Svelte And Morons

I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that a person’s view on Love And Monsters is the single most telling indicator of their personality – specifically, the personality aspect of whether they’re a soulless cretin or not.

L&M is by most measures the oddest episode of Doctor Who since the show’s reinvention in 2005. Written by series producer Russell T Davies, it’s an episode in which he appears to deliberately burden himself with as many handicaps as possible. For a start, the Doctor and Rose barely appear in the episode at all – their presence is limited to the first three minutes (and that in a silly slapstick sequence) and parts of the last seven. The main baddy is Peter Kay, playing an alien designed (literally) by a nine-year-old child for a Blue Peter competition. A major element of the plot is the music of ELO, probably the least cool band in all of human existence. And to cap it all, the primary familiar character is Rose’s mum.

Yet despite all these self-imposed millstones, Davies turns in a beautiful and polished episode that’s not only arguably his own best in the series, but one of the most brave and subversive things ever delivered to a mainstream family audience on primetime Saturday-night TV. His reward was a reception from Who fanboys and assorted other dolts that stopped just short of demanding that he be tarred, feathered, hung, drawn, quartered and have his remains fed to wild dogs.

It may be that the self-styled “Whovians” see a little too much of themselves in the nerdy characters of LINDA, which the episode mocks with the greatest and gentlest affection. (I suspect Davies is also poking fun at a part of himself in Elton’s hammy theatrics.) Or it may just be that the people who bitterly attack L&M are simply ignorant twats incapable of grasping anything that isn’t spoonfed to them along with giant signposts telling them what to think.

(The latter view tends to be supported by the surrounding evidence, such as the same people’s tendency to select episodes like Steven Moffat’s “Blink” and Paul Cornell’s “The Family Of Blood” as the series’ high points. Like, duh – you’d have to be really epically stupid not to notice that those were fantastic. And it’s not as if you have to be a professor of rocket surgery to appreciate the only-slightly-more-nuanced brilliance of “Love And Monsters”. You just have to not be a wanker.)

Though liberally scattered with childish humour like the aforementioned slapstick sequence (which I should note I enjoyed), L&M is also one of the most adult episodes of New Who, and not because of the blow-job joke at the end. Perhaps because as well as barely featuring the Doctor, it’s not even really about him, and that frees Davies up to step slightly away from the Doc’s rather black-and-white cowboys-and-indians world of the good Doctor and his charismatic-evil-genius adversaries.

Kay’s cartoon-villain Abzorbaloff isn’t sophisticated or dashing or clever, it’s actually a bit of an idiot, but it’s no less lethal for that. Similarly, the good guys in the story aren’t the heroic autistic savants the Doc usually manages to stumble across – they’re awkward, geeky misfits with useless talents, limited social skills and bad taste – but they’re portrayed with more depth than the single-dimensional characters that normally comprise the Doctor’s supporting cast.

(And what’s more, the ones killed by the Abzorbaloff – with one partial and disturbing exception – actually stay dead, something that Davies has barely been able to bring himself to do during his four years in charge of the series. Even the great Steven Moffat fell foul of the same tendency to cop out horribly over death, resurrecting almost everyone at the end of the otherwise-superb “Forest Of The Dead” story and thereby wrecking much of the hard-earned emotional impact of the preceding 90 minutes.)

Even Jackie Tyler, who usually appears chiefly as fuel for Davies’ curious obsession with pantomime-stupid and awful mothers, is depicted as a much more convincing, vulnerable and likeable human being in this story. (Seriously, though – has nobody else noticed this? Rose’s mum, Martha’s mum and Donna’s mum are all portrayed as contemptible, neurotic dimwits right through RTD’s Who. Compare and contrast these hateful harridans with the various assistants’ dads, who are smart, perceptive and brave. Working through some issues, Russell?)

