Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Love & Monsters written by Russell T. Davies and directed by Dan Zeff

This story in a nutshell: Are you kidding me?

Mockney Dude: Enchanting how a story that hardly features the Doctor can embody and mythologise him so completely. I love that fans criticise this story for doing exactly what they do, forming fan theories, imagining travelling with him, looking for what he means to us. Love & Monsters reveals the love fandom has for the show and the reception to it from the more militant quarters and reveals the hypocrisy and sheer anal fartitude of some quarters. It holds up a mirror to both the best (the sense of community, the love of the Doctor) and the worst of fandom and I'm sure that is the reason why plenty of people find it an uncomfortable watch - because it doesn't always paint them in a comfortable light. As a parody of a Doctor Who fan this is much more fun than Greatest Show’s Whizzkid because Davies bothered to give his wannabes character and charm whereas The Greatest Show in the Galaxy featured a walking gag who was bumped off once the point had been flogged to death. The scenes showing the Doctor as a spectre in the night, haunting Elton on the day that his mother died is another terrific example of looking at the central character afresh. That is an approach which is exemplified by this episode. It suggests that to be touched by the Doctor means that somebody in your life might be marked. The Absorbaloff wants to taste the Doctor’s experiences and intelligence. I hope he's got a hell of an appetite. I like the menacing idea that if your touch the Doctor’s life, even for a second, things change and sometimes for the worst. What does that say about Rose? There have been portents about her future because of her proximity to the Time Lord but this is the most forceful warning yet. It made you question at the time what Davies had planned for these two. I love the idea of only being able to see snippets of his adventures from afar too such as Elton does in the teaser. It makes his adventures look like one big long joke involving slapstick and monsters. It's an absolute riot. During his stint on the show Davies offered several new perceptions of the Doctor (as a romantic figure, as a man running from his past, as a man who bends the laws of Time to his will) but I think the image of his visiting a little boy at night like a spectre of death might just be my favourite.

Chavvy Chick: We see another side to Rose in Love & Monsters too, through her mother’s eyes. It is particularly useful in Rose’s case since she has become something of a jealous caricature of the character she played in the first season by this stage of series two and seeing how her absence affects Jackie gives us a unique new angle to her character. As much as you might not like how domestic the show became under Davies banner you cannot argue that it afforded a whole new perspective from the companions point of view on the show that had barely been considered before. It might have gotten out of hand come series eight with the companion popping in and out of their domestic lives and the TARDIS but back in the first four years companions were allowed to be companions (ie travelling in the TARDIS full time) with the occasion peek at the emotional consequences of who they have left behind. I love it when she steps out of the TARDIS furious that Elton has upset her mum but seeing how upset he is at losing Ursula she puts her arms around him and comforts him. It’s a wonderfully tender scene, which shows Rose at her best.

Not That One: These Doctor/companion lite episodes have given us some wonderful characters in the shape of Elton Pope, Sally Sparrow and Craig & Sophie all of which I feel are strong enough to hold up their individual episodes and could work as potential companions. Well maybe not Sophie but all the others. Marc Warren is astoundingly good in this episode (and that’s faint praise); he makes Elton sympathetic, funny, sexy, geeky and quite a delight to spend time with. At times he plays the characters more childish characteristics up but that only serves to make him even more sympathetic. He's you and me, sitting at home behind our keyboards and trying to get as close to the Doctor as possible. I think Davies and Warren have pitched the character perfectly, just pathetic enough to feel for him and confident enough to rise above his flaws and fight back. I love his naïve innocence that is expressed in how he can hurt the people around him (like Jackie) because he is so obsessed with the Doctor and cannot see that that obsession might have a profound effect on others. His romance with Ursula is played at exactly the right level with the two of them at arms length but desperately involved with each other emotionally and not coming to terms with their feelings until they are almost torn apart for good.. His realisation that he loves Ursula and wants Jackie as a friend leads to spectacular moment of regret where he betrays his friend by not being honest with her. How can you not cheer when he finally stands up to himself and gives Victor a piece of his mind. I could happily spend more time with Elton Pope, especially the way he so outrageously breaks the fourth wall and addresses the audience all the time. Imagine a whole season of crazy narrative tricks and addresses to a video camera as Elton joins the TARDIS and records their visits for posterity. It's not such a crazy idea, it worked out fine in Stargate Universe.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘The most beautiful sound in the world…’
‘So…we meet at last, LINDA.’
‘Because it’s never me is it?’ – that line should sound selfish but it's devastatingly delivered by Camille Coduri.
‘She tastes like chicken.’
‘The truth is the world is so much stranger than that and so much darker and so much madder and so much better.’

