Love & Monsters
|Production Code||Series Two Episode Ten|
|Dates||June 17 2006|
With David Tennant, Billie Piper
Written by Russell T. Davies Directed by Dan Zeff
Executive Producers: Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner.
|Synopsis: It's hard work tracking down the Doctor when you're a big fan of ELO.|
Avanti by John Nor 3/7/06
Woah. This one positively defies you to write anything about it. The general message from this episode is that there are lot of other things you could be be doing than analysing the life out of a television show. Or reading an analysis of a television show.
For those that are still with me: do you recognise yourself in that episode?
We may not all attend local fan meetings similar to L.I.N.D.A. shown here, but if you are reading this, there will be some part of that episode that rings a few bells I'm sure.
You may not immediately get the not-so-hidden subtext: the people of L.I.N.D.A are meant to be a bit like obsessive fans of the television show Doctor Who. (Really?) Like Clive in Rose. This is underlined by Elton describing his first meeting with the Doctor, when he was just a lad, all those years ago. This reflects many people's experience of the show. They will have seen it all those years ago, and are still chasing after that sense of wonder.
If these people are fans, then what does Peter Kay's character represent?
Individual fans being bullied by some self-important uber-fan who tells them what to think?
The danger of being totally absorbed by the show to the exclusion of all else?
This is the real danger hinted at by the episode, as the group's shared interests beyond the boundaries of discussing the Doctor are something that the villain discourages.
So, a bizarre riff on the nature of Doctor Who fandom, but how does it fit into the season as a whole? Remember, last year's oddity and format-buster Boom Town actually set up a few plot points quietly and developed a few characters. If this episode has any part to play in the season as a whole, then Jackie's isolation will be significant in episodes to come.
Back to the theme of episode. What was it trying to say really? Perhaps coincidentally, Russell T's early career involved work on a British show "Why don't you?" whose full title was "Why don't you turn off your television and do something less boring instead?" Was that the message? I'm not so sure.
Without different ways of viewing the world and thinking of the world, without your imagination being sparked into life and sustained by programmes such as Doctor Who, without art, life is a lesser thing. Sure, enjoy the show, but remember that the show is saying things about life, not just other old episodes of Doctor Who.
John Nathan Turner's era on Doctor Who saw the show holding up a mirror to itself at times, with the constant return of old monsters and endless continuity references.
This episode holds a mirror up not to the show, but to the fans. It asks us to remember that our lives can be fantastic too.
The ending is shocking, jolting us out of our seats to take another look at the world around us. The paving slab thing seemed just wrong at the time, but as the final mad flourish to an inspired episode it all makes sense.
Absorbatrix??? by Joe Ford 20/7/06
Forget The Girl in the Fireplace, this is the most daring, the most different episode we have had this year. It is also one of the best for what has turned out to be a very strong year of Doctor Who, which should be indicative of its quality.
I have been thinking for a while that despite being beautifully filmed, exciting, imaginative and enjoyable the past five or six episodes have lacked something that season one had in abundance... it was only when I watched Love & Monsters that I realised what that was. Whilst people have criticized his work hugely since he started on the series (compared to the other writers), season two has lacked good old Russell T. It's become a very serious, sombre, sensible drama series... what RTD brings to the show is a sense of fun and adventure which is as essential as those other ingredients. When I look back to series one it is not Father's Day which I can re-watch again and again to spot great lines, wonderful set pieces and overall quality, it's The End of the World, World War Three, Boom Town and Bad Wolf. RTD disguises his intelligent writing behind his ability to entertain but if you scratch the surface of many of his episodes and you can find genuine emotion, fantastic ideas and compelling drama.
Love & Monsters is Russell T Davies on form after a stretch of episodes away so he can refresh his work. It capitalises his strengths from his previous episodes and accelerates them. Brilliantly, compare this with Tooth and Claw and see just how versatile this mans work is. This episode contains an embarrassment of riches that highlights just how generic and worthless so much of today's TV schedule is.
a) I absolutely adored Elton. What a fabulous character. Not a nerdy sort but one that nerds can really relate to. Mark Warren pitched his performance just right because there was the risk that Elton could come across as geeky and soppy but he pulls of the sentimental scenes with a great deal of charm that makes your heart melt. This really is the everyman on the street caught up in amazing adventures, looking for love, friendship and answers about a man who has featured so prominently in his life. When all the doe eyes, infiltration and awe are over and done with my favourite Elton moment is in the very last scene where he sums up life more beautifully than I can ever remember. It is promoting the Doctor Who ethic in the most positive of ways.
b) The humour is pitched at just the right level. I laughed out loud several times during this episode and I cannot remember the last time I did that with any other show. To provoke real laughter you have genuinely appeal to somebody's sensibilities and that takes real talent... seeing the Doctor and Rose and that horrid saliva-dripping creature chasing around that warehouse from Elton's point of view is pure, excellent slapstick. And Billie Piper's OTT war cry as she comes running with the water is genius! Not only that though, you have that great scene where Jackie seduces Elton by splashing wine down his top and telling him to take it off, him saying it is nothing and her chucking the whole glass at him! Pure brilliance and Camille Coduri plays the slutty seductress with total conviction. Then everytime Peter Kay opened his trap in the costume of the Absorbalof I could hardly keep a straight face. A big fat, green, hideous, face covered monster with a Mohican and a northern accent. It has to be seen to be believed. His reaction to being called a Slitheen is fab. And finally the extremely rude suggestion that paving slab Ursula and Elton have a sexual relationship caused spontaneous laughter from Simon and I that didn't subside for several minutes. You work it out.
c) Seeing the invasions in Rose, Aliens of London and The Christmas Invasion from Elton's POV was such a clever idea. Doctor Who is usually always told from the POV of the regulars so to see the reactions of somebody who was not involved in the adventure at all is fascinating. I loved the scene where his bedroom window exploded.
d) Jackie has not been used very effectively this year and this just goes to remind you what she can bring to the series. Seeing her just getting on with normal life should be tedious but she is such a fun character even that is wonderful. Watching her do exactly what Elton needs for him to infiltrate her home is hilarious (she is such a tart!) but the episode then turns on its head and shows her at home pondering on the fate of her daughter. The scene where she confronts Elton after finding the photograph of Rose in his pocket is very powerful and probably the best moment in the episode because you can see the pain she feels at being left behind, being least important person in Rose's life and how fiercely protective she is of both Rose and the Doctor these days. Startlingly played by both actors, this is great drama.
e) You have to applaud how "not Doctor Who" this episode is and if you were turned off because of that I suggest you take a cold shower and go and watch Underworld and find out that "normal Doctor Who" is not always the better option. Scenes of friends getting together, eating, singing and getting off on each other's company are joyous; romances, flirting, a man pulling off his shirt to jump into bed with a woman; this is bold, proud and different!
f) The framing device of Elton talking directly into his camera is very effective and a great way for us to get close to him. The episode is like a huge jigsaw of narrative styles; starting in the middle (because it has a big monster in it and makes an exciting start!), whizzing through that bit in fast forward when we reach it, cutting to Elton dancing around in happy moments and hiding his face during harder scenes, even to the point where he has to turn the camera off because it is too hard to talk, introducing the characters with brief snippets and those moments slotting in later, flashback sequences... it is a fascinatingly constructed piece of writing. I wouldn't know how to begin writing this but then I don't have RTD's job and let's all be thankful for that. Narration is just one of the ways this episode is groundbreaking.
But most gigglesomely brilliant of all...
g) ...is how Russell T Davies manages to once again prove how vital the Doctor is. It isn't a patronising love up where everybody says how wonderful he is, because Elton concludes that even touching the Doctor for a moment means you will be hurt in some way, but it does prove how important it is that the Doctor fights these monsters so that ordinary people like Elton can go about their business of living. It is that same feeling of status he was given in Rose in Clive's shed, that suggestion that people are following his adventures and are thrilled by them. He is our protector and our friend. When Elton runs away from him when the Doctor says, "Don't I know you?" I think that would be most of our reaction. Seeing the Doctor standing over Elton as a child as the camera pans over to his dead mother in the shadows is a shockingly thoughtful moment.
There are more wonderful things about this episode but I would be here all day. The witty lines, the fantastic score, the strong direction, the clever FX... these all combine to make the list above possible.
Love & Monsters is one of the most unusual Doctor Who episode ever aired. I thought it was bloody brilliant and don't want Russell T to disappear from the seasons for such a long time again.
Elton! Fetch a spade!! by Steve Cassidy 18/10/06
Be careful of what you wish for...
