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The Idiot's Lantern was the seventh episode of series 2 of Doctor Who.

This was one of the earliest instances where the Tenth Doctor displayed a ruthless and overpowering personality when his patience and mercy were pushed to their boundaries. It also featured the theme of putting one's reputation and appearance above trying to help others, such as the case with Eddie Connolly, who reported any of the Wire's victims and tried forcing his wife and son to accept his views of the world.

So far, this has been the only appearance of the Wire's species. What they truly look like remains a mystery to this day; the Wire's essence was simply using the last image on the television screen she possessed.

Tardisode 7 serves as an unusually important prologue, revealing what happened to Grandma Connolly prior to the intervention of the Doctor and Rose.


It is 1953, the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II — but there is something hiding in the televisions of the British people. Something hungry...


Inside the Magpie Electricals shop, the proprietor Mr Magpie realises his business is going under as the television behind him finishes its broadcast for the day. Shortly after, a red lightning bolt hits the antenna over the shop. The television comes alive with the TV announcer's face and calls to the dozing Magpie. Within a few seconds, the image on the screen lashes out with an energy beam, apparently absorbing Magpie's face.

The Tenth Doctor and Rose land in Muswell Hill, London, in 1953, yet expecting to be in New York. Dressed in an Elvis Presley mode, they expect to attend a performance of the Ed Sullivan Show. Rose speaks the lingo of the era, noting that her mother was a huge Cliff fan; they'd rent the movies every bank holiday. The Doctor notes that he should have guessed that Jackie was a Cliff fan. As they leave the TARDIS on a scooter, both the Doctor and Rose are confused by their surroundings. The different skyline, a red double-decker bus, and a Union Flag tell them that, actually, they are in northern London on the eve of Queen Elizabeth II's coronation. The Doctor is saddened once again to find he isn't where he wants to go. The Doctor and Rose then see Magpie delivering a TV to a house in the street, and Rose is puzzled to see every house in the street with a television aerial; she recalls how her grandmother told her TVs were so rare everyone went into a single house to watch the coronation.

Just then, the Doctor witnesses a person covered in a blanket being abducted by men in black. The Doctor and Rose race after the car. The car passes through a gated doorway which slams shut and a market stall moves in front of the gate, making it look like a dead end. The Doctor and Rose arrive shortly after, mystified by the car's disappearance. "This is Churchill's England, not Stalin's Russia" the Doctor notes; clearly this cloak and dagger routine shouldn't be happening.

Meanwhile, Magpie has gone back to his shop and talks with the TV announcer, telling her that he has completed her instructions, before begging her to go away and leave him alone as her presence makes his insides and memories hurt. But she mockingly scoffs at his plea, and tells him that the time is almost ripe, finishing with the comment "cometh the hour, cometh the man... or lady."

"That's the Union Flag. It's the Union Jack only when it's flown at sea".

Rose and the Doctor decide to investigate the abduction: posing as royal inspectors, with the help of the Doctor's psychic paper, they arrive at the home of the Connollys, where Mr Connolly has bullied his family into ignoring Gran after her face was stolen. The Doctor convinces Rita Connolly to bring him to Gran. As the Doctor examines Gran, two men burst into the house, knock out the Doctor and hustle Gran away. The Doctor gives chase, but Rose stays behind. She notices the television set is giving off electrical sparks. Later at the dump site, the Doctor finds people whose faces have been stolen locked in a cage. As they begin to surround him, the investigators shine a light into the cage.

Rose reads the name on the television's tag: Magpie. She heads for the television shop where Mr Magpie, who seems to be extremely stressed, tries to get her out the door before the Wire is alerted to her presence. Rose insists on asking Magpie about the televisions he's selling. The announcer appears on one of the TV screens, looking to Rose like a broadcast was being played, but the image declares it is sentient by telling Rose its name is the Wire — and it's hungry. The Wire begins sucking Rose's brainwaves and face into its television as Rose desperately pleads for help. Magpie only apologises, claiming Rose brought it upon herself.