The Good Stuff: The opening really grabs your attention as you are plonked somewhere in the middle of the story told from the point of view of an outsider. That's the sort of subversion of the norm that you can expect throughout Love & Monsters. I have seen countless Doctor Who monsters, from both the classic and the new series, that look a damn sight less convincing the Hoix. For a monster that has been cobbled together at the last minute it is extraordinarily good. Miles better than the Absorbalof, strangely enough. Is this only the second time we have had farce in Doctor Who of this nature? The Doctor, Rose and the Hoix running about with buckets is every bit is chucklesome as Barbara whooping out loud and attempting to escape the clutches of a very horny in The Romans. I'm not a massive fan of this brand of comedy but when it is pulled off this well it is better to just go with the flow. A whole story in this vein would be too much but as a glimpse into the insane world of the Doctor ('You said red!' 'I said not red!') it works a treat. Russell T. Davies was a genius to recount the Earthbound new Who invasions from the point of view of a civilian, again something that has never been attempted before and it successfully manages to make the timeline since the show returned feel as though it is building up an impressive mythology. The re-enactments of Rose, Aliens of London and The Christmas Invasion are inspired, enough to make any fanboy squeal with delight. I especially like Elton's reaction to the Autons smashing through the window. It is very easy to get to know Elton when he is talking directly to us. Davies exposes the joy of meeting new friends through their love of the Doctor and the pain of those friendships being torn apart through the work of one dominant personality. You don't have to have dabbled too long in Doctor Who fandom to understand what he is getting at here. When it comes to capture the essence of humanity there was no finer writer on Doctor Who. He's a great wit too, scripting the scene in the launderette with sharp gags (Elton never had a chance as a spy when Jackie set her lustrous sights on him). It is by far Jackie's best appearance from her time on the show, allowing her to be screamingly funny (the moment she throws the wine over Elton is deliriously naughty and trampish) but giving her a great deal of extra depth and poignancy too (I've already mentioned her reaction to Elton's betrayal but her moment of stillness after speaking to Rose on the phone really hits home, suddenly making her realise how pathetic she is playing around with what is essentially a boy). Her love and loss for her daughter is keenly felt and Elton’s lies cut deep, making for a sharp rush of emotion in what is generally a very funny episode. The thread of Jackie being left behind to cope without her daughter (when it is clear that Rose gives her life meaning) adds a layer of heartbreak to seasons one and two that hasn't been matched since (there was a touch of it in series four but Wilf was only too delighted that his Granddaughter was out amongst the stars). You can imagine fandom diving behind the sofa at the thought of Bliss' face bulging out of the Absorbaloff's arse cheek but that's exactly the sort of naughtiness that I quite admire. It makes me chuckled that Davies made Clom and Raxacoricofallapatorius next-door neighbours, placing his two least loved monsters in the same neighbourhood. It seems like he knew that this Blue Peter competition inspired monster wasn't going to go down very well! It's very sweet that it is friendship that tears the creature apart. I'll take that over the 'love conquers all' nonsense that we've suffered time and again over the past couple of years. The Absorbaloff melts in a slushy puddle of green crap - we haven't seen anything quite this surreal in the show for some time (perhaps since The Collector suffered the same fate in The Sun Makers). Is the living shadow that haunted Elton’s house the first instance of the Vashta Nerada on Earth? Every now and then you have to throw something at the Doctor Who audience that makes them throw their hands up in disgust just to keep them on their toes. A pavement slab giving head is pretty gross but it does make me laugh every time. If you can't get a handle on that, I do understand. I feel for you, but I do understand. The episode ends on a great sentiment that deserves to be repeated (see above).

