Doctor Who 2.07 – The Idiot’s Lantern

Video killed the radio star! Also, it sucks off your face.

As the owner of an electronics store bemoans his debts, the Connolly family gathers round to hear a radio program, though the son really wants a new television.  Everyone’s getting one for the upcoming coronation of Queen Elizabeth so all the kids can copy her ornate monarchical cloak, dad!

But his father Eddie is too busy flaunting his Every Soldier’s Medals from WWII and ignoring the boy’s Gran, who sardonically calls him “our lord and master”.  Besides, Gran says, television rots your brains into soup, which then pours out your ears.  Let’s hope it’s a hearty vegetarian mulligatawny, eh?  *heats up some naan*

Outside, lightning strikes an antenna, and soon Mr. Magpie, the electronics owner, is chatting with an onscreen woman.   Though he thinks he’s going “doolally” he’s really just getting prepped for some good old-fashioned brain suckery, as the television lady cackles madly and tendrils of electricity try to eat off his face.

Rose steps out of the TARDIS all modded-up in crinolines and sparkles, while the Doctor zooms out after on a Vespa, also with full-on mod attitude and teddy boy rockabilly hair.  They’re headed to the Ed Sullivan studios to see Elvis, uh huh huh!  Except they’re several years off, as they so often are, and in London.

“We want Muffin the Mule!” bawls the television set at the Connolly household.  Despite the father trying to get everyone say it’s “smashing, innit?” his wife Rita and son Tommy act like total stiffs, daddy-o, on account of how Gran got turned into something monstrous by the television.

“All wired up for the great occasion,” Magpie comments as he delivers a spooky television set to a neighbor of the Connollys.  The Doctor and are surprised TVs are so plentiful and cheap, “only five quid a pop” from Magpie’s; they should be more scarce.  The Doctor marvels how wonderful 1953 is, always a cue for something horrible and creepy to happen: this time it’s a guy with a blanket hiding his head, dragged out by plainclothesmen while his wife tearfully cries for help.

Tommy loiters around like a good teenager, tipping off Rose and the Doctor about people turning into monsters and disappearing.  His dad calls him in before he can give more details, because he’s a jerkface. Thwarted from their street chase of the detective car by the inevitable dead end cum fruit carts (I love that there’s an actual Operation Market Stall), the Doctor rants this is “Churchill’s England, not Stalinist Russia!”

Over at Magpie’s shop, he’s finished a portable TV device for his on-air frenemy, even though he pleads she’s “burning me inside” so even his memories hurt.  Ah, but they can’t go back to the way things were in this brand new age, she insists: “Cometh the hour, cometh the man.  Or lady.”

Tommy, having squirreled away a key to Gran’s upstairs room, tries to sneak in, but his father Eddie snatches it away.  Downstairs, he interrupts Tommy’s worries about Gran with his oft-repeated, “I am talking!” then rails that Tommy can forget this “college nonsense”.  “Business as usual,” Eddie tells Rita though she’s worried about her mum dying, insisting on “a little bit of hush.”

There’s someone at the door: look, it’s a very cheery Doctor and Rose who sing out, “Hiiiii!”

Have you heard the Good News of the Mod takeover?

Judging by the “family man, nice house, decent wage, fought in the war,” use the psychic paper to claim they’re Coronation inspectors working for Queen and country.  Though Eddie scolds Rita for not getting flag garlands up properly, the Doctor quickly insists since the Queen’s a woman, housework is no longer only for women.

Eddie gets to work on the bunting while the Doctor and Rose quietly quiz Rita and Tommy.  When Rita begs help for her mum and bursts into tears, Eddie snaps out of his compliance, insisting this is his house and “I am talking!” But the Doctor’s not listening, and Eddie’s in a “deep dark pit of trouble” if they don’t let him help.  Tommy quickly explains people have been changing.  Families keep it secret, but the police find out and turn up to drag their relatives away.  “Show me,” the Doctor says gravely.

Poor Monster Gran turns out to have a blanked face.  The Sonic Screwdriver scan show’s an almost total neural shutdown: “like her brain’s been wiped clean”.  Just then the men in black show to drag Gran away, and the Doctor’s “three important, brilliant, complicated reasons” why they should listen to him first are interrupted by a right hook to his jaw.

Not So Nice Guy Eddie tells Rita to ignore her mum being draped in a blanket, and advises Tommy not bother the hard-working men stealing away his Gran.  The Doctor, roused from the knock out, hops on his Vespa to follow the trail of relative-stealing even as Rose spots crackling energy surrounding the TV set.  When Eddie orders her out, Rose, who already embarrassed him when he said “Union Jack” (a title given only at sea, which you’d know if your mum dated a sailor like Jackie) shames him for hanging it upside down.  She sets off to find Magpie.

