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Recap / Doctor Who S28 E7 "The Idiot's Lantern"

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"Goodnight children, everywhere."
The Wire

Original air date: May 27, 2006

The One With… a bastard father and a ham-tastic alien.

Alternatively, the one with a comically heavy usage of Dutch Angle.

Also alternatively, the one where the Doctor and Rose obtain a lot of glee from trolling a douchebag...

Written by Mark Gatiss.

The Doctor and Rose visit the 1950s, intent on seeing Elvis Presley perform on The Ed Sullivan Show. The TARDIS takes them to Muswell Hill in North London instead, a day before the Queen's coronation in 1953.

The coronation is going to be televised, which has the populace excited. Televisions are at a premium. Luckily, the owner of a local television store, Mr Magpie, is practically giving them away. That's because it's got a face-eating monster called the Wire (no, not that one) inside. The Wire feeds on energy, specifically on the faces of the people watching her. Mr Magpie can count on people in The '50s to keep anyone who's different, such as a faceless family member, tucked carefully away out of sight.

The Doctor sports some marvelous aviator sunglasses and a quiff with unequalled resilience to motorcycle helmets, but even that can't keep Rose from getting her face eaten. The Doctor and an abused kid called Tommy storm the TV store and meet the Wire. Mr Magpie puts the Wire into a portable TV and runs off to put her in the broadcasting tower at Alexandra Palace. The Doctor climbs up after Magpie (masquerading as the King of Belgium to get past the guards) and sort of electrocutes everything. Magpie is disintegrated by the Wire, the Wire is trapped in a Betamax tape and everybody gets their faces back. Tommy's bastard of a dad is kicked out of the house by his wife as everyone learns an important lesson about speaking out when things are bad. The Doctor and Rose, however, encourage Tommy to chase after his dad and see if he can't Take a Third Option — because even abusive 1950s fathers are still fathers. As for the Wire, the Doctor mulls over plans to tape over her someday (hopefully not with an episode of The Wire).


