An ordinary man becomes obsessed with the Tenth Doctor and Rose Tyler, and uncovers a world of living nightmares.
Love and Monsters is a bit of a marmite episode amongst Doctor Who fans, with few in the middle, which is where I find myself. There are some good performances in here, namely from Marc Warren, Camille Coduri and Shirley Henderson, coupled with an interesting idea, however, elements like Peter Kay’s performance and some weird writing decisions let it down. So please forgive me for sitting on the fence – I genuinely have no strong feelings towards this story.
It’s easy to look at Love & Monsters with the benefit of hindsight and the experience of Doctor-lite stories like Blink or Turn Left and say that it is not as good as those stories, which I do agree with to an extent but this was a production team experiencing the challenge of making this type of story for the first time. This has to walk so that later stories of this kind can fly. There is a lot to admire here, for instance, this gives us a view of an ordinary person of the events in the revived series so far, such as the Auton Invasion seen in Rose, the spaceship crashing into the Elizabeth Tower and the Sycorax ship arriving. The Doctor’s impact on the wider population than his companion and their family is something that we haven’t seen much before or since this episode, and furthers Clive’s message in Rose – if your life touches the Doctor’s, it’s probably not going to end well. Again, something that this episode brings up which isn’t really touched on again is the impact on the companion leaving on those left behind. This is something that I felt was dealt with really badly in Aliens of London and never brought up again, especially considering that Jackie believes Rose to be dead for that year. This element is really effective, showing how Jackie is desperate for company and the fact that she never knows when she will either see or hear from Rose whilst she is off on her travels with the Doctor. The story wants to emphasise the differences between travelling with the Doctor and staying on Earth, by using industrial areas and scenes around the Powell Estate, contrasting with the wonders we have seen Rose experience. Dan Zeff does a decent job of directing, juggling the normal narrative and Elton’s video diary well for the most part, but the brief cut to Elton in the cold open does puncture the tension after seeing the Hoix. Zeff even manages to make the Scooby Doo-esque opening sequence not seem utterly ridiculous, which has to go in the plus column for this episode.
LINDA, short for London Investigation ‘N’ Detective Agency, is a thinly veiled parallel for the Doctor Who fandom. A group of people who are united by their interest in the Doctor, who then divulge further interests, it’s not a terribly favourable view on the fandom. Here, Elton’s love of ELO feels a bit like confessing you like Doctor Who to anybody ‘normal’ – I know that I personally am not forthcoming with telling new people my interests or about my love of Doctor Who. The five members of LINDA are almost stereotypical science fiction fans, portrayed as being a bit weird and lonely and able to gain some enjoyment in their fellowship. When Elton is initiated, he is almost drawn further and further down the rabbit hole as the other members tell When their other interests get in the way of their search for the Doctor, Victor Kennedy enters to stop the fun. Some have stated that they believe Kennedy to be a parody of people like Ian Levine and their passion for the Doctor. It’s really a story about how easily something pure can be corrupted by a minority and arguably is as important an episode now as it was in 2006.
The story does have a massive flaw in the shape of its central villain – Victor Kennedy, or the Abzorbaloff. One of the biggest problems with this story is the celebrity casting of Peter Kay in the part, and as soon as he enters the story, I certainly see nobody other than Kay rather than a character. His casting makes little sense to me, as I am primarily aware of him as a comedian rather than an actor, but I don’t really find that there are a lot of funny lines in general and especially not said by Kennedy. Again, the creature is an interesting idea and I have no problem with the whole Blue Peter competition winner’s concept, but I feel that a pantomime performance by Kay and some poor effects, especially when the faces of the creature’s victims aren’t speaking, really let the story down. When the absorbed members of LINDA unite to destroy the Abzorbaloff, it shows that this episode was perhaps not blessed with a huge budget!
Whilst Kay’s performance is poor, this episode’s strength lies in a triumvarate of Marc Warren, Camille Coduri and Shirley Henderson. Warren manages to take a relatively underdeveloped pencil sketch of a character, who has quite generic male interests (“I like football. I like a drink. I like Spain.”) and make him quite likeable. The writing has lines which make Elton seem quite childish, but I was surprised to learn that Warren is only two years younger than co-stars Camille Coduri and Shirley Henderson. I really like Camille Coduri’s performance here and this makes Jackie’s character much more likeable. I’ve spoken about not really liking Jackie very much in previous reviews, but given more understanding into her insecurities and loneliness here and her speech about how she will be protect Rose and the Doctor is one of this story’s few high points. I do have a problem with the story presenting the potential predatory nature of Jackie, especially as Elton is portrayed as being much younger than her. Henderson is good as Ursula, who introduces Elton to the wider context of the Doctor’s actions, and of all the LINDA gang, she is probably the most fleshed and out and likeable. It’s only the unfortunate love life line that really lets her character down – and that’s not Shirley Henderson’s fault! Tennant and Piper are in this so briefly and do a solid enough job.
Verdict: Maybe in a few years, I will be amongst those who love this story. Ultimately, Love & Monsters is just fine. 5/10
Cast: David Tennant (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), Camille Coduri (Jackie Tyler), Peter Kay (Victor Kennedy/The Abzorbaloff), Marc Warren (Elton Pope), Shirley Henderson (Ursula Blake), Simon Greenall (Mr Skinner), Moya Brady (Bridget), Kathryn Drysdale (Bliss), Paul Kasey (The Hoix) & Bella Emberg (Mrs Croot).
Writer: Russell T Davies
Director: Dan Zeff
Behind the Scenes
- The working title was I Love the Doctor.
- The Abzorbaloff was created by a child, William Grantham, who won a Blue Peter competition. It was often stated that Grantham was disappointed with the appearance of the monster, however, on the DVD documentary Who Peter, he stated that he was “stunned” at how well realised it was by Millennium FX.
- This story was double-banked with another story, allowing fourteen episodes to be filmed in the time it should take to film 13. The “Doctor-lite” format continued in the show going forwards.
- This story mentions elements of the first four story arcs of the revived show: Bad Wolf, Torchwood, Mr Saxon and the missing planet Clom.
- The acronym LINDA was previously used on the children”s television show Why Don’t You?, which Russell T Davies worked on.
- In an early draft, Elton would have experienced events from the original run, including his third birthday part being evacuated due to the Shoreditch Incident (Remembrance of the Daleks), his mother being killed by a plastic daffodil (Terror of the Autons) and Elton would have seen the Loch Ness Monster rising from the Thames (Terror of the Zygons).
- Peter Kay got the part after writing to Russell T Davies after the new series began in 2005 and Davies replied offering him a part. He was originally offered the part of Elton, but Kay declined, feeling that the part was too similar to his Coronation Street character. Kay would later reflect negatively on being in the show, stating “I loved making it, but when I saw it, I thought “Oh my God. I’m a big green lizard running around in Cardiff? Is that it?”
I quite like the moment that Elton, Ursula and Mr Skinner storm out of the basement – it is one of the few
Let me tell you something about those who get left behind. Because it’s hard. And that’s what you become, hard. But if there’s one thing I’ve learnt, it’s that I will never let her down. And I’ll protect them both until the end of my life. So whatever you want, I’m warning you, back off.Jackie Tyler
Previous Tenth Doctor review: The Satan Pit
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