2.10 – “Love & Monsters”
In this largely Doctor-less episode, we meet Elton Pope, a man obsessed with The Doctor and his “blue box,” having encountered him as a child and again in later life. He’s part of a group of fellow enthusiasts who regularly meet to share stories and experiences. One day, a mysterious new member joins their group and things become sinister, as he is revealed to be an “Abzorbaloff,” absorbing the bodies of humans into his own.
Can I just leave the sentence “I pretend this episode doesn’t exist” here and get on with my evening? No? Fine. Then you’re about to see a woman rant in an almost uncontrollable fashion.
Where to start…Okay, the premise. The premise for this episode, that there’s a person who encountered The Doctor as a small child (when The Doctor failed to save the life of his mother), who spends his life searching for this mysterious man and sharing experiences with others who’ve met him, is a bloody good one. We see so much action in Doctor Who that we don’t often pause to think about the lives of the people he briefly encounters and how those lives could be changed by meeting him. He’s a freaking Time Lord; of course they’re going to be fascinated and it’s perfectly believable that there might be a secret group for people who’ve met The Doctor and are desperate to talk about their experiences (and to meet him again). That, as a premise for an episode of the show, is great. The trouble is that “Love & Monsters” takes that premise, chews it up a bit and then spits out something that nobody wants to look at.
Marc Warren as Elton Pope does the best he can with what he’s given. But he’s been given a turd and no amount of polishing it is going to make that baby shine. His video diary entries, which are supposed to frame the story and make us care, come across as perhaps a little too amateurish and overexcited. It’s a shame, because one quote from those video diaries stands out as a rather lovely – if slightly corny – soundbite:
“When you’re a kid, they tell you it’s all ‘grow up, get a job, get married, get a house, have a kid’ and that’s it. But the truth is; the world is so much stranger than that. It’s so much darker. And so much madder. And so much better.”
I love that quote (and that’s the nicest thing I’m probably going to say about this episode), but it’s like having a diamond, glistening in the sunlight, as it sits on top a dollop of steaming horse manure. At the end of the day, you’re still looking at a pile of shit.
The trouble is, the premise needed to be underplayed. It needed to be subtle. The story of this man, driven slightly crazy over the years, because he knows this “Doctor” exists and he needs to meet him again to prove it to himself and to finally gain answers to the questions that have plagued him for so long, has so much potential. But “Love & Monsters” is about as subtle as throwing a brick in someone’s face.
Or a paving slab.
Instead of going down the subtle route, the episode plays for laughs. I have no problem with Doctor Who trying to be funny; I mentioned a couple of comic moments in my last review. The thing with comedy is that you have to actually write stuff that makes people laugh and not stuff that makes people want to find their own “funny bone” and forcibly remove it.
Carrying on with the plot, Elton meets a woman called Ursula online, who he falls madly in love with, because this is now a Richard Curtis rom-com. The two of them set up the most irritatingly-named secret group, ever: “London Investigation ‘N’ Detective Agency (or “LINDA”).” See? Hilarious. There are a few other members of “LINDA,” but they get so little screen time, I can’t even be arsed typing their names. Basically, they’re there to get killed. One day, Peter Kay joins “LINDA,” because of course he does. Now, I’m actually not a member of the anti-Kay brigade, in general. In fact, I rather like him in other things, so I’m not going to slate him just for being Peter Kay, as I’ve seen other reviewers do. Much like Marc Warren, Kay does what he can with what he’s given. He introduces himself as Victor and begs the group members not to touch him, as he has a rare skin disease. But he’s actually hiding something sinister…
Now, I’m going to be extra careful not to massively slag off the alien in the episode, because the “Abzorbaloff” was created by a school child in a competition, so, you know…there are limits to my bitchiness. And again, the premise of an alien who absorbs humans into his own body, leaving their screaming faces on show actually has the potential to be scary and interesting to watch. So, well done school child, you did a good job! If only Russell T Davies had shown your idea some respect, instead of binge-watching Notting Hill and Love Actually and getting shit-faced before he wrote this episode.
