The Idiot's Lantern
Series Two, Episode Seven
Mark Gatiss is no stranger to nostalgia. The Unquiet Dead, an episode I enjoyed, had a sense of horror and excitement distinctly like Doctor Who's golden years. In The Idiot's Lantern, Gatiss once again uses nostalgia to get his creep on, reminding us uncomfortably of a time when TV programmes had titles like Watch With Mother. Thanks for that.
|Actually, never mind; I can't come up with|
anything creepier than Watch With Mother.
So, The Wire feeds on viewers' brain energy, and is so greedy that she consumes their faces as well. (Although they get them back at the end, somehow.) This is done presumably because it's less harrowing than showing lots of normal-looking people in a catatonic state; also because the Mill want to show off their CGI faceless effect; and more importantly, because you can sell more toys this way. (Because who wouldn't want the Granny Connolly With No Face action figure?) Unfortunately, as well as making absolutely no sense, this leaves the production team in a quandary. Are the faceless people scary, or not? The no-face thing is scary to look at, but they're presented as victims. However, in a scene highly reminiscent of Rose first meeting the killer shop dummies, complete with mystifying plasticky sound-effects, they're a generic zombie menace as well. It's never really clear what they're going for.
|Bet you thought I was kidding.|
On the other hand, at least it allows for some serious Doctoring. The moment Rose is de-faced, the Doctor snaps: "Now, Detective Inspector Bishop, there is no power on this Earth that can stop me!" As turning points go, it's cringily overwritten, and it suggests he doesn't really care about what's going on unless it impacts Rose... but okay. Where's it going? Simple: stand back, everyone, the Doctor's going to shout a bit!
Maybe it's just me, but it seems like the louder he gets, the less impressive he is. This is an episode full of the Doctor yammering on and acting wacky, with a silly haircut and lots of pop culture references. (The Doctor loves watching TV and listens to Kylie, because we don't want to frighten anyone by reminding them he's from another planet.) When the big change comes over him, awesome as it's clearly meant to be, all he really does is whack up the volume, put on his pouty face and brandish the sonic screwdriver some more. People listen to him as much or as little as they already did; as for his battle of wits with The Wire, all he needs to do to scare her off is produce the screwdriver. Yawntastic.
The Doctor is at his best here when he's quiet and subtle, either regarding the misogynist Mr Connolly with silent boredom, or deftly talking the police interrogater into being the interrogated. As this stuff clearly shows, throwing your Doctorly weight around ought to be about being the most influential person in the room – not, necessarily, the loudest. And it's got sod all to do with the screwdriver.
Rose has her moments, though despite her Magical Powers Of Observation she still can't deduce that someone's trying to warn her away from danger. And hey, Tennant's not bad when he's not trying quite so hard: those quiet moments really do resonate. I don't like the idea that his only investment in all this is Rose, but if it's cause for him to emote well, which he does nicely before launching on his "No one can stop me now!" monologue, then it can't be all bad.
The plot rumbles along as always, Euros Lyn tilting the camera like mad and Maureen Lipman shouting her head off, but still the whole thing leaves a resounding impression of... meh. For all those criticisms, the tenuous plot, the hit-and-miss monsters, the ironically black-and-white moralising, it's more underwhelming than terrible. This is sadly not an ideal position for something all about people being glued to their TV screens.