Doctor Who – The Idiot’s Lantern

Written by Mark Gatiss
A great period setting–the Queen’s coronation, 1953–and a bit of retro technofear (new televisions as alien conduit) make this episode one of the better ones.
The Doctor and Rose land in London to way too many TV aerials and a electronics dealer, Magpie, selling them off to families for a pittance. It’s for the Coronation, but surely not everyone on the block needs one? Plus, black police cars are pulling up in front of residences and taking people away, bundling them into the back seat with blankets over their heads.
Turns out an alien force is using the televisions to reach out to the viewers and suck their faces off (a nice, frightening touch), leaving a blank zombie behind. One who’s already had their mug wiped is the grandma of a young boy, son of a nationalist bully father and a dominated mother. The Doctor arrives just in time to sort out the alien’s plan and to provide some needed family counseling.
Idiots Lantern moves quickly, but it doesn’t stay in the memory. For every creepy moment (those blank faces give me the willies), there’s a cheeseball one–the alien, in the form of a kindly female BBC announcer, screaming HUNGREEEE!!! FEEEEED MEEEEEE!!! when it was much neater when she remained kindly (and evil).
Best of the supporting bunch is Ron Cook as Magpie, who does the alien’s bidding to keep his face. The more he realises the alien’s true plan (maximum viewership during the coronation broadcast means the best time to suck all of Britain’s faces off) the more torn and disgusted with himself he becomes.
But so many things make no sense. We see that Magpie has sold TV sets to everyone on the street. But surely the point of setting the story during the Coronation is that very few people owned a set and so block parties (like the one we see at the end) were centered around only one television. Less televisions, more concentrated viewers. The story indicates that Magpie is only selling televisions in this neighborhood, instead of all over Britain. So are there thousands of Magpie-like men over Britain? And why does the alien suck people’s faces off before the big day? As a snack, perhaps? Like the Cybermen story last week, budget constraints limited the vision, but surely some of this could have been dealt with by some dialog. Why does this alien choose this one, small shopkeeper to do her bidding? I get the feeling that a lot of this was written out in rewrites.
Next week: Shrimp-headed monsters in space.

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