A trip to catch Elvis on Ed Sullivan ends up being a visit to Muswell Hill, London, during Elizabeth's coronation in 1952. An alien expatriate, a sort of soul-sucking television spirit called the Wire, has installed itself in the neighborhood in the weeks leading up, in order to take advantage of the televisual attention to be paid to the ceremony. Meanwhile, a man named Eddie makes war upon his family in their house nearby. As the Wire consumes more and more of the neighborhood, leaving faceless bodies with clenching fists, the local authorities get involved, stashing the bodies in a warehouse room. Rose is intrepid as hell, and traces the zombies to a single television purveyor, a Mr. Magpie, who is the Wire's thral, but her face is taken before she can notify the Doctor. Tommy, Eddie's gay teenage son, figures out that Eddie has been informing on the whole neighborhood rather than trying to solve the facelessness issue, and this resulted in Tommy's Gran being taken by the authorities. The Doctor, Tommy, and one of the local cops find Magpie's and are attacked, but the Doctor and Tommy remain intact. As the coronation commences, the Doctor chases Magpie -- now carrying the Wire on a bulky portable set -- to a transmission tower. The Wire kills Magpie and starts in on the Doctor, but he records her onto a Betamax tape just in time, vowing to record over her. Everybody gets their faces back, Tommy reunites with his Gran and the Doctor with his Rose, and Tommy's mum kicks Eddie out of the house. At the last second, the Doctor and Rose, having inspired Tommy to save the world in his own way, nudge him to start with his dad. This episode holds up damn better under multiple viewings than one might have thought. The good: that part at the end, which was brilliant; the Doctor's Elvis quaff and Rose's poodle skirt and '50s lingo; Rose's growing independence. Oh, and the Wire herself, who is awesome. The Bad: maybe a total of ten minutes too long; weird conflation of '50s paranoia, conformity issues, and muddled political commentary on television, the Royals, fascism, the Falklands, and possibly gay rights; and paper-thin dialogue supporting same. Still, all in all it's a surprisingly watchable update of the "Long Game" and "Bad Wolf" themes, with a corresponding hop sideways to account for the changes in the show this season and this Doctor, and an utterly different, but no less beautiful, conclusion. Really quite good.
Late May, 1953, north London. Dark and stormy and creepy. Outside Magpie's Electrical, there's lightning across the sky. Inside, Mr. Magpie himself leans on the counter, unhappily balancing his accounts. In the background, a television is on, and the presenter is happily signing off Whatâs My Line. Her face is angled and shadowed in the blue and grey of black and white, eyes and lips dark against her pale skin, nearly sixty, with a pleasant smile. She's a "continuity presenter," which is significant (those are the ones that say, like, "That was Hex on Sky One; next up, Jacob snogs Nathan Barley for charity" or whatever. "If you'd like to see Thelma and Cassie make out for another fifteen minutes, press Red now.") because the man's name is Magpie. Regular presenters are give or take, they're talking heads, they exist on the level of the screen, but the continuity voices tell you about the screen world itself, if you see what I'm saying. They tell you about the world of the screen itself: conspirator, editor, controller. We don't have them in America but we're no better off for it. Mr. Magpie is two hundred pounds overdrawn; the presenter says good night from Alexandra Palace, the local transmission station, whose tower still transmits to this day: the center of television and entertainment in London 1953. "God Save the Queen" begins to play, the woman's face disappears, Magpie prays for a miracle and throws his balance sheet into the trash. It's over for the night.
On the fictional Florizel Street -- a working title for Coronation Street, which is funny considering the timeframe -- the Connelly family radio is laughing. Mrs. Connelly's mother chuckles along -- "He does make me laugh!" -- as Mrs. Connelly's son Tommy sits on the sofa, reading Radio Enthusiast. The Connellys don't have a television, but a radio. Enthusiastically, by all accounts. Mrs. Connelly herself, Rita, sews by the window and watches the coming storm. Mrs. Connelly's husband Eddie enters, wearing a suit and tie and medals from the war, a penguin so important you want to laugh, but you oughtn't. Eddie straightens his tie, white shirt clean, without a speck of dirt, and tells his wife that he's off. Tommy meekly shows his dad a picture of a television, in the Radio Enthusiast, and Eddie sighs tiredly. "How many times, son? We'll see!" Tommy protests that everyone's getting a telly, even Mr. Gallagher. Even the Bells, at Number 67. Eddie winks and points a finger at his son. "Well, perhaps we'll get one for the Coronation. If you're lucky!" Rita smiles, thankful that he's not raging. "We'll see," says Eddie, and ruffles Tommy's hair. "Don't wait up," he says, and leaves. Once he's gone, Gran speaks up; a Dutch tilt on the camera making her strange and weird: "I heard they rot your brains. Rot them into soup, and your brain comes pouring out of your ears. That's what television does." Outside, lightning flashes again.