Sunday, May 28, 2006

Who Review: The Idiot's Lantern

I always remember Bob Gale and Bob Zemeckis, the co-creators of that other great time-travelling series Back to the Future, saying that an audience needs someone like Michael J Fox (as Marty McFly) to go on a time-travel adventure with, someone they trust, someone who is "reassuring". In short, a figure who can take you to the strangest, darkest places and still make you feel safe whilst you're in their company. David Tennant's Doctor is that figure. As the series has progressed (we're now past the halfway mark) I've seen Tennant take to the role with relish and make it his own, so much so that it now seems impossible for him to ever leave it (but I know he will, of course, but please, David, give us another series at least!) This week's episode was eight parts Fifties romp and two parts "scary movie". The scary parts were proper scary, too - for kids, at least. I'm in my mid-thirties now, but I can imagine if I was a youngster watching this, the faceless grandmother and the Doctor's encounter in the cage full of similar "sans-visage victims" would have given me the willies for months! But, like I've said, when you're travelling with Tennant's Doctor you always have that reassuring sensation at the back of your mind. No matter how bad things get, the Doctor will win through and throw in a few cheeky gags whilst he's at it. The reinvention of the Doctor (which includes Eccleston's phase last year) is a great one. They've brightened up the Doctor and made him accessible for all. Yeah, the hardcore fan base will probably be twitching in their cagoules at every flippant joke and moment of romantic melodrama, but this is just too much fun , dammit. As Tennant himself said, the show's about a guy who travels round the universe in a blue box - if you can't have fun with that, well... And I agree.
The story this week, written by Mark Gatiss ('The Unquiet Dead' from last season), was another effortless piece of entertainment. The Doctor and Rose set out to see Elvis Presley in Vegas just in time for his breakthrough moment, only to end up in suburban England on the day of the Queen's coronation. Confound that Tardis! A sinister force known as the Wire is using the new technology of television to feast on the people of England and what better day to do it than the day when most of the country is sat around the old "idiot's lantern" - telly to you and me. Our time-travelling heroes quickly twig that all is not proper and things lead to a showdown between the Doctor and the Wire, personified as a plummy BBC-style presenter, and played with chilling menace by everyone's favourite mother figure, Maureen Lipman. (Remember those BT ads? "He's got an 'ology'!") Along the way, though, Rose ends up "face/off" and the Doctor gets really angry and shouts really loudly for a while, which is always entertaining. Another great episode and a huge slice of British nostalgia.
Doctor Who trivia point: did you know that the Union flag is only called a Union Jack when it's at sea? Well, there you go. You learn something every week.

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