Doctor Who - The New Series
2.10: "LOVE & MONSTERS"
TX: 17 June 2006
Written by: Russell T. Davies
Directed by: Dan Zeff
Running time: 45' 07"
Location: London, Earth
Monsters and villains: Victor Kennedy (an alien who absorbs the bodies and life essences of his victims)
Tardisode Synopsis: Victor Kennedy finds the LINDA website before absorbing a tea-lady.
Plot Synopsis: Elton Pope recounts the development of LINDA, an organisation devoted to tracking and studying The Doctor, and their encounter with an alien that would change all of their lives forever...
Smug Warning: The Doctor and Rose being horribly Blasé while Elton cowers for his life.
"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry": The Doctor, to young Elton.
Torchwood spotting: Victor retrieves information on The Doctor from Torchwood.
Trivia: (1) The Abzorbaloff was designed by William Grantham, a nine-year-old boy from Essex, who won a competition on the children's show Blue Peter and thus got his beastie included in an episode of the series. He originally imagined the monster to be the size of a double-decker bus; although the image he drew for the competition has very small human faces on it, he did not state this in the outline, hence the human-sized monster it eventually became.
(2) The working title for this episode was "I Love the Doctor".
(3) This episode is the first in what would become a tradition of having one story each season feature The Doctor in a reduced role, after scheduling problems the previous year forced the production teams to film 1.07, "The Long Game", 1.09, "The Empty Child" and 1.10, "The Doctor Dances" simultaneously.
(4) The episode is a satire of science fiction fandom in general and Doctor Who fandom in particular, showing how they can be turned from nurturing social environments into tedious drudgery by 'super fans', represented by Kennedy.
(5) Originally Elton was to have been played by a woman, but Davies decided that the show's second season already had enough strong female characters.
(6) Comedian Peter Kay had written a letter to the production office saying how delighted he was with the new series of Who at the conclusion of the first season. Davies returned the compliment by casting him in the episode. Originally he was to play Elton, but decided that he would prefer to play the baddie instead.
(7) LINDA was also used as an acronym for the "Liverpool Investigation 'n' Detective Agency" in the children's television series Why Don't You Just Switch Off Your Television Set and Go and Do Something Less Boring Instead?, which was produced and directed by Russell T. Davies for a time.
(8) Victor reads a copy of The Daily Telegraph, a British newspaper, that says a mysterious politician named Mr Saxon is ahead in the polls - Saxon would become an important character in the show's third season. This plotline also subtly shows the downfall of Prime Minister Harriet Jones, which began in sp.01, "The Christmas Invasion".
(9) Originally, Elton's life was to be tied more closely with older Doctor Who canon, including having his mother die during the Auton invasion of the Third Doctor story "Terror of the Autons", his third birthday being interrupted by Daleks from the Seventh Doctor story "Remembrance of the Daleks" and him seeing the Loch Ness Monster from the Fourth Doctor story "Terror of the Zygons".
(10) Barney Harwood, presenter of children's television spin-off series Totally Doctor Who, appears twice in the background of this episode - first in the flashback to the spaceship hitting Big Ben in 1.04, "Aliens of London" and second in a red hat when Elton is asking the old lady where Rose lives.
(11) The name of Henrik's department store appears on shopping bags and taxis in the episode. Henrik's was where Rose worked in 1.01, "Rose", and appeared infrequently throughout the rest of the series including sp.01, "The Christmas Invasion".
(12) The Bad Wolf theme from the previous season is brought back as the name of a virus that corrupted Torchwood's files on Rose. This is used to explain how The Doctor fools them into thinking that Jackie is Rose in 1.12, "Army of Ghosts".
Spoiler Synopsis: Thirtysomething Elton Pope narrates into his video camera, describing how he found The Doctor and Rose in a deserted factory, chasing a horrible beast named the Hoix. The Hoix nearly devours him, but The Doctor turns up with a pork chop to distract it. Elton watches Rose and The Doctor chasing the monster until The Doctor stops and says, "don't I know you?" Elton suddenly turns and runs away.