"Because now, Detective Inspector Bishop, there is no power on this Earth that can stop me".

Detective Inspector Bishop begins to interrogate the Doctor, asking what he knows. The Doctor childishly tells the inspector that he knows that one can't put their hand on their elbow and make their fingers meet. Bishop becomes shocked that the Doctor addressed him by name; the Doctor explains "It's written in the collar of your shirt. Bless your mum." He then turns the tables by asking Bishop questions he can't answer, offering his assistance in solving this mystery. As the two reach a truce, an agent brings in another victim, much to the Doctor's horror: Rose. Enraged, the Doctor tells Bishop "Now there is nothing that can stop me!"

The Doctor and Bishop return to Florizel Street for answers, with the Doctor roaring in anger to silence the uncooperative Mr Connolly. They ask Tommy about what happened to his Gran the night her face was stolen. She was watching television, which was pretty cheap to afford thanks to Mr Magpie being generous due to the coronation. Despite Mr Connolly's objections, Tommy is encouraged by his mother to join the investigation; she wants him to do good, unlike her husband.

"Good Lord. Colour television!".

The three head to Magpie's shop, but Magpie is gone. The Doctor discovers a handheld portable TV, which should not exist yet on Earth. He also discovers the televisions in the shop are holding the people's missing faces, silently calling out for help. On one of the screens is Rose's face, calling over and over for the Doctor; he quietly promises that he will save her. Magpie enters, and the Doctor demands to know who is really in charge. The Wire appears, briefly turning the black-and-white television to colour, telling the Doctor that it was executed by its own people, but fled to Earth, where there is enough mental energy for it to reconstitute its physical form. The Doctor then sourly notes that the Wire has been taking more than it should, gorging itself "like a great, overfed pig."

Bishop calls Magpie out for allowing the Wire to feed on innocent people, but Magpie declares that he had no choice; the Wire allowed him to keep his face and has promised to release him at "the time of manifestation." Tommy asks what the time of manifestation means, and the Wire cryptically says it will be her "crowning glory"; Bishop then immediately realises it is talking about the coronation. The Doctor adds that the coronation will be the first time in history that millions of people will be gathered around a television set; thus giving the Wire the perfect opportunity to feast on them all. The Wire then begins to feed on Bishop, the Doctor and Tommy Connolly. It revels in feeding off the Doctor, calling him "delicious" and declaring that it will have "lashings of him". However, the Doctor is able to stop the Wire by brandishing the higher alien technology: his sonic screwdriver. Realising the Doctor is "armed and clever", the Wire withdraws from its feeding after completely draining Bishop, but not the Doctor and Tommy. The Wire transfers itself into the portable TV and orders Magpie to take it to Alexandra Palace.

The Doctor and Tommy regain consciousness; together, they construct a device with parts in the shop. They race to the TARDIS to pick up one more part then run to the Palace's broadcast centre. The Doctor orders Tommy to keep the device he's plugged into the broadcasting system operating no matter what. Grabbing a spool of wire, he heads for the top and begins to climb the tower. He manages to get past security with the psychic paper; to his own shock, it says he's the King of Belgium. Magpie is at the top, begging the Wire to stop the pain in his head, as it promised him peace after its physical reconstitution. Complying with Magpie's wish for peace, the Wire disintegrates him with a bolt of electricity. At the same time, people watching the coronation, and even animals in the room are having their faces sucked off.

The Wire begins to feast.

The Doctor reaches the Wire, grabbing the portable television, and tells the Wire that it wasn't smart to take a shot at Magpie, as it has overexerted itself. The Wire tries to fry the Doctor using the tower as a conductor, but the soles of the Doctor's shoes are rubber, keeping him safe. The Doctor attaches the wire he's been trailing to the portable, but a fuse shorts and the machine Tommy is keeping an eye on stops. The Wire taunts the Doctor for his failure, for now, it will be able to live again. Tommy quickly changes the fuse and the machine operates again. Screaming in horror, the Wire is transferred from the portable into a Betamax cassette the Doctor built with parts from the TV shop. The Doctor jokes he made the home video over 30 years earlier than it should have been. Elsewhere, all of the Wire's victims have regained their faces and minds and are released from holding. Those who were in the mid-process are left wondering what happened to them but dismiss anything odd happened.

