The Idiot’s Lantern
The Idiot’s Lantern was the seventh episode of the second series of Doctor Who. This was one of the earliest instances where the Tenth Doctor displayed a ruthless and overpowering personality when his patience and mercy were pushed to their boundaries.
Tardisode 7 serves as an unusually important prologue, revealing what happened to Grandma Connolly prior to the intervention of the Doctor and Rose.
Inside the Magpie Electricals shop, the proprietor Mr Magpie realizes his business is broke as the television behind him finishes its broadcast for the day. Shortly after, a red lightning bolt hits the antenna over the shop. The television comes alive with the TV announcer’s face and calls to the dozing Magpie. Within a few seconds the image on the screen lashes out with an energy beam, absorbing Magpie’s face.
The Tenth Doctor and Rose land in Muswell Hill, London, in 1953, yet expecting to be in New York. Dressed in an Elvis Presley mode, they expect to attend a performance of the Ed Sullivan Show. However, the different skyline, a red double-decker bus, and a Union Flag tell them that, actually, they are in northern London on the eve of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation.
By chance, the Doctor witnesses a person covered in a blanket being abducted by men in black. The Doctor and Rose hop on a scooter and race after the car. The car passes through a gated doorway which slams shut and a market stall moves in front of the gate, making it look like a dead end. The Doctor and Rose arrive shortly after, mystified by the car’s disappearance.
Meanwhile, Magpie has gone back to his shop and talks with the TV announcer, telling her that he has completed her instructions, before begging her to go away and leave him alone as her presence makes his insides and memories hurt. But she mockingly scoffs at his plea, and tells him that the time is almost ripe, finishing with the comment “cometh the hour, cometh the man… or lady.”
Rose and the Doctor decide to investigate the abduction: posing as royal inspectors, with the help of the Doctor’s psychic paper, they arrive at the home of the Connollys, where Mr Connolly has bullied his family into ignoring Gran after her face was stolen. The Doctor convinces Rita Connolly to bring him to Gran. As the Doctor examines Gran, two men burst into the house, knock out the Doctor and hustle Gran away. The Doctor gives chase, but Rose stays behind. She notices the television set is giving off electrical sparks. Later at the dump site, the Doctor finds people whose faces have been stolen locked in a cage. As they begin to surround him, the investigators shine a light into the cage.
Rose reads the name on the television’s tag: Magpie. She heads for the television shop where Mr Magpie, who seems to be extremely stressed, tries to get her out the door before the Wire is alerted to her presence. Rose insists on asking Magpie about the televisions he’s selling. The announcer appears on one of the TV screens, looking to Rose like a broadcast was being played, but the image declares it is sentient by telling Rose its name is the Wire — and it’s hungry. The Wire begins sucking Rose’s brainwaves and face into its television as Rose desperately pleads for help. Magpie only apologizes, claiming Rose brought it upon herself.
Detective Inspector Bishop begins to interrogate the Doctor, but the tables are turned as the Doctor asks him questions he can’t answer. He convinces the DI that he can help. As Bishop begins to share information, an agent brings in another victim, much to the Doctor’s horror: Rose. They return to Florizel Street. The Doctor and Bishop ask Tommy what happened with Gran the night her face was stolen; she was watching television.
The three head to Magpie’s shop, but Magpie is gone. The Doctor discovers a handheld portable TV, which should not exist yet on Earth. He also discovers the televisions in the shop are holding the people’s missing faces. On one of the screens is Rose’s face, calling over and over for the Doctor. Magpie enters, and the Doctor demands to know who is really in charge. The Wire appears, briefly turning the black-and-white television to color, telling the Doctor that it was executed by its own people, but fled to Earth, where there is enough mental energy for it to reconstitute its physical form. The Doctor wonders when this will be and the Wire cryptically says her “crowning achievement”, causing Bishop to realize that it plans to feed while people watch the coronation. The Wire then begins to feed on Bishop, the Doctor and Tommy Connolly. It revels in feeding off the Doctor, calling him “delicious” and declaring that it will have “lashings of him”. However, the Doctor is able to stop the Wire by brandishing the higher alien technology: his sonic screwdriver. Realizing the Doctor is an off-worlder as it is, the Wire stops its feeding after completely draining Bishop, but not the Doctor and Tommy.
The Wire transfers itself into the portable TV and orders Magpie to take it to Alexandra Palace. Magpie climbs the antenna and plugs the TV into the tower. It begins to suck the energy from the coronation viewers. The Doctor comes to, and with Tommy’s assistance quickly assembles a device. They race to the TARDIS to pick up one more part then run to the Palace’s broadcast center. The Doctor orders Tommy to keep the device he’s plugged in to the broadcasting system operating no matter what. Grabbing a spool of wire, he heads for the top and begins to climb the tower. Magpie is at the top, begging the Wire to stop the pain in his head, as it promised him peace after its physical reconstitution. Complying with Magpie’s wish for peace, the Wire incinerates him with a bolt of electricity.
The Doctor reaches the Wire, grabbing the portable television, and tells the Wire that it wasn’t smart to take a shot at Magpie, as it has overexerted itself. The Wire tries to fry the Doctor using the tower as a conductor, but the soles of the Doctor’s shoes are rubber, keeping him safe. The Doctor attaches the wire he’s been trailing to the portable, but a fuse shorts and the machine Tommy is keeping an eye on stops. The Wire taunts the Doctor, for now it will be able to live again. Tommy quickly changes the fuse and the machine operates again. Screaming in horror, the Wire is transferred from the portable into a Betamax cassette the Doctor built with parts from the TV shop. The Doctor jokes he made the home video over 30 years earlier than it should have been. Elsewhere, all of the Wire’s victims have regained their faces and minds and are released from holding.
The Doctor reunites with Rose on Tommy’s street, which is now throwing a party to celebrate the coronation. Rose asks the Doctor what he’ll do with the Wire trapped in the tape. The Doctor explains that he’ll use his unrivaled knowledge of trans-temporal extirpation methods to neutralize the residual electronic pattern. Confused as to what the Doctor means, Rose asks him to dumb it down. “I’m gonna tape over it,” the Doctor explains. As a gift for helping him, the Doctor gives Tommy the keys to his scooter, telling him to wait until he’s old enough to drive. At the same time, Mr Connolly is being kicked out by his wife for only thinking about his family’s status over their well being. Tommy is glad that his father is going, but Rose tells him even an idiot like Mr Connolly deserves a second chance. Tommy runs off to talk to his father. The Doctor and Rose toast with orange juice and enjoy the party.