New Series Episode 22:
The Idiot's Lantern


Strange things are happening in 1953 London, in the days leading up to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Mr Magpie is practically giving away television sets, despite the fact that they're the cutting edge of new technology. Black-suited policemen are taking away people in the middle of the night. And something is turning normal men and women into faceless monsters. It's up to the Doctor to stop the Wire from killing millions, even as Rose becomes its latest victim...


Mark Gatiss had scripted The Unquiet Dead for the new Doctor Who series' inaugural season, and was eager to return to the programme. In January 2005, Davies presented Gatiss with a story idea which he thought would present a challenge: an historical adventure (as was Gatiss' preference), but one set in the 1950s, an era more recent than the writer was usually comfortable with. Entitled “Mr Sandman”, Davies' concept was of an alien intelligence existing within a contagious song; those infected by the melody become faceless creatures.

Gatiss began writing a treatment called “Sonic Doom”, set at 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. As Gatiss was a fan of television's history, it was decided to have the alien force inhabit a broadcast signal instead. The story -- at this point generically referred to as “1950's” -- would now be set in 1953, at the time of Queen Elizabeth II's coronation, since this was an event which instigated a substantial upsurge in the number of British households owning television sets. Gatiss hit on the idea of patterning his villain's guise after Sylvia Peters, who had been one of the BBC's primary continuity announcers from 1947 to 1958.

A subplot was deleted involving Rose's aunt, who works on a BBC game show

One of the seminal television events of the Fifties had been the broadcast of The Quatermass Experiment in 1953. Gatiss wanted to incorporate numerous homages and references to Nigel Kneale's opus in his scripts, but ultimately only the clenching hands of the faceless victims survived. (Coincidentally, Gatiss was appearing in a live remake of The Quatermass Experiment alongside David Tennant while writing for Doctor Who. During rehearsals, Tennant revealed to Gatiss that he would be taking over the lead role in Doctor Who, enabling Gatiss to get a jump start on writing for the Tenth Doctor. To this stage, Gatiss' script had been written with Christopher Eccleston's Ninth Doctor in mind.) Also deleted was a subplot in which Rose visits her aunt, who works on a game show for the BBC; Davies feared that having the Corporation be too involved in the plot would make the episode difficult to take seriously.

One in-joke which did survive was Gatiss' decision to give the name “Florizel Street” to the road on which the Connollys live. This had been the working title of the long-running ITV soap opera Coronation Street (and at one point, at the story's conclusion, the Doctor would have taped over the Wire with an installment of Coronation Street itself). Initially, though, the scripts had been set not on Florizel Street but on Powell Street, intended to be the same location where Rose Tyler's apartment block, the Powell Estate, would later be built. However, since Rose's home had already been established as being situated in the south of London, this would make setting the climax at Alexandra Palace a more cumbersome plot element.

Magpie was conceived by Gatiss as a more malevolent figure; his villainous nature was toned down at Davies' suggestion. The entrance to Bishop's headquarters was originally concealed by a newspaper vendor rather than a market stall. The street party in the last scene was intended to be set at night, complete with fireworks; this was altered as it was felt to be too similar to the conclusion of Fear Her later in the season. Also cut from the script was Tommy's grandfather (who appeared in place of his grandmother in one draft), a much longer chase scene involving the Doctor's Vespa which included action in the London Underground, and a climactic scene of the television sets in Magpie's shop exploding after the defeat of the Wire.

The Idiot's Lantern was named after contemporary slang for a television set

Searching for a title for his episode, Gatiss contemplated “The One-Eyed Monster”, as this had been the name of an installment of the mid-Seventies children's series The Kids From 47A which had involved a TV addict. He subsequently rejected this because he felt it conjured phallic connotations, and finally opted for The Idiot's Lantern, which was contemporary slang for a television set. This title was suggested by Gareth Roberts, who had written the interactive episode Attack Of The Graske and was contributing the TARDISodes to the whole of the second season.

The Idiot's Lantern had originally been slated as the ninth episode of the season, after The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit. It was bumped up to seventh, preceding the two-parter, when The Runaway Bride was held back to serve as the 2006 Christmas special, ensuring that two multi-episode stories weren't scheduled consecutively. In terms of production, The Idiot's Lantern was intended to be a single-episode Block Five, with The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit forming Block Four. When these scripts encountered delays, however, it was decided that The Idiot's Lantern would instead join Fear Her in comprising the fourth production block. The unexpected shift in his deadline meant that Gatiss had to hurriedly finish writing his episode.

Directing The Idiot's Lantern was Euros Lyn, who had already handled Tooth And Claw and The Girl In The Fireplace earlier in the season. Because of Maureen Lipman's limited availability, Lyn's first piece of filming occurred on January 23rd, 2006, in Wood Green, London, at Alexandra Palace itself. In addition to filming Lipman's role as the Wire, some exteriors of the building were also shot. Recording on Florentia Street in Cathays, Cardiff -- posing as Florizel Street -- then took place from February 7th to 9th. The exterior of Magpie Electricals, meanwhile, was actually on Blenheim Road in Pen-y-lan, Cardiff; shooting there took place on the 10th.

