The Idiot's Lantern

The Idiot's Lantern

Infobox Doctor Who episode
serial_name= The Idiot's Lantern

caption=The Wire claims Mr. Magpie, the owner of a shop which sells the televisions she inhabits.
doctor=David Tennant (Tenth Doctor)
companion=Billie Piper (Rose Tyler)
* Maureen Lipman – The Wire
* Ron Cook – Mr. Magpie
* Jamie Foreman – Eddie Connolly
* Debra Gillett – Rita Connolly
* Rory Jennings – Tommy Connolly
* Margaret John – Grandma Connolly
* Sam Cox – Detective Inspector Bishop
* Ieuan Rhys – Crabtree
* Jean Challis – Aunty Betty
* Christopher Driscoll – Security Guard
* Marie Lewis – Mrs Gallagher
writer=Mark Gatiss
director=Euros Lyn
script_editor=Simon Winstone
producer=Phil Collinson
executive_producer=Russell T Davies
Julie Gardner
length= 45 minutes
date=27 May, 2006
preceding="The Age of Steel"
following="The Impossible Planet"
series=Series 2
series_link=Series 2 (2006)|
"The Idiot's Lantern" is an episode in the British science fiction television series "Doctor Who". It was first broadcast on May 27, 2006.


In 1953 London, the police are abducting people from their homes. The people of Britain gather around their new-fangled "tele-vision" sets to celebrate the new Queen's coronation — but something strange is affecting the signal.


In the middle of a rain storm, Mr Magpie, the owner of Magpie Electricals, does his books while on the black and white television set in the background a female continuity announcer speaks. Outside, odd pink lightning strikes the television aeriel, and she begins speaking to him. More of the lightning grabs hold of his face, and pulls him at the screen towards the announcer (pictured above).

The Doctor and Rose soon land the TARDIS nearby, intending to see an Elvis Presley concert, but then realise that they have landed in London rather than in New York, on the day before the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Meanwhile, a family named the Connollys watch television in their house, while the mother, Rita, worries about the grandmother, saying something about her face. Rose and the Doctor pass by a house and see a man covered by a blanket being loaded into a police van. Tommy, the Connolly boy, comes out to see what is happening, and says that people are turning into monsters all over the street. His father, Eddie, drags him back into the house. Curious, the Doctor uses his psychic paper to pose as a representative from the government, and he and Rose enter the Connollys' house.

Tommy takes them to the grandmother's room. Her face is gone, completely devoid of any features. Scanning her with his sonic screwdriver, the Doctor finds barely any neural activity left, like someone has wiped her brain clean. Suddenly the police burst into the house, knock out the Doctor, and take the grandmother away. Rose is accidentally left behind as the Doctor gives chase, and discovers pink lightning on the Connollys' television before Eddie chases her out. Going to Magpie's shop to investigate, Rose encounters the television announcer, who introduces herself as the Wire, and steals Rose's face as well.

Meanwhile, the Doctor discovers where the faceless people are taken, but is interrupted by the police. He manages to persuade the police to let him help, just as the faceless Rose is brought in. The Doctor and a policeman go to the Connollys' house where the enlist the help of Tommy. They rush to Magpie's shop and break in. The Wire appears on the screen, and says her people executed her, but she managed to escape in the form of the lightning. Once she has devoured enough minds, she will be able to regain her true form, and is planning to use a large transmitter to access all of the houses in London. She attempts to consume Tommy, the Doctor, and the policeman, but when the Doctor attempts to use the sonic screwdriver, she realises he is armed and "withdraws". Transferring herself to a small portable television, Magpie brings the set to his van, and drives off towards the Alexandra Palace transmitter.

The Doctor and Tommy awaken and gather various machinery before following. As the nation watches the Coronation on television, Magpie climbs up towards the transmitter tower, the Wire urging him on. The Doctor and Tommy fool their way past a guard with the psychic paper and reach the control room at Alexandra Palace, plugging in the device they have built. The Doctor tells Tommy to leave it switched on as he grabs a coil of copper cable from a shelf and heads for the tower, trailing the cable all the way.

The Doctor climbs after Magpie, but Magpie plugs the portable set into the tower, and the lightning arcs out across London as the Wire begins to feast on everyone watching the coronation. The Wire kills Magpie, just before the Doctor plugs in the cable and the tendrils of energy are drawn back into the tower, releasing her intended victims and restoring her previous ones. The Doctor reveals to Tommy that he has trapped her in a video cassette recorder, and recorded her onto a Betamax cassette, which he later explains to Rose he will record over to remove her permanently.

