The Idiot's Lantern (TV story)

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The Idiot's Lantern was the seventh episode of series 2 of Doctor Who.

This was one of the earliest instances where the Tenth Doctor displayed a ruthless and overpowering personality when his patience and mercy were pushed to their boundaries. It also featured the theme of putting one's reputation and appearance above trying to help others, such as the case with Eddie Connolly, who reported any of the Wire's victims and tried forcing his wife and son to accept his views of the world.

So far, this has been the only appearance of the Wire's species. What they truly look like remains a mystery to this day; the Wire's essence was simply using the last image on the television screen she possessed.

Tardisode 7 serves as an unusually important prologue, revealing what happened to Grandma Connolly prior to the intervention of the Doctor and Rose.

Synopsis[[edit]]

It is 1953, the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II — but there is something hiding in the televisions of the British people. Something hungry...

Plot[[edit]]

On a dark and stormy night, Mr Magpie, the proprietor of Magpie Electricals, sits despondent inside his shop as the television behind him finishes its broadcast for the day. Being £200 overdrawn, he realises his business is going under and is in desperate need of a miracle. In the nearby Connolly household, young Tommy Connolly is reading a radio magazine while his mother Rita is sewing and his Gran is sitting in an armchair listening to the radio. As his proud and patriotic father Eddie prepares to head out, Tommy resuscitates an ongoing argument between them about purchasing a television, as everyone on their street has already got one. Eddie relents, promises to consider buying one for the upcoming coronation and affectionately ruffles his son's hair before leaving; telling Rita not to wait up. Gran, however, is not enthused by the idea; she tells Tommy how she's heard rumors that television "rots people's brains and turns them into soup".

Shortly after, a red lightning bolt hits the antenna over Magpie's shop. The television comes alive with the TV announcer's face and calls out to the dozing Magpie, who stares at his television in confusion, convinced that he must be going mad. The lady on the screen responds with "Not at all, sweetheart. Now, are you sitting comfortably? Good. Then we'll begin." An energy beam then lashes out of the screen, enveloping Magpie's face. He screams in terror while the woman in the television laughs maniacally.

The Tenth Doctor and Rose land in Muswell Hill, London, in 1953, intending to arrive in New York. Dressed for the period in Elvis Presley fashions, they expect to attend the singer's famous performance on the Ed Sullivan Show. Rose speaks the lingo of the era, noting that her mother was a huge Cliff fan; they'd rent the movies every bank holiday (The Doctor is unsurprised). As they leave the TARDIS on a scooter, both the Doctor and Rose are confused by their surroundings: the different skyline, a red double-decker bus, and the omnipresence of Union Flags soon tell them that, actually, they are in northern London on the eve of Queen Elizabeth II's coronation.

Meanwhile, the Connolly household has since installed a brand-new television in their living room, and Eddie proudly enthuses about the set's capabilities. His wife and son, however, appear notably more subdued. Gran is conspicuously absent from the proceedings, and when Rita tries to bring up the subject to Eddie about how her "face" has changed, her husband angrily refuses to discuss the matter. A repeated banging is heard from upstairs, leading Rita to remark that Gran is awake, and probably "hungry". Outside, the Doctor and Rose encounter Magpie delivering a TV set out of his van to a nearby household, and Rose is puzzled to see every house in the street equipped with a television aerial; she recalls how her grandmother told her TVs were so rare that everyone piled into a single house to watch the coronation.

Just then, the Doctor and Rose witness a person covered in a blanket being bundled into a car by men in black on supposed police business, to the desperate protests of his wife. The abduction is also witnessed by Tommy, who recognizes the victim as his neighbor Mr. Gallagher and says that people in his area are "turning into monsters", before Eddie angrily orders him back inside. The Doctor and Rose race after the car on their scooter, but the vehicle passes through a gated doorway which slams shut and a market stall moves in front of the gate, making it look like a dead end. The Doctor and Rose arrive shortly after, mystified by the car's disappearance. "This is Churchill's England, not Stalin's Russia!" the Doctor notes; clearly this cloak-and-dagger routine shouldn't be happening. Rose remembers Tommy's comment about "monsters", and suggests asking around the neighborhood.

Meanwhile, Magpie has returned to his shop and confers with the TV announcer on the television, presenting her with what appears to be a portable television set which he has completed according to her instructions, before begging her to leave him alone as her mere presence makes his eyes and memories hurt. She mockingly scoffs at his plea, telling him that it is too late to turn back and that the time is almost ripe, finishing with the comment: "cometh the hour, cometh the man... or lady."