“Oh, very good,” the Doctor exclaims at again arriving at the dead end with fruit carts and street sweepers.  Sneaking round to get inside the deserted factory beyond the wall, he finds a gang of faceless people stand in a pen.  As he tries to get Sonic Screwdriver readings from them, their hands curl into fists, and they begin to crowd round him.

Rose arrives at Magpie’s, and refuses to be brushed off.  “Hungry,” Magpie’s creeptacular TV frenemy moans, which Magpie excuses as one of “these modern programmes.”  Rose, as always to the point, asks how come everyone’s turning monstrously faceless in homes where the only new thing is a TV set.  “What a pretty little girl,” our televised villain purrs.  Magpie quietly shuts the door.  “I’m The Wire, and I’m hungrrryyy,” The Wire announces.  Electrical pulses seize Rose’s head.  Twenty million will watch the Coronation, Magpie explains, ignoring Rose’s cries for help.  “I’m so sorry,” he says brokenly as The Wire coos, “Goodnight, children, everywhere.”

“Start from the beginning, tell me everything you know,” the Detective Inspector orders as part of his detective inspecting.  Soon enough the Doctor’s got his number: why’s he just carting the faceless people away instead of searching for answers?  “Start from the beginning, tell me everything you know,” the Doctor demands in a sharp reversal.  They’ve no clue why people keep showing up “sans visage”, but a large number of them are on Florizel Street.

Oh, look, they’ve found another one — the Doctor’s horrified to find it’s Rose, and even more livid when he hears they abandoned her on the street.  “That makes things simple, very very simple,” he says menacingly.  With Rose incapacitated, there’s no power on Earth to stop him.

As the big day dawns, Eddie threatens Rita, “You’ll behave yourself and smile.”  What a crumb bum.  Their relatives easily accept Rita’s excuses that her mother can’t join them.  Tommy defiantly suggests his Aunt Betty ought to check on Gran before she leaves.  The supremely unhelpful Aunt Betty sniggers at Eddie’s excuses that Tommy’s a “mummy’s boy all around”, and tells him “You’ll want to beat that out of him!”  Everyone hates homophobic Aunt Betty!

Tommy answers the doorbell to find the Doctor; Eddie orders him away, snarling at Tommy he’s got a position to maintain.  Tommy rightly guesses his Dad ratted out Gran,  realizing his father is a coward who’s informed on everyone.  Eddie fumes he didn’t fight in a war so “mouthy little scum” like Tommy could call him a coward, and adds, “She was a filthy disgusting thing.”  What a complete and utter jerkwad.  Tommy reminds his dad he fought against fascism, and I wonder if this plot isn’t a bit too Red Scare-y for a country that didn’t really have the type of communist hunting the USA did.

Rita finally defies Eddie, sending Tommy off to help the Doctor and saying if there was a monster in the house “it weren’t my mother!”  Oh, and it turns out after all Eddie’s “Not in my house!” shouting that Gran owns the damn house.  Typical.

The Doctor, along with Tommy and the Inspector Detective, break into Magpie’s shop to find the out-of-time portable TV device and multiple screens filled with feedback and the faces of the faceless, silently imploring help (and in Rose’s case, mouthing “Doctor!” over and over).

Love the shot of the Doctor’s face reflected on Rose’s image. Much better than the TV crew reflected on Rose and the Doctor’s scooter helmets.

The Wire tells the Doctor he’s as “smart as paint!” and promises Tommy, “I will gobble you up, pretty boy; every last morsel!”

Tommy is very pretty, but The Wire plans to eat up more people, presumably without caring whether they’re terribly good looking.  Her image turns into color television as The Wire explains she was executed on her home planet, and only by gorging herself on the electrical activity of the brains of humans will she become manifest, her “crowning glory”.  Well, that’s super subtle, The Wire!  Why don’t you just sing a song about how the Coronation’s providing you with a feeding frenzy?

Magpie again thinks he’s found more victims for The Wire (he explains he’s aided her because she’s put him in pain, and because she’s promised to leave him “in peace” when she’s through).  The Wire starts to feed off the Doctor, the Inspector, and Tommy.  “This one is tasty, oh; I’ll have lashings of him!” she exclaims at the Doctor, but upon seeing he’s “armed and clever” with his Sonic Screwdriver, she chants, “Withdraw!” leaving the Inspector faceless, but Tommy and the Doctor unharmed as they collapse.

“Conduct me to my victory, Magpie,” The Wire commands.  Tommy and the Doctor wake, and the Doctor realizes they’re near Alexandra Palace, the location of North London’s biggest TV transmitter.  “It’s never too late,” the Doctor tells a despairing Tommy, quoting Kylie Minogue before declaring “we’re going shopping!” for parts in Magpie’s shop.

