Doctor Who: Love & Monsters

Jackie: 'She's so far away. I get left here sometimes and I don't know where she is. Anything could be happening to her, anything. And I just go a bit mad.'

Three years on and I'm still in two minds about 'Love & Monsters'. Was it a clever experiment which paid off, or ill-conceived filler necessitated by a tight schedule and Tennant's inability to be in two places at once? I don't have a problem with the Doctor-lite episodes, but tonight's offering had more than its fair share of problems, and the source of those problems can be summed up in one word... Abzorbaloff.

I can't lay the blame entirely at Peter Kay's feet. He wasn't responsible for the unconvincing fat suit they made him wear (which made him look like Fat Bastard's poorer cousin.) I'm aware too that Abzorbaloff was the creation of 9 year boy from Colchester—so likewise, it would be disingenuous to point the finger of blame at the costume department. But Abzorbaloff was a terrible villain. He never came across as anything other than Peter Kay in a rubber monster outfit, and when he started to fart—well—we were suddenly back in Slitheenville again. Only Abzorbaloff made the Slitheen look positively dazzling in terms of social etiquette and realism. Which, rather than being praise for the Slitheen, is a kick in the pants for Abzorbaloff. He was just fucking awful.

Initially, Russell T. Davies intended to cast Kay in the role of Elton, but Kay, concerned that the character was too much like a role he'd already played (that of Eric Gartside), asked to play the villain instead—a request which Davies duly granted. Was it a decision which paid off? To my eyes, it was hard to see past the fact that underneath all that blubber was Peter Kay—from his shout of 'avanti' (culled from the John Smiths bitter ads), to his broad Lancashire accent. Once that kicked in, all I could hear in my head was 'Garlic bread? Garlic? Bread? Dirty Bastards!'

Admittedly, the episode was mostly played for laughs, and for the most part hit the mark. There were some funny gags on offer, and Elton was an amiable enough character, with kooky friends and an unusual obsession. It was a clever idea, too, to weave Elton through the Doctor's earlier adventures, giving us a unique insight into the life of an ordinary individual who, through no fault of his own, gets caught in the Doctor's wake. In truth, Elton's story was a sad one. It started out promisingly enough, with his interest in the Doctor bringing him into contact with other like-minded individuals who eventually became his friends (and in the case of Ursula, his lover). Unfortunately, they all ended up getting absorbed by Abzorbaloff—all but the lovely Ursula, who managed to survive the experience, albeit in the form of a paving stone. (What the actual fuck?)

But the mixture of comedy and tragedy, just seemed totally off kilter. It was impossible to be afraid of Abzorbaloff because of the sheer absurdity of his appearance (just how small were those damn underpants!!!), and it was hard to be moved by the death of Elton's mother and the loss of his new friends, with an obese, farting alien on the loose. A farting alien with a face growing out of his arse, no less! No doubt the shows younger audience found it all pretty hilarious, but it was a retread of an old plot gag I'd sooner have not seen revisited.

On the plus side, Jackie had a great week in terms of character development. We're so used to seeing her as Rose's mum, that it's easy to forget she's a person in her own right. It was just sad to see how lonely and vulnerable she's become—reduced to picking up strange men in a Launderette. Yet, despite her semi-disapproval of Rose's way of life, it was heartwarming to see her defend her daughter, and equally gratifying to see Rose reciprocate. There were some fascinating closing remarks from Elton, too. Apparently there's a price to pay for touching the Doctor. Elton's mother paid that price with her life, as did Elton with the loss of his friends at L.I.N.D.A. The question is, how long can Rose and Jackie go on before the cold fist of inevitability comes knocking at their door?

I'll give it another 2 weeks.

Other Thoughts:

—All that running around at the start was a bit Scooby Doo,

—The reason this episode doesn't have much of the Doctor and Rose in it is because they were off filming another episode.

—L.I.N.D.A. stands for London Investigation N Detective Agency.

—No more Blue Peter competition designed monsters please!

—Victor Kennedy mentions the Torchwood files and the Bad Wolf Virus.

Billie says...

I sort of enjoyed most of this one the first time I saw it. But I kept putting off watching it a second time. For me, that's the ultimate indication that an episode is not a success.

It was a clever idea, though. Five lonely people searching for the Doctor, coming together into a combination intellectual society, book club, and rock group. Such a good thing for all five of them. Why couldn't it have stayed that way? Maybe that was why I was so disappointed in this episode. Because the five lonely people coming together and finding meaning in each other worked; their destruction did not. This was a story that deserved a happy ending, not a face stuck forever in a slab.