One day a small lad somewhere in England was watching Blue Peter. It featured a segment where the presenters revealed a competition to design a Doctor Who monster. The winner would be chosen by Russell T Davies and used in the new series. Fab! says the kid and rattles off a crayon drawing of a giant monster - he rearranges some letters randomly and comes up wtih the name Abzorbaloff! Fabulous! Russell picks up the drawing, pats the little darling on the head, and goes rushing back to Buffy Towers. Great! I don't have to think of a plot for this one! This nine year old kid has done my story for me!
And so it begins...
Not just the worst episode so far but the worst since the series came back. In fact it may well be a tussle with Timelash and Time and the Rani to the title of worst stinker of the last twenty years.
Oh dear, you are all thinking. Here comes Steve again ready to bash the new series. Has he no respect? Has he no gratitude? Doesn't he realise if it wasn't for Russell there would be no Doctor Who? How dare he! Well, yes - you are right. I am an ingrate. I'm a shocking person who bites the hand that feeds him. But, if a product is bad then it is bad. If you cough up six quid to see a film and feel cheated then you feel cheated. Ah, Steve: you aren't just an ingrate you are a luddite. You want traditional Who like Rise of the Cybermen or Tooth or Claw. Didn't you know that the walls of Who are boundless? It can do anything? This is experimental Who... no Doctor, no Rose - the main narrative driven by new characters. It's brave! It's adventurous! It's cutting edge! It's RTD pushing the boundaries! I have no problem with that. The Mind Robber and The Greatest Show in the Galaxy were attempts to do something different! Change is good! Barriers are there to be broken! Rules are meant to be stretched...
But sometimes experiments fail.
I mean Dan Zeff really didn't know how to direct it. In fairness it was a damn difficult script to direct well. The tone was all over the place. They wanted comedy - then they wanted tragedy. And the two didn't switch easily. Some pieces looked embarassingly amateur. Peter Kay in a big green prosthetic suit running down a backalley looked like some kind of student film. If it hadn't gone so over the top it could have worked. If it hadn't gone even further over the top, it could have worked in a different way. The actors did their best with the material. But, yikes I wouldn't have liked to be in their position. The elements of this episode didn't work in concert with one another. Individual scenes worked, but not the entire thing.
There was one element I thought did work and sucked me into the first twenty minutes. There have been allegations that RTD was sending up the fans. The LINDA group was a deliberate reply to the nerdish followers of this programme of ours. Instead I see the creation of LINDA as more of a homage, an affectionate piss-take. Every character in that group is written and played as childlike, "harmless" and kooky, and we're cued to laugh at their creative endeavours. Their applause for each other is clearly "supportive" as much as genuine. Its a lovely thought, and one that we all have experienced, that Who brings people together. The episode showed people having the time of their lives following the Doctor. Relationships of friendship and partnerships of love were forming because of their shared interests. And that means not just fandom; exchange LINDA for the local bowling alley or bridge club and the experience would be the same. So thanks, Russell - I enjoyed that. It was very nice of you....
And Marc Warren was his usual excellent self. The guy is a star on 'Hustle' and brought his considerable acting chops to this episode. He brings an energy and an innocence to the role which works very well. The kudos of new Who is so strong that it can attract actors of his calibre for one-off roles. It can also attract other actors. One particular BAFTA-winning actor wrote his own letter to the executive producer and - lo and behold - a part was written for him. One wonders what Peter Kay thought when he turned up on his first day of filming and the costume fitter held out a cheap looking prosthetic suit to him. "Oh, and yes Mr Kay you will just be wearing a g-string after all." I'll come to Mr Kay's performance as the Absorbaloff later as it is a key to why this adventure hits rock bottom. But as Victor Kennedy he does quite well; after all, Mr Kay trained as an actor before becoming nationally famous as a standup comedian. He manages to rise above the ghastly hair dye and cheap white beard they give him. He looks like Colonel Sanders who had been trapped in one of his restaurants for a month.
The rest of the cast are pretty good, many of them comprising familiar TV faces. Shirley Wotsit as Ursula Blake gets an interesting character and who would have believed Camille Coduri would have been the highlight of the adventure? They all get good characterisation and dialogue from Russell T Davies, who freely admits it is his forte. But where is the story? What kind of story did we have? A gross alien (coming from one of Russell's silly named planets) absorbing people into his fat belly and only entering the LINDA group so he can get the ultimate meal in the Doctor. The alien is finally cornered and easily destroyed by breaking a glowing walking stick. This piece of plot took up how much of the adventure? About five minutes? Fabulous! says Russell, rubbing his hands, I can get in more scenes with Jackie Tyler, and Elton dancing around to ELO in his underpants.
If it only stopped at that.
Your experience of Who is often dictated to by who you watch it with. Old Who was watched with my parents, generally on a cold winter afternoon at the fag end of the seventies. As the new series comes back I watched it with my partner - parents and friends ringing soon after to gauge my reaction to an episode compared with theirs. But I have been lucky enough to watch it with my neighbour's kids, who are aged 9 and 11, with their father. We started with the Cybermen episodes and carried on until we hit Love & Monsters. The Impossible Planet/Satan Pit thrilled them to bits and they were looking forward to this episode. Despite having monsters at the very beginning (was THAT prosethetic suit far better then the one they gave Peter Kay!) they slowly lost interest. This adventure isn't really very good at keeping children interested. Which was a blessing in disguise as three minutes before the end we have Elton hold up the rescued Ursula at crotch height and explaining "we have a kind of lovelife..."
Their father's mouth dropped open.
And just in case you didn't get what Elton was talking about we had Ursula get embarassed with "don't tell them that..." Is this really for children? Fellatio with a paving stone? And there is something rather sick about a girl being trapped in concrete for the rest of her life. I don't know whether RTD was trying to be daring or controversial but he came across as puerile. There is nothing funny about keeping someone in a permanent disability. Once again, his toilet humour ruins things. The last ten minutes are some of the worst Who you will ever see. Peter Kay leaping over the desk and wobbling down an alley in a big shoddy suit was easily the nadir of season 2 for me. But if you find a big fat man moving his arse to reveal a trapped woman underneath and saying it "tasted like chicken" then you will probably will get a kick out of Love & Monsters.
There was something ghastly about this one. I bet the regulars thanked their lucky stars that they only appeared for five minutes. Bold, exciting and innovative it may be - but there was something rotten in the state of Denmark, and it left a very nasty taste in my mouth. Who has been a massive success, its ratings are huge, its actors stars, and it is slowly conquering America (again?) on the Sci-Fi channel. It can afford to drop a clanger like this one. It won't seriously damage the series. If it becomes the norm then we may have another season 24 on our hands. But I cant see that happening - but I do see more cheap little fillers like this. There are fans out there who see it as a work of genius: a touching commentary on friendship and fandom. I don't. I see it as a result of a producer/writer whose clout is so massive no one has tapped him on the shoulder and said "Er, Russell - sorry mate, but this one is crap... perhaps you shouldn't go ahead with it."
And the thing is, I honestly believe we will see worse from RTD before he leaves the series.
A Review by Ron Mallett 12/1/07
This story represents everything I hate about the new series.
From the very beginning, it was obvious that we were firmly back to cleve-dick television. The modern audience are not even considered to be mentally agile enough to appreciate a coherent one-dimensional narrative. What we are given is a succession of little glossy moments that RTD thinks might be amusing or look good on TV. The chase scene with the bucket at the start was quite simply... moronic.
It was, in short, a very sad attempt to pass off mind candy as a sort of realisation of the New Adventure novels wherein the Doctor's role is kept to a minimum and he turns up towards the end of the "story" to put in just enough of an appearance to justify calling the whole exercise Doctor Who. What little story actually existed was so appallingly plotted that a six year old would have trouble suspending their disbelief. A group of oddballs who meet every week - rent free, underneath a library where they work towards tracking down the Doctor and form an ELO tribute band - are taken over by a disguised alien who wants to eat the Doctor and sets about eating the members one by one on a weekly basis without anyone being alerted there is something wrong... honestly, if RTD can get away with serving up this type of garbage then anything is possible. I thought Boom Town was the lowest this very low series could sink... but I was wrong.
There was even a reference to oral sex at the end. Isn't this supposed to be a family show? I'm not even sure how you classify an unnatural relationship with a paving stone? Tilingality? I actually thought I was going to have a stroke. Thankfully my 8 year old son gave up on it after the first 5 minutes as it was so tediously moronic that it couldn't even capture his attention.
This is what happens I think when one starts to believe their own myth. I think too many people with single digit IQs have been playing the part of the paving stone and grovelling at Davies' feet proclaiming him a genius. The "get a shovel" line at the end would have to be the most embarrassing moment in television history. In short it is meaningless tripe and certainly not Doctor Who. I'm sure Michael Grade is loving all of this.
