I remember seeing a lot of people wearing Rose Tyler’s outfit from “The Idiot’s Lantern” at Comic Con. A Tenth Doctor Doctor Who episode written by Mark Gatiss, it’d be hard to understand why young women would choose a costume that could really be a generic 50s outfit if you haven’t seen the episode or were generally acquainted with this era of Doctor Who. Watching it again last night for the first time in years, I was struck by the unusual chemistry between Doctor and Companion. They’re just so into each other, it’s adorable.
She’s so excited to be wearing that 50s dress; he’s so excited she’s so excited. She’s so excited he’s so excited that she’s so excited. Who in their right minds would mistake this for a platonic relationship? Four and Romana were kind of like this sometimes but never to this extreme. Because David Tennant and Billie Piper are so charismatic and both are particularly good at showing unvarnished enthusiasm—without being even slightly obnoxious—their mutual appreciation is a real vicarious kick for the viewer.
He’s just so dang happy to be in 1953, wow. That grin is going to split him it two.
Normally I’m not much of a fan of episodes written by Mark Gatiss but this one generally avoids his problem of writing scripts that make absolutely no sense. And the concept of televisions stealing faces from people works really well. I also like the sub-plot about the father who brags about fighting fascism in World War II only to be overbearing in his own home. The scene where his son tells him off is satisfying; “You fought against fascism, remember? People telling you how to live, who you could be friends with, who you could fall in love with. Who could live and who had to die. Don’t you get it? You were fighting so that little twerps like me could do what we want, say what we want. Now you’ve become just like them.”
Although the term “Idiot’s Lantern” obviously refers to the television—apparently coming from a term writer Gareth Roberts remembers his father using—the idea of an electronic device in everyone’s home that turns them into anonymous collaborators in a censorious mob certainly seems relevant to-day.
Another difference in the Russell T. Davies era from Steven Moffat’s is how much more frequently people died. The episode features Ron Cook guest starring as assistant to the main villain—I’d just seen him recently playing Richard III in the great BBC Television Shakespeare series from the 80s. His role is relatively small here but I like how he’s established as someone at the end of his rope financially and therefore easy prey for the malevolent spirit onscreen. Repenting near the end can’t save him in the Davies era, though, however sad it might be. I also like how that fascist dad ends up not being painted as someone who deserves to be thrown away and forgotten.
Why couldn’t Gatiss maintain this quality in his writing? Maybe Davies, as showrunner, generously edited the script to “Idiot’s Lantern”. Whoever’s responsible, it’s a good episode.