The scene cuts back to Elton, this time being filmed by his friend, Ursula Blake (the chopping between videoed monologues and 'fictionalised' versions of what Elton is describing happens throughout the episode). He is stood in front of the house he lived in as a child. He says he walked down in the middle of the night and found The Doctor standing there but he didn't know why. He also talks about how he saw the Auton attack in 1.01, "Rose", the spaceship crash in 1.04, "Aliens of London", and the Sycorax ship from sp.01, "The Christmas Invasion".
Following these events, Elton stated looking for information on alien encounters and came across a blog run by Ursula with a picture of The Doctor on it. He met up with Ursula and a group of other Doctor seekers, comprising Mr Skinner, Bridget and Bliss. They call themselves LINDA, the London Investigation 'N' Detective Agency. Gradually, their interests turn away from The Doctor and they become more of a social group, even starting a band... that is, until Victor Kennedy turns up.
Victor - an eccentric man who refuses to touch anyone and carries a cane with him at all times - tells them that he can help them find The Doctor. He whips them up into a proper investigation team and trains them in surveillance. After one meeting, he asks Bliss to stay behind. The others leave, not hearing her screams. When they next convene, he tells them that Bliss has gone off to get married. One day they hear of a sighting of a blue police box in Woolwich. Elton goes off to investigate and finds The Doctor and Rose fighting the Hoix - the scene shown right at the start. When he returns, Victor is furious at Elton for letting him get away but Ursula stands up for him. Victor says that they must now find Rose.
They scour London with photos of Rose and end up finding Jackie Tyler. Elton starts working as Jackie's handyman and grows close to her. Victor is very happy with his performance. At one of the meetings, he asks Bridget to hang back afterwards. Again, something horrible happens off-camera but none of the others hear the screams. One evening Jackie attempts to seduce Elton - something that he's uncomfortable with as he likes Jackie and is in love with Ursula. However, things get worse when she finds a photo of Rose in his jacket. Refusing to listen to his explanations, Jackie says that she'll protect the pair of them with her life and kicks him out.
Victor is angry again and Elton decides to quit. He walks out with Ursula while Mr Skinner hangs back with Victor. They return to pick up Ursula's mobile phone but find that Mr Skinner has vanished and Victor has taken off his disguise to reveal that he is a horrible green creature. From his skin poke the faces of LINDA's members. victor reveals that he aims to absorb The Doctor and all of his memories, and proceeds to absorb Ursula by touching her. Elton begs him to release her but Victor says he cannot. Ursula reads Victor's mind and tells Elton to run as he is going to be absorbed next.
Elton flees but is cornered in an alley. Luckily for him, the TARDIS materialises and The Doctor and Rose step out. Rose, ignoring Victor, demands to know why Elton is stalking Jackie. Victor threatens to absorb Elton unless The Doctor agrees to be 'eaten' himself, but The Doctor gives the members of LINDA a clue and they realise that they can help. They start to pull apart, distracting Victor, while Ursula tells Elton to break Victor's cane.
He does so and thus breaks the 'limitation field' that was stopping Victor from being absorbed into the Earth itself. Victor and all of the LINDA members are absorbed into the pavement. Just then, The Doctor realises where he last saw Elton - he'd stopped a murderous shadow that was lurking in Elton's house, but not before it had killed Elton's mother. The Doctor takes his sonic screwdriver and uses it to bring Ursula's mind up from the Earth. Back at Elton's flat, he brings out a paving slab with Ursula's still-living face growing out of it. He says that he still loves her and she says that she is happy and at peace. Elton concludes that life with The Doctor is dangerous but 'better'.
Review: Now this is a difficult one: I absolutely loathe this episode, but at the same time I can recognise that in terms of structure and storytelling it's actually very, very good. The idea of having Elton narrate the story is a grand one, not just because it's an interesting way to approach what is already a fairly unconventional Who episode (David Tennant and Billie Piper only being in a small part of it to let them have a bit of a holiday) but also because it allows for an unreliable narrator, a narrative conceit that is actually extremely complex for what is essentially an all-ages show.
