The Idiot's Lantern

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173 – "The Idiot's Lantern"
Doctor Who episode
An electric pulse comes out of a 1950s television set and absorbs the face of a man.
The Wire claims Mr. Magpie, the owner of a shop who sells the televisions she inhabits.
Directed byEuros Lyn
Written byMark Gatiss
Script editorSimon Winstone
Produced byPhil Collinson
Executive producer(s)Russell T Davies
Julie Gardner
Incidental music composerMurray Gold
Production code2.7
SeriesSeries 2
Length45 minutes
First broadcast27 May 2006 (2006-05-27)
← Preceded by
"The Age of Steel"
Followed by →
"The Impossible Planet"
Doctor Who 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 lands in North London in 1953. While looking around the Doctor and Rose see that most of the houses have TV antennas on them, which Rose recalls should be rare in this time. They question a local merchant, Mr Magpie, about the TVs and are told that the TVs are on sale to celebrate the 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. They are introduced to Grandma Connolly, whose entire face is missing. Before the Doctor can learn more the police burst in and remove Grandma Connolly. The Doctor follows where the police are taking her while Rose investigates Magpie's shop. At the shop Rose discovers an entity calling itself "the Wire", an alien that managed to escape execution by its people by turning itself into an electrical form. The Wire seeks to consume enough minds to recreate a body (also stealing the face of the victim in the process) and plans on using the broadcast of the coronation to do so. Rose is unable to flee before falling victim to the Wire as well.

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 Connolly and Inspector Bishop confront Mr 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 built by Mr 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 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. The victims of the Wire return to normal. The Doctor shows Tommy that he has captured the Wire on a Betamax cassette. The Doctor gives Tommy the scooter he was riding throughout the episode, and he and Rose celebrate the coronation with the rest of town.


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[edit]

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).

Broadcast and reception[edit]

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 report Archived 18 April 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ Doctor Who Magazine: Series Two Companion. Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent: Panini Comics (14 – Special Edition). 9 November 2006.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.

External links[edit]