  • The '50s: Just as much of the sexist, Stepfordesque bad as the idyllic, cutesy good.
  • Abusive Parents: Eddie Connelly is explicitly verbally abusive to both his wife and son, and strongly hinted to be physically abusive as well.
  • Anachronism Stew: Mark Gatiss acknowledged that people would grumble that he was using the 1954 BBC logo in a 1953 setting, “but that’s just pedantry
  • Ambiguously Gay: In the original script for the episode Tommy was gay, and shades of this are still left in the finished version, with his father constantly berating him for his supposed unmanliness, and Tommy's comment about "people telling you who you could fall in love with" in his "The Reason You Suck" Speech (see below).
  • Anachronistic Clue: One of the first things that tips off the Doctor and Rose to the fact that something is amiss is that there are more television aerials around then there should be in London in 1953.
    Rose: Look at all the TV aerials... looks like everyone's got one. That's weird, my nan said tellies were so rare they all had to pile into one house.
    Mr. Magpie: Not round here, love. Magpie's Marvellous Tellies, only five quid a box.
  • Arc Words: The policemen are worried about having "Torchwood on our backs."
  • Attack of the Killer Whatever: Killer televisions.
  • Bait the Dog: In his first scene, Eddie Connelly good-naturedly ruffles his son's hair and considers getting a television for him for the coronation. Every scene after that shows him to be a abusive and controlling father and husband.
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: This is the usual purpose of the psychic paper anyway, but the Doctor accidentally persuades a policeman at Alexandra Palace that he's the King of Belgium with it, which results in the policeman calling him "Your Majesty" in a later scene.
  • Berserk Button: The Doctor is not happy at all 1) Rose had her face removed by the Wire and 2) that the policemen that have been rounding up the faceless people to keep things calm decided to leave her in the street.
    The Doctor: "They left her in the street?!"
  • Big Bad: The Wire is behind all the face-stealing and, indirectly, the disappearances.
  • Big "NO!": Did we mention that the Wire is a ham?
  • Big "SHUT UP!":
    Mr. Connelly: I AM TALKING!!
    The Doctor: And I'm NOT LISTENING!! Now, you, Mr. Connelly, you are staring into a deep, dark pit of trouble if you don't let me help. So, I'm ordering you, sir, tell me what's going on!
  • Black Site: The Wire's victims are stored in one, disguised by a market stall in front of a gate.
  • The Blank: The Wire's victims register a lack of brain activity and faces.
  • Body Horror: The Wire pulls people's faces from their bodies. You actually see people walking around with smooth skin where their face used to be. This happens to Rose... which The Doctor does not take well at all.
  • Borrowed Catchphrase: Magpie going "I'm sorry... so sorry..." when the Wire gets Rose.
  • Calling the Old Man Out:
    • Eddie Connelly gets the full brunt of this from his son. This his wife joins in.
    • The Doctor manages to beat them to the proverbial punch when he out-shouts him in his own living room earlier in the episode.
  • Chewing the Scenery: The Wire could stand beside the Captain from "The Pirate Planet" and BRIAN BLESSED in "Mindwarp". Some might even argue she carries the whole episode. You start wondering how she can get so "HUNGRY!!!" when she's eaten a decent chunk of the scenery...
  • Comically Missing the Point:
    The Wire: I'm the Wire. And I will gobble you up, pretty boy. Every last morsel. (Gradually turns color to show off how much strength she's gaining) And when I have feasted, I shall regain the corporeal body which my fellow kind denied me.
    Bishop: Good Lord! Colour television!
  • Dad the Veteran: Eddie is a zealously proud veteran of WW2.
  • Death Cry Echo: The Wire, being in the form of a television, ends up having this gradually deteriorate into what sounds suspiciously like the PAL beep.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Since it's The '50s, no one in the house reacts when Eddie mentions he's going to beat his son later, just for wanting to see his grandmother. It's hard to tell if everyone else just thought he was joking (nobody but his son saw Eddie's face turn from jovial to angry), or if they just don't care.
  • Disintegrator Ray: Once hooked up to Alexandra Palace's broadcasting tower, the Wire is capable of shooting electricity that can do this.
  • Dirty Coward: Tommy rightly accuses Eddie of this, ratting out his faceless neighbours (and mother-in-law) all for the sake of protecting his reputation.
  • Disney Villain Death: Played with in Magpie's case. He realizes the error of his ways and begs for peace, and the Wire responds by zapping him in cold blood and he falls from Alexandra Palace, but his body is disintegrated before he hits the ground.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Rita spends the better part of the entire episode quiet and living in fear of her husband's verbal abuse. When she learns Eddie was responsible for her mother being turned over to the authorities (on the grounds that she was faceless), she not only calls him out on his actions, but soon after kicks him out of her home.
  • Dutch Angle: Used quite liberally during this episode, particularly in scenes where the Doctor encounters London denizens that have lost their faces.
  • Easily Forgiven: Downplayed. Rita and Tommy certainly aren't going to welcome Eddie back home any time soon (if ever). However, despite that Eddie wasn't so kind to them either, Rose and the Doctor encourage Tommy to talk with his dad and make sure they part on good terms.
  • Energy Being: The Wire is made of electricity. It used to have a physical form but was executed by its species for undisclosed crimes and escaped as energy.
  • Evil Laugh: From the Wire the closer it gets to the endgame.
  • Evil Plan: The Wire seeks to feast on the brains of the twenty million people watching the coronation on TV and then regain a physical body.
  • Expospeak Gag:
    The Doctor: I'll use my unrivaled knowledge of trans-temporal extirpation methods to neutralize the residual electronic pattern.
    Rose: You what?
    The Doctor: I'm gonna tape over it.
  • Expy: Mr. Connelly is similar to Uncle Vernon in appearance (stocky, brown mustache), abusive behavior, and obsession with appearances.
  • Face Stealer: The Wire steals its victims' faces as a side effect of draining brainwaves to get enough energy for it to regain a physical form.
  • Forgot About His Powers: The Doctor flashes his psychic paper on a couple of occasions but doesn't use it when the police show up to take the faceless Gran away.
  • Funny Background Event: When DI Bishop asks the Doctor to tell them everything he knows, the Doctor answers "Well, for starters, I know you can't wrap your hand round your elbow and make your fingers meet." One of the policemen can be seen trying it in the background.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: The writing on the video tape's label has been scribbled out and started again, like the Doctor can't think of a good name for it. Even better, it's not in English but Circular Gallifreyan.
  • Get Out!: The last words Rita Connolly says to her abusive soon-to-be-ex-husband Eddie.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Eddie gets high and mighty about his military record, fighting Nazis, but then Tommy points out the truth. He's been informing the government about the people in the neighbourhood who've lost their faces because they're "filthy" and a threat to his reputation. In other words, he came home from a war against fascism and began practicing it at home.
