shivver13 (shivver13) wrote,
shivver13
shivver13

Thoughts on "The Idiot's Lantern" (review)

We rewatched "The Idiot's Lantern" today, probably for the third time ever. I'm pretty sure I rewatched it once, but that would have been six years ago.


We didn't really remember why we didn't like TIL, other than we were rather underwhelmed by it. I remembered the face-stealing through the TV and the broad gist of the Connolly family's dysfunction, but that was about it. I did remember that the electronics shop brand, Magpie Electricals, appears in many other episodes, and was rather surprised that Mr. Magpie, the sole proprietor of the shop, gets disintegrated at the end. He opened the episode moaning that he's about to go out of business and then through the story sold his TVs for a fiver apiece; apparently, his owner-less and employee-less business thrives without him, surviving into the far future (I believe he's even on Starship UK). However, without any real memories of the episode, we went into it with almost a first-watch mindset.

I was surprised at how good it was. The Wire was menacing, creepy, and dangerous without even being able to move. There was a lot of good Doctor-y moments (and I laughed out loud when the detective inspector asked him what he knew and he replied that he knows you can't wrap your hand around your elbow and make your fingers meet, and while the DI yelled at him, the DS behind him surreptitiously tested it out). I was also impressed that when it came to the Connolly family dynamics, they didn't pull any punches. Eddie was an awful, abusive man who seemed just a hair away from beating his wife and son, and I was surprised they allowed a character like him in a pre-watershed show.

Rose was strangely useless in this episode, as if the writer didn't know what to with her. She took a couple of good shots at Eddie and then went off to investigate Magpie Electricals. The thing is, though you find out a lot about what's going on through her scene, she never gets to tell the Doctor about it because she's immediately face-sucked; he ends up finding it all out on his own. Thus, her "investigation" was simply a way to get her away from the Doctor so that she could get captured and play Catti Brie for the Doctor's Drizz't. (That's a reference to R.A. Salvatore's novels, in which much of the time, the hero Drizz't moans about not being able to save the day, then Catti Brie, his love interest, stubs her toe and he rages out because she's been hurt and defeats all the villains.) She'd actually done a good job this time figuring things out (she's not an investigative companion like Martha or Donna, so she rarely does things like this) and yet didn't actually get to contribute.

When the adventure was over and the Doctor and Rose were enjoying the street party, my husband turned to me and said, "Wow. I really don't remember why I hated this episode so much." We started talking about what we liked and didn't like (that scene climbing the antenna tower was way too long), and then we saw the final scene. As Eddie is leaving after his wife Rita has thrown him out, Rose tells his son Tommy to go after him and reconcile, and Tommy runs off after him. We just stared at the TV. Rose had just told someone who'd finally broken out of a cycle of abuse to go and re-establish that relationship again. My husband said, "Now I remember why I hate this episode."

Part of that is personal. His father was as bad as Eddie - worse, actually, as his father did actually physically abuse his mother, his brother, and himself - and it took a long time for my husband to finally get out of that. He tried reconciliation a couple of times, but it didn't take more than a few minutes for the same things to start right back up again, and he finally broke all ties with him.

He did find, however, that any time he ever told anyone that he'd broken off with his father, that person would advise him to make up with him. It didn't matter how much he told them, that he'd lived with decades of physical and psychological abuse and was not going to go through that all again; the person would say either that "you should be the better man", that "your father probably regrets all of that", or "your father will treat you differently now that you're an adult". Pretty much what Rose said.

Thing is, people don't change, neither the abuser nor the victim. The abuser is not going to become all warm and cuddly (especially suddenly, as would have to be the case for Eddie, in the single day that it took to overturn his life); the victim is not going to be able to stand up for himself and direct the relationship in a different direction. It's irresponsible at best to suggest that the victim continue to submit himself to that situation, especially just to take the high ground or to reward the abuser for (perceived) good behavior - and especially when you're an outsider and have no stake in the outcome.

In this case, I blame the writer (who turns out to be Mark Gatiss) trying to make an episode dealing with a difficult subject come out happy for everyone. The story had actually been ending well, with Eddie leaving and Rita and Tommy satisfied that they'd finally taken control of their lives. This is where it should have ended, with the happiness reserved for them and for their neighbors celebrating the coronation. Unfortunately, it had to go one step further and ruin (at least for us) a perfectly good episode.
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