Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Idiot's Lantern - "Oh, you know what they say about them. Eddie, you want to beat that out of him."

The Idiot's Lantern (TV story) - Tardis Data Core, the Doctor Who Wiki

Series 2, Story 7 (Overall Series Story #173)

This is an episode I didn't much care for when it aired. I don't think I've watched it again since that first week it was on. The things I remembered it about it were the faceless victims of the 'TV lady', Ten and Rose riding a scooter, the claustrophobic studio/studio lot-bound feeling, and the arsehole dad berating his wife and son. While I still can't say I love this story, I did find myself more engaged it in this time around, and hopeful that I'll be as pleasantly surprised by how well some of the other lesser episodes of Ten's run hold up. "Fear Her", "Love & Monsters", "Daleks in Manhattan / Evolution of the Daleks", "The Lazarus Experiment", and "42", I'm looking at you.

That said, this is still a lesser episode. It still feels claustrophobic. What's more The Wire still doesn't work well as a villain -- the stealing of the faces produces a horrific effect, but makes precious little sense. That we're not really impressed by the The Wire is highlighted by how unmoved we are when Ten gets all rageface and dramatically proclaims "Because now, Detective Inspector Bishop, there is no power on this Earth that can stop me!" we shrug and know that of course he's going to save Rose and the day and that's going to look something like unplugging a TV, maybe with some dramatic sparking, but we never really feel like there's a real peril here. We, generally speaking, because he's the hero and we know that Rose isn't going to be left a faceless zombie in a mid-season story just by the structure of the show, but this one doesn't do anything special to make us feel like their might be some consequences, or that The Wire might have a sympathetic side where we might see it as a complex villain.

Also, The Doctor's terrible pompadour,that's what we call that, right? Whatever it is, it's a distractingly awful look on him.

What does work is the supporting characters. Tommy's family, dealing with Granny's facelessness, the bullying father, the put-upon wife, rise above being stereotypical plot-movers. The tension in the Connolly's marriage, and between Mr. Connolly and is more progressive-minded son, is a bit hokey around the edges, we're forcing that whole dynamic into a single 45 minute episode, but it works well enough to give Mrs. Connolly's decision to pitch him out at the end some weight. Also well enough for us to enjoy The Doctor and Rose giving Mr. Connolly a dose of his own bullying and Rose's persuading Tommy to go after him at the end to try to save their relationship.

That compassionate streak in Rose is what gives this episode the success it manages as a little family drama overlayed with an alien menace. That Tommy can be persuaded to make that effort after what we've seen of his relationship with his dad, that makes him a character with some depth as well. The quote in the title of this post was a line by one of the Connollys' neighbors, an offhand bit of homophobia followed up by Tommy's dad with the line, "That's exactly what I'm going to do." And we believe it. And we believe Tommy, who'd been tweaking his dad by pointing out the hypocrisy of hiding Gran upstairs right under the nose of the oblivious neighbors, knows he's going to catch a beating for his act of defiance against Eddie's authority. These moments provide the depth the rescue this from being forgettable.

Overall, it's not a bad bit of filler, but barely more than just that: filler. If it accomplishes anything, it's another example of Ten and Rose continuing to grow closer through adversity. He's enraged when she's harmed, and they share a tender reunion hug when she's rescued. The aggregation of these little moments ... more to come in two-parter that follows this episode ... lay the groundwork for the heartbreak of their imminent separation. But that's still a little way off ...

Random note: I'll need somebody to explain to me the context for Ten's quip that he's not surprised Jackie is a Cliff Richard fan. I gather Richard must be one of those tremendously popular pop music icons who doesn't age well, or at least not as well as early Elvis. My impression is it's like teasing someone for saying they like The Monkees more than The Beatles. If there's a better way to understand that, feel free to clue me in.

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