"That's the Union Flag. It's the Union Jack only when it's flown at sea".

Night falls as Rose and the Doctor decide to investigate the abduction: posing as royal inspectors, with the help of the Doctor's psychic paper, they arrive at the home of the Connollys on Florizel Street, where Eddie has continued to bully his family into ignoring Gran after her face was stolen. After the Doctor and Rose's attempts to humiliate Eddie in front of his family lead to a shouting match between him and the Doctor, the same banging noise is heard again from upstairs and the Doctor convinces Rita and Tommy to bring him up to Gran's room. As the Doctor examines Gran, whose loss of her face has left her in a state of complete neural shutdown, two men burst into the house, sucker-punch the Doctor and take Gran away. The Doctor gives chase on the scooter, but Rose stays behind, having noticed the television set is giving off electrical red sparks. She is able to read the name on the television's tag — Magpie — before Mr Connolly angrily orders her out of the house.

Having witnessed the men's car employ the same staged market-stall to cover their escape, the Doctor continues on foot and breaks into a warehouse, where he finds more people whose faces have been stolen all locked in a cage. As they slowly begin to surround him, the site's investigators shine a light into the cage. Meanwhile, Rose heads off on her own to Magpie's television shop where Mr Magpie, who appears extremely stressed and agitated, repeatedly tries to get her to leave. Rose stands her ground, and insists on questioning Magpie about the televisions he's selling. Caught out, Magpie locks the door of the shop as the image of the female announcer appears on one of the TV screens, and reveals it is sentient by telling Rose its name is the Wire — and it's hungry. The Wire begins sucking Rose's brainwaves and face into its television as Rose desperately pleads for help. Magpie can only apologise and look away in shame.

"Because now, Detective Inspector Bishop, there is no power on this Earth that can stop me".

The policeman in charge of the investigations and abductiond, Detective Inspector Bishop, begins to interrogate the Doctor, asking what he knows. After childishly telling the inspector that he knows one can't put their hand on their elbow and make their fingers meet, the Doctor soon turns the tables on Bishop by addressing him by name (having read it inside the collar of his shirt: "Bless your mum.") and asking him questions he can't answer, offering his assistance in solving the mystery of this investigation which began a month ago and has left the inspector completely overworked and overwhelmed. As the two reach a truce, identifying a large concentration of faceless cases around Florizel Street, Bishop's agent Crabtree brings in another victim, much to the Doctor's horror: Rose. Enraged, the Doctor tells Bishop, "Now there is nothing that can stop me!"

As the day of the Queen's coronation dawns, the Doctor and Bishop return to Florizel Street for answers, and ask Tommy about what happened to his Gran the night her face was stolen. He tells them she was watching television, which was pretty cheap to afford thanks to Mr Magpie's generous prices. They are interrupted by an uncooperative Mr Connolly, but he is quickly taken aback when his son finally stands up to him, revealing that he cowardly informed on his friends and neighbors (including Gran) to the police and thus embraced the very fascism he fought against in the war. Despite Mr Connolly's objections, Tommy is encouraged by his mother to join the Doctor's investigation; having overheard the exchange, she wants him to do good, unlike her husband, whom she promptly locks out of the house in disgust.

"Good Lord. Colour television!".

The three head to Magpie's shop and break inside, but Magpie is absent. The Doctor discovers Magpie's handheld portable TV, technology which should not exist yet on Earth. He also sees all the televisions in the shop are holding the people's missing faces, including Tommy's grandmother, silently calling out for help. On one of the screens is Rose's face, calling over and over for the Doctor; he quietly promises that he will save her. Magpie enters from the back rooms, and the Doctor demands to know who is really in charge. The woman then appears in one of the TV screens, wondering at the Doctor's intelligence, and introduces itself as the Wire. Briefly turning the black-and-white television to colour, the Wire tells the Doctor that it was executed by its own people, but fled to Earth, where there is enough mental energy for it to reconstitute its physical form. The Doctor sourly notes that the Wire has been taking more than it should, gorging itself "like a great, overfed pig."

