Doctor Who 2.7: The Idiot’s Lantern review

Review

The Idiot’s LanternThe Idiot's Lantern review

The Doctor: “It’s never too late”, as a wise person once said. Kylie I think.

Production Code: 2.7.
Doctor Who Season: S28 (Ep7).
Story Number: 173.

A curious one this…

picsCurious, when considered as part of the whole of the season. Rose’s idea, that travelling with the Doctor is a right old laugh – firmly established at the start of New Earth – slowly disintegrates over the course of the first six episodes. This seventh episode though has the return of the breezy attitude the duo displayed at the start of Tooth and Claw, except this time they’re diverted from an Elvis music gig rather than a Ian Dury music gig. (They seem to regard the TARDIS as a means to sample the musical delights of the 20th Century. Contrast this with, say, the First Doctor’s initial season when it was the only and desparate and perilous way to get the companions back to their own time on Earth.)

Also like Tooth and Claw there’s the theme of “Queen and country” – though they were planning on going to see to The King. (In New York.)

There’s a definite arc to the relationship of the Tenth Doctor and Rose over the fourteen episodes of Christmas and this season, though this episode almost stands apart from the increasing turbulent angst of the previous episodes (and the next story). It has the air of a traditional Classic Doctor Who – rare for this season there are no grand returns of old characters; no monsters filtered through the sensibilty of the 21st Century. Just a one-off monster that’s vanquished.

Classic Doctor Who providing a story that was both set in the second half of the 20th Century and wasn’t a contemporary story (Doctor Who itself being broadcast across the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties) didn’t happen very often. So this Fifties set story recalls the McCoy era (one era that did this sort of “recent history thing), the Fifties-set Delta and the Bannermen, and with its vague mutterings on the dangers of Fascism, Remembrance of the Daleks.

picsAs with the subtext-heavy McCoy era, there seems – seems – to be some subtext bubbling under the surface. Rose with her anachronistic outfit is a herald of the new Rock ‘n’ Roll spirit (thanks to the Doctor getting them to earlier time of the 1950s than intended – 1953). There seems to be something staid and warping even of the idea of “Queen and country” on society, if the example of Eddie is anything to go by, he’s more interested in displaying flags correctly (as Rose browbeats him mockingly over this) than acting kindly to his wife and child. The character of Eddie is unpleasant and unsympathetic but the way the Doctor and Rose berate him – knowing less than the audience do of his unpleasant ways – doesn’t exactly make the audience sympathise with them either.

Later though “Queen and country” though is shown as a good thing, as happy, more-reasonable-than-Eddie people gather under the Union Flag bunting at the street party. So Rose isn’t about to upset the tables of revellers by mocking their bunting – that street party is later though. A more interesting plot-thread perhaps than The Wire’s alien-of-the-week appearances is how the society prepares for the street party, the Big Event; how it reacts to these faceless people amongst them created by The Wire.

The squads of people on a mission to clear the streets of undesirables – something that almost happened in real life before the last big Royal Event for the UK, the wedding of Will and Kate (Cameron “wanted the peace camp removed before the wedding”, link to Guardian newspaper article). Prime Minister Cameron also conjured up his own non-existant bogeyman to rail against, imaginary red tape that would somehow stop the bunting and street-parties that celebrating the event.

These centuries-old celebrations of the Majesty of the Crown, the Royal Wedding, the Coronation of 1953 obviously are ties to the past, though one of the most interesting elements of the story is the suggestion that 1953 was the dawn of a new age – at the end it spells it out, “New monarch, new age, new world, no room for a man like Eddie Connelly?”

picsThough more subtly too with The Wire dragging Magpie into this new age of technology:

“I just want things back like they used to be.”

“But this world of yours is busy, busy, busy. Forging ahead into a brand new age. You can never go back. That’s your tragedy.”

The actual plot-mechanics of the story means the horde of “monsters” can be “switched off” if the Doctor can only make it to a transmitter – this is the basic shape of the resolution of quite a few Doctor Who stories of 2005 and 2006. It’s the interesting layers of social commentary which mean this slightly more than a good Doctor Who story.

“New monarch, new age, new world, no room for a man like Eddie Connelly?” as well as pointing up the stepping into the second, new, half of the century also go some way towards making Rose and the Doctor more sympathetic to the audience, as they seem more tolerant and understanding so maybe there is a character-arc progression from Tooth and Claw after all?

Rating: 3/5
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(The Idiot’s Lantern on bbc.co.uk/programmes/)

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