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The Idiot's Lantern

173 – "The Idiot's Lantern"
Doctor Who episode
Directed byEuros Lyn
Written byMark Gatiss
Script editorSimon Winstone
Produced byPhil Collinson
Executive producer(s)Russell T Davies
Julie Gardner
Music byMurray Gold
Production code2.7
SeriesSeries 2
Running time45 minutes
First broadcast27 May 2006 (2006-05-27)
← Preceded by
"The Age of Steel"
Followed by →
"The Impossible Planet"
List of episodes (2005–present)

"The Idiot's Lantern" is the seventh episode of the second series of the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, which was first broadcast on 27 May 2006 on BBC One. It was written by Mark Gatiss and directed by Euros Lyn.

The episode is set in London in 1953, at the time of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. In the episode, the incorporeal alien the Wire (Maureen Lipman) intends to regain a physical body by consuming enough energy from the minds of the coronation's television audience.


The Tenth Doctor and Rose land in North London in 1953 (although, they initially believed they were in New York). While looking around, they see that most houses have TV antennas, which Rose recalls should be rare at this time. Mr. Magpie, a local merchant, informs them that the TVs are on sale to celebrate the upcoming coronation of Elizabeth II.

The Doctor and Rose witness someone being taken from their home with a sheet over their head, and driven away by the police. The Doctor and Rose question the Connollys, a local family consisting of the bullying Eddie, his timid wife Rita, and their teenage son, Tommy. They are introduced to Grandma Connolly, Rita's mother, whose entire face is missing. Before the Doctor can learn more, the police burst in and remove Grandma Connolly; the Doctor follows.

At Magpie's shop, Rose discovers an entity hiding in a TV calling itself "the Wire", an alien that escaped execution by its people by turning itself into an electrical form. The Wire seeks to consume enough minds to recreate a body, intending to use the coronation broadcast to do so. Rose then falls victim to the Wire.

Meanwhile, Tommy discovers that his father has been informing the police about the faceless people, including Grandma Connolly. When Rita finds out, she kicks Eddie out of the house, and tells Tommy to go with the Doctor and "do some good".

Magpie's shop, on location in Cardiff.

The Doctor locates a holding pen where the police are keeping the victims. He speaks to Detective Inspector Bishop, and the police bring in a faceless Rose. Angered at Rose's condition, the Doctor, Tommy, and Bishop confront Magpie at his store. The Wire reveals herself and tries to consume them, but upon seeing the Doctor's sonic screwdriver, she stops, retreats into a portable television set built by Magpie, and escapes, heading for the Alexandra Palace television station.

The Doctor and Tommy use equipment from Magpie's shop and the TARDIS to create a device to capture the Wire. The Doctor pursues Magpie as he connects his portable device to the television station transmitter, allowing the Wire to start to consume minds while killing Magpie. The Doctor connects his device to the transmitter, and the Wire is captured on a Betamax cassette. The faces of those who were consumed by the Wire are returned to normal. Rose persuades Tommy to reconcile with his father. The episode ends with the Doctor explaining how he'll tape over the Wire's cassette, to which Rose says she'll do it instead.


Rose's costume for the episode, as shown at the Doctor Who Experience.

"The Idiot's Lantern" is written by Mark Gatiss, who also wrote the Ninth Doctor episode "The Unquiet Dead" as well as several spin-off audios and novels. The title of the episode was suggested by writer Gareth Roberts, who recalled the term being used by his father to refer to television.[1]

The episode is set in the Muswell Hill area of London, and second-unit photography was conducted around Alexandra Palace. The exterior of Magpie's shop was filmed on Blenheim Road in Cardiff.[2]

The game associated with this episode, the "Magpie Online Archive", is a "file-sharing application" in which the player must search through various clips of BBC television history to look for messages left behind by the Wire. Unlike earlier games, it is only accessible through the BBC Doctor Who website.

Cast notes

Rory Jennings, who plays Tommy Connolly, plays the teenage Davros in Big Finish Productions' I, Davros: Innocence.[3] Margaret John, who plays Tommy's Grandma, also played Megan Jones in the Second Doctor serial Fury from the Deep (1968).[citation needed]

Broadcast and reception

Overnight viewing figures for the initial broadcast of this episode were 6.32 million, peaking at 7.78 million, an audience share of 32.2%. The final rating was 6.76 million, making it the most watched programme of the day.[4] It was given an Appreciation Index of 84.[5] This episode was released as a basic DVD with no special features in the UK in July 2006, together with "Rise of the Cybermen" and "The Age of Steel".

"The Idiot's Lantern" received mixed reviews. Ian Berriman of SFX gave "The Idiot's Lantern" a rating of four out of five, calling the main plot "fairly insubstantial" and noting it would not please viewers who liked everything explained. However, he referred to it as "enjoyable" and praised the directing of Euros Lyn. Berriman considered the highlight of the episode to be the subplot of family.[6] IGN's Ahsan Haque rated the episode 6.8 out of 10, finding several logic flaws and calling the story "marginally interesting".[7] Digital Spy reviewer Dek Hogan felt "The Idiot's Lantern" was a disappointment after Gatiss's previous Doctor Who script "The Unquiet Dead", feeling that a similar plot had been done before and it played like a "pastiche of Doctor Who than the show itself". He was also not favourable to Lipman's performance as the Wire, saying the character "[lacked] menace", and found the subplot of Tommy's father "annoying".[8] Stephen Brook of The Guardian named it as an episode of the series he disliked, finding it "too clever and way too preachy".[9]


  1. ^ Andrew Pixley (2006). "The Idiot's Lantern". Doctor Who Special Edition No. 14 – the Doctor Who Companion: Series Two: 62–69.
  2. ^ "Blenheim Road". The Locations Guide.
  3. ^ "1.1 I, Davros – Innocence". Big Finish Productions. Retrieved 27 April 2012.
  4. ^ "Weekly Viewing Summary - Terrestrial Top 30". BARB. Archived from the original on 18 April 2007.
  5. ^ Doctor Who Magazine: Series Two Companion (14 – Special Edition). Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent: Panini Comics. 9 November 2006.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: untitled periodical (link)
  6. ^ Berriman, Ian (28 May 2006). "Doctor Who 2.7 The Idiot's Lantern". SFX. Retrieved 29 April 2012.
  7. ^ Haque, Ahsan (13 November 2006). "Doctor Who: "The Idiot's Lantern" Review". IGN. Retrieved 29 April 2012.
  8. ^ Hogan, Dek (28 May 2006). "Unwire The Doctor". Digital Spy. Retrieved 29 April 2012.
  9. ^ Brook, Stephen (10 July 2006). "Doctor Who: that was the year that was". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 April 2012.

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