Doctor Who, a television programme, lest we forget, critiquing the very medium through which it reaches us every Saturday teatime? That's what we got when Mark Gatiss, fresh from contributing The Unquiet Dead to Series One of the revival, decided to turn his eye to the small screen for Series Two with The Idiot's Lantern!
The year is 1953 and the pivotal coronation of the young Elizabeth II is about to be broadcast live across the country. But this is no TV party. Or at least it won't be if the Wire has anything to do with it...
Blank-faced viewers in thrall to the box is hardly how those of us settling down to a little escapism after a boring week in the real world would like to see ourselves. But is all this Gatiss' way of asking us to re-evaluate our relationship with television itself? Or is it simply his comment on the nature of such mass events and the pomp & circumstance of their transmission?
MAGPIE: There you go, sir, all wired up for the great occasion.Cynics may note that feeding off the popular imagination & energy of the good folk of our sceptred isle is what the media does best, and events here are but one more retrospective example of that.
DOCTOR: The great occasion? What do you mean?
MAGPIE: Where've you been living, out in the Colonies? Coronation, of course.
DOCTOR: What Coronation's that then?
MAGPIE: What do you mean? The Coronation.
ROSE: It's the Queen's. Queen Elizabeth.
DOCTOR: Oh! Is this 1953?
MAGPIE: Last time I looked. Time for a lovely bit of pomp and circumstance, what we do best.
"For the first time in history, millions gathered around a television set."Perhaps we should have seen his later criticisms of the overnight ratings system coming! Speaking to the Independent in November last year, Gatiss said,
"These overnight figures are based on a system of 5,000 set-top boxes, which is essentially a Gallup poll and we all know how accurate they are. If they provided a thumbnail sketch of what people are watching, fine, but people’s careers and projects rise and fall with them.He wasn't finished there, either.
This is nuts. Everybody watches television in a different way from the way they did four, five years ago. Yet the people who make a fuss about overnights... go home and watch TV in [this] entirely different way."
"The ratings system is insane and iniquitous. I’ve seen grown men crying because their show got 6.3 million [viewers] instead of a hoped-for 6.5. They make a difference to a person’s career."Current Doctor Peter Capaldi would also go on to weigh into the ratings debate, telling The Daily Mail.
"I feel it's slightly used as a pawn in a Saturday night warfare. I feel as if it should go out at 7.30pm or around that time. I see a lot of kids and a lot of families and these families who all love Doctor Who want to sit down and watch it together. I used to do that with my daughter when it came back so it has to be on at a time that's reasonable for them to do that.Capaldi's own memories of viewing stretch back to The Web Planet and he would remember his fondness for the black & white era as well as the then-star of the show.
And once you get past 8.15pm, you're getting yourself into adult territory and although a lot of adults really like it, at its heart, it's designed to do a lot of entertaining of children as well. So I think it begins to move into a zone it doesn't quite belong in. I feel it's a shame they're not given that opportunity."
Can it really be a coincidence that ten years before the programme was even born the Coronation occurred, and has the Wire, or at least the machine that enabled it to carry out its plans really had that dramatic an effect on us?
As Andrew Anthony wrote for the Guardian,
"Every major happening is now captured by television, or it's not a major happening. Politics and politicians are determined by how they play on television. Public knowledge, charity, humour, fashion trends, celebrity and consumer demand are all subject to its critical influence.Fitting then that Gatiss should inject the scare factor into that medium for his second Who script, but rather intriguingly though, it was initially music which would have seen an alien similar to the Wire in early drafts of The Idiot's Lantern script, this was at the time when the story had a working title of Mr. Sandman.
More than the aeroplane or the nuclear bomb, the computer or the telephone, TV has determined what we know and how we think, the way we believe and how we perceive ourselves and the world around us."
As A Brief History Of Time Travel recalled, rock & roll would've taken centre stage through a song Gatiss would later reuse in Sleep No More!
"Entitled “Mr Sandman”, [the] concept was of an alien intelligence existing within a contagious song; those infected by the melody become faceless creatures."
Gatiss then developed the story and wrote a treatment called “Sonic Doom”, set at the dawn of the rock 'n roll era of the late 1950s...
"However, it was eventually agreed that the idea of a living song did not translate sufficiently well to television.
As Gatiss was a fan of television's history, it was decided to have the alien force inhabit a broadcast signal instead."
Feasting, feasting, Warped Factor is feasting...