hard Tommy tries to deal with a problem in the outside world (his father's contempt, his budding adulthood, his desire to be himself) it is made to recur in the threat of the Wire's subjugation. Tommy's diffculty in relating to his father is transfered to the Wire's manifestation on the TV screen. It is the Doctor who takes on the role of surrogate father that allows Tommy to become himself and help defeat the Wire. Rose then transfers her knowledge (from 'Father's Day') to Tommy in an effort to get him to connect to his own parent because she knows all about disconnection in the outside world..

The multi faces on the many TV screens in Mr. Magpie's shop are representative of the fragmenting of a fragile society. Individuals without voice, without the strength to argue with those that demand conformity ( Eddie and The Wire). I loved all the links to early television as this translates to a general fear of all that is new. People did really think that television would 'rot the brain into soup till it comes pouring out of your ears'. There is a fear of the unknown potential of the medium ably articulated here. The antennas become lightning rods for transmissions of a different kind. Bright serpents that come to steal the minds and bodies of the innocent. Lovely nods to early television shows such as Muffin The Mule and What's My Line as well as the landmark coverage of the Coronation.And to balance out the references to the past, Gatiss even throws in a nod to Kylie.

Ron Cook's marvellous Mr. Magpie is also another highlight. A wonderfully rich performance that details a man's journey, bird-like, from the earth to the sky above (the transmitter at Ally Pally). It is about his transcendence from misbegotten businessman to a sacrifical lamb who paves the way for the Doctor to defeat the Wire. Maureen Lipman's playing of the Wire was sublime. She got that Sylvia Peters BBC intonation just right and then added in the malevolence of the alien entity to the mix. Her 'feed me now...I'm hungry' will no doubt be echoed by many chldren up and down the land. It is also a playful acknowledgement of the alien plant from 'Little Shoppe Of Horrors' as well as a symbol of the oncoming explosion of the consumer society that would replace the austerity of 50s Britain.

Euros Lyn is now one of the top directors working on the show. His noirish sensibility and evocation of the period through pulp fiction and comic strips really comes across on the screen. It is a tad over-laboured but it makes the episode very distinctive.

Finally, we literally do see God Save The Queen...as the Doctor resigns the Wire to a Betamax video tape. The white heat of technology still-born with an obsolete recording format.Let us not forget that the current monarch became a constant in the life of 50s and 60s Britain. A figure that stands in the midst of continual upheaval. Her coronation was an act that reassured the populace that in the midst of turmoil there still would be one standard bearer. It is also symbolic of women achieving power in a very patriarchal society and Rita's dismissal of Eddie is yet another, domestic echo of this. It is all about renewal after a period of vulnerable uncertainty.





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Sunday, 28 May 2006 - Reviewed by Geoff Wessel

So I was pretty interested in this from the preview last week, looked like it coulda been a little somethin' different. And then I saw who wrote it: Mark Gatiss.

Awwwww CRAP!

Sorry, kids, this is kinda gonna be the opposite question I asked of Steven Moffat earlier this season: will Gatiss repeat the suckage from "The Unquiet Dead"?

Well, thankfully, no, he didn't. But only just. Things started out right good, alien menaces travelling via TV transmissions and stealing faces, juxtaposed against the story of a family held hostage by an abusive father figure, the day before the coronation of Elizabeth II. OK, seems about right for this new breed of Doctor Who tale.

And I liked the Wire...when she/it was mimicing the personality of the TV presenter whose image it/she appropriated. When we got into "HUNGRYYYYY HUNNNNGRYYYYYYY" I wanted to stick spikes into my ear canals.

No, I was a lot more interested in how much of a cowardly bullying sell-out PRICK Mr. Connelley (sp) was. Thinks he's lord of his domain and did everything in his power to make sure everyone knew it. Until, well, someone who had no fear of him came along...

And the Doctor. Wow. That was actually quite an... angry performance from Tennant. I liked it. Quite a bit. For once the 4th Doctor comparisons really came to fruition.

Rose, of course, didn't really figure into the action past a certain point. In a way that's relieving sicne she's been annoying me the past couple episodes. But of course here she comes at the end because she still has unresolved Daddy issues so of course she puts them onto Tommy... blurgh.

And what's with the bad character continuity this season? Or do they really just not care about the kinda shitty way they parted terms with Mickey?

Oh, and "idiot's lantern," featuring TVs that suck off your face and suck out your soul? Real subtle there guys....for 1970.

As for next week...ALIEN WORLD?! CTHULHOID MONSTERS?! SIGN ME UP DADDY-O!