Doctor Who #735: Love & Monsters

"Funny the things you think of with your shirt off."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jun.17 2006.

IN THIS ONE... Elton's video diary.

REVIEW: There have been Doctor-lite and even Doctorless stories before, in the black and white era when schedules were long and actors had to be given vacations, so Davies brings the idea back in response to the equally grueling schedule of the new series. And I'm delighted. These off-beat episodes, usually shifting the show's point of view to another character, are among New Who's most inventive and charming. So it is with the first of these, Love & Monsters, a story with clever structure, using Elton's video diary/narration to play around with scene order, tease out future elements in montage, exaggerate some moments (the Internet meltdown, for example, and the whole Hoix sequence) and create humorous shifts from running commentary to visual (the scene where Jackie does all the "infiltrating" herself is classic). The do-it-yourself nature of the episode is perfectly in line with its theme too. It's a sort of fan artifact, and L&M is quite transparently a love letter to Doctor Who fans. LINDA is made up of very different people who all have one thing in common, their fandom, but through that common interest forge close friendships, romantic relationships, and get into all sorts of OTHER activities. RTD may be contrasting this "proper" fandom with Victor Kennedy's corruption, but I'm not sure what he's meant to represent in that allegory, if anything. Possibly those who denigrate others' expression of fandom (attacks on geek girls and cosplayers, for example), but it sort of falls apart at that level and I prefer to look at it simply a story about lovely people who get to know each other while discussing the mysterious appearances of the Doctor.

Only Elton (played by the engaging Marc Warren) has actually crossed paths with the Time Lord, and more than once. The truth behind the Doctor's visit during his childhood is heart-breaking (and the monster evocatively described by the Doctor), using the ELO soundtrack to great effect as Mr. Blue Sky - the episode's upbeat main "theme" and easily "Doctorish" - ends on melancholy notes. Beautiful. The tragedy is kept from us by the bouncy comedy, return visits to earlier Earth-centric episodes from Elton's POV, and a peek into Jackie Tyler's home life that goes a long redeeming the often cartoony character. Jackie is a "cougar" obviously breaking her own things so the handy Elton will have to come over and fix them, and soon aggressively puts the moves on him, but after a call from Rose, she withdraws, and I think we see how driven she is by loneliness. Her angry defense of Rose AND the Doctor when she realizes Elton's betrayed her shows her worth and is really rather touching. Even more so because Elton doesn't actually deserve the treatment.

Sounds like a great episode, right? Well, no, not quite. 31 minutes in, the Abzorbaloff happens and we're witness to the very worst of Doctor Who. Victor Kennedy wasn't a particularly welcome character before this point, but that was the point. He interrupted the charming stuff LINDA was up to, threatened violence and did away with the characters one by one. All he was good for was the obligatory Torchwood and Bad Wolf references. Once he turns into the monster created by a kid in a Blue Peter contest, it all goes dreadfully wrong. Peter Kay plays him just like Mike Meyers' Fat Bastard from the Austin Powers films (no thanks), and is closely related to the Slitheen, so he farts. Through one of the characters' absorbed faces. We've crossed the line into tastelessness. So while we're over there, let's have dull jokes about people tasting like chicken, and Ursula being "saved" as pacing stone that apparently gives Elton blowjobs. No really. They went there. Just awful. Why the Doctor would save her in this form when he was just recently euthanizing hundreds of Cyberpeople is just part of the nonsense that goes on in the last act. Except for the reveal about Elton's mum, those last 15 minutes are just irritant on top of irritant. It was all going so well before RTD decided to be naughty.

VERSIONS: The DVD holds deleted scenes that extend a number of moments and includes a fake-out where Elton seems to have a mom, but it's the landlady shouting from downstairs. More is spoiled in the opening monologue. And Ursula has her own ideas about the group's name.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: In the TARDISode, the Abzorbaloff tracks down LINDA on his computer before absorbing his own landlady.

REWATCHABILITY: The first 30 minutes High, the last 15 Low - A clever, offbeat episode with a fun pop soundtrack and endearing characters, completely let down by tasteless, repulsive jokes in the last act. Shame.


Anonymous said...

"The first 30 minutes High, the last 15 Low"

Oh hell yeah, that's exactly how I watch this one. Well actually I watch until the instant before Victor shows up, it ends on a lovely note that way.