One thing that did work was lonely Jackie and her "power surges," her realization that her loneliness and missing Rose (and even Mickey) was the real reason why she was trying to seduce Elton. Jackie showed real integrity. And again with the hinting that Rose is going to die. Tragedy is waiting for Rose and Jackie. Rats.

Quotes:

Elton: 'I'm into all sorts of things. I like football. I like a drink. I like Spain. And if there's one thing I really, really love, then it's Jeff Lynne and the Electric Light Orchestra. 'Cause you can't beat a bit of ELO.'

Ursula: 'His name is the Doctor.'
Elton: 'Doctor what?'

Bliss: 'What I'm trying to do is sum up the Doctor. What he means to us. What he could represent and what he should represent and what he... never won't represent... sort of thing.'

Elton: 'I wasn't after her. I was looking for the Doctor.'
Jackie: 'Oh, I know that. I worked that out. 'Cause it's never me, is it?'

Rose: 'Is it me, or is he a bit Slitheen?'

Doctor: 'What's the twin planet of Rexicoricophalvitorius?'
Kennedy: 'Clom.'
---
Four moor peaces eye rote, sea hear.

6 comments:

Mark Greig said...

No other episode in the entire history of the programme could be more ‘love it/hate it’ than this one. The fan community is divided right down the middle. I’m on the fence. Off all the Doctor-lite episodes produced its defiantly the weakest, which isn’t really saying much when the other two are Blink and Turn Left.

I don’t hate it and even like some parts (anything with E.L.O. is worthy of a plus point) but I can’t get past the horribly uneven tone and that giant Peter Kay shaped flaw at the centre of things. Shameful stunt casting, thy name is Russell T. Davis.

The Abzorbaloff is just a reminder of one of the little the things that bugs me about Doctor Who, the insistence of having monsters or aliens in stories that don’t really need monsters or aliens. This episode would’ve worked a lot better if it had simply been a sweet little love story centre on Elton and Ursula.

Luckily this is not something Torchwood seems to have a problem with. Boy, the first episode of Children of Earth was amazing. Fingers crossed they maintain this level of quality for the rest of the week.

shawnlunn2002 said...

As someone who isn't a fan of Peter Kay, I have to admit that he was bad casting for the role. Fine as Kennedy (to a degree) but dire for the monster segment.

LINDA were sweet, harmless and had decent backstories. Elton was a reasonably sympathetic character and I think Marc Warren carried the episode well.

Occassionally this show does have a tendency for laying things on pretty thick, like Doctor/Rose inevitable seperation for starters.

Nice to see more of Jackie. Not sure if I would've said that in Season 1 mind.

Just seen Children Of Earth: Day 1 and reviews will cometh. Paul I have put most of my DW blogspot if you want to comment on them.

Blink and Turn Left are such high standard, it's almost unfair to compare them.

Paul Kelly said...

I agree Mark. Torchwood was a shining star amidst an evening of television which was ropier than some rope in a rope factory.

And thanks for the heads up Shawn. Much appreciated.

Michael Colvin said...

I loved the running gag at the start. I guess I'm confused with only a 13 episode production schedule - why did they need to do a 'bottle' show where they were focused on the non two central characters. Was it because the finale needed more shooting time?

Paul Kelly said...

Doctor-lite episodes (as they're affectionately known) allow them to double-bank (i.e. to film two episodes, with two separate teams, at the same time). In season two (and season three for that matter), a Christmas episode was commissioned fairly late in the day. So their 13 episode schedule had to suddenly accommodate a 14th episode. To ease the work load, "Love and Monsters" was double-banked with "The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit"... and during season three, "Blink" was double banked with "Human Nature/The Family of Blood".

dragon_of_celts said...

(begin rant)
I don't care if there's a Doctor Who episode where the Doctor doesn't even make an appearance in it at all -- as long as it is good and fits within the Doctor Who universe. The thing is, Doctor Who isn't a comedy show, nor a parody. Or at least it shouldn't be. That's not to say that humour has no place in it -- quite the opposite. But there is a difference between types of humour that compliment it and those that detract from it.

Before anyone brings up the "infinitely flexible format", let me pre-emptively point out that all fiction is that: You can make up anything you like. That doesn't mean it is a good idea (within the context of that world). If Game of Thrones had a "Love and Monsters"-style episode, would you like it... as Game of Thrones? Yes, there is a difference between the two programmes, and yes, DW does have more flexibility with what it can effectively "get away with" before it breaks the world it is in, but that doesn't mean that those constraints don't or shouldn't exist.
(end rant)