The heart of the story unfolds at a measured pace, made all the more affecting by the way the main protagonists don’t notice what’s happening until almost the end. Their unconventionally happy little group is torn apart inch-by-inch, and even the arrival of the Doctor only brings a token salvation. The clever and bittersweet ending shows Elton’s memory already starting to paper over the traumas he’s been through, before he delivers the episode’s subtly but powerfully subversive message (this is a show largely aimed at children, remember):

“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.”

If those things do happen to represent your ultimate goals in life (or if you’re just a hardcore fanboy sulking about the Doctor’s peripheral role) then perhaps you won’t like “Love And Monsters”. But it represents Davies’ lightest and nimblest writing throughout his tenure at the Who helm, and its understated restraint, unusually tight plotting and deft emotional balance deserve at least as much respect as his better-received, more obvious episodes like “Turn Left” and “Midnight”. Unless you’re a cunt.

Not you, Elton. You’re worth a hundred of them.


9 Responses to “Svelte And Morons”

  1. EXACTLY this. L&M is truly wonderful.

  2. I love Dr. Who but I’m hardly a fanboy. I’ve never discussed the show ad nauseum on an online forum, never delved into the who’s and whys of an episode. I just watch them. So I had never heard of L&M’s self imposed limitations before this, that the monster had been created by a child. I did notice the distinct absence of the Doctor and Rose. What I did see was what you mentioned, the slap stick humor and uncoordinated and uncomfortable-in-their-own-skin performances of the LINDA group, and I did not like the episode. I pretty much decided that I’d never go back and rewatch that one again after I saw it.

    What I’m saying is that maybe if you dig into the episode under the surface it’s brilliant and so fanboys _should_ love this one, but it fails on the casual viewer level, and that is a very bad place to fail.

    Just admit it. L&M wasn’t that good. RTD tried something and fell flat on his face in the process. It happens.

    For the record, I LOVED Blink and Family of Blood wasn’t bad at all.

  3. Don’t worry Joe, you’re right – it was a giant stinking pile of plop. Stu’s brain was replaced by a blancmange after he lost an unwise bet, and the results haven’t been pretty.

  4. I think you’re thinking of YOUR MUM.

  5. I should have added, I’m just throwing out a counter point. That’s all just my opinion. I really didn’t like the episode and if you’re going to accuse me of being an “ignorant twats incapable of grasping anything that isn’t spoon fed to them along with giant signposts telling them what to think” just because I don’t like this one episode, you’d better expect some defense of the position.

    I also didn’t realize this was as old a post as it is. Oddbob linked me to it on Twitter.

  6. Wait a minute. Nevermind that last line. Why did I think this was an old blog post?

  7. Because you’re an ignorant twat incapable of grasping – nah, only kidding. You don’t have to issue disclaimers on WoSblog, Joe. We’re all grownups here, and “it’s just my opinion” is taken as a given on all non-empirical facts. Don’t let a little bit of knockabout polemic get you bent out of shape.

  8. Well, the “I think you’re thinking of YOUR MUM” comment above had me almost responding “No, I’m thinking of YOUR Mum. Mmm.” So I steered away from it.

  9. Nervous Pete Says:

    Stu’s entirely right. This episode is one of the best RTD’s written. It was such a breath of fresh air as well. When the Doctor’s there, despite the occasional excellence of adventures, you never really feel threatened. It’s like when you’re a kid your dad or mum are there and they can fix ANYTHING. But in Love & Monsters, mum and dad aren’t there – and there’s something really horrible out there.

    The Doctor can’t be everywhere. There are bad things out there in the world. Things you can’t deal with. You have to hope you survive and deal with the trauma after. Not that this is a bleak episode, the affirmation comes in how Elton copes. (And I’m not talking about through blow jobs) And how, before the horror comes, how the members of Linda find each other and make sense of their lives through each other. It’s the monster’s destruction of this that is particularly cruel, these people aren’t the usual ‘tragic’ cannon-fodder of a Who story.

    And it was very nice seeing how the Doctor deforms the world. Seeing Linda was worth a lot more than countless “HUMANITY! BRILLIANT!” speeches by Tennant later, proving that one should always be shown rather than told.

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