“Love & Monsters” – Review: Redux

Elton “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.”

Love and Monsters

Ah, “Love & Monsters”, I’ve been expecting you. One of the fun reasons for undertaking this countdown to the 50th Anniversary was so that I could get to re-assess episodes like this one. My abiding memory of this one is the reaction it caused at the time. Some people really loved its sense of fun and quiet mocking of fandom, they were thrilled that a nine-year old kid won a Blue Peter competition to design the episode’s monster, and they were intrigued to see a story about how the Doctor can unknowingly influence the lives of those he barely comes in to contact with. On the other hand, some people hated it. With a passion. Due to its immature humour, ridiculous alien (complete with Hale & Pace-esque stunt casting), and its overall cheap feel and low values. I have to confess I am more in the latter camp than the former but the re-watch has led me to realise it’s not (quite) as bad I seemed to remember.

Love & Monsters was not your run-of-the-mill Who episode by anyone’s stretch of the imagination. The Doctor and Rose were sidelined for much of the episode (intense shooting schedules and double banked production being the reason). Their absence was a lot more noticeable than in last series’ Doctor-light episode, “The Long Game”. This one gave Russell T the opportunity to stretch his creative wings. What he dreamt up seemed to be a natural extension to the character of Clive (as played by Mark Benton in Rose). Here we find a group of people who have become intrigued by the mysterious Doctor and witness to the events seen in “Rose” and other modern-day Earth-based stories. They meet up on a regular basis, share their mutual interest and finally, this disparate collection of souls become friends. Any resemblance to the concept of Doctor Who fandom at large is purely intentional. At the heart of this collective is Elton Pope, a hugely likeable chap played with some craft by Marc Warren who deftly finds a balance between geekiness, vulnerability, and good-heartedness. And the first ten minutes are by no means bad. I’d go as far as to say that I really enjoyed watching again.

However, the reasonable start is soon challenged by the arrival of Peter Kay’s character, Victor Kennedy and that’s when we get to the meat of the tale. However, in the same way that Kennedy’s arrival spoils LInDA’s weekly gatherings then so too does it begin to tarnish the episode. Well the monster, for that is what Victor turns out to be, looks exactly like it was designed by an 9-year old and not in a good way (strangely, the next time a Blue Peter viewer wins a competition to design something to appear in the serries it is far more successful, but that is months away in this viewing marathon). The Absorbaloff’s method of absorbing people yet keeping them in tact beggars belief in a way that even loyal viewers of a show whose main character is an impossibly old alien travelling around the universe in a box that’s bigger on the inside, can’t accept. And Peter Kay plays the role without any of the necessary gusto or panache that could’ve saved it from being terrible.

We also have quite substantial outing for Camille Coduri as Jackie Tyler. After the alternative universe version who was unceremoniously deleted by the Cybemen, we get to see back in her Powell Estate home and continuing to be an outrageous flirt, although still with heart of gold. Again, she probably wasn’t as bad as I seem to recall, but for the first time in new Doctor Who, I couldn’t wait for the episode to end. And that ending is a decidedly left-field one regarding Ursula’s survival as a living paving slab, and this viewer was left somewhat bewildered as to the perceived need to make some jest about the “sort of love life” that Elton and Ursula enjoy. Really not very good, but points awarded to Marc Warren for a great effort, and the fun of the first ten minutes. I just wonder whether the episode could’ve been saved if someone else’s monster design had been picked as the winner.

Highlight: ELO

Lowlight: With all due apologies to the nine-year old who designed it, the Absorbaloff is awfulness personified

Talking Point: Is there any future for the Doctor-light episodes?

Demon’s Run Rating: 7 out of 20

Original BBC1 Broadcast: 17th June 2006

Marathon Status: 24 down, 78 to go

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