"Someone wants a word with you" by Terrence Keenan 17/3/07
Love & Monsters is a mixed bag. While some moments had me smiling, others had me cursing like a longshoreman. It probably is the most polarizing story in the long run of Who, an accomplishment unto itself. I can understand why some people praise it to the heavens, yet others declare it a travesty.
Before I get one with things, a brief note. I tend to be a bit reactionary. My local Who group blasted this story to shreds upon first broadcast. This meant I felt bound to find the good in it, natch. And, well... just keep reading.
To me, the only story like this is The Happiness Patrol. THP has moments that are brill to the core, followed by moments that make you want to give up and switch to Star Trek. I love the bits with LINDA before Victor Kennedy arrives on the scene, and Elton's direct commentary to the camera should not even work at all, but it does far better than I thought. On the other hand, you have that silly Scooby Doo chase in the opening moments, all the bits with the Absorbaloff, and my vote for worst New Who moment ever: Rose chastising Elton with the Doctor's blessing while an alien is ready to kill him. (OH FUCK OFF!)
Love & Monsters tells a similar story as The Girl in the Fireplace, although from the opposite perspective. We see Elton's world through his own eyes, and how the Doctor has interacted with it. We also get discussions on fandom, and the Doctor himself -- yet another round of Doc as Lonely God, the big theme of New Who season 2. We also get a hint of events to come, specifically Rose and Jackie's fate.
On the performance end of things, the whole story hinges on Marc Warren's Elton. He's the main reason why story is enjoyable for me. Warren nails the character, and gets me to care about him. Camille Coduri is, for once, good fun as Jackie, while still being right in character. Shirley Anderson is sweet as Ursula. Then there's Peter Kay, who sucks in both parts he portrays. The Absorbaloff is a Fat Bastard rip-off, and Victor Kennedy is just annoying.
I would be remiss if I didn't bring this up: Elton's line about a "loving relationship." First time I saw Love & Monsters, I didn't think all that much about the line. Then I went a read a few reviews from people who screamed the world was coming to an end because of a oral sex reference in New Who. In my own opinion, I think it's so much sound and fury over nothing. It might actually mean something more innocent, like snogging.
On the other hand, maybe I'm just naive.
I'll sum up my thoughts on Love & Monsters like this. I love that a story like this exists in Doctor Who; it's yet another example of Who being anything and doing everything in terms of storytelling, of having no limits...
However, the execution leaves a lot to be desired, and ends up with a schizoid mess that bounces from genius to travesty from one scene to the next.
A Review by Finn Clark 20/4/07
I know someone who thinks Love & Monsters was the only good story of 2006. He found everything else formulaic... and to be honest I can see his point. We've yet to see an imaginative two-parter, while the one-parters are starting to feel one-dimensional. Sometimes they're just flat, either because the writers are reinventing the wheel (Rise of the Cybermen) or because they're overly slavish to their idea of traditional Who (The Idiot's Lantern). However even with the good writers, we're starting to become familiar with the kind of things they'll be trying to cram into 45 minutes.
Love & Monsters is different. It had to be filmed back-to-back with the Satan Pit two-parter, so David Tennant and Billie Piper could barely appear. Admittedly, I'd like to think that Russell T. Davies wants to push the envelope at least once a year anyway (e.g. Boom Town), but here he had to do something different. What's more, according to the commentary, there'll have to be an episode like this every year. It's the consequence of adding a Christmas special to the schedule. Anyone want to bet that next year's double-banked episode will be from the viewpoint of a monster?
Personally I love it. It's the annual "this isn't Doctor Who" episode, of which there should be at least one. When Doctor Who becomes formulaic, it dies. The "this isn't real Doctor Who" instinct is something to be fought against with every fibre of our beings, leading to the horror of BBC Books and Steve Cole. (I still can't believe that Eric Saward thinks Enlightenment is one of the worst stories of his era.) These offbeat stories take root in the imagination of future generations and make the show richer and more surprising. Interestingly that remains true even when the story doesn't work (e.g. The Celestial Toymaker), but fortunately Love & Monsters is bloody good.
What makes it work is that it's sweet. LINDA are outsiders, but charming. They're losers, but the story is in love with them and it's almost painful to see Victor Kennedy show up and start breaking up this self-made family. Jackie Tyler fits in perfectly when she could have easily crashed the party and broken the mood. The embarrassing bits are perfect. Yes, obviously it's drawing on the real-life culture of Doctor Who fandom, but...
Actually, on second thoughts the nay-sayers must be right. Obviously there's no difference whatsoever between "portraying fandom as anything but saints and angels" and "ripping the sad bastards to shreds". Personally I saw echoes of my own emotional alienation in Elton and the organisation of LINDA, which proves that Russell T. Davies is seething with self-hatred. Those who disagree are deluding themselves about the sad, pathetic, loveless wasteland of life, while I can also prove that Doctor Who has been influencing my online persona, my physical appearance in mirrors and strangers who pass me in the street.
Seriously though, Marc Warren as Elton gives what's by a country mile the standout bravura performance of the 2006 season. He carries the episode and it's not just the usual "talented actor doing wonders with a one-dimensional villain". He's portraying a complicated character, one who from many actors could easily have seemed too pathetic to care about, and makes him real even to people like us. Everyone in LINDA is lovely, but Marc Warren is brilliant. He's doing a proper acting job, really putting in the work, and the results are there to be seen on-screen.
(Wouldn't it have been cool to have Marc Warren actually in the background of previous Doctor Who stories, though? Foreshadowing is something you'd think Doctor Who of all series could be particularly good at, but so far it's only been catchphrases. "Bad Wolf" or "Torchwood". Maybe someone could do a fan re-edit of Rose or Aliens of London to include Elton's flashbacks?)
I could talk about the cast all day. Camille Coduri is wonderful, for instance. She's both hilarious and touching as she plays all sides of Jackie, the old slapper and the sincerely caring mother. "Those who get left behind." This was, incidentally, her first non-cameo appearance that year as the "real" Jackie Tyler. There's also Peter Kay, who's deliberately playing it slightly fake as Victor Kennedy and then is so much fun as the Abzorbaloff.
And a monster based on the winner of a Blue Peter competition! I'm in awe; that's just perfect. Words can't describe it. What's more, it's a great idea for a monster: strongly visual, easy to understand intuitively and good for cheap gags.
Then there's the video diary, with its visual grammar completely unlike that of ordinary film or TV. It has some cuts so quick that they're almost subliminal, implying volumes with half-second shots. You need to watch in a completely different way. It's fascinating.
Love & Monsters has unsurprisingly attracted a lot of comment. Russell T. Davies writes interesting scripts. As an aside, it's almost the anti-matter twin of The Girl in the Fireplace, showing how the Doctor's adventures in passing have affected people's lives. However, what I like best is its ending. You have the extraordinary double whammy of what was down the stairs all those years ago, then... well, you know. It's deliciously fucked-up. It's also perfect for Doctor Who, taking us somewhere twisted and strange that Star Trek couldn't. It's what Elton's talking about: "damnation may be the same as salvation" or "darker, stranger, better". It's neither a happy ending nor a sad ending, but something weirder and more complicated. It's freaky and almost nasty, yet still optimistic.
I don't know if this is quite my favourite story of 2006, but there's nothing significantly ahead of it. It's special in so many ways. Some stories you could drop from the schedule without significantly affecting the season as a whole. In the case of The Idiot's Lantern one might not even notice. However this story adds so much to Doctor Who, both by bringing variety to the storytelling and by re-examining its mythology from the viewpoint of the ordinary people. A lovely piece of work.
The Quite-A-Mess Experiment by Daniel Saunders 7/9/07
In many ways, the best thing you can say about Love & Monsters is that it should not be canon. Usually when people say that about a story, they mean they hate it and wish it had never been made. I do not feel like that about Love & Monsters. The reason it shouldn't be thought of as Doctor Who is that it just isn't really Doctor Who. It's a commentary on Doctor Who; or rather, a commentary on the kind of people who write commentaries on Doctor Who. Putting it with the TV series Doctor Who makes about as much sense as shelving The Unfolding Text and Inside the TARDIS with the New Adventures just because they're all written in prose.
This is made completely clear from the outset. The use of flashbacks (actually flashforwards), the sped up film in the joke chase scene, and Elton's computer exploding when he says the internet exploded (a literal depiction of a metaphor) all establish from the start that this is not an ordinary episode of Doctor Who. It is not using the television grammar of normal Doctor Who (I think; television isn't my first language, and I'm not very fluent in it). To make a comparison, imagine if Inferno began with the Doctor telling Liz about his trip to the parallel universe, and we then flashed back to him doing joke running while chased by a Primord. It just wouldn't happen. This is not straightforward drama aiming at verisimilitude. We are being invited to look at what it is saying on a non-literal level. A lot of Doctor Who asks us to do that, but this is prioritising the metaphor over the literal meaning.
