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.