...a blog by Richard Flowers

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Day 1992: DOCTOR WHO: Love & Monsters


"Ampersand". Here is a story – in olden days when even Daddy Richard was learning letters, the monks in the monasteries used to spend all day writing out the alphabet (I think this was to try and keep WARM or something).

So, they would write out all the letters A, B, C, D… all the way through to …X, Y, Z and then they would write this squiggle symbol "&" that means "and" and they would say "and per se 'and'" meaning "and on its own and". Over the years "and per se and" got SQUIDGED into one word and became "ampersand"

I am FULL of useless knowledge.

ACTUALLY, I am full of FLUFF and Daddy Richard is full of useless knowledge.

Here are his thoughts on Doctor Who this week.

It was obvious that this one is going to be the one that divides fandom for 2006.

A story that concentrates entirely on the perspective of a character we have never met before and his little band of friends and co-adventurers as they are one by one destroyed by the monseters would be… well "Mission to the Unknown", actually, but this week's story focusing on Mark Warren's Elton Pope and his friends in L.I 'n' D.A. probably wasn't what most fans were geared up for either.

But, actually, this story is exactly what OLD Doctor Who is supposed be and entirely what NEW Doctor Who is supposed to be: it is about introducing us to the sheer WEIRD of the world and at the same time it is about the strength and power of human relationships.

Love is at the heart of this episode. See how it is built up around the relationships between Elton and Ursula, Elton and Jackie, Jackie and Rose, Bridget and her missing daughter, Mr Skinner and Bridget, Elton and him mum. There are monsters in the cracks between all these relationships, but don't be diverted by Peter Kay, no matter how entertaining he undeniably is. The monsters here are shyness, fear and misjudgement, loneliness and loss, drugs, bad timing and repressed memories.

It is the most "Buffy" episode so far, and clearly the most Russell T Davis episode, the one that you have to listen to the people talking – all the things they are saying and all the things they are not saying – where you have to understand that this is about something rather than just a big spectacle.

Marc Warren owns this episode: for a week he is the Doctor – he is the Doctor that all of us fans secretly play inside our heads, the hero of his own adventure. Obviously he's hugely famous for "Hustle" now, but this was far beyond his wide-boy character Danny Blue: vulnerable and shy and geeky and very, very human.

That's not to downplay the other supporting actors: Shirley Henderson as fiercely protective Ursula; Simon Greenall as quiet and gentle Mr (Colin) Skinner; Moya Brady as heart-warming mum, Bridget; Kathryn Drysdale as Bliss, bless Bliss. Between them they created a little family of completely believable and tragically disposable characters. And it mattered to us when they were disposed of.

Being Doctor Who, there needs to be a villain and the big role was filled by Peter Kay. Astonishingly, interviews have said that he was initially offered the role of Elton – which would have been such a waste. Here he fills up the role of mysterious Victor Kennedy with sinister exuberance, hiding his true nature behind his eczema – or exzeeema as he insists. He manages to be disturbing and somehow very funny.

Then there is the monster behind the man, created by Blue Peter competition winner William Grantham (like you didn't know that): meet the Abzorbaloff. Kay has a ball here as a creature both vile and pathetic: a sort of combination of the sins of Envy and Gluttony that desires only to consume the experience of others. What is great is that a lot of that is actually implicit in William's winning idea: and wasn't it good to see him getting a "Abzorbaloff created by…" credit in the end titles, just like Robert Holmes or Bob Baker. Terrific accent, by the way, though what a shame we didn't get a "lot's of planets have a north", eh?

The twin planet of Raxacoricofallapatorius is Klom. We rolled about.

What didn't work? One thing was the Scooby Doo chase for Rose the Doctor and the unnamed monster at the start. On paper – indeed in animation – it must have looked like a good idea, but – even accepting that this is Elton's "cartoon" recollection of the event – live action doesn't quite work that way and you need a different set of sight gags: go watch "Paul Merton's Silent Clowns" to see how the greats did it.

The other was the Abzorbaloff costume. It's fine sitting down behind the desk, but running down the street… oh dear. Great idea but probably one for the million-pound CGI budget of a movie rather than a prosthetic job. Not that it isn't a lovely piece of work: the "absorbed" heads are terrifically creepy; and extra kudos for clearly making costumes for "before" and "after" the absorbing (abzorbing?) of Ursula. Still, the director clearly recognised this and was doing all manner of zany tricks, ramping and fast cutting, to distract us from actually looking at the thing.

But "Love & Monsters" isn’t really about either of those things. And if you allow a misjudged monster costume to distract you from the punch of recovering Elton's memory, then frankly you have no soul.

More trivially, this episode finally pins down the date for "The Christmas Invasion": Elton recalls the Auton invasion of 2005 as "two years ago", the Slitheen gambit as a year after that and the arrival of the Sycorax spaceship as Christmas, therefore logically Christmas 2007. This also helps us to date "School Reunion" to 2008 (Sarah refers to "The Christmas Invasion" as "last Christmas".) And of course, "love & Monsters" is 2008 as well.

It's a bit of a train-spotter's point, I grant you, but it does restore the fact that we can date to a year every story of the returned series.

In fact, Elton's little flashbacks actually help to ground the episode in the series more strongly and reciprocally, ground the series continuity more strongly as well. All these events are shown to be "more real" because they happen not just to our heroes the Doctor and Rose but also to innocent bystanders who don't understand what is going on and have to make their own explanations.

More credit to the director, Dan Zeef, for taking the trouble actually to restage the Auton invasion (and, frankly, realise it better than was achieved in "Rose") and to mount an "alternative" perspective of the Sycorax spaceship from Elton's flat. Even the one bit that was obviously lifted from last year's footage (you know what I mean: "Bong!") even that is expanded with a new reaction shot from Elton and the people behind him.

And bizarrely, I've seen complaints that it was "just a clips show"!

Monsters seen here in order of appearance: humans; the Hoix (apparently); Autons; Slitheen spaceship (flown by pig, not seen); Sycorax spacecraft; Abzorbaloff and a Shadow from the Howling Halls.

Next week: topical sporting tournament… the Olympics (er…)


0tralala said...


"Rose" is 2005, as stated. She goes missing for a year, so "Space Pig" is 2006.

I don't think they state how long after that "Boom Town" is, but I'd assumed "Christmas Invasion" was December 2006 - later the same year as Space Pig.

This works if: a) Harriet calls a General Election right after Downing Street's blown up (which I think, constitutionally, she'd have to), and b) they get on with the repairs to Westminster clocktower sharpish. Which could 'appen.

So "School Reunion" and "Love & Monsters" take place in 2007. QED.

Will said...

What he said. Elton says the Autons were "two years ago" in 2005, which makes L&M 2007. Last Christmas is 2006, the same year as Aliens of London, a year after Rose left.

And I really enjoyed the silly chase at the beginning.

Millennium Dome said...


I only have FOUR fluffy feet to count on, you know!