Serial 207 – The Idiot Box
An Alternate Program Guide by Ewen Campion Clarke
From An Entry In The EC Unauthorized Guide O' Quarter Mass
"YOA's Discontinuity Guides - Inaccurate But Caring."
Serial 207 – The Idiot Box -
On a dark and stormy night, Mister Crane Magpie sits in his electronic shop and bemoans his extension of his overdraft. Suddenly, the female newsreader on the television nearby starts talking to him and asking him if he is sitting comfortably.
Freaking out, Mr. Magpie smashes the TV to pieces with an axe.
A moment later, another television comes to life and the female announcer appears again. "Right, let’s take this a little more slowly," she begins, before Mr. Magpie smashes that television apart as well.
"This might take a while," she continues from another television as Magpie goes crazy and starts smashing every single thing in his shop.
Parte the First
At that exact moment... which to the untrained eye may appear like the next morning and to the rational mind will appear like six months later, the TARDIS arrives on Powell Street which will, in the future, become Cardiff’s top hot spot for drug racketing, prostitution, loan sharks and child slavery.
Seemingly unable to recognize the terrain, or all the Union Jacks, red double-decker busses and post boxes, the Doctor and Rose emerge with Arthur from the time machine with their fiendish plan to slaughter Elvis Presley in the late fifties when he was known as The Pelvis and still had a waist – which means it will be so much easier to stab him to death. The Doctor intends to take over so by the 1970s, it will be the Doctor with all the chest hair and white denim in Vegas.
It finally dawns on the pair that they are in Cardiff, so their plans to break into Ed Sullivan TV Studios to kill Elvis are completely pointless. Rose muses that it’s quite unusual for the TARDIS to fuck up to such a degree, and the last time it happened was curiously enough the exact same time Mark Gatiss last wrote for the show.
Having broken the fourth wall completely, the Doctor decides to loiter around the place until they see an old woman get kidnapped by shady characters who turn out to be poorly-drawn comic relief characters and immediately runs into the TARDIS and rides a small blue moped out and wearing a ridiculous crash helmet.
Rose rolls her eyes. "The Old Doctor SO would have had a Harley," she sighs and leaves the Doctor with the puny Vespa with its WHO10 number plate while she rides Arthur. On the way they both complain at length of the Cliff Richard films Jackie would torment her with on bank holidays.
The Doctor and Rose ride into the next street where Mr. Magpie is now a sinister black-clad figure in a sharp suit and fedora with his own personal army of hired goons handing out free TVs to the folk of Powell Street as he "makes them offers they cannot refuse" to enjoy the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.
As the Doctor notes that they’ve worked out where they are, on queue a completely different bunch of men in black burst into a home and drag out an old lady with a sack over her head, bundle her into a black car and drive off. Predictably, the Doctor and Rose follow on the moped which can reach speeds of 10 mph in less than two hours and the horse which can do slightly better if he’s had oats for breakfast!
By the time the Doctor, Rose and Arthur arrive they find the car has somehow vanished and somehow been replaced by a market stall. Suspicious, the Doctor notes that the same bloke has bought a newspaper from the same vendor fifteen times since they arrived and now the Time Lord is suspicious. Very suspicious.
Then they get bored and decide to start irritating and patronizing people for the rest of the day until they stumble across an evil alien scheme based from a retail outlet somehow turning people into zombies, since that’s exactly what happened the last time they did this script.
Attention turns, perhaps surprisingly, to the Gatiss Family at number 47 with its hideous clashing wallpaper and amazingly strong smell of human urine everywhere. The young intellectual and frustrated deviant Mark is being forced to tell his father where his father acquired his medals and for some reason the answer "the pawn shop" isn’t right.
The Father orders the Mother at gunpoint to cheer up and put up some bunting for the Coronation, which they will all watch on their brand new television set which has marvelous reception given the trouble with tendril-like strips of electricity clawing around the set. With a chronic ability to deal with any objection bar screaming the phrase "I AM TALKING!" like he thinks he’s Christopher Eccleston or something.