Florizel Street was actually Florentia Street in Cardiff

Three days at the Doctor Who studio space of Unit Q2 in Newport then ensued. Covering material in the Connolly house, this spanned February 13th to 15th. Another day at Florentia Street followed on the 16th. At the same time, the Connolly house set at Unit Q2 was used for recording the episode's TARDISode. This also featured Margaret John as Tommy's grandmother, and depicted her being attacked by the Wire. Originally, writer Gareth Roberts had conceived a TARDISode in which the Wire travels between empty sitting rooms in search of a victim.

On February 17th, the Cardiff Royal Infirmary stood in for Alexandra Palace, while the sequences atop the transmitter itself were actually performed on the Veritair Limited tarmac at the Cardiff Heliport on Cardiff Bay. Bishop's lair was really the South Dock of the Newport Docks; filming took place there on the 20th and 21st. Production on The Idiot's Lantern then wrapped up back at Unit Q2, where scenes in Magpie's shop were taped on the 22nd and 23rd.


Original Transmission
Date 27th May 2006
Time 6.59pm
Duration 45'08"
Viewers (more) 6.8m (18th)
· BBC1 6.8m
Appreciation 84%

The Doctor
David Tennant
Rose Tyler
Billie Piper
The Wire
Maureen Lipman
Ron Cook
Eddie Connolly
Jamie Foreman
Rita Connolly
Debra Gillett
Tommy Connolly
Rory Jennings
Grandma Connolly
Margaret John
Detective Inspector Bishop
Sam Cox
Ieuan Rhys
Aunty Betty
Jean Challis
Security Guard
Christopher Driscoll
Mrs Gallagher
Marie Lewis

Written by
Mark Gatiss
Directed by
Euros Lyn
Produced by
Phil Collinson

1st Assistant Director
Peter Bennett
2nd Assistant Director
Steffan Morris
3rd Assistant Director
Lynsey Muir
Location Manager
Gareth Lloyd
Unit Manager
Rhys Griffiths
Production Co-ordinator
Jess van Niekerk
Production/Script Secretary
Claire Roberts
Production Runner
Sarah Davies
A/Production Accountants
Debi Griffiths
Kath Blackman
Non Eleri Hughes
Script Editor
Simon Winstone
Focus Puller
Steve Rees
John Robinson
Boom Operator
Jeff Welch
Mark Hutchings
Best Boy
Peter Chester
Stunt Co-ordinator
Dave Forman
Stunt Performers
Gordon Seed
Steve Griffin
Rocky Taylor
Ray De-Haan
Sarah Franzl
Supervising Art Director
Stephen Nicholas
Art Dept Production Manager
Jonathan Marquand Allison
Standby Art Director
Lee Gammon
A/Supervising Art Director
James North
Design Assistants
Al Roberts
Peter McKinstry
Standby Props
Phill Shellard
Matthew North
Set Decorator
David Morison
Property Master
Adrian Anscombe
Production Buyer
Joelle Rumbelow
Assistant Props Master
Paul Aitken
Props Chargehand
Phil Lyons
Props Storeman
Stuart Wooddisse
Specialist Prop Maker
Mark Cordory
Prop Maker
Penny Howarth
Construction Manager
Matthew Hywel-Davies
Construction Chargehand
Allen Jones
Storyboard Artist
Shaun Williams
BBC Wales Graphics
Costume Supervisor
Anna Lau
Costume Assistants
Lindsay Bonaccorsi
Kirsty Wilkinson
Make-Up Artists
Anwen Davies
Steve Smith
Moira Thomson
Prosthetics Supervisor
Rob Mayor
Prosthetics Technicians
Jo Glover
Martin Rezard
Special Effects Co-ordinator
Ben Ashmore
Special Effects Supervisors
Paul Kelly
Mike Crowley
Special Effects Technicians
Danny Hargreaves
Richard Magrin
Casting Associate
Andy Brierley
Assistant Editor
Ceres Doyle
Post Production Supervisors
Chris Blatchford
Samantha Hall
Post Production Co-ordinator
Marie Brown
Online Editor
Matthew Clarke
Mick Vincent
2D Artists
Bronwyn Edwards
Simon Holden
Joseph Courtis
Sara Bennett
Michael Harrison
Russell Horth
Sandra Roach
Melissa Butler-Adams
3D Artists
Serena Cacciato
Nick Webber
Chris Tucker
Chris Petts
Digital Matte Painter
Ilyas Kaduji
Visual Effects Co-ordinator
Kim Phelan
Dubbing Mixer
Tim Ricketts
Sound Editors
Paul McFadden
Doug Sinclair
Sound FX Editor
Paul Jefferies
Finance Manager
Richard Pugsley
Original Theme Music
Ron Grainer
Casting Director
Andy Pryor CDG
Production Accountant
Endaf Emyr Williams
Sound Recordist
Simon Fraser
Costume Designer
Louise Page
Make-Up Designer
Sheelagh Wells
Murray Gold
Visual Effects
The Mill
Visual FX Producer
Will Cohen
Visual FX Supervisor
Dave Houghton
Special Effects
Any Effects
Neill Gorton and
Millennium Effects
Crispin Green
Production Designer
Edward Thomas
Director of Photography
Rory Taylor
Production Manager
Marcus Prince
Executive Producers
Russell T Davies
Julie Gardner

Working Titles
Mr Sandman
Sonic Doom
The One-Eyed Monster

Updated 6th July 2014