After the Doctor and Tommy reunite with Tommy's grandmother and Rose, Rita throws Eddie out of the house, and the Doctor and Rose pause to enjoy the festivities for a while before leaving as well.

Cast notes

*Ron Cook, who plays Magpie, starred alongside Sophia Myles, "The Girl in the Fireplace"'s Madame de Pompadour, as Parker in the 2004 film "Thunderbirds".
*Margaret John, who plays Grandma Connolly, also played Megan Jones in the Second Doctor serial "Fury from the Deep" (1968).
*Maureen Lipman, who plays the Wire, was married to the scriptwriter Jack Rosenthal, who wrote the 1986 television drama "The Fools on the Hill", which covered the first days of television at Alexandra Palace.
*One of the little girls in the living room, towards the end of the episode, was played by Lara Phillipart, who would later go on to play Jasmine Pierce in Torchwood episode "Small Worlds".


*The story is set at the time of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, due to its significance as the first key event televised across Britain and can therefore be definitively dated as taking place on June 1 and June 2, 1953. According to a report in "The Daily Mirror" newspaper, Queen Elizabeth is a fan of the new series of "Doctor Who", and requested DVDs of the 2005 series during her summer stay at Balmoral. [ [ Showbiz News, Entertainment News, Celebrity News - ] ] Elizabeth II appears here in archive footage; she previously appeared (played by an impersonator) in the Seventh Doctor story "Silver Nemesis" (1988). According to a late 1980s interview with former "Doctor Who" producer John Nathan-Turner published in "Doctor Who Magazine", an attempt was made to get the Queen herself to appear in "Silver Nemesis" but the plan fell through.
*Jackie Tyler is revealed to be a fan of Cliff Richard. The Doctor talks about Elvis Presley and Ed Sullivan and later refers to Kylie Minogue's 1989 hit "Never Too Late". Minogue herself later appears in the 2007 Christmas special "Voyage of the Damned" as Astrid Peth.
*As the Doctor examines the blank-faced Rose, Bishop says in the background that this will get "Torchwood on our backs, and no mistake."
*The Wire's use of the television signal as a means of feeding is comparable to Gatiss's Eighth Doctor audio play "Invaders from Mars" for Big Finish Productions. It involved alien invaders using Orson Welles's infamous radio broadcast of "The War of the Worlds" as a conduit to a real invasion.
*Just before the Doctor climbs Alexandra Palace, the script originally included a line alluding to the Doctor's fear of transmitter towers because he "fell off one once", a reference to the Fourth Doctor's death at the end of "Logopolis".
*The Sixth and Eighth Doctors also trap creatures on recording mediums in the Big Finish Productions audio plays "Whispers of Terror" and "The Horror of Glam Rock", respectively, though those creature were made of sentient sound.
* Magpie's television sets later appear as a set element in the spin-off series "Torchwood". ["'Yes, they're Mr Magpie's TVs,' says our set guide, production designer Edward Thomas. 'His son eventually took over the business and Jack has sourced three televisions from his shop. The TVs are scanning for signals.'" "Base Notes". (28 October – 3 November 2006) "Radio Times", p. 10] The company survives to the 21st century, as Martha Jones' television is revealed, in "The Sound of Drums", to be manufactured or rented by Magpie Electricals.


*"The Idiot's Lantern" is written by "The League of Gentlemen" co-writer Mark Gatiss, who also wrote the Ninth Doctor episode "The Unquiet Dead" as well as several spin-off audios and novels. He also starred in the 2007 episode "The Lazarus Experiment" as Dr Richard Lazarus, making him the first writer of the new series to also star in the show.
* The title of the episode was suggested by writer Gareth Roberts, who recalled the term being used by his father to refer to television.cite journal
author = Andrew Pixley
year = 2006
title = The Idiot's Lantern
journal = Doctor Who Special Edition #14 — The Doctor Who Companion: Series Two
pages = 62–69
*This episode is notable for its heavily stylised cinematography, with extensive use of static Dutch angles. The still included at the head of this article is an example.
*Most of the action in this episode takes place on the fictional Florizel Street, on which the Connolly family live. "Florizel Street" was a working title for the British soap opera "Coronation Street", first broadcast in 1960. One shot of Florizel Street during the Wire's transmission of signals resembles a shot of Coronation Street from the opening sequence of that series; it is unclear whether this is intentional or coincidental.
*The episode is set in the Muswell Hill area of London, and second-unit photography was conducted around Alexandra Palace but Doctor Who productions are Cardiff-based. The exterior of Magpie's shop was filmed on Mafeking Terrace, Tredegar and the street sign can be seen as the Doctor leaves the shop.
*The game associated with this episode, the "Magpie Online Archive" is a "file sharing application" in which the player must search through various clips of BBC television history to look for messages left behind by the Wire. Unlike earlier games, it is only accessible through the BBC "Doctor Who" website.