  • Hilarious Outtakes: For the scene where the Doctor discovers that Rose's face has been erased, Billie Piper was wearing motion capture dots... and she and David Tennant just couldn't film the part where the police take the burlap sack off Rose's head without cracking up.
  • Humiliation Conga: From the moment the Doctor and Rose barge through his door, Eddie Connolly gets nothing but this for the rest of the episode.
  • Ironic Echo: "Tell me everything you know." First from Inspector Bishop to the Doctor, and then the Doctor to Inspector Bishop. They even reverse positions.
  • Karma Houdini: Played with. On one hand, Eddie's wife does pay him back for his abuse by standing up to him and sending him packing. On the other hand, Eddie is notably the only named character not to have his face stolen or nearly stolen by the Wire. (What embodies this trope is that he was the one who ratted out so many faceless people, including Tommy's grandmother, to the authorities.)
  • Large Ham:
    • The Wire:
    • The Doctor: "AND I'M NOT LISTENING-A!"
  • Madwoman in the Attic: A faceless woman in the attic who won't stop tapping the floor.
  • The Men in Black: They arrive at people's homes unannounced and take the faceless people away under blankets.
  • Mind-Reformat Death: The mundane solution below:
  • Mundane Solution: The Doctor manages to capture an electronic lifeform who essentially exists as a living television signal... on a Betamax tape. Also, the Expospeak Gag on how he will permanently eliminate her.
    The Doctor: I'll use my unrivaled knowledge of trans-temporal extirpation methods to neutralize the residual electronic pattern.
    Rose: You what?
    The Doctor: I'm gonna tape over it.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Gatiss had real world BBC continuity announcer Sylvia Peters in mind when picturing the Wire’s human form.
  • No-Sell: The Wire is capable of using electricity to disintegrate humans, but it doesn't do anything to the Doctor beyond giving him a nasty shock, thanks in part to his shoes.
    "Rubber soles! Swear by 'em!"
  • Oh, Crap!: Eddie Connolly's expression says this very eloquently when he realises that the Doctor isn't remotely intimidated by him, is a good deal taller than he is and is, more to the point, absolutely furious.
  • Ominous Television: Complete with face-stealing alien monster.
  • Papa Wolf: The Doctor does not take well to Rose's face being stolen.
    The Doctor: They took her face and just chucked her out and left her in the street? Well, as a result... that makes things simple, very very simple. You know why?
    Bishop: No.
    The Doctor: Because NOW, Detective Inspector Bishop, there is no power on this Earth that can STOP ME!
  • Police Are Useless: Due to a lack of manpower because of the upcoming coronation, and the simple fact that a face-stealing alien is something they simply aren't trained to deal with.
  • Pop-Cultured Badass: Although the Doctor owns up to it — he says that the wise person he was quoting was Kylie.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!:
    Mr. Connolly: I! AM! TALKING!
    The Doctor: And I'M! NOT! LISTENING!
  • Rage-Breaking Point: Minor example, while mixed in with the verbal beat-down that the Doctor is giving Eddie Connelly, Rose berates him for hanging the Union Jack upside down (it is not reflectively symmetrical, due to how the arms of the crosses are offset slightly).
    "The Union Flag. It's only the Union Jack when flown at sea." (Her mum dated a sailor.)
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech:
    • Tommy gives one to his father:
      "You don’t get it, do you? You fought against fascism, remember? People telling you how to live. Who you could be friends with. Who you could fall in love with. Who could live and who had to die. Don’t you get it? You were fighting so that little twerps like me could do what we want, say what we want. Now you’ve become just like them. You’ve been informing on everyone, haven’t you? Even Gran. All to protect your precious reputation."
    • Later, Rita gives an indirect one about Eddie:
      "Tommy, go with the Doctor and do some good. Get away from this house and its poison. [angrily turns in Eddie's general direction] We have a ruddy monster under my roof, and it weren't my mother!"
  • Red Herring: In one of the first scenes, the camera angle places a licence plate in the center of the shot. Given the show's propensity for Call-Back and Continuity Nod, this has to mean something, right? Nope.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Smug Snake: Mr. Connolly thinks he's much more of a force than he really is, throwing his weight around, acting like he's king of his home... then he tries to browbeat the Doctor, who responds by springing to his feet and towering over Connolly, snarling out a brief, savage, and oh-so-satisfying verbal beatdown that cuts the man off in mid-stride.
  • Stay in the Kitchen: Appropriate to the times, mind, but Eddie Connelly believes this to its logical extreme, that women are only good for housework and staying at home, while the "real man" fights wars, and protects them. He rules his household like he was a king, at least until the Doctor arrives...
    • This is then intentionally subverted by the Doctor in spectacular fashion — at least for a short while.
      The Doctor: Mr. Connelly, what gender is the Queen?
      Mr. Connelly: She's a female.
      The Doctor: And are you suggesting that the Queen does the housework?
      Mr. Connelly: [stunned] Well, no!
      The Doctor: [handing Mr. Connelly the Union Flags he'd just ordered his wife to put up around the room] Then get busy.
  • Talk to the Fist:
    The Doctor: Hold on a minute. There are three important, brilliant and complicated reasons why you should listen to me. One– [punched out by The Men in Black]
  • Talking Is a Free Action: The Doctor starts: "Hold on a minute! There are three important, brilliant, and complicated reasons why you should listen to me. One–" and is promptly KO'd with a punch to the face.
  • Tap on the Head: Played with. The Doctor is knocked unconscious by a punch to the jaw, but he only remains so for a few seconds and quickly gets back up in pursuit of the people who punched him.
  • The Television Talks Back: The Wire inhabits a television when it's not stealing faces and is quite capable of interacting with others while doing so.
  • Throw the Dog a Bone: "'Course he's an idiot. He's still your dad."
  • Tranquil Fury: Rita Connolly reacts this way when she learns her husband was responsible for all the faceless people getting taken away, including her own mother.
  • Waxing Lyrical:
    Tommy: It's too late.
    The Doctor: It's never too late, as a wise person once said. [to himself] Kylie, I think...
  • Wife-Basher Basher: The Doctor to Eddie Connolly, in a rare nonphysical example. This includes his Big "SHUT UP!" above.
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are: In the end, Rose and the Doctor encourage Tommy to be the bigger man and part with his dad on good terms. If he can help the Doctor save the world from the Wire, then there's no doubt he has a big heart to match his clever mind.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Poor Mr. Magpie... zapped when the Wire no longer needs him.

Alternative Title(s): Doctor Who NSS 2 E 7 The Idiots Lantern