The doorbell rings and the Father finds the Doctor, Rose and Arthur grinning in a disturbingly cheerful manner. Using his nifty psychic-passport, the Doctor reveals he represents the Touchwood Institute and Queen and Country and immediately barge their way in and hurl abuse at the Father for not flying the bunting and not embracing feminism. After bullying him for his stupidity for about twelve minutes, it becomes worryingly apparent that the TARDIS Crew have behaved the same way in every other house in the street!
The duo immediately sit on the sofa, watch their TV and complain about the smell of wee everywhere. The Doctor tells Mark he sees a great future for the boy in institutionalized transvestitism and writing tie-in novels uncannily like the Jon Pertwee era. He then kicks the Father in the ribs repeatedly for not encouraging his son to enjoy television and when the Father protests, the Doctor screams "I AM NOT LISTENING!" at him and threatens to throw him into a whole pit of trouble and Christmas merchandise if he continues to stifle creativity.
There’s a subtext here, I’m certain of it, but I can’t for the life of me guess what it is.
Finally the Mother suggests they all pop up to the attic where an ominous thumping sound can be heard. Not being in any way at all suspicious, the Doctor and Rose agree and skip up the stairs to find that the Grandma of the family’s face is completely missing.
"Her face is completely gone," the Doctor murmurs, fascinated. "It’s just like The Shape out of Sapphire & Steel! Except... how the hell is she breathing? No nose, no mouth, no eyes. This old bat should be dead. Instead she’s a zombie. Zombie grandma. You getting any déjà vu, Rose?"
The Mother reveals that she didn’t expect the Doctor to be able to help but staged the whole thing as part of a scheme for her to do a deeply unfunny "my mother in law’s so ugly" type gag which is so awful, the Time Lord is deeply delighted when the MIBs turn up.
But this time they bring with them their leader, the Bishop complete with robes, mitre and crook and a wicked dueling scar who considers the very good, complicated and brilliant reasons why they should stick to this cut-and-paste rewrite of The Presuming Ed, but settles instead of punching the Time Lord unconscious and kidnapping Grandma like the other old women left zombies the sinister figures are collecting.
We then cut to some typical animated crime-thriller titles with captions saying "C OF E FILMS IN ASSOCIATION WITH THE SUNDAY SCHOOLS BOARD PRESENT: THE BISHOP! STARRING THE REVEREND JAMES NESBITT AND INTRODUCING SIR FRANCES URQUART AS THE VOICE OF GOD! SPECIAL EFFECTS BY MIKE TUCKER, MODERATOR OF THE CHURCH OF SCOTLAND! DIRECTED BY PREBENDARY "SHAGGER" CARNALL!"
The action returns as the Bishop and his thugs leave the house and Rose kicks the Doctor conscious and tells him to get after them rather than lying around uselessly like some kind of Nicholas Briggs wannabe. The concussed Doctor stumbles out and manages to get his tie caught in the boot of the MIB’s high-powered, open-topped American car which hurtles off into the night, dragging the Doctor with it straight into the secret base hidden behind the market: the Touchwood Institute.
"Big fucking surprise!" the Doctor chokes as he is dragged within.
Rose kicks in the family television for no real reason than she was bored and after bidding Mark farewell and encouraging him in his derivative talents, runs out the door and rides away on Arthur before anyone complain at what a total fuckwit she’s been.
At the Touchwood Institute, the Time Lord is bundled into a cage full of faceless zombies along with the latest one by the MIBs. "Oh, well, at they’re not wearing gasmasks," the Doctor sighs as the zombies start acting menacing so we can get a cliffhanger involving the Doctor being surrounded by homicidal zombies that never actually kill anyone.
