...a blog by Richard Flowers

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Day 1971: Doctor Who: THE IDIOT'S LANTERN


Today was a VERY exciting Doctor Who story because it was set where Daddy Alex would live if he did not live in my flat: ALEXANDER'S PALACE.

Please yourselves.

Here're Daddy Richard's thoughts:

For all that it had huge events – the Queen's Coronation – as backdrop, and huge threats – two million television viewers getting their faces sucked off – and a huge television aerial to hang off at the climax, this was very much the "small scale" Doctor Who story. Domestic, even. The Doctor emphasises this at the end when he prefers the "real history" of the Florizel Street street party to the "pomp and circumstance" of the coronation itself.

Maureen Lipman was a really good villain this week. Icily posh and making the vilest threats out of the catchphrases of the era. "Are you sitting comfortably?" And terrific to see her on Sunday am the next day saying what a wonderful change Doctor Who makes from all the run-of-the-mill dramas and reality quizzes that choke our airwaves today.

Incredibly, though, she actually wasn't icily posh enough! Alex showed us a real 1950s BBC continuity announcer. In her tiara and ball gown. Never mind cut glass accent, this lady could cut diamonds. To be fair to Ms Lipman, she was dressed in a lovely period ball gown, and it was a shame that the shots of her used slightly too close a close up so that we couldn't see and appreciate it. (In fairness, the 1950's "close up" would have looked unnatural to today's audience.) Thank goodness for Doctor Who Confidential!

There was, obviously, a bit of a sub-text. Or text as it became with a slightly heavy handed polemical scene mid way through where young Tommy confronts his father. If you are keen on spotting this week's "gay agenda" look no further than remarks like "bit of a mummy’s boys, that one" and "you want to beat it out of him" and finally "freedom to love who you want". "I fought a war for you!" threatens dad; "You fought a war to stop fascists!" retorts Tommy. And there was me thinking it was a coincidence that all those 1950s TV aerials looked like swastikas!

There's a slight sense that this was writer Mark Gatiss abandoning his usual light-touch as a response to criticism. Last year he gave us the early hit "The Unquiet Dead" a story of ghosts and Charles Dickens. But he received some small stick, and a somewhat over the top reaction, from Laurence (Mad Larry) Miles who pointed out that "The Unquiet Dead" could be read as a story of bogus asylum seekers. Even though it goes without saying, I'll say it anyway, there is no way that this was Mark's intention and rather a lot of Doctor Who monsters pretend to be nice before turning out nasty. Even the Daleks do it. But, behind the diatribe, you can see that Larry may have had a slight point in that we live in a time when all to many reactionaries want us to believe that the Doctor's liberal welcome of a people in need is naïve bordering on culpably stupid. So possibly, possibly, Mr Gatiss took this year's opportunity to punch those little Englanders in the head: we fought against the fascists not to become them. You morons.

That aside, there were sparkling moments aplenty this week to enjoy. Perhaps that shows something of Mark's origins writing sketches for "the League of Gentlemen"; he almost says as much when describing the lovely reversal between the Doctor and Detective Inspector Bishop. Other gems include the Doctor's moped; Rose's flag facts (all true); the eerie sight of all the lost faces floating on television screens; and the King of Belgium. And did anyone else seeing the climax think "Rocky Horror Show" rather than "King Kong"?

Best of all was the Doctor constructing a video recorder out of spares whilst on the run. A perfectly Doctor Who moment.

Overall, this season is clearly developing a recurring theme of "things living on beyond their time": Cassandra, John Lumic and now the Wire are all seeking a physical reincarnation regardless of the consequences to others. This isn't a particularly new idea in science fiction, with roots in Bram Stoker's "Dracula" or the Universal "Mummy" series. "Immortality, it's a bad thing" was the recurring theme of Space 1999's superior (but dull) first season and informs many of the best episodes (see especially "Death's Other Dominion" with Brian Blessed). But that doesn't mean it's a bad thing, and it gives the series a deeper, harder philosophical edge than most weekend primetime fare. Could you see "Heart in the Title" exploring the meaning of eternity? Quite what this might mean for the "last of the Time Lords", though, remains to be revealed.

Next time: things get impossible.


Mentat said...

I feel this was the weakest so far of the season, I've also spoken to non-lifelong Who fans and they feel so too. It's very difficult to put my finger on why, but it deel feel a bit like 'Boom Town' I think it was, with the stranded Slitheen, which was the weakest of season 27.

As to why it felt weak, it's perhaps because it felt too fanboyish (speaking as a fanboy), Rocky Horror/King Kong references, a plot that seems all to familiar (reminded me of the Twilight Zone movie), oh they've lost their faces - how exciting and unpredicatble (sarcasm mode off).

Perhaps it was having an intangible enemy that was the issue, having been spolied with living, breathing villians week after week, I'm just not sure.

I did still like the Doctor/Inspector seen, the Rose 'flag scene' (in answer to BBC Breakfast and the BBC website being harranged about the status of the term jack/flag - very good), but this was all balanced by what I felt was a very childish Doctor performance. He came across more as as a big kid in this one - 'ooh, where did they go' - er through the doors in front of you dullard.

Weakest so far, which is good, because that means it's now out of the way....

Millennium Dome said...

We thought that this was a rather splendid "little" story - not "big and important" like last time's Cyber-epic or next week's "impossible Planet", but nice in-betweeny stuff.

Even so, it is like what Daddy said about the New Adventures: even when there was a "average" one, it was still a jolly good aveage!

James Graham (Quaequam Blog!) said...

Overall, this season is clearly developing a recurring theme of "things living on beyond their time": Cassandra, John Lumic and now the Wire are all seeking a physical reincarnation regardless of the consequences to others.

You could quite easily have added the werewolf in episode 2's attempt to infect the queen and the clockwork robot's attempt to seize Mme Pompadour's brain (and thus live on) to that list.