Unfortunately, it is not so simple. After all, this is Doctor Who. It was broadcast in that slot. It uses the normal title sequence and music. According to the credits, the main characters are the Doctor and Rose, not Elton. This produces an odd effect: the story is commenting on the people who comment on the story, which is rather like the famous M. C. Escher picture of two hands drawing each other. Love & Monsters the story is trying hard not to be Doctor Who, but Love & Monsters the TV programme is very sure that it is Doctor Who.
This commentary makes uncomfortable viewing for a long-term fan. On first viewing, its presentation of fandom, or rather fandoms, plural, seemed affectionate. It even made me nostalgic for my time with my university Doctor Who society. However, a second viewing made things less comfortable. There's no denying that, despite Elton's feel-good(ish) closing speech, he is the only person who has benefited from LInDA. Everyone else ended up dead or a living paving stone. It is even debateable how much Elton benefited, having had his suppressed memories of his mother's death reawoken.
The commentary on fandom could even be seen as spiteful. LInDA are presented as pretentious comic pseudo-intellectuals when talking about the Doctor, too wrapped up in their speculation to pay attention to the real world, a real world that has already hurt some of them, perhaps so much that fantasy is the only escape. It is only when they get involved in other things that they are shown to be more rounded individuals. Victor Kennedy, the obsessive superfan par excellence in his single-minded obsession with the Doctor, is less an advert for the kids at home to buy the latest old series DVD, more a warning not to watch the show ever again. If the show is drawing a line between "sensible real life" and "Doctor Who", it runs the risk of scaring its audience away and reinforcing every negative stereotype about the show that it has been trying to destroy. Unless, as has been suggested, Victor is not any fan, but specifically an old series fan, perhaps one sensitive to Davies' overtly emotional stories. Victor, as he tells us more than once, doesn't like to be touched "literally or metaphorically".
The story itself, a dark comedy that flirts with tragedy is not everyone's cup of tea, but it works for me. It is not perfect, though. It is slow in parts and there are too many jokes that do not work for a comedy. However, even with a monster designed by a child (a stupid idea, although to be honest I do not strongly dislike the Absorbaloff), it just about holds together until the final minutes.
What we then get is one of the most unpopular plot developments in the history of Doctor Who, combined with what is almost certainly the most unpopular line in the show. Up until the "love life" line, I was slightly unhappy with Ursula's transformation, but I could accept it. It reminded me of Roald Dahl's children's novel The Witches. During the course of the story, the main character gets turned into a mouse and, against all expectations, he remains one at the end, despite saving the day. This actually distressed me quite a lot as a child, but lots of other children seemed to relish it, so I was willing to accept that Davies was attempting a grotesque modern fairy tale, in the style of Dahl. From this point of view, the fact that Ursula should not be able to breathe, that she can not move or do anything is not actually relevant. It is far too literal a reading of the situation, which is set up as a fantasy. She tells us she is happy, and we should believe her. Listen to the text. We fans suspend our disbelief all the time: time-travel on the Doctor Who model is not particularly realistic; the TARDIS's translation abilities are nonsense to anyone who knows a little about how language works; the chances of the universe being full of humanoid aliens are laughable; and so on.
The problem is the "love life" line destroys this suspension of disbelief by grounding the story back in the real world. If this is a fantasy world, then maybe people can be happy as paving stones as long as they share a room with the person they love, but if this is a world where people have sexual appetites and, presumably, other desires (for food, freedom, sensation and so on), then it's difficult to see Ursula's life as anything but an obscene torture (my inner Victor Kennedy would like to draw a comparison with the conclusion of The Five Doctors).
There is an additional problem here, which is that this line quite literally objectifies Ursula. It turns her from a person, the person Elton wanted to spend the rest of his life with, despite what society said, and despite the problems their relationship would encounter (a moral on non-traditional families?) into something to gratify Elton's desires. That is a very ugly and unpleasant idea, doubly so as it is done for a laugh, and a cheap one at that. I do not think it is going too far to say that the idea that this is someone's idea of family entertainment is quite disturbing.
Personally, I would have preferred Ursula to have been revived completely. Going to the opposite extreme and killing her would have made the implication that liking Doctor Who is death even more apparent. In any case, the story seemed too slight to be able to turn into a complete tragedy without seeming forced, and the death of Elton's mother provided a note of poignancy and a reason for Elton's fears for Rose and Jackie.
It is hard to come to a conclusion about Love & Monsters. It falls between two stools, but the suspicion remains that even if it had sat on just one, it would not have succeeded completely. A lot of it works, and even after a disappointing second viewing, I still think of it as one of the high points of series two, if only for trying, but there is no denying that there is a lot wrong with it. I do not necessarily mind that. What does frustrate me is that so many of those problems could have been fixed easily, especially the problems of the final few minutes.
A Review by Graham Pilato 26/12/07
This was undoubtedly one of my favorite episodes of the second season of the new Who series. Of course, I suppose that its general unpopularity has something to do with the lack of attention people like to give to the silliness of the series that is always there. This episode is for fans of fantasy and the bitter connection between reality and it. It makes a point of foregrounding its silliness and absurdity right at the top, and then plunges ahead with a very dear, very human tale of a fan going too far, missing the forest for the trees... as we are wont to do... and as I believe many fans have done in despising this episode for its very clear abandonment of traditional Who/fantasy formula and mystery in some respects.
This is the most human Doctor Who story of the new series. I care about our friend Elton a good deal more than I do about our fantasy pal Rose in most of these episodes. Plus, I can relate like nothing else to his need to bond and play and transcend to the extraordinary from the everyday; Rose doesn't have to do that anymore at all. She is even in the "I take the Doctor and me for granted" phase at this point. The edges of this episode aren't nearly so dull and distant as that. This is us, fans... and very funny. That moment at the beginning when Elton bumps into the Doctor and Rose in an old warehouse, monster-chasing, yeah: 'twas brilliant. What a personal fantasy of mine that has been since I was eight. Even as farcical as it was!
The Doctor Who runaround is still just that, a runaround.
I suppose it takes a level of humor and an ease of laughter to be able to come to such conclusions as mine about an episode as goofy as this. And what does that say?
This is the most ridiculous episode of the new series and also the most sublime, because, well, it looks down on the entirety of Doctor Who, fandom and friendship, and it makes real commentary apply in a very personal, funny, intimate way. It offers blowjobs from a paving stone with a personality and it says, "take this stuff seriously, but not in a way that means you lose your spirit." And I just want to stand up and cheer after every viewing of the thing.
My friends Kyle and John were over at my place when I showed Love & Monsters and John called this "either the best or the worst episode of this show." And, me an Kyle, laughing, both agreed, "it's the best." Of course.
It's all about what you bring to it. And maybe it's also about how funny a thing eczema can be.
I think it's bound, like Transit, The Happiness Patrol, Paradise Towers, The Blue Angel, ...ish and Death Comes to Time to reside among the most underrated and underappreciated stories of Doctor Who just for being so daring and weird (despite the fact that I, fool, love all of them). "Curate's egg" may want to be applied here when it comes to the mass appeal, but I just don't think it makes that much sense. It's not a bad egg, this episode. Kyle and I agreed. And, fortunately, a lot of people feel that way who write reviews online.
It's the teenagers in us who crave realism and unimaginative things, even if shrouded in the incredible instead of the ordinary, that want every TV show to be a formulaic chase with a sturdy escapist plan ready to take us away. Calling Love & Monsters childish or not Doctor Who just misses the point by miles.
And the best part is that this is still freaky stuff to an eight year old. The kids and the grown-up adults are happy.
I had to invent this rudimentary pulley system by Neil Clarke 24/10/09
I was one of those who absolutely loathed this story on its original broadcast; rewatching it now, more than anything I just see a wasted opportunity. Taking a look at the Doctor via an oblique viewpoint is a strong idea, and unique for the TV series up to this point, but the concept deserves far better than its cartoonish realisation.
Bitching about this particular episode, I know people will assume I'm either too closed-minded to deal with an story that doesn't obviously fit into an established format from the original series, or feature the Doctor all the way through, or that I'm completely heartless and immune to, y'know, emotional exchanges and meaningful stuff about friendship. But none of the members of LINDA are recognisably human beings; the emotional content and background is there, but only as a token gesture that's swamped by the clumsy realisation of the story at large.
While the video diary format could have been interesting, the story drowns in its numerous flashbacks/-forward (though the Super-8 style ones of Elton's mum are arguably more effective), making the format very ugly. (Similarly, I don't expect total verisimilitude, but I hate approximations of videocamera images; that's just not what they look like.) Imagine this made in the more serious and (by contrast) higher-minded approach of Moffat's stories, say; that could have been really interesting. As it is, the format is disjointed and (though you get the impression this is meant to be "postmodern", as if that means anything at all) the tone all over the place; it's supposed to be funny, I guess, but just comes across as throwaway and superficial, but with moments of pathos (ie, Elton losing Ursula).