However, since Rose isn’t in danger, we find she’s decided to barge her way into Magpie’s shop and be even MORE smug, rude and annoying than she has been in the rest of the story so far. She demands Magpie hand over a television from the sinister collection he happens to have at hand. For no apparent reason... other than the fact it’s painfully banal and predictable... that Magpie and his crackling televisions of death are to blame for the rash of faceless zombies.
"How can a TV steal someone’s face?" Magpie challenges her.
Unable to come up with a proper response, Rose picks up a screwdriver and tries to plunge it through the top of Magpie’s head. She totally ignores the woman presenter on the TV screaming the words "HUNGRY!" over and over and over again, assuming that Magpie was watching The Little Shop of Horrors.
"What a pretty little girl! Yes – I’m talking to you, little one, as you try to stab my weak-willed slave to death. Unseasonably chilly for the time of year, don't you think? I’m the Wire. And I’m HUNGRY!" she screams for about twelve seconds and then uses some hot pink disco energy to suck Rose’s face off her head.
"Goodnight, children everywhere," the Wire concludes for absolutely no reason bar the fact it’s weirdly ironic and will look good in the Next Time... trailers.
Parte the Second
Luckily for the Doctor, he is recognized by a Touchwood operative called Captain Jack Sparrow who drags him before the Team Leader, the Bishop, and the Doctor quickly knees Captain Jack in the bollocks and changes the topic. As Jack is dragged out by two stagehands with jackets saying "BBC Wales", the Time Lord begins a discussion with his captors about whether or not you can wrap your hand around your elbow AND get your fingers to meet.
The Bishop reveals that Touchwood have been sent to deal with the sudden rise of Faceless Welsh, but have proved useless. The zombies don’t kill people, they don’t even do ANYTHING and they’re rarely any good in the sack. Apart from using them as target practice the Bishop has no idea of what the hell to do now.
Luckily, the Doctor’s superhuman insight... and the recycled script... means he has a pretty good idea about what’s going on: some alien energy is turning people to zombies from an innocuous service industry retailer using weak-willed old Welshmen to do all the hassling stuff on the eve of a momentous social occasion. "Never fails," the Doctor concludes.
Immediately the Bishop sends his no-necked thugs to work out which of this week’s guest cast fit the requirements when suddenly Arthur wanders in, having managed to collect the face-stolen zombified Rose, found his way into a top secret camouflaged base and UP three fire escapes to enter the run-down office.
"That’ll do, horse, that’ll do," the Doctor enthuses before noticing his other companion has, apparently, overdone the makeup something chronic to the point it looks like her face has somehow been stolen yet not caused her to instantly asphyxiate.
Finally he twigs when he orders Faceless Rose to be added to the cage for possible sex later and the Doctor realizes that someone has stolen the face of his only decent-looking companion since the Temporal Difference of Opinion. As a result, he explains to the Bishop, this makes things very simple.
"Because now, Detective Inspector Bishop, THERE IS NO POWER ON THIS EARTH THAT CAN STOP ME!!!" the Doctor roars at the top of his voice. "COME ON! LET’S DO IT!"
The next scene rather oddly shows the Doctor and the Bishop hand in hand, leading Arthur through a field of poppies, throwing flowers everywhere and snuggling up to watch the sun rise.
"Oh, yeah," the Doctor says suddenly. "Almighty wrath. Right. Yes. Sorry. ROSE WILL BE AVENGED!!!"
The next scene has the Doctor, the Bishop and Arthur going from house to house and making a nuisance of themselves to lots of families eager to quite literally "blank out" in front of their televisions. By curious coincidence, the first household they choose is the Gatiss household where the Father is threatening to keelhaul anyone who ruins the post-war nostalgia theme going on and repeatedly promises to force the Mother to wear a Scold’s Bridle if she speaks out of turn again and also intends to "beat" some unspecified sexual undercurrent out of Mark, who is pretending to be Jon Pertwee again.