The Bad Stuff: The Absorbaloff is a fine idea in theory but I thought we had all but disposed of the idea of men in ridiculous rubber suits. If I were William Grantham I would ask for my money back. It really should have been rendered in CGI with the faces being far more animated and bulging in and out of the layers of fat. The scene where it wobbles after Elton down the street uin a thing is one of the few genuinely rubbish moments in NuWho.

The Shallow Bit: Marc Warren has a cute little chest, you can see why Jackie was so determined to get his kit off. The moment when he changes the light bulb and she admires the V that leads down to his crown jewels might just be the hottest moment in Doctor Who ever.

Result: The most controversial episode of NuWho in what was the most uneven season of the show (until seasons six and seven came along). Make of that what you will. It’s a story that playfully deploys all kind of tricks to keep the audience amused, aroused and enchanted; a non linear plot, narration, montages, flashbacks, character synopsis’, cine footage, drama, laughs, singing, sex, monsters and a kids dream to design a Doctor Who monster and see it brought to life. It defies all expectations and redefines what Doctor Who can be about. It plays by its own rules and effortlessly draws you in to its unique atmosphere. It manages to be the most exquisite love letter to Doctor Who (and Doctor Who fandom) and still upset half of its audience terribly. Not every Doctor Who story could be as incendiary as this one but after the complacency of much of season two (even the highlights have mostly been kisses to the past - gothic horror, Sarah Jane, base under siege) Love & Monsters proved that it was still possible to put a firework up the arse of fandom and give them a short sharp shock of innovation. The fact that some people will claim that it is as good as Doctor Who ever gets and others declare it the worst piece of television to grace their TV screens proves that he certainly got peoples attention and gave the show an injection of innovation. I think the first half of this episode is just about flawless in what it is trying to achieve with some exquisitely drawn characters (of the like we just don't get on the show any more) and a beautifully mounted scenario with people coming together through their love of the Doctor. The second half is more problematical because the Absorbaloff itself is so utterly outrageous (and the realisation could hardly be called a success) but there are still some startling scenes (Jackie confronting Elton, the Doctor at the bottom of the stairs) and some effective emotional nuggets. Marc Warren holds the whole episode together, giving one of the strongest guest performances as Elton. I could 100% believe in his character (because he is effectively me) and my concern and affection for him kept me interested all the way through. One of the most subversive episodes of Doctor Who and one of the riskiest. For the most part, I love it: 9/10


Tango said...

The only problem with the episode was Rose and the Tenth Doctor, in its highest level of arrogance and petulance. That and the oral sex joke at the end.

Many people consider the relationship of the Eleventh Doctor and River as disgusting and inappropriate for their age difference in appearance, however Jackie was something creepy and stalker with Elton (I mean the scene in shirtless and high heating).

Anonymous said...

You give Time of the Doctor such a low rating and this a 9? I'm out.

Joe Ford said...

It's called a difference of opinion. Don't let the door hit you on the way out :-)

Anonymous said...

I miss when compamions were companions full time, all this rubbish of going from the TARDIS to domestic life and vice versa is pure shit

Michael said...

9/10.... Very bold!

For all the reasons you mentioned above I too love this episode. Watching in Canada back when CBC showed them several weeks after BBC, I heard about how awful this episode was before I got to experience it. And I could not understand the hate this episode gets... I still don't.

This was the episode that properly humanised Jackie for me, which is timely given her upcoming brief stint as a companion in the S02 two-part season-ender.... and I love Elton. I love LINDA, because YES, that is us!