Drinking, football, Spain. I'm sure this isn't Russell T Davies' world, but he's so obsessed with his lower-middle-class milieu - which he presumably thinks appeals to the broadest audience - but it comes across as very arbitrary, like those are things he uses as shorthand for "normality" and "real life". It results in archetypes - Elton as "crap normal everyman" rather than a real character - and is dispiritingly lazy. In the photos so far released of Karen Gillen in costume, she actually looks (albeit a bit Skins-trendy) like a real person with a personality and discernable taste, rather than the middle-of-the-road stylelessness of Rose/Martha/Donna, and, yes, Elton. He's a horrible, eyebrow-less goblin anyway; not likeable, just irritating.
As for the final paving-slab-related revelation (which, surely, undermines the "emotional core" the story seemed to be trying so hard to develop), Jesus Christ. Actually, if this were, say, a Paul Magrs story, he could probably take the, erm, more outlandish elements of this script and make them seem perfectly believable, by creating a world consistent with such things, where they wouldn't seem out of place. The trouble here, I think, is that Davies is trying to make such implausible events co-exist with a pseudo-"realistic" harsh world in which there is pain, unfairness, etc. Unfortunately, these two approaches completely defuse one another. Which is not to say that implausible events (even to the degree of living paving slabs) and emotional content are mutually exclusive; however, this episode is such a mess that nothing whatsoever gels. (Don't even get me started on the Scooby-Doo running around at the beginning.)
This story epitomises everything that doesn't quite work in the lacklustre season two. From the original broadcasts, especially since it took til series three for me to really be bothered about Doctor Who again, I found it hard to judge the new series in terms of seasons (especially since I'm used to watching the classic series piecemeal and out of order). Now, I appreciate why people still see series one as the best so far; it's more focused than those that follow, its obviously (relatively) tight budget giving rise to something more inventive and coherent than any of the subsequent series managed. I know calls for increased "darkness" are the eternal lament of the unsatisfied fan, but, by comparison to Tennant's era - speaking in broad terms - series one is darker (even visually), despite its undeniable mass appeal, and I do like that. It feels less of a cartoon than what followed.
Series two, by contrast, I really dislike. It's bland and brash and seems far more desperate to be "modern"; never a good idea for a franchise with a forty-year shelflife. Even a seemingly well-thought-of episode like School Reunion, despite Lis Sladen, is a piece of tired, flimsy crap. And the trouble is, there?s nothing redeeming. I truly love The Girl in the Fireplace, but that isn't enough. Whereas series three and four are to an extent redeemed by Human Nature/The Family of Blood (and, arguably, Blink) and Silence in the Library/The Forest of the Dead, series two has The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit, which, though entertaining, just doesn't live up to that slot.
A lot of people seem far more down on series three and four, but to me series two really is the doldrums of new DW, which just doesn't have the variety of those around it, and a brash, somewhat irritating Doctor who doesn't really get any stories that stretch him. Love & Monsters, the Barratt Homes soullessness of the subsequent Fear Her, and the execrably mundane, tedious Army of Ghosts/Doomsday makes a run of four stories set in dull old contemporary London, exemplifying a relentlessly one-note tone. In a series predicated around variety of locations and approach, I can't think of anything more damning to say.
Russell T. Davies Rips Doctor Who a New One by Hugh Sturgess 2/10/10
I better come clean and say that - for all that I am very free with my criticism of RTD and the episodes he has overseen - I bloody love Russell. The flaws in his writing are actually very few and far between, and are made more clunking because of that. Nothing will redeem the cliffhanger resolution in Journey's End, but I absolutely fucking adore the cliffhanger itself. Russell writes like no one else. He once described Skins as a "hybrid between drama series and screwball comedy", and then acknowledged that could be said about his own stuff. Looking at a Moffat-produced series now, we can really see those differences. He writes bigger - far, far bigger than anyone else ever dares too - and smaller and weirder and more domestic than any other writer. His characters thrive on dialogue, but it's a much more ordinary, stripped-down, physical-dependent dialogue than the more affected "look how funny they are" Moffat style. No one else would be able to get away with what he does, yet he carries it off with style and panache. Amazingly, it's actually not a problem that his episodes don't always hold together, since he can write character like no one else.
Back in 2005, there were already people criticising Rose and The End of the World for their "fast pace and excessive humour" (in the case of Sparacus, before the episodes had even been broadcast). In retrospect, those episodes are incredibly funny, funnier than I think most people remember - and they're fantastic. But they had the constraints of both Doctor Who and of an adventure series to tie Russell down. I think what really horrified viewers about Love & Monsters - even if they loved Rose and Aliens of London and even Boom Town - was the realisation that those previous episodes weren't a super-fast, super-wacky, sugar-crazed version of Doctor Who. They were just getting us warmed up.
I enjoyed Love & Monsters on first broadcast, mainly because my grandmother was watching too and was left utterly bewildered by it (my dad has inherited her habit of asking questions like "did you really like that?" to make you sound like a madman for saying yes), and because the script's intelligence was a source of irritation for Ron Mallet. A recent re-viewing has seen it shoot up in my estimation. I love this episode. It's not merely one of the best (if not the best) of Series 2, but one of the best of the New Series and of Doctor Who as a whole. Beat that with a stick.
The standard ways of analysing a Doctor Who story are left pathetically inadequate in the face of this story. It's RTD unleashed and it's everything we could expect (whether you liked it or not). This is an episode, after all, that begins with a Scooby Doo style chase scene, a post-trailers cop-out and (more crucially) the main character explaining why it's a cop-out. The Doctor and Rose don't appear properly in this story until the very end, and it couldn't be in a more appropriate story; this isn't their story, nor is it their universe. The Doctor, ultimately, is a protagonist who solves problems, answers questions and "wins", in whatever form that might be. Even when the Doctor is a pretty unlikeable character (as in the very early stories), we have Ian and Barbara, who triumph over adversity and good wins out. It's a convention of drama, by necessity: people watch film and TV drama-adventure to see something happen, to see "successful people". Even a supposedly "useless" character like Homer Simpson responds to the conventions of drama-adventure.
Elton, Ursula, Mr. Skinner, Bridget, Bliss and even Jackie (actually, most of all Jackie) are all losers, compared to the traditional characters of drama. They aren't "unsuccessful" in life or work; they're unsuccessful as drama characters. Jackie says that "it's hard... for those left behind", and that summarises the entire episode. It's a very funny episode, and basic morons have mistook that to mean that it's a comedy, or that it can't be serious. In truth, Russell is just using comedy to blunt and soften the story, like in Rose. This is a very sad, poignant, harrowing story of sad, awkward, fundamentally ordinary people fumbling in the darkness for something to hold onto and only occasionally, furtively, pathetically succeeding. Without humour, this story would be unbroadcastable in a Saturday evening timeslot. Russell shows a greater maturity as a writer than the finest in the land by ameliorating the grim emptiness of these people's lives with an irreverent sense of humour. In The Writer's Tale, he says that the division between "Drama" and "Comedy" doesn't exist: "You can have a pratfall at a funeral, you can laugh so hard you choke." Putting the lie, once again, to the cliche of New Who sceptics (that Moffat is a genius and RTD a hack).
Because a totally naturalistic TV or film world would be filled with "ums" and "ers" and "at the end of the days" and would be unbearable, we have conventions of manneredness in drama, adventure, tragedy, comedy, everything. There are certain tropes which can only exist in the fictional world: the crappy chat-up lines of Bond would seem lecherous in reality, the wise monologues which begin with "that's the thing about love" would be inarticulate snatches for us real folk. But we try to imitate them, because we hope that we can achieve the results that these tropes do in "the movies" or "on TV". How often we'd all like to seduce our special someone/something with a short, smutty quip... Jackie's attempts to get Elton to take his shirt off ("is that why it's so hot in here?") and Elton's later reply ("you're right... but it's about to get hotter!") are terrible cliches. Of course they are. They're hilarious here, lines from a porn film wrenched out of context. But they could, slightly modified to be more child-friendly, exist perfectly normally in a normal Doctor Who episode. (There's little difference between this and Captain Jack's ubiquitous flirting.) It's only here, in the mouths of these fundamentally undramatic, bumbling people that they don't work. This is great stuff.