Bishop calls Magpie out for allowing the Wire to feed on innocent people, but Magpie declares that he had no choice; the Wire allowed him to keep his face and has promised to release him at "the time of manifestation", which the Wire cryptically calls her "crowning glory"; Bishop immediately realises it is referring to the coronation, and the Doctor adds that the coronation will be the first time in history that millions of people will be gathered around a television set; thus giving the Wire the perfect opportunity to feast on them all. He remarks that the Wire isn't strong enough yet, and then deduces that's why it needs the portable television: it's more powerful and can therefore turn a transmitter into a receiver.

The Wire sarcastically praises the Doctor for his efforts and suggests that they all just relax and enjoy the coronation; adding "Believe me, you'll be glued to the screen." It then begins to feed on Bishop, Tommy and the Doctor, calling the latter "delicious" and declaring that it will have "lashings of him". However, the Doctor is able to intimidate the Wire by brandishing a higher form of alien technology: his sonic screwdriver. Realising the Doctor is "armed and clever", the Wire withdraws from its feeding after completely draining Bishop, but not the Doctor and Tommy. While the two lie briefly unconscious on the floor, the Wire transfers itself into the portable TV and orders Magpie to take it to Alexandra Palace.

The Doctor and Tommy regain consciousness soon after; together, they construct a device with parts in the shop before racing to the TARDIS to pick up one more part. They then rush to the Palace's broadcast centre, managing to bypass security with the Doctor's psychic paper; to his own shock, it says he's the King of Belgium. Inside, the Doctor orders Tommy to keep the device he's plugged into the broadcasting system operating no matter what. Grabbing a spool of wire, he heads for the top and begins to climb the tower. Magpie is already at the top, having connected the Wire to the mast and begging it to stop the pain in his head after its physical reconstitution. Complying with Magpie's wish for peace, the Wire disintegrates him with a bolt of electricity. At the same time, people watching the coronation, and even animals in the room, are all having their faces sucked off.

The Wire begins to feast.

The Doctor reaches the Wire, grabbing the portable television, and tells the Wire that killing Magpie means it has overexerted itself. The Wire tries to fry the Doctor using the tower as a conductor, but the soles of the Doctor's shoes are rubber, keeping him safe. The Doctor attaches the wire he's been trailing to the portable TV, but a fuse shorts out and the machine Tommy is keeping an eye on stops. The Wire taunts the Doctor for his failure, for now, it will be able to live again. Tommy quickly changes the fuse and the machine operates again. Screaming in horror, the Wire is transferred from the portable into a Betamax cassette the Doctor built with parts from the TV shop. As the coronation proceeds as planned, the Doctor jokes to Tommy he invented the home video 30 years early. Elsewhere, all of the Wire's victims have regained their faces and minds and are released from holding (Those who were in the mid-process are left bemused, but dismiss that anything odd happened to them).

"New monarch, new age, new world".

The Doctor joyfully reunites with Rose on Florizel Street, which is now throwing a outdoor party to celebrate the coronation. With the Wire now trapped in the tape, the Doctor explains to Rose that he'll "use his unrivalled knowledge of transtemporal extirpation methods to neutralise the residual electronic pattern". (In other words: "I'm gonna tape over it.") Rose offers to do that since she's always taping over her own movies. As a gift of thanks for helping him save the world, the Doctor gives Tommy the keys to his scooter, advising him to wait until he's old enough to drive. At the same time, Mr Connolly is being kicked out of the house by his wife for putting his family's status above their own well-being. Tommy gladly watches him go, but Rose reminds him that although Mr Connolly is an idiot, he is still his father. With her prompting, Tommy runs after his father, who grudgingly allows him to carry his suitcase as he leaves Florizel Street. The Doctor and Rose are left to toast each other with glasses of orange juice and enjoy the street party.

Cast[[edit]]

Crew[[edit]]

General production staff

Script department

Camera and lighting department

Art department

Costume department

Make-up and prosthetics

Movement

Casting

General post-production staff

Special and visual effects

Sound



Not every person who worked on this adventure was credited. The absence of a credit for a position doesn't necessarily mean the job wasn't required. The information above is based solely on observations of the actual end credits of the episodes as broadcast, and does not relay information from IMDB or other sources.


Worldbuilding[[edit]]

Events[[edit]]

Torchwood[[edit]]

  • Torchwood is mentioned by the police officer.

Real world[[edit]]

Technology[[edit]]

Foods and beverages[[edit]]

  • Grandma Connolly opines that television turns one's brain to soup.
  • Grandma Connolly eats crumpets.
  • Eddie Connolly serves sandwiches.
  • A poster of HP sauces can be seen in the background.
  • The Doctor mentions burgers.
  • The Doctor and Rose drink orange juice.

