Saturday, 23 January 2010
Doctor Who: The Idiot's Lantern
“I am talking!”
“And I’m not listening!”
The teaser gives us some dialogue about television rotting your brain and ends with it seemingly about to happen to this Magpie chap- how very metatextual.
The Doctor and Rose exit the TARDIS all dresses up for Elvis at Las Vegas, complete with Vespa, and discover they are in fact in London, 1953. It’s a good joke but it immediately highlights one of the unfortunate things about the story; Britain in the ‘50s seems to have been a rather visually dull place (or so popular culture and documentary footage leads me to believe) and unfortunately come off on screen as exactly that. It’s one of a couple of things which prevent what is in fact an excellent script from coming off as well as it deserves.
It’s established early on that there’s an unpleasant undercurrent in the Connolly family. The balance is struck about right, with an emphasis on Eddie Connolly’s controlling tendencies rather than any actual physical violence. Lines such as “Forget that college nonsense” are effective enough. It’s also an interesting look back from, inevitably, a modern perspective at some of the assumptions and prejudices of the ‘50s English working class: the underlying homophobia; the suspicion of education; the obsession with “what the neighbours think”. It’s just a pity that the performances here are somewhat weak.
In fact, Tennant and Piper aside, the only performance to really impress here is that of Maureen Lipman as the Wire, whose delivery of her lines is fantastic. This is a great idea for a villain, although the name “The Wire” now instantly makes me think of McNulty and Bubble and Omar, which it certainly didn’t do at the time.
It all rattles along very quickly and it’s good fun, which is pretty much down to the script, although not always realised effectively. The big reveal of the grandmother with no face should in theory have been the dramatic centrepiece of the episode, but there’s something in the execution which doesn’t quite come off. There are some well-constructed scenes, such as the reversal of roles between the Doctor and the Detective Inspector and the scene in which Eddie Connolly is revealed to have been an informer; suddenly, his authority ebbs away and his wife gains the courage to reject him, seeming a lot happier and more confident afterwards. But the strength of the writing never seems to translate effectively to the screen, and I’m not sure why.
The ending’s very effective- a bit like Logopolis, only better- and I like the effect of a television switching off as the Wire dies. Death by Betamax, indeed. I suppose the question of the social stigma surrounding divorce at the time is brushed under the carpet somewhat as Rita and Eddie Connolly are obviously separating, but given the context and the light-hearted nature of the episode it feels right that it should be that way.
The script really deserves better- it could even have got a 5/5 with better performances- but overall I can’t really give this more than a 3/5.