Maybe it's because the author doesn't have the crutch of the Doctor and a good vs. evil battle to lean on, maybe because they're generally low-budget episodes, but something about the double-bank episodes encourages the writer to lift their respective games. Or maybe it was because Love & Monsters had set the bar so high. Blink, Midnight and Turn Left are all fantastic episodes, without doubt among the best of the New Series. It would have been easy to have a fairly standard "Lower Decks" style episode for this slot, but what we have is far superior. Doctor Who generally adheres to fairly conventional methods of storytelling (linear), character (proactive, "successful") and plot (puzzle, struggle, victory). This episode's refusal to adhere to any of these is quite amazing. It gives absolutely no quarter to viewers looking for something a bit more like The Green Death. The scene in the laundromat in which Jackie pre-empts every single step of Elton's "infiltration plan", in perfect order, almost speaks for the way the episode constantly undercuts our expectations.
Amazingly, this episode is often criticised for being too childish and simultaneously too adult. The chase scene at the beginning and the Abzorbaloff are "too childish", and the implied mention of a blowjob is "too adult". Make up your minds! I personally think it's absurd to call an episode childish when it is focussed so explicitly on the angst and loneliness of people who have left childhood far behind. You'd have to be at least a mid-teenager to relate to the fumbling awkwardness of Elton and co beyond the purely comedic. Bridget's daughter is lost somewhere, probably dead; it wasn't love or monsters, "just drugs" and Moya Brady fills that line with all the disgust and self-hatred that she can muster. Mr. Skinner's clumsy wooing of Bridget (their awkward kiss in particular) is sweet, but it's also a "real" relationship amid so many "Hollywood", "Mills and Boon" romances that are mannered and mythic. In another story, Ursula would immediately see what Elton is asking her when he says "and I'm taking you Ursula to a restaurant, and we're going to get a pizza!" in mid-rant at Mr. Kennedy; here, she doesn't, and he has to ploddingly, inarticulately spell it out.
And it's got a giant green Scottish bastard in an obscene black thong.
I'm afraid I have no sympathy for you if you don't like this episode. If you think it's childish or silly or "moronic"... well, you're a fool. The simple point is that this episode is so sophisticated that you have been a perceptive viewer to truly grasp it. Like those who deplore the "gay agenda" and mention "overfast pacing and undergraduate humour" (meaningless terms in themselves), criticisms of this nature just show a review without proper critical faculties, latching onto catch phrases, scrambling at the surface of the text for purchase and just tearing off the scraps. It's perhaps the best piece of TV I've seen to address what "ordinary people" are really like.
Beyond the organic humour of Elton/Jackie, or the arch Mr. Kennedy ("Bridget, don't make this personal; I don't like to be touched, literally or metaphorically"), there's also real drama. Jackie tearfully shouting at Elton is the emotional heart of the episode, and the Abzorbaloff's consumption of Ursula, just when Elton had realised that he loved her, packs a punch. Marc Warren's subdued pleading with Kennedy to give Ursula back is deeply, deeply moving. Their final fate, often mentioned as being "too filthy" (or even "unnatural", according to one reviewer on this page; wow, thank you for opinion, mein Fuhrer), is quirky, sweet and the final showcasing of the episode's message: these two losers, wandering through life with their eyes closed, cannot achieve the same perfect happiness as a movie character or even Rose at the end of the series.
Love & Monsters is a work of art. It's an astonishingly mature look at the dull, empty, awkward lives of ordinary people. It's an hilarious adventure about a giant green monster. It's an exquisitely charming and excruciatingly painful character piece. It's fantastic.
And a point about the title. It's called Love & Monsters because it is to, again, undercut our expectation. We expect Love & War, Love & Hate, Love & Hope. Instead it's Love... & Monsters.
The horror! The horror! by Thomas Cookson 8/6/13
Perhaps enough dust-settling has passed for me to tackle this one properly. This is an incredibly divisive marmite story and I'm firmly in the 'hate it so much I'm wary of glimpsing or going near its ghastliness ever again' camp. I can also see why it won some fans over, and not just for creepy cultish reasons, although, in my experience, high school clique cultishness played a huge part in making criticising this story a punishing exercise, particularly on the sinisterly cultish Outpost Gallifrey or Planet Skaro forums. Put simply, this story has some lovely scenes and heartfelt moments, but awful ones too, but put together in a way that's just revolting.
Many debated whether, as a Doctor-lite story, this counts as Doctor Who, or indeed should count. Even after Blink made a mind-blowing success of the Doctor-lite format. To me, the near absence of the Doctor and Rose negatively affects this story in one key way. When they appear, they're presented beyond horribly, only arriving so Rose can threaten Elton for upsetting Jackie, whilst the Doctor finally sinks so pathetically low he's become Rose's personal taxi service when she wants to pick a fight. Moreover, he acts callously to Elton's fate, goading the Absorbaloff to 'do what you want'.
Apologists for this moment tend to claim the Doctor was pulling a bluff and a gamble. That despite only just finding out the Absorbaloff's origins, he knew his prompting would make the absorbed LINDA group instantly work to start tearing the creature apart, despite them never trying this before for some reason. Bullshit to infinity! It makes no sense how the Doctor could possibly know this would happen unless he read the script beforehand.
Yes there's a nice scene afterwards of the Doctor and Rose consoling Elton about his lost mother. But the point is, it's simply leaping from nice to nasty scenes without transition or abandon, to the point where none of it has sincere meaning and only the ugliest impression remains.
The problem with the Doctor-lite approach is that you can actually make unlikeable characters work as points of fascination by largely keeping your camera on them throughout the story or film. Hence why the repulsive characters of Mike Leigh's Naked or Abigail's Party are somehow people you can't take your eyes off. This is why Taxi Driver would suffer if it showed the aftermath of Travis' failed date from Cybill Shepherd's unnerved perspective. The audience would hate Travis. But here the brief image of the Doctor and Rose is one with only an ugly, petty, vindictive face on it.
I've pondered if the argument that this isn't even a Doctor Who episode has greater underlying points. At this point in Russell's success, he could've done this as a side-project one-off dramedy about fan culture, taking out all the fantasy elements and having it be about a fan group ruined by the bullying superfan. You'd keep the great stuff, the heartfelt moments of group bonding, Elton finally standing up to Victor, and my personal favourite where the fiction writer leaves them all on a killer cliffhanger.
With that established, we could then lose all the story's worst aspects, and things that make no sense.
We'd lose the inane stupidity of Elton's first meeting with the Doctor, with that Scooby-Doo chase. I'm sure some RTD sycophant would have pulled the similar comedy chase scene from Seeds of Death where Patrick Troughton is being chased by Ice Warriors as proof of my hypocrisy here, and me not being a 'true fan'.
But Seeds of Death's sequence operates on more than one level, as a slick, efficient way to explore the environment thoroughly, and establish the claustrophobic omnipresence and inescapability of the Ice Warriors, adding to the tension and visual storytelling whilst being a comedy moment, and the conflict between these elements makes it genuinely funny. We're with the Doctor all the way through, so the suspense and involvement increases as it goes on.
This, however, is a flat, inane sequence that gets more unbelievable, repetitive and annoying as it goes on. But, of course, repetition and irritation are oft-used tools of advertisement, because even annoying adverts make an impression on people by being so. And RTD turned his Doctor Who into a desperate overhyped advert for itself, full of cheap premature titillation, hyperbole and irritation.
Also lose Jackie. I swear, Father's Day aside, I don't get why we ever needed to see her again after The End of the World. I'll admit the scene where she reveals she snuck a tenner into Elton's pocket came off as genuine generosity that was in character and uncalculated. But Elton being dumb enough to keep bringing Rose's photograph with him is contrived. As for her speech about 'the ones left behind', I just don't care anymore. Also the scene where she's seducing Elton made her come across as predatory and creepy.
Then there's the biggy. The crucial part of this story that never makes sense. Why would the Absorbaloff even bother with this bunch of losers who haven't a chance of finding the Doctor? It makes even less sense given Torchwood's existence.
Earlier in the season, we were introduced to an alternate Pete Tyler (brilliantly played by Shaun Dingwall) who'd never had that fatherly instinct switched on, and who responds to Rose's emotional need for him with believable unease by fleeing from her. Pete represented the ordinary bloke who doesn't like to acknowledge emotions that women thrive on. He represents the common viewing public, and we're meant to sympathise. Yet Victor Kennedy's also defined, in typically on-the-nose fashion, by his aversion to being emotionally touched, which here makes him a villain and a representation of those bad, disloyal fans who hate RTD's emotional writing. It seems Russell will choose enemies to demonise at the drop of a hat.
Furthermore, we're supposed to hate Victor for being a bully to Elton to maintain his own place atop the pecking order. Yet it's ridiculously confused by how his vile behaviour's no different to how the Ninth Doctor treated Mickey and Adam. So why are we supposed to hate this guy all of a sudden for it?
