It’s another Mark Gatiss script and that means we’re back in a period setting, uncovering a mysterious alien influence posing as something else. It’s 1953, it’s the Queen’s coronation, and suspiciously cheap television sets are appearing all over London. I suppose it’s become a huge cliché by now, but the Doctor and Rose drop in at precisely the right moment to save the viewers of London from having their faces/minds eaten by a banished energy creature calling itself the Wire. How convenient!
The period setting is well-realised with lots of attention to detail in the sets, costumes, props and stock footage used on the old television sets, combining to create a believable sense of place. The direction is interesting in that it’s almost entirely ‘jaunty’ – almost every shot is at an angle. It looks good. It’s a shame the music is the usual Murray Gold bombast, as they could have had some fun with that too. The main characters certainly have some fun within the period setting, although they are overly cocky, even before they know what’s going on.
Before the ‘face’ reveal, I liked the bits with the gran in the upstairs room banging on the floor and everyone trying to ignore her. I thought that was really freaky. But this is as much a story about people’s faces mysteriously disappearing as it is about a prideful father trying to uphold his family’s dignity in an era when making a fuss was seen as a sign of weakness. These characters are somewhat two-dimensional, however, almost to the point of parody.
The Wire is an entity of consciousness or energy not unlike the Great Intelligence. Unfortunately, we don’t learn very much about her (it?) before the Doctor reverses the polarity (ho-ho!) and traps her in a betamax cassette, magically restoring everybody’s minds and faces somehow. The Idiot’s Lantern is more concerned with selling the believability of the era and in creating some scary scenarios (which it does) and less concerned with explaining the hows and whys of the plot. It’s not muddled, just underdeveloped. There’s also too much sonic screwdrivering, but this is becoming an issue in general.
But I actually quite enjoyed this on the whole. I can forgive some underdeveloped elements for a good sense of style and effective scares. The Doctor stuck in the cage full of faceless people is brilliant. It’s also good to see Rose leading the investigation for a bit, seeing things the Doctor missed, but unfortunately she gets damseled and the Doctor does his “now it’s personal” routine where he talks through his teeth and scrunches up his little face. I could take this more seriously if he didn’t have his Elvis hair throughout, but there you go.