I always enjoy Love and Monsters, despite the naff monster. I like the fact it is a young fan's Blue Peter creation, because 20 yrs previously it could have been me/mine.

Thanks for showing this ep some luv!

Matt Smith said...

This is a marmite episode in every sense of the word, you either love it (IGN, Slant etc. all gave it very high scores) and those who hate it (Guardian etc.). I fall into the category that hate it, although I respect anyone brave enough to defend it. I’m going to break it down into a few points.

1. This story is ridiculously self-indulgent and suffers from the JNT style of “celebrity” casting. Peter Kay hams it up and gives quite a one-dimensional portrayal (Why does he want the Doctor’s knowledge? Probably some stock villain excuse about taking over the universe etc.).

2. The oral joke at the end is a bit disheartening and crass for a character that is going to spend the rest of her life as a paving slab haha. At least she can still have oral sex, that’s those priorities sorted… hahahaha

3. It doesn’t actually provide any useful insight or commentary on fandom which is a wasted opportunity considering that is basically what the episode is about. I think it’s portrayal of fans in particular is quite stereotypical. Considering it references Stephen King, the fact that it didn’t pick up on “Misery” and its biting satire on fandom is a shame.

4. Jackie is quite upset with Elton despite only knowing him for what seems like a few days (after trying to seduce him!!), and as such her argument about “the people being left behind” is kind of a bit vacuous. But I won’t be too critical as this is the most character development Jackie has ever had on the show.

5. Elton is a very simplistic character whatever way you look at it because he isn’t the “flawed” hero. He just dances around to ELO and makes a very silly decision. It would have been better if they created a character in the same vein of Jerry Lundegaard in Fargo. A character who you can’t stand who actually gets away with quite a lot.

6. I understand the farcical nature of the running through doors scene, and I too picked up on the scene from the Romans, but whatever way you look at it, it is practically Scooby Doo!

7. How is the Abzorbaloff defeated? Well they snapped his cane.

8. What was really the point of the Hoix? A monster that was defeated by a bucket of liquid just so Elton could meet the Doctor properly.

9. Aside from the moving scene about Elton’s mother killed by a living shadow, the flashbacks to moments from previous episodes works a lot better in “Turn Left” than it does here.

10. It’s also a shame that it’s only until the Doctor & Rose turn up that the Abzorbaloff is defeated. Especially as the story gave the impression that the Doctor isn't always there to help out all the time.

I am heavily critical of this story and probably unfairly in parts. I understand the appeal but for me it just didn't work.

Kevin H said...

The problem with this story is that it didn't follow through with what was obviously the original premise. The Doctor killed his mother! (inadvertently, yes) That is the reason why Elton was following the Doctor. If the episode had followed through with its original concept and ended on the proper downbeat - the flashback of Elton and his mother - the episode would be a masterpiece. The other piece RTD wimped out on what killing off Ursala (instead of resurrecting her as paving stone.) Think of how powerful this episode would have been if Elton was left with his mother killed by Doctor, then the only woman he could connect with also killed by him!

David Pirtle said...

Some people love it. Lots of people loathe it. I just thought it was Ok. There's a lot I really liked (Elton, his scenes with Jackie, Peter Kay's Victor Kennedy), and there's a lot I didn't like (Peter Kay's Absorbaloff, Ursula's literal objectification, the Scooby Doo bit). The Absorbaloff in particular is so poorly realized that the episode is fortunate to feature enough great elements to offset it. And I don't mean the practical costume. I mean Peter Kay playing it like a dull, PG version of a Mike Myers character.

Anyway, I think overall it is a fun but forgettable story, certainly not one I ever reach for unless I am watching the full season (like now), but not worthy of its low reputation. I would have loved to see Elton return at some point. It is too bad that Davies never went through with it.

P.S. I am not sure why Tango says people would be creeped out by Jackie trying to seduce the younger Elton. They (and Ursula) are basically the same age.