Saturday, August 23, 2014

Doctor Who--"The Idiot's lantern"

An increase in searches for Billie Piper in various stages of undress inform me that a new Doctor Who review is due. I was expecting a fairly low key, London bound episode after the special effects heavy two parter that preceded. “The Idiot’s Lantern” fit the bill, but usual, the writers manage to do a lot with very little budget. I can’t say it was a great episode. The villain was a run of the mill bad guy who was disposed of in a way the Doctor has used before. But it was an entertaining way to kill a Sunday afternoon. Oh, and I’ve learned that “idiot’s lantern” is the equivalent of “idiot box” in the American vernacular. Apparently the idea that television rots the brain is universal or at least extends from the colonies to the mother country.

The episode begins with Mr. Magpie, owner of an electronics shop, is working on his ledger late at night. He is overdrawn in his account and is despondent. He lays his head on his desk and falls fast asleep. Outside,, a streak of red lightning hit’s the television antenna on his roof. He has awakened in a moment by a female voice on the screen. When he faces the television set, the red lightning streaks out and engulfs his head. Later we visit the Connely family. The father, Eddie, comes home and his son immediately begins nagging him to buy a television. Eddie says they might buy one since Queen Elizabeth is about to have her coronation and they don’t want to miss that.

The Doctor and Rose arrive in the TARDIS in full 1950’s regalia. Ironic, when you think about this being a Tenth Doctor story. The Ninth Doctor never made any effort to camouflage himself no matter what time period he and Rose visited. He always wore the black pants, black V-neck shirt, and black leather jacket--an ensemble that would have actually fit in with 1953 London. As much as he loathed humans, he’d probably resent the obsession with television, too. Missed opportunity, that. The two ride out on a scooter, thinking they are in 1957 New York to see Elvis Presley’s first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show . They quickly realize they aren’t, and when they see police dragging a person at of his home with a blanket over his head, they realize something else is wrong.

Tommy Connelly, Eddie’s son, comes out and tells Rose this has been going on for a few weeks. Everywhere, people are turning into monsters and being taken away. Tommy is called back in to the house by his angry father. Sometime later, the Doctor and Rose return to the Connelly’s posing as government agents. They get no answers from anyone, but the Doctor is sure Tommy wants to help. After cajoling, he does. Something has happened to his grandmother upstairs. The Doctor enters the grandmother’s room and finds a ghastly sight. She is standing in one spot, swaying back and forth, but her face is completely gone. Police storm the house and take the grandmother into custody.

The doctor follows and discovers a warehouse in which the police have been herding faceless people just like grandmother Connelly. The Doctor is discovered by the police and taken into custody himself. Meanwhile, Rose makes the connection, upon Tommy’s recounting of what happened to his grandmother, to investigate the television set. She notes that it came from Magpie’s store nd decides to go there. Mr. Magpie tries to shoo her away nervously, but it is too late. The woman whop appeared on the screen to him earlier appears now to Rose. The red lightning engulfs her head, too. While this is going on, the Doctor is being interrogated. The Inspector finally breaks down and confesses to the Doctor he has no idea what is going on. This is beyond anything he has ever encountered before. As he explains everything he knows to the Doctor, another policemen brings in the latest faceless victim--Rose.

On a side note here, there was an irritating plot hole. Like “Bad Wolf” last season, “Torchwood” is a running buzz word this season, referring to a UK version of the X-Files division of the FBI. It’s all supposed to lead up to a spin off series in 2007, but it bugs me that torchwood exists in 1953, the Inspector knows about it, this is right up their alley, and yet the Inspector claims he has no idea where to begin solving the problem of faceless zombies. Uh…try calling Torchwood, since that’s, you know, what they are for. The Torchwood mntion was in the background of the scene in which we first see the faceless Rose. It’s not supposed to grab oir full attention and I get the impression it was just thrown in willy nilly because every Earth based episode this season is supposed to have one regardless. It didn’t feel right to me.

The Doctor hooks up with Tommy and makes the connection between television and face being removed. They go to Magpie’s shop and encounter the woman on the screen. She calls herself The Wire. She is an alien who was executed by her race, but projected brainwaves through space to save herself. She has been “feeding” on humans through their television sets. She plans to use Magpie to boost her signal and eed on everyone watching the coronation of the Queen on television. The Doctor deduces she plans to use the tallest television tower in London to power her way across the city. H follows Magpie up the tower (interesting, considering the Fourth Doctor died doing the same thing.), grapples with Magpie, and through Tommy’s help working a jury rigged device back at Magpie’s shop, traps The Wire on a Betamax. When the wire is destroyed, everyone’s face returns and they are back to normal. At a street party in honor of the coronation, the Doctor and Rose toast as they watch Eddie, who as it turns out, ratting out the grandmother to the police, gets kicked out of his hoise. He was a jerk, yes, but not exactly a happy ending there.
“The Idiot’s Lantern” was really a paint by numbers story. Nothing significant happened and there weren’t any consequences. The writer hit the reset button at the end an everyone was back to normal as though nothing happened. Well, other than the break up of the Connelly family--an event I imagine was odd for 1950’s London. I was annoyed at the cliched manner in which The wire was disposed of. The Doctor juy rigged some ambiguous device and everything went back to normal. That kind of storytelling killed Voyager. I’d hate to see it become a habit here.

As a comic book fan, I also noted the similarities between The Wire’s origin and that of the Superman villain, Brainiac. Brainiac was a fugitive on the planet Colu who was executed for trying to overthrow its government. He projected himself through space as well, but landed in the mind of Milton Fine. Fine was a circus fortune teller who actually had some psychic abilities. Like the wire, Brainiac needed living energy to sustain Fine’s body as his physiology wasn’t compatible with Coluan bodies. Brainiac eventually succeeded, genetically growing himself a new body and returning to menace Superman and various other heroes for the last fifty years. With the fact that I am fond of Brainiac’s first story, take with a grain of salt that I thought “The Idiot’s Lantern” was just mediocre.

Rating: ** (out of 5)This was just too goofy not to post.

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