This is part of Russell's myopicness. He's demonising arrogant, unpleasant sneery superfans in wilful blindness to how his own work proves him as little different. The story seems to be about demonising Ian Levine, in much the same way as Russell named the Slitheen after him, and got the name Toclafane from the translation 'fake the fans'. Methinks Russell's got a strange, unhealthy complex about fans. Frankly, his decision to close the BBC Doctor Who message board, before his show even started makes him seem a paranoid despot.
It's strange the ever-paranoid Russell should demonise Ian Levine, who's been one of the most fanatically loyal RTD-era fans, and especially vile to those who dare criticise the era (then again, Levine has a volatile reputation as someone whose loyalties spin on a dime).
But this idea that Russell's a better type of fan to be calling the show's shots than Ian Levine was, is completely myopic to me. Ian Levine felt the show should cater to a few thousand fans, instead of the wider audience. But Russell completely disagreed with that. He wrote the show to cater to just one fan. Himself.
The story here feeds the cultish fan notion that what makes Russell the right fan to run the show is his ability to shun his inner Ian Levine and not make the show all serious, humourless continuity. Same way any fan who dared criticise the story was outright compared to Victor Kennedy.
This is bunk. The entire philosophy of being a fan is in defining yourself by what you're not. There's a reason fandom has no general sense of brotherhood, because fans are too busy saying 'Oh I'm not that kind of fan, they're the sad ones.' This is Russell's big attempt to make a case for the kind of fan he's not, and frankly he makes it badly. If we're talking about Doctor Who needing to connect with non-fan audiences, then this shouldn't have been attempted at all, because most kids aren't even going to care.
Frankly, the kind of fan who defines themselves by what they're not in such a compulsive, knee-jerk way shouldn't be running the show at all, because guess what? They'll try to prove it by turning Doctor Who into something it's not, and thus take out all adventure, intelligence, sci-fi, maturity and imagination from the show, and tart the whole thing up with cheap innuendo and desperate ratings whoring.
Oh wait, that actually happened.
It's when the LINDA group start dying that things get both more ridiculous and more tasteless. The fact none of the group become suspicious after several of them start disappearing begins straining credibility. This gets worse when it turns out the Absorbaloff's victims can still speak, and yet they never did so before to warn their friends away. Peter Kay's impressive credibility goes out the window the moment he turns into an alien. It's here where the unpleasantness of the story suddenly becomes high density and concentrated. After the focus on humour and romance, the sudden way that Ursula is tricked and trapped into her death is just especially nasty and horrible, and, when tapped off with the pun 'tastes like chicken', it just makes for uncomfortable viewing of the wrong kind.
I've figured out what this story is. It's RTD's own Resurrection of the Daleks. Incoherently edited, horrifically misjudged and brutally repulsive, bi-polar and volatile in tone, and almost chemically run in its leaping from boredom to shock without giving you any breathing space. Dotted with occasional compelling moments of character work and existential reckoning, but overall so jumbled and revolting it's just horrible. The Parting of the Ways was close to what Resurrection wanted to be. This is what Resurrection actually was. Except of a more violent, higher density of repulsion.
When one victimised member of the group reveals that they're stuck to the Absorbaloff's butt cheek, the fundamental problem becomes clear. We were asked to care about these people's lives and yet now we're joltingly goaded into laughing at their deaths.
The ending is where it gets especially, jaw-droppingly ghastly. Again, why didn't the absorbed LINDA group try ripping apart the Absorbaloff beforehand? How could a creature that can be killed by his own ingested prey ever evolve to a space age?
As for the repulsive idea of Ursula being reduced to a blowjob-giving paving slab, it makes no sense, it sucks all soul and will from the character herself by contriving a creepy, forced horny willingness on her part. It's not funny, and it's too crude and brutal to be either tender or titillating. It just comes off as for shock value. Christ, Russell, there are kids who watch this show.
And the cult of Russell dare accuse Moffat of objectifying women?!
There's a cultish belligerence to the story, and many of its fans. You will laugh at that gag. You will be emotionally touched.
One sycophant furiously demanded how I could praise the chilling scene in The Mind Robber where Zoe's led out the TARDIS by an illusion of home, whilst objecting to Ursula's fatal tricking. The former really conveyed a distant, sinister force, reaching insidiously into her mind, exploiting her weakness. You're given time to empathise with Zoe as she wanders into the trap, and hope she escapes. With Ursula, the trap is sprung so fast, the only reaction is rote horror. It just feels sadistic.
Likewise, the 'love life' remark paints an immediate, unwanted, specific pornographic image in the mind, for no reason. Like being flashed by a streaker and then expected to laugh it off.
The Steven King quote's nice, but it doesn't sum up or apply to the story to me, because the experience was just too unpleasant. "So much madder, so much worse."
We forget because we must by Evan Weston 1/9/14
Ladies and gentlemen, we have reached the officially-licensed ugly duckling of the Doctor Who catalogue. There's a lot of praise for Love & Monsters on the internet because it's obviously designed as a love letter to the fans of the show, and there's some merit in that. But it's easy to get lost in the fanboy tribute and not realize that this is a boring, forced and unnecessarily bizarre episode. It begins with a very original and intriguing concept, then devolves first into humorless filler and finally into uncomfortable self-parody.
I guess the biggest issue with Love & Monsters is that it doesn't really have a story. LINDA, the group that bonds over its quest to find the Doctor, doesn't really do anything differently throughout the run of the episode - the members just get picked off one by one by Kennedy. I think my main beef is that the plot needs to be forced on by unjustified character changes. Davies writes himself into a corner several times, and the escape is never pretty. LINDA forms a band and everything is hunky-dory, oh look here comes a villain who is way more powerful than he has any right to be within the bounds of the story. Elton and Jackie are in a super awkward spot with no way out, oh wait Elton's in love with Moaning Myrtle from Harry Potter. Everyone's dead, Elton is sad, let's make an oral sex joke, guys!
As for Elton, oh boy. Marc Warren does his best with what he's given, but the part is so damn boring. Elton is a complete cipher: he's supposed to be this deep character with a mysterious past, who grows up over the course of the story, but he's really no different than he was at the beginning. It's not like he learned to reach out a little bit more. Ursula has to push him to save the day, and her existence is the only reason he's happy at the end of the episode. He gets a Disney princess ending, and it's strange that the fans have taken to this character so much. I get the everyday Joe Schmo vibe, and Warren sells that beautifully but - again, not his fault - Elton just isn't interesting.
The other characters are never given enough room to be interesting either, save Ursula, and she's entirely one-dimensional ("most likely to fight back"). Mr. Skinner, Bridget and Bliss all seem likeable enough, and have the potential early on to develop into the comedic counterpart to The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit's phenomenal supporting cast. The episode's best scene is the musical LINDA sequence, seeing all the members bond together. However, Kennedy's introduction completely interrupts any good will the story had built to that point, and then the supporting characters exist only to be absorbed. Speaking of Kennedy, my god, what a terrible villain. His evil is transparently obvious from the get-go, his eventual reveal is completely ridiculous (the Absorbaloff?! This is the villain you think the fans would create?! Shame on you, Russell), and he changes the tone of the story in a way that hurts it. Once Kennedy arrives, everything becomes less interesting.
This even manages to hurt Elton's run-in with Jackie Tyler, which should be the strongest point of the episode. Camille Coduri gets to do some real acting here for the first time since Aliens of London/World War Three, and she's very good overall. Her speech about how difficult it is to be left behind is the highlight of the script, and her flirting with Elton is hysterical, if a bit uncomfortable to watch. However, as I mentioned previously, the script screws her over and cuts out any resolution between her and Elton when she finds the picture of Rose in his jacket pocket. Warren also seems unsure of what to do with these scenes, and, while he lets Coduri handle the heavy lifting onscreen, his constant voiceovers become very annoying. The tonal shift to a darker mood drops a thin film of tension throughout, and that detracts from the comedy of the sequence, as well - though the Laundromat scene is gut-bustingly funny in any context.
Other things hurt Love & Monsters as well. The Doctor and Rose are only tertiary to the story, which isn't necessarily a bad thing - my Blink review will certainly attest to that - but here the lack of TARDIS travelers severely hurts the story. Rose's "no one upsets my mum" is a welcome return to normalcy, and Piper and Tennant still manage to be the best actors in the episode in their three minutes of screentime. The "Elton's mom died" plot device feels extremely forced and cliched, and, while I understand that Davies needed a reason for the Doctor's presence in the Pope household, that's just lazy writing.
Still, this episode isn't a complete failure, thanks mostly to the editing. Love & Monsters takes a big risk in the way it's produced, and, while no one is going to compliment the cinematography here, the edits are excellent - in one Elton-is-happy sequence, it cuts to a two-second shot of him dancing to "Mr. Blue Sky", and it adds to the mood. Little things like this crop up throughout, and it's a treat. The framing device to Elton speaking to the camera is mostly a success as well. In addition, the ELO-centered soundtrack adds a bounciness to the episode, and it reinforces that it's Elton telling the story. I liked that a lot.