Magpie rushes to the transmitter while The Wire starts to sound more and more like the plant from Little Shop of Horrors by repeatedly moaning, “Feed me!”  The Doctor and Tommy give chase with a device they’ve scrabbled together; to gain access, the Doctor flashes psychic paper at a guard who instantly thinks he’s the King of Belgium.  Leaving Tommy in the Control Room with orders to keep it switched on at all costs, the Doctor climbs the transmitter mast after Magpie, trailing cooper wire behind him.

Magpie manages to plug in The Wire, who immediately begins feasting on the audiences gathered to watch the Coronation.  Rita and her relatives and Aunt Betty’s little dog (which, I’m such a cliché, I cried out, “Not the doggy!” as I saw).  “I shall consume you, Doctor,” The Wire shrieks.  When Magpie reminds her of her promise of “peace” for him, she incinerates him with electricity.

“You’ve overextended yourself, missus,” the Doctor points out happily — by killing Magpie, The Wire’s used up energy, leaving herself vulnerable.  She tries to electrocute him as well, but, “Rubber soles, swear by them!” he shouts, pointing out he can’t conduct electricity (apparently his bare hands don’t pose a danger.  I don’t know).  Aha, but has his “little plan gone horribly wrong,” as The Wire retaliates?  Though a fuse burns out, Tommy quickly replaces it, and with a classic, “Noooooo!” The Wire is herself sucked into the Doctor’s device.

When Tommy wonders what happened, the Doctor explains it’s all sorted.  “Electrical creature, TV technology, clever alien life form. That’s me by the way.” He’s trapped The Wire in a VCR, confiding to Tommy, “I just invented the home video thirty years early. Betamax.”  By the way, “God save the Queen,” for on the television screens the final moments of the Coronation play out.

Upon The Wire’s demise, everyone’s faces are restored.  Tommy finds his Gran, and the Doctor Rose.  Back at Florizel Street, Rita hands Eddie a suitcase, saying, “This was never your house.”

The Coronation celebrations extend to the street in a kind of block party with Victoria Sponge and dancing.  Though Rose points out they could go to the official festivities, it turns out the Doctor chooses the “domestic approach” of history happening on the street.  The Doctor explains he’ll destroy the recorded-trapped Wire by using his “unrivalled knowledge of transtemporal extirpation methods to neutralise the residual electronic pattern” — in other words, he’ll tape over her.

As Rose and the Doctor prepare to leave, the Doctor hands over the keys to the Vespa to Tommy, telling him to keep it hidden until he’s old enough to drive it.  They watch Eddie trudge away, and the Doctor muses with a new monarch, new age, and new world, there’s no room for a man like Eddie.  Though Tommy scoffs his departing father “deserves it”, Rose encourages him to go after his “idiot” father; after all, if Tommy’s clever enough to help save the world, maybe Tommy can make a difference with his old dad.

Aww, that’s nice.  Except, let’s see: verbally abusive, potentially physically abusive, standing in the way of his son going to college and turning his mother-in-law from the house she owns while dominating his unhappy wife — I don’t know, kids.  I actually think Eddie deserves to be shut out of everything and ignored by his son.  But Rose and the Doctor toast each other with orange squash like Tommy carrying his dad’s suitcase is a heart-warming ending.  Rose does have her daddy issues, though, doesn’t she?

Oooh-weee-ah-wooo-oooh!  I’m so glad to be back recapping Doctor Who for all of you!  Because of some snags setting up my cable/internet after I moved house, I’m a bit behind.  But I’ll post recaps for this week’s two remaining episodes tomorrow, Thursday.  So join me then for the two-parter, “The Impossible Planet” and “The Satan Pit”!

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  • Fabrisse

    This is my favorite from this season! It’s a real harkening back to the type of adventures the Doctor would have when I was a 7 year old watching it from behind my sofa.

    Plus, David Tennant is especially dishy in this one.

    • That’s very cool that it’s similar to your childhood DW viewings! Hee, from behind the sofa — probably a good distance from which to view Daleks. :D

      Tennant really makes a great mod in this! His look really fits the episode well.

  • Ellie

    I’m always a bit torn on this episode. I like the whole side story of the family and the actors are all great. Never really get the villain though. I guess a face sucking people’s faces into tvs in order to gain enough power to create its own body again just doesn’t really hold me as much as a nice Dalek :P.

    Still, the story is good, and it’s certainly different!

    • The villain is odd, though I sort of like her in terms of a Big Brother-ish (the book, not the show!) figure. I actually thought she’d be a front for something else. I do like probably-gay Tommy and the way Doctor and Rose flounce around like Queen and Country Mods!