The case for…Love & Monsters
Guest writer, G. F. Roberts defends the much maligned Love & Monsters, the series 2 episode recently voted by Doctor Who TV’s readers as worst of the revival.
Yes, I’m here to defend Love & Monsters.
Now before you dismiss me out of hand, let me just state for the record that I don’t consider ‘Love & Monsters’ a misunderstood classic. I just believe it’s a solid piece of storytelling that is totally undeserving of the vitriol and scorn that’s constantly poured upon it. Doctor Who has, in my opinion, produced far weaker yarns in its long history, but these stories somehow manage to keep their heads down when the critical police are on patrol. ‘Love & Monsters’, with its unconventional subject matter and quirky approach, is a distinctive, obvious target, and as result has become a story that’s almost too easy to hate.
Ignore your hatred! ‘Love’ is the key word in this episodes title. Elton’s love for Ursula, Mr Skinner’s burgeoning love of Bridget, and Jackie’s love for her daughter. Of course there’s L.I.N.D.A.’s love of the Doctor, and perhaps most important of all, we have a nine year old fan’s love of the programme, manifest in William Grantham’s design for Doctor Who’s weekly prescribed monster.
The likeable Elton Pope provides a perfectly adequate focus for this first real ‘Doctor-lite’ episode. Taking the interesting approach of exposing the bystander’s view of the Doctor’s escapades allows us to revisit recent adventures from a different angle, reinforcing the show’s new internal world. We follow Elton’s eventful, well calibrated and nicely catalogued journey from ineffectual loner to more assured, assertive individual. He gains a greater understanding of not only his relationship with the Doctor, but also the circumstances of his mothers death. As a bonus he acquires a paving slab girlfriend, an act of extreme creative confidence from a writer prepared to throw as many ideas into the mix as possible. Obviously personal taste will dictate your approval of this final flourish, I personally found it acceptable within the context of the preceding yarn, and any sexual connotations were, in my opinion, no more unpalatable than some of Captain Jack or River Song’s more suggestive innuendos.
L.I.N.D.A. as a group are a sympathetic depiction of Doctor Who ‘followers’. They neatly steer on the right side of parody, and are shown to be warm, intelligent, creative individuals, with varied interests and passions, and all representative of a varied cross section of society. Compare this nod to fandom to the more clichéd personas of Lee Evans ‘Malcolm’ from RTDs ‘Planet of the Dead’, or (grits teeth) Whizzkid from 80’s romp ‘The Greatest Show in the Galaxy’.
The story laudably offers a insight in Jackie’s life without her daughter. It affords Camille Coduri the opportunity to really flesh out her depiction of Rose’s mum and it provides her with some delightful comic moments, especially the amorous Ms Tyler’s increasingly brazen seduction techniques. Its during these scenes that Davies’ eye for character and drama really comes to the fore as he nimbly manoeuvres events from light farce, via Elton’s feel good realisation of his love for Ursula, to an awkward confrontation where Jackie discovers the initial ulterior motive for Elton’s friendship.
This deception was instigated by Victor Kennedy, a larger than life creation in the grand tradition of Doctor Who villainy. I have no problem with Peter Kay in this story. I think he uses his finely honed comic skills to spin the material perfectly, delivering a performance that’s actually far funnier and more contained than say either Catherine Tate’s debut as Donna or, again, Lee Evans turn as Malcolm.
And so to his alter ego the Abzorbaloff. I think it’s a great idea, an eerily effective form of body horror, in a David Cronenberg meets ‘The Chuckle Brothers’ kind of way. The prosthetics are up to Neil Gorton’s usual high standards and brilliantly answer the difficult brief of retaining a well known performers identity while still being distinctly alien. For me, other DW stories have contained far weaker monsters, both in realisation and concept. In fact 99.9% of all Doctor Who stories are imperfect and contain a weak link of some sort, be it an unconvincing alien, a lacklustre plot, bad characterisation, a wooden performance, etc. But as fans we always find it in our hearts to forgive, excuse, or even embrace these frailties. However for some reason ‘Love & Monsters’ is offered no such leeway. Its pitfalls are used as a weapon to beat it over the head with. Repeatedly!
I think the episode passes muster in most areas, subject matter, plot, narrative flow, characterisation and performance. The editing is brisk and sharp, as is Dan Zeff’s confident direction. Certain scenes have been heavily criticised, most notably the ‘Scooby Doo’ style chase scene. As this is an episode told from Elton’s point of view, we can only assume he’s thrown in the odd creative enhancement here and there; not only with this sequence but also with his more ‘professional’ spin on L.I.N.D.A’s jamming sessions, and in his poignant, symbolic, final memory of his mother leaving him as a child. These little creative touches all work in context, and all are in keeping with the overall tone of the episode.
Ultimately this is a question of taste not quality. ‘Love & Monsters’ is not a sub standard product, its a shining example of RTD’s desire to test that old adage that Doctor Who is a format that can go anywhere and be anything. I’ve seen this story labelled puerile and inane, which is unfair and inaccurate. It touches upon various themes. Loss, isolation, the importance of friendship, the life affirming qualities of love in whatever form you find it, and the varied effects that touching the Doctor’s world can have upon a person. Its message is one of optimism and acceptance, and the benefits of striving to get more out of life than just tolerating the basics that society offers us. Granted it’s jaunty, brash, and individual, but its also, heartfelt, original and celebratory. It praises the Doctor, the programme, and its many, many fans.