Forever to be remembered by a nation of kiddies as ?he one with the scary TV? Mark Gatiss?second script for new DOCTOR WHO, ?he Idiot? Lantern? was a significant improvement on the tiresome, empty bombast of the Cyberman two-parter, taking the Doctor and Rose back to early 1950s London and a creepy clash with a malevolent alien intelligence lurking deep within the cathode ray tube itself, poised to wreak devastation on the day of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

For the 2005 DOCTOR WHO season Gatiss plunged the TARDIS back to the Victorian age for an encounter with the ghostly, ethereal Gelth. Here the time travellers stop a little closer to home, arriving in the London of 1953 (instead of the hoped-for New York of the late 1950s) and quickly discover strange goings-on amongst the residents of Florizel Street (and you don? need me to explain that particular TV reference!). What? the secret of Mr Magpie, the cheap-as-chips TV supplier? And why is the prissy TV announcer so hungry all the time? Gatiss loves his historicals and it? quite clear from the rich, detailed script of ?he Idiot? Lantern?that he? a bit of a fan of the 1950s and the early days of television, with its live broadcasts from Alexandra Palace and images of eager families clustered around flickering black-and-white TV screens to marvel at this latest wonder of the early technological age. The script, along with a sumptuous production design, beautifully evokes the air of optimistic post-War austerity, all ration books and war medals. Cardiff 2006 is effortlessly transformed into 1953 London and the addition of some lively filming at Ally Pally itself gives the thrilling climax to the episode an extra frisson of reality.

?he Idiot? Lantern?is a tight, intimate story ?despite it? driving plot of alien intervention by the sinister Wire (Lipman). Typical of 21st century WHO the script is subtle and multi-layered, depicting the Connolly family as victims, subjugated not only by the strange affliction which has removed Granny? face but also by the brutal bullying of Eddie (Foreman), the father of the family. There are subtle hints of both physical and psychological abuse and it? refreshing to watch an episode with the nerve to step back from the SF shenanigans and deliver nuanced sequences such as the scene where Tommy turns on his father and where Eddie is finally given his marching orders by his long-suffering wife Rita (Debra Gillett). Perhaps best of all, right at the end of the episode, we see Rose, who knows only too well the pain of losing a father at an early age, encouraging Tommy to at least hold out the olive branch of forgiveness to the crushed Eddie, offering a hope of redemption.

But for those who prefer SF shenanigans, there are plenty to be had here ?and some real chills too. The Wire may appear to be your typical mind-controlling alien entity but Lipman? measured, placid performance turns the creature ?about which we?e actually told very little ?into something more than just the Monster of the Week. Loss of identity is a familiar SF theme and it? rarely been made more terrifying than in the sequences of the blank-faced victims of the Wire, robbed of their faces and, as a consequence, their very existence. Apart from the odd CGI bang and flash it? not an effects-heavy story; it? more of a showcase for Sheelagh Wells and her make-up team and their work on the faceless ones (ahem)is pretty much exemplary.

It? nice to see the Doctor and Rose recovering the balance of their relationship after the interruption engendered by Mickey? brief tenure aboard the TARDIS. Here they?e best friends again, and, although Billie Piper isn? centre-stage for most of the episode, she manages to reclaim some of the ground the character? lost this year in episodes which have made her a bit unlikable. David Tennant strides through the episode like an electrical storm, his characterisation swinging wildly from the comic to the thunderous. The hint of steel we saw in the ?o second chances?Doctor of ?he Christmas Invasion?is still there and there? no doubt that this Doctor will let nothing and no-one stand in his way when Rose is in danger. Ron Cook, the second-best thing in the woeful 2004 THUNDERBIRDS movie (the first being ?irl in the Fireplace?s Sophia Myles, of course) is superb as the pitiful, weaselly Mr Magpie and young Rory Jennings as Tommy is a real find. Jamie Foreman is suitably unpleasant as the bullish Eddie and Sam Cox does his best as the out-of-his-depth Detective Bishop.

Euros Lyn has now clearly established himself as the best of the team of directors now working regularly on DOCTOR WHO and the news that he? handling this year? Christmas special is particularly exciting. Lyn? work is genuinely inventive and he gives every episode he works on a distinct look, particularly in the period episodes which he seems to excel at.

?he Idiot? Lantern?is one of those episodes which sits as part of the bedrock of the show? mythology. The story itself is relatively mundane and it?l never be in anyone? list of all-time favourites but it? a good old-fashioned low-stakes romp, meticulously realised and convincingly performed. It? fast, witty, exciting and it has its moments of spectacle ?the transmitter tussle between the Doctor and Magpie is terrific stuff. After the breathlessness of the Cybermen story and with a long-awaited alien planet two-parter starting next week, ?he Idiot? Lantern?is a welcome breather, a nice change of pace. After a slight hiccup over the last two weeks, it? good to report that DOCTOR WHO is well and truly back on form. ]]>

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