Doctor Who: Revisiting THE IDIOT'S LANTERN - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Doctor Who: Revisiting THE IDIOT'S LANTERN

Jeff Goddard is hungry!
Now, are you sitting comfortably? Good. Then we'll begin.
Falling pretty much slap bang in the middle of the second series of Doctor Who’s revival ‘The Idiot’s Lantern’ often feels a bit overlooked to me, yet from the very first watch it’s been one that has stuck with me. Maybe the combination of words from Mark Gatiss and the Dutch angle heavy direction of Euros Lyn, which combine to give it an unsettling sensation from the very start, left an impression I’ve never been able to shake.

1953, the year of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, a year of street parties, post war recovery, RP (making a welcome cameo back into the show!) and a sense of looking to the future with this crazy box that can beam all sorts of experiences and programs into living rooms across the country, and then the Wire arrives. Incorporeal, reliant on the new television signals spreading across London with countless victims awaiting her feasting at the other end.

Its not the Wire who brings all of the sense of dread though. Instead, a large part of that comes from the suburban family of the Connelly’s and their patriarch Eddie. A man who fought a war against fascism yet acts as a dictator in his own home, keeping his wife and son in line with a strict discipline, and the fear of physical retribution. A man who is desperately trying to maintain ‘his’ order on a world around him that is rapidly spreading into disorder with the arrival of the Wire and the Doctor and Rose.
Doctor Who is such a versatile show that it can switch from overblown space opera one week to something smaller in scale yet (no less impactful) the next. The Idiot’s Lantern contains at its heart the spirit of community, something I feel a lot more of us have come to appreciate over the last year. This is a personal, human story that speaks of that same spirit of finally moving past the Second World War and looking to that brighter future that the War won us. The Doctor and Rose expecting it to be the late 50’s rather than 53 arrive on moped and ready to rock and roll. Only a few short years later they would have been far less anachronistic, and that’s a mark of how far the world would progress in that time, and this story sits on that cusp. The Connelly’s maintain the look and feel of the 40s, but Magpie drives around in a van that wouldn’t look out of place in Remembrance of the Daleks, set some ten years later.

Does this episode work 15 years later? Absolutely! The BBC have always been good at period drama, and here the tone and feel of the early 50s is replicated beautifully. The drama within the family is sadly a timeless tale, and with the hint from Rose to Tommy at the end that now he has saved the world he can save his father by educating him, opening his eyes to the new world springing up around them shows that incoming progressive thinking getting ready to take its place. Rita kicking Eddie out of her mother’s home also feels modern and progressive, empowering even.
Maureen Lipman as the Wire manages to exude menace and greed from the small screens in a magnificent way. Her cries of ‘Hungry!’ are something my wife and I do around the house since 2006 (especially at dinner time!). Jamie Foreman manages to make the brutish and bullying Eddie sympathetic. You can see the fear in his eyes. This is a man who fought in a war, survived and then had to return to ‘normal’ life. Something that has never been an easy ask. You may not like him, but it’s not hard to understand that this is a small man left scarred and scared by what he has seen. There is hope for him, no matter how slim.

Rory Jennings (who would soon go on to play the young Davros in the Big Finish story I, Davros) gives an excellent turn as Eddie and Rita’s son, Tommy. Its hard to imagine he was in his twenties when this was made. And of course David Tennant gets to go full angry, vengeful Doctor as soon as Rose becomes a victim of the gluttonous Wire.
Does the science make sense? Probably not, but that’s never stopped Doctor Who before. What counts here is the personal drama, the character arcs and the ‘human factor’ that beats at the very heart of the show.

The Idiot’s Lantern is worth visiting again, 15 years later, and remains one of my favourite stories from both Gatiss and those early days of Doctor Who’s rebirth. Atmospheric, with a bubbling tension just beneath the surface in so many scenes, it’s a fun, macabre story with a heart.
Goodnight, children, everywhere.
Jeff suffers from a small obsession with Doctor Who. If he isn’t making fan art or photographing his action figures, then he is talking about it on a podcast or boring his wife and daughters to tears about it. Jeff has been known to also enjoy other things, such as Star Wars, Wrestling, Gaming and listening to a lot of Metal, Rock and Punk. Pity his family, really. Find him on twitter @TheCityOfJeff

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