Locations[[edit]]

Individuals[[edit]]

Minerals[[edit]]

  • The Doctor says the portable television tastes like iron.

Influences[[edit]]

  • The climax of the Doctor climbing the antenna was inspired by King Kong.
  • The Wire's repeated demand, "Feed me!", is reminiscent of a similar demand made, to comic effect, by the killer plant Audrey II in the classic horror-comedy film (and later musical) The Little Shop of Horrors. When the faces are shown on the screens in the TVs, it is also similar in the original film when Audrey II finally bloomed showing the faces of all its victims.
  • The clenching hands of the faceless victims was taken from Victor Carroon in The Quatermass Experiment. Mark Gatiss wanted to include more homages to Quatermass, but Russell T Davies thought this was too self-congratulatory, given that Gatiss and David Tennant had previously co-starred in the remake of The Quatermass Experiment.

Story notes[[edit]]

  • This story had working titles of Mr Sandman, Sonic Doom, and The One-Eyed Monster.
  • The Idiot's Lantern was originally to have been the ninth episode of Series 2.
  • Almost every shot in this episode is shot at a Dutch angle, a type of camera shot where the camera is set at an angle. This technique is typically used to evoke tension. Past episodes have used Dutch angles, but this is the first instance of an entire episode being shot mostly using this technique.
  • In DWM 515, Mark Gatiss told that originally the story was written for the Ninth Doctor Christopher Eccleston.[1]
  • Originally, the Doctor was supposed to have a line about having trouble with radio transmitters, which was supposed to be a reference to Logopolis, where the Fourth Doctor fell from the Pharos Project transmitter to his death.
  • The Doctor quotes Kylie Minogue's song "Never Too Late." Minogue would later appear as a guest star in the episode Voyage of the Damned, playing Astrid Peth.
  • All the television aerials seem to resemble Nazi swastikas. On the DVD commentary, one of the set designers mentions that this was done to evoke the post-war era.
  • Magpie Electricals apparently continues to exist beyond the death of Mr Magpie; Martha Jones had a Magpie brand television in The Sound of Drums, and a Magpie brand microphone can be seen in Voyage of the Damned. The new TARDIS interior after it repaired itself following the events of The End of Time, has some parts made by Magpie Electricals. There is a Magpie Electricals Shop in The Lie of the Land. Magpie apparently continues to thrive into the future, as a large sign with the company's logo can be seen aboard Starship UK in The Beast Below. In the animated reconstruction of The Power of the Daleks, the television in Hensell's office features a Magpie Electricals logo. Additionally, a Magpie Electricals logo is shown advertised in Gatwick Airport in the animated reconstruction of The Faceless Ones.
  • The Wire's line, "Are you sitting comfortably? Then let's begin," is a line made famous by Daphne Oxenford in the program Listen With Mother.
  • Margaret John (Grandma Connolly) had previously appeared in Fury from the Deep in 1968, 38 years before this story. She thereby held the record for the greatest span of time between guest appearances on Doctor Who.
  • This story gives a no more specific date than the year 1953 for the setting of the story, however COMIC: Where's the Doctor? indicates that Elizabeth II was crowned on 2 June 1953, confirming that The Idiot's Lantern took place on 1 and 2 June of that year.
  • The title of the episode was suggested by Gareth Roberts, who recalled the term being used by his father to refer to television.
  • The story was originally set during the dawn of the rock 'n' roll era of the late fifties and featured an alien who infects people via song (in this case, "Mr Sandman"). An American location was even contemplated. However, it was eventually agreed that the idea of a living song did not translate sufficiently well to television.
  • The story originally took place on Powell Street, intended to be the same location where the Powell Estate would later be built. However, since the Powell Estate had already been established as being situated in Southwark, this would make setting the climax at Alexandra Palace (in Haringey) a more cumbersome plot element (not without giving the characters a reason to take the Northern line across town).
  • A subplot in which Rose visits her aunt, who works on a game show for the BBC was deleted because Russell T Davies feared that having the Corporation be too involved in the plot would make the episode difficult to take seriously.
  • Magpie was originally a successful businessman and a more overtly malevolent figure; his wealth and villainous nature were toned down at Russell T Davies' suggestion.
  • Tommy's grandfather was removed from the script. At one point, he appeared in place of the grandmother.
  • The entrance to Bishop's headquarters was originally concealed by a newspaper vendor rather than a market stall.
  • The chase scene was originally much longer and included the Doctor's Vespa action in the London Underground.
  • The climax originally featured the television sets in Magpie's shop exploding after the defeat of the Wire.
  • Consideration was given to incorporating the launch of Sputnik 1 . However, Russell T Davies wanted a colourful, lighthearted adventure which would contrast sharply with the sombre mood of The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit. As a result, Mark Gatiss proposed the Coronation of Elizabeth II as a setting.
  • Mark Gatiss based the Wire on Sylvia Peters, who had been one of the BBC's primary continuity announcers from 1947 to 1958.
  • Tommy Connolly was initially intended to reflect some of Mark Gatiss' own experiences as a gay teenager. One idea was to tease the notion that Tommy was romantically interested in Rose, only for him to reveal in the closing moments that he was actually attracted to the Doctor. However, Gatiss decided to change tack after watching the latter episodes of season one, in which the Doctor and Rose were accompanied by Captain Jack Harkness. Gatiss concluded that this was a more modern and effective way to explore sexual orientation, and Tommy's role in the narrative was consequently amended.
  • Nicholas Hoult auditioned for the role of Tommy Connolly.
  • The Connolly family live on Florizel Street, which was a working title for Coronation Street. At one point, the story would have concluded when the Doctor taped over the Wire with an episode of the series.
  • The entrance to Bishop's headquarters was first concealed by a newspaper vendor rather than a market stall; a subsequent version of the deception involved a pair of ersatz mechanics.
  • The street party in the last scene was intended to be set at night, complete with fireworks; however, it was felt that this would be too similar to the conclusion of Fear Her.
  • Rose was originally kidnapped by Bishop's men. Mark Gatiss decided to raise the stakes by having join the Wire's faceless victims.
  • The episode replaced The Runaway Bride in the season schedule. It was originally meant to air second.
  • Maureen Lipman's scenes had to be shot first due to her limited availability.