The Father answers the door and finds the Doctor waiting and tries to flog the Time Lord to death with his belt, but unfortunately sans belt his trousers fall down and everyone laughs at his humiliation before gang-banging him with cricket bats. When Mark is called a "little twerp" by the bleeding and battered paterfamilias, he immediately accuses his father of being the reincarnation of Adolf Hitler and sets him on fire until he burns to death.
"Is it me or does the author have some father/son issues?" asks the Bishop intelligently, but this question is ignored. Perhaps for the best. Though apparently the same thought occurred to the East Midlands Serious Crime Squad who have that same question to Mark Gatiss about the shallow graves in his backyard. (I hasten to add that Gatiss was completely innocent and simply was allowing his pal Steve Moffat to bury his critics there until they learnt their lessons).
It finally strikes the Time Lord this murder has absolutely nothing to do with either the faceless zombies or even helping Rose. Smacking his forehead and apologizing for his gadfly mind, the Doctor checks the script for The Presuming Ed and – since every TV set he’s seen is crackling with lethal hot pink energy – concludes that it is the electricals shop he needs to investigate this time, rather than a squalid dope-dealer’s bedsit.
Grumbling that he kind of preferred the plot the first time it was used, the Doctor and Bishop ride Arthur to Magpie’s shop but for some reason Mark the Twerp follows them. The Doctor uses Arthur to ram-raid the shop, explaining he often likes running through large pieces of glass on his horse.
The Time Lord is looting the shop when he realizes that all the TV sets in the shop are displaying the stolen faces of the people seen earlier in the story, all silently calling out for help, including Mark’s rancid Grandma and of course Billie Piper.
"How the HELL does this work?!" the Doctor exclaims in disbelief. "How do you cause someone’s entire head to reshape itself, NOT killing them in the process, and then make TV shows what they’ve lost? I mean... OK, it’s got that creepy German expressionism thing happening, but Mr. Logic is busy frolicking on Insanity Beach, people! JINGS! I mean, their faces, their personalities, all still here like waste... Which means whatever is eating them is bulimic! What kind of digestive system does this Gelth-rewrite have anyway?"
As the baffled Time Lord flips desperately through his script, Magpie enters and summons up the Wire who reveals she isn’t merely using a form of a TV presenter, SHE IS THE TV PRESENTER! One exiled to Earth by her fellow Wires and capable of making black and white TVs show colour. For some reason. I mean, hell, I’m not talking about technobabble allowing her to do this impossible feat, but why an alien death wraith would WANT to be colour anyway!!
The complete random insanity of this story floors the Doctor, the Bishop and Mark, leaving them vulnerable to the Wire... in a way completely different to the way they were vulnerable to the Wire already. Or something. Oh, god, it’s making me dizzy just thinking about it as the Doctor struggles to make sense of their situation.
"It must feed off the electrical activity of the brain!" he gabbles. "But... um... but it gorges itself like a great overfed pig. Taking people’s faces, their essences, it stuffs itself... Hang on. That STILL doesn’t make any sense! JINGS!"
"Ooh, this one's smart as paint!" the Wire camps it up like nobody’s business. "Jolly nice to meet you. What a clever thing you are! But why fret about it? Why not just relax? Kick off your shoes and enjoy the coronation! Believe me – you’ll be glued to the screen!"
Having established the Wire as an intelligent, witty and sarcastic menace at this point the evil face-stealing parasite suddenly has a full-frontal lobotomy and tacks a smack of heroin and starts screaming random shit like, "HUNGRY! HUNGRY! HUNGRYYYYYYYY! The Wire is HUNGRY! FEED ME, SEYMOUR! FEEEED ME! THE WIRE WANTS TO FEEEAAASTTTT!!"
"I can’t stand the confusion in my mind!" wails the Bishop, whose head explodes at this point for absolutely no given reason of any kind whatsoever, spreading brain and marrow all over the electrical shop.
In the distraction, Magpie grabs a lunchbox and escapes his shop by using some Batman-style fire poles leading to freedom while the Doctor and Mark violently twitch as they wonder what in the name of fuck is going on here?!
