Doctor Who : The Idiot’s Lantern

February 26, 2014 in Dr Who by Firebird


A man, Mr Magpie sits behind the counter of a 1950s TV shop doing his accounts. In the background a female announcer closes the day’s broadcast and the national anthem starts to play. Magpie is £200 overdrawn (a lot in those days) and needs a miracle.

In the front room of their house the Cooper family mum (Rita), son (Tommy) and gran are listening to the radio. Dad (Eddie) walks in (sporting an impressive collection of medals on his chest) and Tommy asks again if they can get a television. Maybe for the Coronation.

Back at the TV shop a strange bolt of red lightning hits the TV ariel and Magpie is woken by a voice. It seems to be the female announcer we saw earlier, but she’s talking directly to him. Red energy beams emerge from the TV and start to pull Magpie’s face into it while the woman laughs.


The Doctor and Rose emerge from the TARDIS, she’s in full 50s attire, a pink dress with loads of petticoats, he’s dressed as normal but comes out riding a scooter. They’re meant to be going to the Ed Sullivan Theatre to see Elvis, but Rose spots the one small flaw in the plan. Red double decker bus, red post box, union flags everywhere. They’re rather obviously not in New York.


Rita, Eddie and Tommy sit watching Muffin the Mule but only Eddie seems to be enjoying himself, the others look worried. Rita wants to know what happened to ‘her’ face.

Out in the street the Doctor and Rose meet Mr Magpie who’s busy delivering TVs ready for the Coronation (Queen Elizabeth II as it’s 1953). The Doctor is delighted, it’s a brilliant year. But then a woman cries for help and they see a figure covered with a blanket being bundled out of a nearby house by two men in black suites. Another man tells them it’s police business but Tommy says that it’s happening all over, people are turning into monsters. His father orders him back inside.

Never one to stand by the Doctor jumps on his scooter and gives chase but looses them thanks to a sneaky bit of scenery moving by the mysterious men in black. Rose suggests that they go back and ask the neighbours.


Mr Magpie has finished making something that the woman in the TV wanted. He begs her to leave him, even his memories burn.

At the family’s house Tommy goes upstairs to check on his gran but Eddie catches him and takes the key to the locked room. It’s clear that Eddie is not a very nice man, he shouts and bullies both his wife and son. The doorbell rings and there are the Doctor and Rose at the door, both all bright and cheerful and pretending to be government inspectors. The Doctor takes some pleasure in making Eddie put up the flags that he’d just been shouting at his wife about. Then they start talking to Rita, telling her that they can help if she just tells them what’s wrong. She starts to cry. Eddie tries to assert his authority only to find himself toe to toe with a very angry Doctor. Then they hear the tap, tapping from upstairs.

Tommy explains that people having been changing. Their families try to hide it because they’re afraid, but somehow the police find out and turn up, any time of the day or night and take them. “Show me” the Doctor says. The all go upstairs to see gran. She has no face. The Doctor scans her with his screwdriver and declares that her brain has been wiped clean.


Suddenly they hear the front door being broken in. The Doctor asks Tommy what she was doing just before it happened, but he’s interrupted by the men in black. One of them knocks him cold before he has a chance to explain why they should listen to him. In the commotion the men cover gran and drag her away with Eddie helping them.

The Doctor recovers in time to give chase but Rose notices red energy crawling all over the TV and goes to investigate. This time the Doctor spots what’s been done and goes around the side of the building to break in. He finds a cage containing more faceless people but before he can learn much he’s discovered.

Rose has gone to Magpie Electrical’s to investigate. Magpie tries to get her to leave, but she won’t listen. One of the TVs comes alive with the woman saying “Hungry, hungry!”. Magpie says it’s nothing. Rose wants to know why he’s been selling TVs so cheaply and he gives a rather unconvincing little speech about it being his patriotic duty. Rose isn’t buying it, she knows that the TVs he’s been selling are connected to the changes. The woman on the TV starts talking to Rose. She asks, “what are you?” “I’m The Wire, and I’m Hungry!” and with that she steals Rose’s face.


The Doctor is being interrogated by Detective Inspector Bishop, only the tables soon turn and it’s the Doctor asking the questions because Bishop really has no idea what’s going on or what to do. The latest victim is delivered, it’s Rose and the Doctor is furious.


Friends and family are gathered at the Cooper household to watch the coronation. Tommy goes to answer the door and it’s the Doctor and DI Bishop. Eddie tries to stop him talking to them by Tommy finally realises who it was ratted out his gran and makes a little speech about fascism and calls his father a coward. Rita comes to the door and asks if it’s true, did he really report on their friends and her mother? He tries to defend himself to justify what he did, but nobody seems very impressed. Rita tells Tommy to go with the Doctor and do some good and then shuts the door on Eddie.

The Doctor, DI Bishop and Tommy break into Magpie’s where they find the device he’d made for The Wire, a portable TV, and the stollen faces crying silently for help from screens in the shop.


Magpie walks in and the Doctor demands to know who’s behind all this. The Wire replies, she tells Tommy that she will gobble him up and when she has feasted she will regain the corporal body which her fellow kind denied her. As she tries to consume all three of them the Doctor manages to get out his screwdriver. While they lay unconscious The Wire transfers into the portable TV and orders Magpie to transport her to her victory.

The Doctor realises that they’re heading to the biggest transmitter in London, Alexandra Palace, which The Wire intends to use as a giant receiver to feed on the 20 million people expected to watch the Coronation. With Tommy’s help he collects components from the shop and then they head off to the transmitter.

Magpie climbs the aerial with The Wire goading him on. Soon the Doctor follows, trailing a copper cable back to the equipment which Tommy has been left in charge of. The Wire starts to feed.


Magpie begs for peace so she kills him. The Doctor plugs the copper cable into the TV but something downstairs explodes and The Wire gloats that his plans seems to have gone wrong. Luckily Tommy is a smart lad and replaces the blown component. The Wire is dragged screaming from the TV. Across the city people are released from her grip and the faceless people in the cage are restored too.

The Doctor just invented the home video 30 years early and trapped The Wire on a tape. Betamax.

Tommy is reunited with his gran, the Doctor with Rose and Rita gives Eddie his marching orders. There’s a street party in full swing as Eddie leaves. Rose tells Tommy to run after him, he’s clever enough to save the world “so don’t stop there”. He does.

A nice little stand alone episode, with authentic period details and I thought Maureen Lipman made an excellent villain.

Darth_Namialus : An interesting and fun episode but not something extremely strong or memorable. But all the characters in this one were written nicely and made for a fun, character-driven, Rose/Ten adventure.

One aspect of this episode I liked was its setting. 1950s Britain, nothing crazy but nothing extremely significant. (Well, the significance depends on your POV) I think Rose shined in this episode (especially when compared to the last few), when she went to investigate Magpie alone and her little conversation with Eddie about women. (which made me LOL 😆 ) Tommy was a fun addition to the group and so was Eddie, even though he was horrible. The Wire was also interesting, especially with what she really meant…

There is an interesting message behind this episode, in my opinion. It’s set when televisions are new and slowly coming in and the villain herself wants to control people through TV itself. There are lots of messages in Doctor Who overall but this one stands out as different – people are being controlled through television, which is basically the ”media.” Mirrors what is currently happening.

Overall, although not a very emotional or epic story, this episode still stands out as a strong story of Series 2. 8/10