Still, after a terrific middle of the season, Love & Monsters marks the point where Series 2 swings down and never returns. However, mercifully, it never gets this bad again until Series 4. With a plotless story, merely functional characters, an inexcusably boring protagonist and perhaps the worst villain in the show's history, Love & Monsters craps all over a really fun concept and turns what should be an interesting "different" episode into something profoundly unenjoyable, and very nearly harmful.
I'm Sorry; I'm So, So Sorry by Jacob Licklider 5/1/20
Why does Love & Monsters not work? Well there are many different reasons for the story being a failure. First, its biggest crime is that it is trying to be the New Series equivalent of the Seventh Doctor story The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, but not in the way you may be expecting. It doesn't rip off the plot from The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, but it is using the idea of being a commentary on Doctor Who as a whole, and Love & Monsters gets the idea wrong in every way. The Greatest Show in the Galaxy basically states to the audience that yes Doctor Who has been on some tough times, and we aren't nearly as good as we used to be, but please stick with us and you might just find something worth watching again. It also helps that The Greatest Show in the Galaxy was the finale to the penultimate season of the Classic Series and while yes the Whizz Kid was an annoying character, the story is brilliant in comparison to Love & Monsters. Love & Monsters comments on the show in two main ways. First up, the commentary is that this is the best show ever with God himself as the star in the form of David Tennant. Savor any moment your eyes have glimpsing the sheer brilliance of Russell The Davies and his godly production team. Second is that the fans are puny mortals who have obviously no lives and are plainly worthless. So yes, this is something that we fans can get annoyed with and me in particular, as it is this kind of egotistical writing that puts me off David Tennant's Doctor on the whole.
The plot of Love & Monsters follows Elton Pope (played by Marc Warren) through the framing device of a vlog where he is out searching for the Doctor, whom he saw in his home the night his mother died. Through this quest, he unites with others searching for the Doctor for whatever reason when they are approached by Victor Kennedy, a rather hilariously bad parody of Ian Levine, who forces them to look harder whereupon Elton meets Jackie Tyler, whom he upsets. His friends start disappearing one by one, and he and budding girlfriend Ursula Blake (played by Moaning Myrtle from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets aka Shirley Henderson) discover Kennedy is actually an Abzorbaloff from the planet Clom who wants to find the Doctor to absorb him. The plot is extremely silly and not in the good Douglas Adams or Dennis Spooner type of way. It feels a lot like a child was responsible for the story, much like a child was in fact responsible for designing the villain. The only real relief is that the Doctor and Rose are barely in this story, which is for the best as Rose is my least favorite companion and David Tennant's Tenth Doctor is my least favorite Doctor.
The acting in this story is honestly really bad, with the biggest offender being Peter Kay who is way too over the top for any sort of Doctor Who story. Kay is also extremely creepy in a sexual way in several scenes and gives away that he isn't quite right early on, but none of the other characters notice, which shows just how Russell T Davies cannot write these supporting characters. Shirley Henderson's Ursula is also a really bad performance, as she is doing the same performance she did as Moaning Myrtle, which really doesn't suit the character who honestly had a lot of potential to be interesting in the hands of a different actress. Marc Warren is also a huge disappointment, as he was brilliant in Terry Pratchett's Hogfather, and you can barely tell they are the same actor. Elton is a complete idiot of a character whose pride forces Ursula to be cursed with immortality a la Borusa in The Five Doctors, and the Doctor allows this to happen. Seriously Doctor, that is cruel even for you. The only decent actor in this is Camile Coudri as Jackie Tyler, who is actually quite sympathetic for once, which is a bit odd as I usually don't like Jackie on the whole.
The direction and visual effects work on this story also help in dragging it down. We run into the first problem in the opening scene where there is a random Scooby-Doo-style chase that really doesn't make any sense, as Doctor Who isn't a cartoon, even if they were trying to make a running-through-corridors joke. It would have only worked had this been a parody of Doctor Who, which it isn't. The direction is also extremely overlit in places, especially where the Abzorbaloff is concerned, which reveals just how bad the costuming is on the whole. Most of the story takes place in a warehouse, which could have easily been done with darker shadows, and they could have done a quick night shoot for the final confrontation scene. Now, I will make my complaints on the Abzorbaloff brief, as it is awful and unforgivable, even if it was designed by a small child. The framing story about the vlog also doesn't work and chops up the flow as well as looking awful in the process.
To summarize, while there are a few redeeming elements Love & Monsters is still one of the worst Doctor Who television stories and in the Doctor Who Magazine Poll of 2014 actually deserves to be lower than it was. 11/100.
In Absentia by Niall Jones 22/12/20
There are few Doctor Who episodes that divide viewers quite like Love and Monsters. For its critics, it is a childish romp featuring one of the series' worst villains; for its defenders, it is a daringly meta commentary on the nature of being a Doctor Who fan.
For me, neither of these assessments is quite right. It might be a cliche to describe Love and Monsters as a failed experiment, but it is also true. I would further describe the episode as a necessary experiment, as, although the results are far from satisfactory, it likely laid the groundwork for subsequent Doctor-lite and companion-lite episodes that are truly brilliant, such as Blink and Midnight.
To say that Love and Monsters is not very good is not, however, to say that it is completely terrible. The idea of someone briefly encountering the Doctor and then spending the rest of their life trying to find him again is an interesting one, and Marc Warren puts in a strong performance as Elton Pope. Watching LINDA develop is also a lot of fun, and the romance between Elton and Ursula Blake is sweet, even if Ursula is a rather bland character. Even better is Elton's encounter with Jackie Tyler. The scene in which they meet for the first time is one of the few genuinely funny moments in the episode, with Jackie's flirting making the spy-like techniques Elton has been told to use completely redundant. Conversely, Jackie's hurt when she discovers that Elton has only been spending time with her in order to find the Doctor poignantly highlights the extent to which Elton's obsession has led him into choppy ethical waters.
If Love and Monsters has such a promising premise and so many enjoyable scenes, why then does it fail? The answer lies largely with the Abzorbaloff. Given that it was invented by a nine-year-old, I don't want to criticise its conception too much. Although grotesque, the basic design is actually quite creative, certainly more creative than many of the Doctor Who monsters that I designed when I was around the same age. Instead, the problems with the Abzorbaloff lie in its characterisation and are exacerbated by Peter Kay's performance.
There are several ways in which the Abzorbaloff could have been an interesting character. It could have been a tragic, Midas-like figure, who has been punished for its sins by being made unable to touch another living being. Or maybe it could have been an unstable, schizophrenic megalomaniac, whose personality is altered by every victim it absorbs. Instead, it is simply an intergalactic glutton, who has come to Earth in order to absorb the Doctor. Far from being a tragic or terrifying figure, the Abzorbaloff comes across as comical and repulsive. These characteristics are further emphasised by the bad jokes that pepper the second half of the episode: the image of fat alien fingers poking out from behind a newspaper; the sight of the Abzorbaloff running manically down the street, naked expect for a loin cloth; its comment that human beings 'taste like chicken'.
Peter Kay's performance as both Victor Kennedy and the Abzorbaloff could charitably be described as broad. The over-the-top nature of his performance makes Kennedy's villainy impossible to miss, making LINDA look naive and stupid. As the Abzorbaloff, he's even worse, emphasising every aspect of the creature's grotesquery. Ultimately, it seems as though Kay is playing the character for laughs: unfortunately, he is just not funny.
A smaller, but no less interesting area where the episode falls down comes in its finale. I'm not talking here about the oral sex gag. That was certainly misjudged, but it's a relatively minor moment. Instead, I'm talking about the Doctor's conversation with Elton. The revelation that the Doctor was unable to save Elton's mother from a mysterious alien force should be a heart-breaking moment. In reality, it's not. It's less of a shocking twist and more a bolt from the blue. The idea that we tell stories in order to insulate ourselves from our own traumas - 'we forget because we must', as the episode poetically puts it - has been done successfully in novels such as Life of Pi and The Secret Scripture. It's a very difficult trick to pull off in a 45-minute episode, however, especially as Elton's mother is not mentioned at all prior to this moment.
Love and Monsters is the ultimate mixed bag, though I would recommend it to anyone who hasn't already seen it, partly because elements of it are enjoyable to watch, but also because people's responses to it vary so wildly. If, however, you are looking for a really good, experimental episode about a lonely outsider whose obsession with the world of aliens leads them into a dangerous situation, I would suggest watching Torchwood's Random Shoes.