After the big Tom MacRae “Rise Of The Cybermen”-”The Age Of Steel” two-parter, Mark Gatiss’ “The Idiot’s Lantern” seemed more underwhelming than overwhelming. While too many plots were happening in the former, there didn’t really seem to be a plot with the latter – or at least one that was tied to everything well enough.
This time around, The Doctor (David Tennant) and Rose (Billie Piper) land in 50’s London just in time for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. Meanwhile, a man named Mr. Magpie (Ron Cook) was asked by an entity known as The Wire (Maureen Lipman) to spread televisions all over London — its purpose: to feed off the energy of human brains via the television so that it would take a corporal form. The entity plot should have a familiar ring to it as Gatiss was behind Series 1’s “The Unquiet Dead.” Unfortunately, this one adds on more than its plot should need.
For instance, Charles Dickens (Simon Callow) was a wonderful supporting character in TUD. It also gives some insight into the Doctor’s interests (he’s said to be a fan of Dickens), which don’t always involve saving the world. For TIL, we get Mr. Magpie, the owner of a television store who wasn’t making a lot of money off of it. That’s about the sum of what we get to know about the character until he’s zapped and possessed by The Wire’s magic. If that’s not enough, we get a dysfunctional family as one of the many victims of the Wire’s plan.
Eddie (Jamie Foreman, who closely resembles Oliver Hardy), his son Tommy (Rory Jennings), and his wife Rita (Debra Gillett) end up hiding their grandmother (Margaret John) in a room upstairs because she’s been affected by their new television set. Apparently, it sucked all of her face clean off except the skin. If I were the Doctor, I would have never given their family a hand unless they got rid of Eddie. In just about every scene, he went from blubbering to emotionally abusive within seconds. I know this isn’t the Pertwee era, but if I were writing that episode, I would have slugged him (it would have also been a nice nod to the classic series without guest appearances or old villains).
After it was discovered that Eddie was placing people who were without a face in police custody (including his own Grandma), Tommy and Rita both disown him (with shouting and more shouting, some crying included). What happens next was a tad nonsensical. The Doctor and Rose both tell Tommy to go to his father to console him as he leaves their house. Why? The man was a jerk and forgiveness is hard to come by when you’ve been treated that way for a while. I guess I would have appreciated the family sub-plot if it’d had a bit more to do with the main plot.