Historical details

*"What's My Line?", which began in 1951 on UK television, is mentioned by the continuity announcer in the pre-credits sequence.
*The "Bat's Wings ident" is seen on the television sets in this episode, but that particular ident did not see use until 2 December 1953, six months after this episode is set. Although the ident is seen the BBC logo is never shown clearly. The reason for this is not clear.
*Rose scolds Mr Connolly for not knowing the difference between the Union Jack and the Union Flag. However, this is an urban legend, which was debunked on Radio 4's "Today" programme. The original 1902 naval regulation states that the flag can be referred to by either name on land. Rose herself refers to the flag as the Union Jack in "The Empty Child".
*Another historical error is that it is sunny in London at the end of this episode, whereas it was actually raining on Coronation Day.
* "Muffin the Mule", clips of which feature in this episode, was also mentioned in the 1999 Doctor Who Night sketch, "The Pitch of Fear", which was also written by Mark Gatiss.
*The phrase, "Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin," was popularised by the 1950–1982 BBC Radio series "Listen with Mother", which began each episode with those words. The Wire uses a paraphrase of this when first speaking to Magpie. Another paraphrased version was said by the Doctor at the beginning of "School Reunion". The phrase "Goodnight children, everywhere," used by the Wire as she feeds on Rose, was the catchphrase of "Children's Hour" presenter Derek McCulloch.
*The number plate on the Doctor's scooter would not appear for another twelve years, as the "D" suffix denotes that it was registered in 1966. The letter suffix was not introduced until 1963, when the suffix was "A". This is explained when the Doctor gives it away, saying "Best keep it in the garage for a few years". As it came out the TARDIS, it has obviously travelled back in time. Magpie's van features the period-correct number-plating, though the area identifier indicates the van was registered in Birmingham rather than London.
*The normal price for a Pye television set in 1953, including installation, was about £70, compared with the £5 Magpie was selling them for as part of the Wire's plan. [ [ Your Place And Mine - Topics - Arts - Window on the World ] ]
*Throughout the story, several later developments in television technology are alluded to and shown: colour television, portable televisions, and video recording.
*The Doctor states that the psychic paper has told the security guard that the Doctor is the King of Belgium. However, respecting the tradition that European heads of state did not attend a monarch's coronation, the King in fact stayed away and sent his brother HRH the Prince of Liège to represent Belgium at the ceremony instead. (A strong controversy had arisen in Belgium when the King declined to attend King George VI's funeral, and most had expected him to attend the coronation.) []

Ratings and DVD release

*Overnight viewing figures for the initial broadcast of this episode were 6.32 million, peaking at 7.78 million, an audience share of 32.2%. The final rating was 6.76 million, making it the most watched programme of the day. []
*This episode was released as a basic DVD with no special features in the UK on 10 July 2006, together with "Rise of the Cybermen" and "The Age of Steel".


External links

* [ "are you sitting comfortably"] - episode trailer
* [ Episode commentary by Ron Cook, Louise Page and Sheelagh Wells] (MP3)
* [ "The Idiot's Lantern" episode homepage]
*BBCDWnew | year=2006 | id=idiotslantern | title= The Idiot's Lantern
*Brief| id=2006g | title=The Idiot's Lantern|quotes=y
*Doctor Who RG| id=who_tv17 | title=The Idiot's Lantern|quotes=y
*OG|2006-07|The Idiot's Lantern|quotes=y
* episode|id=588117|title=The Idiot's Lantern
* [,,1696025,00.html Maureen Lipman discusses filming this episode in "The Guardian"]


*OG review| id=2006-07 | title=The Idiot's Lantern|quotes=y
*DWRG| id=lantern | title=The Idiot's Lantern|quotes=y

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