‘I am talking!’ In principle, I really like the idea of a Doctor Who story that throws together a melange of images and influences from classic telefantasy: Quatermass sci-fi; Sapphire and Steel faceless people; Nineteen Eighty-Four style informants and TVs that stare back. Even the Wire feels like it’s referencing old series monsters, like Eldrad: ‘They executed me. But I escaped in this form and fled across the stars.’ The reason why Doctor Who stands out is because it can juxtapose all of these styles with entirely different genres, creating something new from the alchemy. The problem with The Idiot’s Lantern is that it doesn’t have anything to catalyse its influences and homages, and so nothing new emerges. Instead, we get something even more straightforward than The Unquiet Dead.
Euros Lyn does his best to inject some style into it: the Dutch tilts that suggest something’s gone horrible wrong in the Connolly household, for example. The production design looks convincingly like 1953. I like the hook of the Coronation (and the rise of mass television consumption – a nice follow-up to Rise of the Cybermen’s new tech adoption). But the story itself is insubstantial, and it seems that the actors aren’t on the same page. Jamie Foreman’s turn is mannered and big, while Ron Cook is doing a naturalistic, beaten-down performance. Even Tennant seems a bit at sea with it, doing that thing where he shouts his lines through gritted teeth that I tend to associate with him not coming up with anything more interesting on the day.
Which isn’t exactly surprising: the Doctor and Rose’s material is hardly a challenge for Tennant or Piper. I suggested in The Age of Steel that their characterisation for the rest of Series Two is basically in a holding pattern until the finale. I was thinking of this. Their big moment is bursting into Eddie Connolly’s house and smugly humiliating him in front of his wife and son: fair enough, he’s a vile man, but I’m not sure this is entirely helpful. I suppose it’s meant to prompt Rita to split from her husband, and to prevent Tommy from being victimised by his father, but the end of the episode seems to backtrack from the way Eddie’s painted as a quasi-Fascist as the Doctor and Rose encourage Tommy to go after him. This is strangely ambivalent: either Cardiff thought that the notion of the Doctor breaking up families was a bit much, or the message is “he’s your dad and you can always cover one till he blacks the other one”.
Ultimately, I’m not sure what point this is trying to make. I suspect it isn’t trying to make much of a point at all, its purpose is to amuse, simply to amuse. Nothing serious, nothing political. Which it passably does. It’s the least interesting modern episode so far.
Grandma Connolly sits down to watch her new TV and is attacked by something from inside the set. It’s really well done, with the camera in a Wire’s-eye view, watching the installation engineer and grandma in black and white, before its tendrils emerge and it pushes forward into colour. The best one yet.
Next Time: The Impossible Planet