The Good: Make-up? Nothing, really.
The Bad: Dull plot, Creep-out moments fizzle, No real character development, Unremarkable acting
The Basics: One of the worst episodes since the reboot, “The Idiot’s Lantern” is a Doctor Who fail!
In all television shows, there are some episodes that do not live up to the standards of the rest. I find that to be especially true when it comes to horror-based television. In the attempt to creep people out, sometimes executive producers put mood so far in front of sensibility, character development and continuity that they let episodes out that are very much substandard. In Doctor Who’s long history, there have been some duds, but since being rebooted, no episode fell quite as hard as “The Idiot’s Lantern.”
“The Idiot’s Lantern” might have been an average “creature of the week” episode of Doctor Who, but the episode flops on all fronts. What is supposed to be scary comes across as goofy, the villains are generic and there is no real character development. In fact, by “The Idiot’s Lantern,” there is such a sense of formula to the stories being told in the rebooted Doctor Who that the tension goes right out the window the moment that Rose is put into real jeopardy. In other words, “The Idiot’s Lantern” is “that kind of episode” and when Rose is put into mortal peril, the episode pretty much writes itself and the episode does not deviate from exactly what one expects.
Landing in 1953, Rose and The Doctor have plans to see Elvis perform on The Ed Sullivan Show, but the pair arrives in London instead of New York City. Witnessing someone being taken away, presumably crazy, the Doctor and Rose chase the police car to what appears to be a dead end. Given that a neighborhood boy warned Rose and The Doctor about “monsters,” Rose and the Doctor turn back to try to interview the locals. The local television distributor is being tormented by a woman on the television, who tells Magpie what to do. After ordering around the Connolly family, the Doctor and Rose discover that Grandma Connolly is stuck in the attic, faceless.
When Grandma Connolly is taken away, the Doctor follows the police inspectors to where they have corralled all of the faceless victims. The Doctor discovers that Detective Inspector Bishop, who is leading the herding of victims, has no idea what is going on. Rose, however, investigates Magpie’s television shop, where Magpie is selling televisions dirt cheap. Rose is attacked by the Wire, the woman on television, who talks to her and then removes her face. When The Doctor learns that Rose has been afflicted, he begins hunting down those responsible.
In “The Idiot’s Lantern,” The Doctor is vengeful and surprisingly abrasive. Well before he discovers that there is actually a problem in London, The Doctor barks orders to the Connolly’s in an uncharacteristically loud and confrontational way. This trend lasts the entire episode and it makes for an episode where The Doctor seems much more ridiculous than determined. Even David Tennant cannot save the episode; it’s cringeworthy when he shouts “Tommy!” right into the face of his young ally near the climax of the episode.
But the thing with “The Idiot’s Lantern” is that it is nonsensical and treats the audience like idiots. Will Rose be killed in this type of episode? Absolutely not. It’s just not that kind of television series. So, the moment Rose’s face gets taken, the viewer who has seen any Doctor Who at all knows that the episode will resolve itself with all of the victims of The Wire simply getting restored, no consequences.
The malevolent Wire is a fairly ridiculous villain and it is never made clear why she can only use faces to create a corporeal form. Moreover, in making a creepy looking effect of the Wire’s villainy, Doctor Who sacrifices any real sensibility. With no faces, there is no way for the victims of The Wire to breathe. The Wire should have been killing all of the humans she came in contact with through the television.
Lacking genuine character development, populating the episode with substandard and inconsistent performances and setting the Doctor and Rose on a simplistic adventure that is so predictable that it has to be padded with a subplot involving a family that has no real connection with the rest of the series (or emotional connection with the audience), makes “The Idiot’s Lantern” one of the few episodes of Doctor Who that is entirely unwatchable.
[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Doctor Who - The Complete Second Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the debut season of the Tenth Doctor here!
For other Doctor Who episode and movie reviews, please visit my Doctor Who Review Index Page!
© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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