The Doctor regains his wits by realizing that there is not a single damn thing he has encountered since leaving the TARDIS that wasn’t second hand, so ergo the Wire and Magpie will have a similarly derivative plan of action which can probably dealt with by nicking the more memorable bits from The Quatermass Experiment.
"Of course! They’ll use the transmitter at Ally Pally to send their evilness into every household! Imagine if the Wire succeeds - twenty million TV viewers will end up faceless zombies doing sweet fuck all! Oh, the SATIRE! Still, I’m nay fussed. None of the people here are REAL, are they? Just a species of freaks called "Fifties Stereotypes" with flag-waving parochialism and awe at the simplest of things. Wipe them out for all I care! On the other hand, I don’t have anything else to do today..."
Pausing only to duck into the TARDIS and get his coat as it will be bitching cool to see it flapping around him as he saves the day, the Doctor rides Arthur to Alexandra Palace! Yes, Alexandra Palace. In Cardiff. Let us move on.
In the grounds of Alexandra Palace Magpie arrives in his van, carrying the box whilst millions of people across the nation watch the coronation unfold on television. He makes his way up a flight of stairs, towards the transmitter. And then he climbs the mast but... egads... THE DOCTOR AND ARTHUR HAVE SOMEHOW GOT THERE BEFORE THEM!
The sight of a horse climbing to an antennae mast is so ridiculous and Magpie laughs so hard he loses his footing... which then proves he actually IS a magpie, and is able to fly away into the sunset, cackling like a madman while the Wire continues to overact and refer to herself in the third person.
"Another week, ANOTHER FUCKING TRANSMITTER," the Doctor bitches. "Nestles, Dustbins, Sycophants, Cybermen, Slitheen... I swear if I see another alien menace using architecture as an antennae again, I’ll go stark jinging mad!"
He then smashes Magpie’s lunchbox with a lump hammer, and the Wire shouts "Nooooooooooooo!" for a ludicrously long time before her disbelieving face cuts out.
There is a long, thoughtful silence.
"How the hell did we even GET up here?" the Doctor asks Arthur. "And why did security believe that you, Arthur, were the King of Belgium?"
As Everything’s All Right from "Jesus Christ: Superstar" plays in the background... for some reason... the Doctor and Arthur return to Touchwood and collect Rose before Captain Jack regains consciousness. Riding through the street parties celebrating the cinema release of The League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse, the Doctor and Rose share a glass of orange juice and try to make sense of the last forty-four minutes of batshit insanity they’ve suffered.
"Maybe it was the Autons using the TV aerials to animate plastic and chocolate into faceless zombies?" suggests Rose when Mark arrives, still stalking the pair of them.
The Doctor suggests that the boy stop following them and instead go and build some bridges with his father and forgive the pantomime wife-batterer who regularly beat his son unconscious. For some reason it works and the little boy admits he feels sorry for the man who systematically and mercilessly abused his own family – but this turns out to be another ruse to get close enough to stab the Father in his gall bladder with a bread knife.
It is at this point all hell breaks loose.
"I’m going to gobble you up pretty boy!" shouts Mark Gatiss as he suddenly runs on screen and ends the episode in the most disturbing and unconventional manner Doctor Who has ever known...
"Lights! Camera! Action! And... SATIRE! This story truly will be Fandom’s salvation!"
"The sound of the universe!"
"What does it mean?"
"A key running along a piano wire then slowed down, but I think 'the sound of the universe' is punchier."
"His name is The Doctor!"
"No, it’s Doctor Who, you squee-mad virgin! He’s credited that right the way through to Season 19!"
"Find me a girl! We need to get lives!"
"Here we are, complete strangers and I’m flashing you my knickers! It’s real interesting working at a strip joint, isn’t it?"
"We’re one step closer to defining the canon."
"Hang on - I don’t do autographs, now piss off, this is a take. Jings."
...Love & Pizzas...