That said, in a lot of ways this was my favorite Jackie episode, even if I don't watch that part so much. I once complained about how Jackie was being played too much for laughs, and this is the episode that counterbalances all that. But I don't really like watching that part of the episode because it goes way too dark too fast.

This episode was entirely salvageable too, mind you; all it required was rescuing the stalwart members of LINDA. Yes this was one of the worst monsters ever, but the Doctor could have even made a joke about that (in a fashion that didn't insult the kid who created it, who by the way is probably old enough now to feel embarrassed by it).

CiB said...

In terms of schedule- the new series films for a few months a year. In the 1960's it was 44 weeks a year of filming, with 5 days of rehearsals followed by actually filming the episode on a Friday evening (the plan usually being to complete the filming between 2030 hours and 2145, although going later than that was not uncommon- these people have been rehearsing the episode since 0900 that morning)

Really, the schedule of the new series is nowhere near as gruelling as the 1960's series. The ridiculously gruelling nature of those series is why when the series went colour they halved the season length.

Despite the last 15 minutes of this episode being no awful, I still think this is one of the highlights of this season. I'm not keen on this season. The kid who designed the abzorbaloff was also terribly disappointed- his sketch was of a monster on the scale of Godzilla who would absorb trains and cars.

One theory going around is that Victor Kennedy is an Ian Levine stand in and the episode largely is being critical to his role within Doctor Who fandom and an accusation that Levine made it "not fun anymore".

Siskoid said...

Anon: As a 15-minute short (no Victor), it just about works.

CiB: It's a different flavor of gruel. The 60s had you working year-round, but the new show has a more intense schedule over a shorter length of time, long hours, nights, and for the main cast, a heck of a lot of personal appearances and promotional stuff.

I agree with you it's a highlight, because you're right, it's very much the weakest of RTD's seasons. Which makes the ending that much more disappointing. The giant Abzorbaloff would have been much cooler, and the Mill was certainly able to do it if we go by Abaddon which aired a matter of months later (or indeed, the Beast the previous episode, though that wasn't in a modern day context).

Kennedy as Levine is something I thought of, the grumpy archivist and all that, but perhaps you have to have been involved in the same circles of fandom to really appreciate the attack.


@Anonymous Good point.
I never thought of the kid who created it being embarrassed by it now.
It is still one of the worst Who monsters ever.

Randal said...

Can you imagine, being that kid's parents? Your little Timmy or whatever has told all his friends; grandma and grandpa have come around to watch the episode; the whole family gathered around the television set...

Blowjob joke ensues.

jdh417 said...

Darn you, Siskoid. I went back and watched School Reunion and The Girl in the Fireplace this weekend and got all choked up.

To loosely quote from the Fireplace episode, "With the Doctor, you get monsters." Madame meant this episode, which everyone here is being far too nice about.

Without question, were I in charge of the BBC, I would have relieved RTD of his responsibilities immediately and made his successor fix the ending, which I cannot unfortunately un-see. All I can do is warn others to look away.

The only good thing about this monster is that when they did a Doctor-lite episode next season, they made Blink in a attempt at making up for it.

Siskoid said...

I'm not sorry!!!

As for RTD's masters, his cred was so high at this point, the BBC would let him do anything, including a Doctorless episode with that ending.

Anonymous said...

"With the Doctor, you get 'Love & Monsters'."

If only we'd heeded her warning.

She probably tried to keep us from watching the "Dexter" finale too.

Pedro Cabezuelo said...

This episode would have been awesome if it was simply an examination of how the Doctor affects people's lives, especially the ones he meets briefly or leaves behind. And the idea of there being Doctor groupies is inspired and quite logical when you consider all the various things people obsess over in our world. And the character moments work perfectly.

Sadly they felt the need to shoehorn a monster in it because of course it's impossible to do Who now without some kind of monster or alien even in a historical setting. Sigh.

Even then, it could have worked if it wasn't for the tasteless humour and the just godawful performance of Peter Kay. Seriously, I'm not familiar with this guy - never seeh him before, don't know what his comedy is like. But he's just awful. Even when he's Victor he plays the role so broadly and is clearly just sending up the material like he's in a Little Britain sketch or something (no slight against LB by the way).

It's funny. Until I started reading your daily blog reviews I didn't realize exactly how weak season 2 is. Yes there are exceptions but overall it's a very shoddy season.


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