Okay, so Davies doesn't do much more with it than use it for daft scenes like the Scooby Doo-esque corridor chase at the start, but at least the idea is implemented at all, unlike the similar Torchwood episode "Random Shoes" which completely wastes the conceit. It also allows Davies to use a non-linear structure, something that he puts to good effect throughout. Also of the good is Davies's character work; in 45 minutes he creates a much more believable and empathetic character out of Elton than most people do in entire series (in fact, I wanted The Doctor to boot out Rose and take Elton with him by the end of the episode). The other members of LINDA, though given far less screen time, are also likeable.
So yes, there's a fair bit to admire about the writing of this episode. Unfortunately there's a metric fuckload to hate. But I'm getting ahead of myself - let's accentuate the positive for now. For a start, I should mention the direction; Danny Zeff, whose work I'm mostly unfamiliar with, has obviously seen the massive opportunities that a script like this gives him and runs with it, using POV shots, grainy home video-style footage and strange angles to make pretty much every scene interesting to look at in some way. I really hope that he gets more Who work in the future, especially if there are scripts like this that will let him experiment.
The cast are also uniformly excellent, but of course the real standout is Marc Warren as Elton. Warren's all over British TV at the moment and with good reason: he's extremely good. as Elton's onscreen for the vast majority of the episode (and monologuing when he's not), it would have been easy for him to grate, but Warren pitches the character with the perfect mix of enthusiasm and vulnerability to make him not just bearable but genuinely likeable. He sells not just the big emotional scenes, but also the little moments, like his seemingly improvised scene outside his childhood home. He's great, basically.
As is Camille Coduri as Jackie Tyler. When the series started, I found her thoroughly unconvincing and far too cartoony, but I slowly warmed to her as the series progressed and by this point I was actively rooting for her. It's a shame she's only in another two episodes. Ah Jackie, I hardly knew ye. Right, one last great thing: the music. ELO is a great band and Mr Blue Sky is a glorious song. I don't know if that's from Davies's CD rack, but if it is then he gets a thumbs up from me for good taste.
Well, good musical taste, anyway, because the rest of "Love & Monsters" left a foul taste in my mouth. I'll start with the slightly irking stuff first. The plot is basically one big dig at the kind of nerds that allow their love of Doctor Who to take over their lives and the lives of others. Now I'm aware that spending hours typing up plot synopses into Notepad to go on a website with a relatively small audience leaves me open to criticisms of the "ah, you're just saying that because you are Victor Kennedy" kind but seriously: do we really need an episode about how nerds suck?
I totally agree with the criticisms made, of course - the best fandoms are the ones that exist for their own sakes rather than the show they obsess over - but taking an entire episode of the real Doctor Who series smacks of either gratuitous nerdbaiting or weird axe-grinding. Either way, it seems like a petty thing to base an episode on.
Another complaint is the oh-so-Davies-like magical cane that Elton snaps. Why does an absorbing alien need an external device to stop him being absorbed into planets? How did his species evolve if they needed special technology to stop them from turning into a puddle? It's the same kind of non-logic that leads to giant fans blocking vital walkways and intravenous medicines that somehow work when applied topically. I don't want to seem like a miserable bastard, but really - a line of dialogue saying that Victor's species need them when they leave their home planet's atmosphere or something would have worked fine.
There's also the question of how Victor got into Torchwood, but having seen the incompetence of the main characters in the spin-off show I can just assume that he went over to the Wales branch and said that he'd come to fix the photocopier. And I suspect that Davies has no idea who Elton's making the video for, but whatever.
Another bit of dodgy writing that kind of spoils the good stuff is Elton's oh-so-subtle bit of foreshadowing about how The Doctor will one day end up hurting Rose and Jackie. We got all the foreshadowing we needed from The Beast in the last episode, thanks - this kind of heavy-handed nonsense is just clumsy and obvious. The one that turns up next week is even more annoying for me, though that's mostly because I like that episode.
But my harshest criticisms are levelled at the episode's ending and overall tone. The idea of being absorbed into a creature's body is wonderfully macabre and exactly the kind of messed up thing that kids excel at, but Davies makes this episode too dark and meanspirited. The fact that Victor absorbs the members of LINDA just because he can and because he wants to makes him one step away from being a serial killer. And that kind of petty, random violence feels too real and too nasty for Who. It's the sort of thing that might have worked better in the spin-off, Torchwood, where cruelty and motiveless malignity sits more comfortably.