"New monarch, new age, new world".

The Doctor reunites with Rose on Tommy's street, which is now throwing a party to celebrate the coronation. Rose asks the Doctor what he'll do with the Wire trapped in the tape. The Doctor explains that he'll use his unrivalled knowledge of transtemporal extirpation methods to neutralise the residual electronic pattern. Confused as to what the Doctor means, Rose asks him to dumb it down. "I'm gonna tape over it," the Doctor explains; Rose offers to do that as she's always taping over her own movies. As a gift for helping him, the Doctor gives Tommy the keys to his scooter, telling him to wait until he's old enough to drive. At the same time, Mr Connolly is being kicked out by his wife for only thinking about his family's status over their well being. Tommy is glad that his father is going, but Rose tells him even an idiot like Mr Connolly deserves a second chance. Tommy runs off to talk to his father. The Doctor and Rose toast with orange juice and enjoy the party.



General production staff

Script department

Camera and lighting department

Art department

Costume department

Make-up and prosthetics



General post-production staff

Special and visual effects


Not every person who worked on this adventure was credited. The absence of a credit for a position doesn't necessarily mean the job wasn't required. The information above is based solely on observations of the actual end credits of the episodes as broadcast, and does not relay information from IMDB or other sources.




  • Torchwood is mentioned by the police officer.

Real world[]


Foods and beverages[]

  • Grandma Connolly opines that television turns one's brain to soup.
  • Grandma Connolly eats crumpets.
  • Eddie Connolly serves sandwiches.
  • A poster of HP sauces can be seen in the background.
  • The Doctor mentions burgers.
  • The Doctor and Rose drink orange juice.




  • The Doctor says the portable television tastes like iron.

Story notes[]