Ratings[[edit]]

  • Overnight viewing figures for the initial broadcast of this episode were 6.32 million, peaking at 7.78 million, an audience share of 32.2%.
  • The final rating was 6.76 million, making it the most watched programme of the day.[2]

Myths[[edit]]

  • This episode is frequently mistakenly cited as taking place in 1952, the year Elizabeth ascended to the throne upon the death of her father; her official coronation ceremony, however, did not occur until nearly 18 months later, in June 1953. (In addition, the episode itself states that it is 1953.)
  • It is often erroneously claimed that footage of Rose calling out from the TV set was recycled for her brief cameos in the Season 4 episodes The Poison Sky and Midnight.

Filming locations[[edit]]

  • Alexandra Palace, Wood Green, London
  • Florentia Street in Cathays, Cardiff
  • Blenheim Road in Pen-y-lan, Cardiff
  • Cardiff Royal Infirmary
  • Veritair Limited tarmac at the Cardiff Heliport on Cardiff Bay
  • Newport Dock

Production errors[[edit]]

If you'd like to talk about narrative problems with this story — like plot holes and things that seem to contradict other stories — please go to this episode's discontinuity discussion.
  • David Tennant mentioned on the DVD commentary that he accidentally hit the button on the sonic screwdriver prop while putting it into his pocket, causing the light to flicker on and "sonic-ing" himself. This error is clearly visible on the episode itself.
  • When the Doctor is climbing the transmitter, there's a moment where David Tennant's right foot disappears completely due to a compositing error.
  • At the beginning of the episode when the Doctor and Rose are on the moped with helmets and sunglasses, the camera crew are reflected in them.
  • When Rose and the Doctor chase after the black van on their scooter, David Tennant successfully hits the silver ignition. Billie Piper, who repeats the motion, does not and the heel of her pink shoe can be seen scraping the front of it.
  • In the "Next Time..." trailer for The Impossible Planet, the wrong filter is applied to the computer voice for Sanctuary Base 6.
  • The episode shows the first proper BBC ident called "The Bat's Wings" that was first introduced on 2 December 1953. Half a year after the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on 2 June 1953.
  • The map in the background of the detective's office is of the London Boroughs post the 1960 change.

Continuity[[edit]]

Home video releases[[edit]]

External links[[edit]]

Footnotes[[edit]]