But the nastiest moment of all is Ursula's fate, being stuck as a human face on a paving slab for the rest of her life - which is apparently eternal now. Davies tries to play down the horror inherent in this by having her say that she's happy with it and by having Elton declare his love for her but it doesn't change the grimness of the situation. What happens when Elton dies of old age? What happens if he falls down the steps and breaks his neck? What happens when the police investigate the disappearances of the LINDA crew?
It's a fucking dreadful concept even you give it even a minute of serious thought. Davies, in an irritatingly common moment of self-congratulation (seriously, I want to like the man but his interviews seem to be worryingly lacking in self-criticism), says that he thinks it's like a Roald Dahl bittersweet ending. The thing is, Dahl was always careful to think his endings through - remember that at the end of The Witches, the young mouse-boy concludes that he may only have a few years left to live, but that his grandmother is much the same way and that they will probably die together. That's how you write bittersweet, fella. It's sadness tinged with happiness, not happiness tinged with soul-rending horror. Lordy lord.
But even if I was cool with that, I'd still have a problem with the way that an independent, intelligent, brave young woman (remember that she stops Victor from hitting Elton) ends up becoming nothing more than a possession of her boyfriend's. Her reward for following her dreams is to be turned into a mere object that The Doctor gives to Elton to make up for not saving his mum. Worse, she literally becomes a sex object, thanks to Davies's inclusion of a coded blowjob reference (Davies didn't think that through either - her mouth must only be a couple of inches deep now). And we're supposed to be happy with this. We're supposed to cheer that Elton got his happy ending at the expense of poor Ursula.
As if this dubious spot of gender politics wasn't enough, there's also the problem that it basically turns The Doctor into an absolute arsehole. Now, I understand that although he's called "The Doctor", our favourite Time Lord is really more of a surgeon; he steps in, cuts out the dangerous stuff and lets someone else deal with the healing. Davies did a good job of exploring the problems of this in his first season episodes "The Long Game" and "Bad Wolf". Nevertheless, it's a character trait that falls into real trouble here.
You see, The Doctor's MO is to wander off once the threat is neutralised, leaving the living to grieve and deal with the dead. After all, he is not really responsible for their lives even if he's just saved them. But in this episode he effectively brings Ursula back from the dead. This isn't the same as blowing up a Dalek and letting the survivors get some therapy - he forces her back into life and traps her consciousness in the paving slab. That means he's responsible for her being there. And it means that at some point - off-camera - he has to pick up this creature that's trapped in a horrendous non-life and make the decision to hand her over to Elton without trying to free her from her condition.
This would be dodgy even if he didn't have the means to do it, but Davies himself gave him all the technology he needs in "New Earth". Seriously, what's to stop him darting off five billion years into the future, cloning Ursula's body (her face still seems to be made of flesh) and using the consciousness-jumper to leap her into the newly grown clone? Eh? Seriously, I'm not saying that he should have done this - I'd much rather he just let Ursula die - but there really isn't any excuse to have him leave her trapped as a blockhead when a solution has been brought up in this very season. Granted, the technology is illegal but since when has The Doctor cared about that?
Okay, so we don't see Ursula through Elton's video camera. That's probably because it would have cost too much to rotate the CGI through 180 degrees. Or possibly it's meant to show that Elton's gone mental and is talking to a paving slab. Which is somehow worse.
Of course, the episode's capped off with Elton saying that life with The Doctor is 'better' than ordinary life. Elton, you may recall from the previous 45 minutes, has lost his girlfriend, his only friends, his employment and his mother (and where did that plot thread come from?) because of his association with The Doctor. Okay, so he gone one of them back in a handy wall-mountable format, but still: how retarded is he?
I liked the Clom joke though.
In terms of actual craftsmanship: 9/10
In terms of enjoyment: 1/10
Previous Episode | Next Episode
Return to the episode index
http://www.gallifreyone.com - Outpost Gallifrey
http://www.physics.mun.ca/~sps/9doc.html - A Brief History of (Time) Travel