  • This story had working titles of Mr Sandman, Sonic Doom, and The One-Eyed Monster.
  • The Idiot's Lantern was originally to have been the ninth episode of Series 2.
  • Almost every shot in this episode is shot at a Dutch angle, a type of camera shot where the camera is set at an angle. This technique is typically used to evoke tension. Past episodes have used Dutch angles, but this is the first instance of an entire episode being shot mostly using this technique.
  • In DWM 515, Mark Gatiss told that originally the story was written for the Ninth Doctor Christopher Eccleston, Tommy was originally to be played by Nicholas Hoult and had a crush on the Doctor but Rose would think he was interested in her. In the end Rose and the Doctor would have a conversation about this crush and her making assumptions about the Doctor.[1]
  • Originally, the Doctor was supposed to have a line about having trouble with radio transmitters, which was supposed to be a reference to Logopolis, where the Fourth Doctor fell from the Pharos Project transmitter to his death.
  • The Doctor quotes Kylie Minogue's song "Never Too Late." Minogue would later appear as a guest star in the episode Voyage of the Damned, playing Astrid Peth.
  • All the television aerials seem to resemble Nazi swastikas. On the DVD commentary, one of the set designers mentions that this was done to evoke the post-war era.
  • Magpie Electricals apparently continues to exist beyond the death of Mr Magpie; Martha Jones had a Magpie brand television in The Sound of Drums, and a Magpie brand microphone can be seen in Voyage of the Damned. The new TARDIS interior after it repaired itself following the events of The End of Time, has some parts made by Magpie Electricals. There is a Magpie Electricals Shop in The Lie of the Land. Magpie apparently continues to thrive into the future, as a large sign with the company's logo can be seen aboard Starship UK in The Beast Below. In the animated reconstruction of The Power of the Daleks, the television in Hensell's office features a Magpie Electricals logo. Additionally, a Magpie Electricals logo is shown advertised in Gatwick Airport in the animated reconstruction of The Faceless Ones.
  • The Wire's line, "Are you sitting comfortably? Then let's begin," is a line made famous by Daphne Oxenford in the program Listen With Mother.
  • The Wire's repeated demand, "Feed me!", is reminiscent of a similar demand made, to comic effect, by the killer plant Audrey II in the classic horror-comedy film (and later musical) The Little Shop of Horrors. When the faces are shown on the screens in the TVs, it is also similar in the original film when Audrey II finally bloomed showing the faces of all its victims.
  • Margaret John (Grandma Connolly) had previously appeared in Fury from the Deep in 1968, 38 years before this story. She thereby held the record for the greatest span of time between guest appearances on Doctor Who.
  • This story gives a no more specific date than the year 1953 for the setting of the story, however COMIC: Where's the Doctor? indicates that Elizabeth II was crowned on 2 June 1953, confirming that The Idiot's Lantern took place on 1 and 2 June of that year.
  • The title of the episode was suggested by Gareth Roberts, who recalled the term being used by his father to refer to television.
  • The story was originally set during the dawn of the rock 'n' roll era of the late fifties. However, it was eventually agreed that the idea of a living song did not translate sufficiently well to television.
  • The story originally took place on Powell Street, intended to be the same location where the Powell Estate would later be built. However, since the Powell Estate had already been established as being situated in Southwark, this would make setting the climax at Alexandra Palace (in Haringey) a more cumbersome plot element (not without giving the characters a reason to take the Northern line across town).
  • A subplot in which Rose visits her aunt, who works on a game show for the BBC was deleted because Russell T Davies feared that having the Corporation be too involved in the plot would make the episode difficult to take seriously.
  • Magpie was originally a more malevolent figure. His villainous nature was toned down at Russell T Davies' suggestion.
  • Tommy's grandfather was removed from the script. At one point, he appeared in place of the grandmother.
  • The entrance to Bishop's headquarters was originally concealed by a newspaper vendor rather than a market stall.
  • The chase scene was originally much longer and included action in the London Underground.
  • The climax originally featured the television sets in Magpie's shop exploding after the defeat of the Wire.


  • 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.[2]


  • This episode is frequently mistakenly cited as taking place in 1952, the year Elizabeth ascended to the throne upon the death of her father; her official coronation ceremony, however, did not occur until nearly 18 months later, in June 1953. (In addition, the episode itself states that it is 1953.)
  • It is often erroneously claimed that footage of Rose calling out from the TV set was recycled for her brief cameos in the Season 4 episodes The Poison Sky and Midnight.

Filming locations[]

  • Alexandra Palace, Wood Green, London
  • Florentia Street in Cathays, Cardiff
  • Blenheim Road in Pen-y-lan, Cardiff
  • Cardiff Royal Infirmary
  • Veritair Limited tarmac at the Cardiff Heliport on Cardiff Bay
  • Newport Dock

Production errors[]

If you'd like to talk about narrative problems with this story — like plot holes and things that seem to contradict other stories — please go to this episode's discontinuity discussion.
  • David Tennant mentioned on the DVD commentary that he accidentally hit the button on the sonic screwdriver prop while putting it into his pocket, causing the light to flicker on and "sonic-ing" himself. This error is clearly visible on the episode itself.
  • When the Doctor is climbing the transmitter, there's a moment where David Tennant's right foot disappears completely due to a compositing error.
  • At the beginning of the episode when the Doctor and Rose are on the moped with helmets and sunglasses, the camera crew are reflected in them.
  • When Rose and the Doctor chase after the black van on their scooter, David Tennant successfully hits the silver ignition. Billie Piper, who repeats the motion, does not and the heel of her pink shoe can be seen scraping the front of it.
  • In the "Next Time..." trailer for The Impossible Planet, the wrong filter is applied to the computer voice for Sanctuary Base 6.


Home video releases[]

External links[]