Mysterious Victor (so subtly mysterious, he may as well have a twirly moustache) encourages the “LINDA” gang to step up their efforts to find The Doctor. We have a moment of potential comedy, when Elton tries to get info on his whereabouts via Jackie Tyler and is subjected to an attempt at seduction, but even that falls relatively flat. This being a Richard Curtis rom-com, the mood then changes, as Jackie talks to Elton about how much she misses Rose. In another episode (i.e. one surrounded by less crap), these scenes would be quite moving but here it feels like the tone just took a hairpin turn. Meanwhile, members of “LINDA” are going missing. With this being an episode that barely features The Doctor or Rose, it’s up to the rest of the gang to try to solve the mystery. Think Scooby Doo, but with higher levels of persistent irritation.
Eventually, the Abzorbaloff is revealed in his, um, absorb-y entirety, complete with faces of those who’ve disappeared during the show protruding from various places around his body. One minor character from earlier in the episode, Bliss, is on his bum. Because this episode is bloody hilarious, damnit. LAUGH! LAUGH, YOU UNGRATEFUL FOOLS!!
Ursula is absorbed (at which point I cheered because, sorry Shirley Henderson, your voice was doing my nut in) and Elton is all “SAD FACE” because did I mention he LOVES her?! He runs away and avoids a good old absorbing, by pretty much bumping straight into the TARDIS. As the Abzorbaloff tries to add The Doctor to his collection of living body-art, the faces of those he’s already absorbed begin pulling away, preventing him from doing so. If you’ve not seen this episode, that moment is as perfectly ridiculous as you’re imagining it to be. Anyway, the Abzorbaloff carries a cane (presumably in case he wants to break into a quick tap routine), which falls during this process. Ursula – yes, from inside the Abzorbaloff – yells at Elton to break it and he does so. This causes the destruction of a field generator that has allowed the alien to stay in control of his body and so he melts into the pavement. What a world, what a world…
The episode ends with Elton finishing off his video diary. We hear Ursula’s voice and we discover that The Doctor managed to save her essence and she is now, put simply, a face in a paving slab. This being a Richard Curtis rom-com, Elton doesn’t care that she’s A FACE IN A PAVING SLAB and gleefully tells the viewer that they’re in a relationship and that they even have a love life. Tell me you’re not picturing that and I will call you a liar. No amount of brain bleach will ever save me. Ever.
Think of the power of some of the Doctor-less episodes we’ve seen. “Blink” was incredible and scary. “Turn Left” was moving and insightful. “Love & Monsters” features over-the-top acting from pretty much everyone in it, a premise that was handled with about as much grace as a pro-wrestler attempting Swan Lake and it ends with the mental image of a man having sex with concrete. It could have been so good. It had great ideas, focusing on people whose lives have been touched by The Doctor, supporting one another and looking for answers, which makes it depressing that it was handled so badly and turned into the kind of “comedy” that even Keith Lemon wouldn’t touch. There are a couple of sweet moments, a few good references for continuity purposes but the episode as a whole is just clunky and overplayed. And that’s my polite opinion (the non-polite version involves way too much swearing).
We end this story with so many unanswered questions. I mean, where is the explanation of why the Abzorbaloff is absorbing all these people? What’s his motivation? Why doesn’t Jackie Tyler show any interest when Elton admits he’s looking for The Doctor, considering she’s missing her daughter who’s away travelling with him? And the most important question by far: WHY MUST WE PICTURE A DUDE BONKING A PAVING SLAB?!!
I really do mean it when I say I pretend this episode doesn’t exist. When it comes to scoring it out of ten, I can only give it a point for the potential it had and a point for the scenes in which the group first come together and bond, because they’re quite sweet. Other than that? In the words of the Tenth Doctor; “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” 2/10
Written and edited by Emma Tofi