Doctor Who s02e07: Idiot’s Lantern

Idiot's LanternA review by Nalini Haynes
  • Director: Euros Lyn
  • Writer: Mark Gatiss
  • Stars: David Tennant, Billie Piper, Maureen Lipman

TRIGGER WARNING: domestic violence

In this Twilight Zone-esque episode, the Doctor (David Tennant) and Rose (Billie Piper) arrive dressed for a 1950s Elvis concert in New York, complete with moped, only to realize they’re in 1950s London instead.

Unable to resist having a look around, the Doctor and Rose discover London is preparing for Queen Elizabeth’s coronation. Preparations include hiding shameful family relatives who’ve turned into faceless, mindless zombies.

Televisions are taking off in 1950s London, selling for 5 pound each (about $10). Suspicious, the Doctor and Rose start investigating. The title of this episode, ‘Idiot’s Lantern’, is an old nick-name for televisions, which are also derided by Grandma Connolly.

There could be fewer close-ups of Rose to speed up the story but I like the zest, costumes and the play on the era.

Eddie Connolly, an abusive man, screaming ‘Don’t interrupt me, I’m speaking’ even when he wasn’t, detracted significantly from the story. Eddie struts around, demanding precedence from his family – his mother-in-law, wife and son – in all things. Eddie is an arrogant, self-important martinet whose abuse was insignificant to the story; the abuse seemed to be included as filler and historical ambiance.

[End-of-episode spoiler alert]

Tommy’s aunt suggests that Eddie beat Tommy to change his attitude. Eddie threatens to do just that, in front of the entire (surviving) family.

At the close of the episode, Rose tells Tommy to take responsibility for ‘saving’ his abusive father. Victims should never be assigned this responsibility for their abusers. I suspect this was intended to inject ‘heart’ into the story but it detracted significantly from what was otherwise a fun historical romp.

[Spoiler ends]

The Doctor and Rose take center stage in this story as is usual in New Who, contrasting with Classic Who where the Doctor and his companion were often investigators, sharing roughly equal screen time with other characters. Although I prefer the style of Classic Who, this dynamic worked well for this episode because the surrounding characters were quite drab in comparison to the Doctor and Rose.

Although a fairly simple story, I appreciated ‘Idiot’s Lantern’ for its buoyancy, flair and historical accuracy alongside its intentional historical inaccuracy. I’m sure those who remember the 1950s will appreciate this episode as will 1950s fans.

I’m giving ‘Idiot’s lantern’   3.5 stars 3 1/2 stars.

My review copy is part of the Doctor Who series 1 – 4 box set on bluray; thanks to Roadshow.