Doctor Who : The Idiot’s Lantern

The Doctor vworps into the scene. He and his companion explore a bit, they being cute and the aliens they encounter being weird. It is discovered that the people are enthralled, being lied to, or otherwise un-nicely dealt with by the powers-that-be. So the Doctor confidently, then faux-ineptly, then masterfully releases the people and hollers at the bad guy. This is the formula for many Doctor Who stories. It has been for many years and it works. It’s excellent. The formula is employed here, and reduced to its essence. There aren’t hours of needless chases down corridors or hints about the season-long story arc. This is the basic Doctor Who plot in demi-glaze.

Who better to write it than lifelong fan and hero of the DW universe Mark Gatiss? Of all the TV stories he’s written for the show, this is my favorite. So how does this episode follow that formula? The Doctor pops into town, this time, it’s a London suburb in 1953. He and Rose run around, acting cute in their period clothes and accoutrements. They discover that people are having their faces sucked off by an evil entity that grabs them through their TV sets. The Doctor is able to finally capture the bad guy, restore her victims, and all at great personal risk.

The formula works so well here for a few reasons.

1. It’s simply a great formula.

In other words, you’d have to really screw it up for this formula to not work.

2. This time it’s done by fans.

Gatiss & Tennant & Davies are Whovians to the core and their enthusiasm seeps out of every second of this episode.

3. It’s a fun setting.

The Satellite Five stuff from season one follows the basic Who structure, but it didn’t click with me as well as this one does. I think I prefer this one because the setting is fun, which Satellite Five was not. It was drab and cheerless. Rose dressed in a 50s outfit? The Doctor with 3D glasses? Rose and the Doctor on a scooter? It’s just fun. And it’s a wonderful aesthetic host for the tried and true formula.

4. Social commentary can scratch a little deeper into stories.

Faces are being sucked off by the TV sets. Okay, so it’s not the most subtle satire, but it’s still effective. Just because something is obvious doesn’t mean it’s not worth mentioning.

The story of Christ follows this basic outline. Christ shows up, says some things that more or less endear Him to people. Then he discovers (in His case, more like reveals or unveils) that the people are enthralled/being lied to/being un-nicely dealt with. And Christ confidently, then apparently ineptly, and finally masterfully expels the villain, restores his victims, and all at great personal loss. Not risk.

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