Before I get into this review a quick note on why no episode by episode reviews of Series 11 starring the thirteenth Doctor. Here’s the honest truth: I love Jodie, I don’t mind the visuals or the almost X Files vibe the show has going for it, but alas, I can’t stand how plain dull the writing is. I’ll do an overall series write-up, but not episode by episode. Sorry if people were holding out for it, but I’m not keen on trashing every single episode week after week.
So, we’re up to the infamous Love and Monsters. When this episode first aired, I hated it with a fiery passion. I thought the character drama was boring, Moaning Myrtle was annoying, the comedy misguided and the alien of the week pants. The last part still holds true, but actually, I quite enjoyed this re-watch. Yes, even Shirley Henderson. This episode is deliberately experimental in a way that RTD often wasn’t, pushing the envelope of what an episode could be and establishing the Doctor lite genre. It also served as a pretty nifty metaphor for fandom. I timed where the story jumped the shark and it was at exactly 30 minutes in, so we’re not even talking a lot of bad episode.
The Pre-Title Sequence
Ben: This was a bit of a weird way to start what is admittedly a very weird episode. The first non-Doctor/companion centric episode, in fact! I wonder what David Tennant and Billie Piper did with the time off …
Maureen: Put their feet up, Ben!
Ben: Also, I would have liked the title sequence to have been pushed back a bit, and started right after the Doctor pauses, looks at Elton and says, “Don’t I know you?” But that’s just nit picking on my part.
Maureen: To be honest, I really liked the opening. I usually identify Marc Warren as a guy who plays the seedy villain in hard-hitting dramas or as Teatime in Hogfather so it was nice to see him get to play a socially awkward nice guy and do comedy. Maybe I’m reading too much into the opening, but I thought the Elton chasing after the TARDIS scenes were meant to play on audience expectations. Normally, Marc Warren is a villain so we assume he will be this episode. Except he isn’t. From the beginning there’s a note of farce about the proceedings which establishes this will be a different kind of Who episode (Rose/Ten chasing an alien up and down a corridor with a bucket and Ten talking to the alien like it’s a pet). Also, I kind of like Elton talking to the audience through his video camera. He’s endearing in the same way Rory was.
The Companions Who Never Were
Ben: Elton is a pretty loveable goof with a ~mysterious past~ with the Doctor, having encountered him in his house when he was 4 when a shadow escaped from the Howling Halls and killed his mum. And since then he’s borne witness to a few other of the Doctor’s Earth based adventures, in a nice little call back to seasons past.
Maureen: So many callbacks! The plastic Nestine in Rose, the Slitheen invasion in Aliens of London/WW3 and then the Sycarax invasion of The Christmas Invasion. There’s even references to Torchwood and Bad Wolf. Also, the whole Elton past thing … I wonder if Moffat was inspired a little by it with Amy Pond. Maybe I just see reflections of The Eleventh Hour in everything, but it reminded me.
Ben: I don’t really have much else to say about Elton. He was a relatable lens through which we got to experience this episode, and he was dumb and sweet.
Maureen: He was incredibly likeable. I had a huge grin on my face when he danced around the room to ELO on camera and cracked jokes about being different to Elton John. I also thought his romance with Ursula (until the shitty end) was very sweet in a Richard Curtis kind of way. He was under-confident, awkward, shy and a bit of a coward too, but kind and gentle and good too underneath it all. I’m kind of sad he didn’t get a two-parter.
Ben: Perhaps my favourite scene of the episode was the scene in the laundromat where Elton attempts to make contact with Jackie and finds himself way out of his depth.
Maureen: I liked this Elton scene a lot too, but it wasn’t my favourite. My favourite would be him realising the Doctor conspiracy stuff has made him lose sight of what matters and what’s moral and tells Jackie he’s going to order them both a pizza and watch TV with Jackie, “just mates.” In fact, all of the Jackie Tyler scenes were solid gold.
Ben: Elton’s way of asking out Ursula left something to be desired, but at least he realised his feelings and acted on them finally. There was passion behind that proposition that he and Ursula grab some Chinese.
Maureen: Just quickly on Ursula, I kind of liked her too. She started off so damn awkward (check out the bench scene where she sits at an angle that positions her body away from Elton even as she’s talking to him and her shy little smiles) and then I just love her and LINDA and their little band and then when she loses her temper at Victor. OK, so she wimped out on hurting the alien when she shouldn’t have, but I kind of enjoy Henderson doing mad. She’s just so slight and small, but has this crazy voice. It works for her.
Ben: I also love Elton’s hell of a speech at the end of the episode about how The Doctor brings death and destruction to those in their orbit, which was a nice little bit of foreshadowing of what’s to come in the finale.
Maureen: I liked his final quote too. I’m sure Rose used something similar before. (Any commentators, please feel free to confirm me right or wrong with the particular episode.)
Elton: 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.
That’s the kind of hopeful, life affirming Who quote I love!!!
Ben: Jackie Tyler also had some great moments of characterisation this episode. It was really refreshing to see her living her life sans Rose or The Doctor. You get a real glimpse of a lonely mother, forever waiting for her daughter to return to her. It was really humanising, and you see in her a person who just craves company (“I can’t stand the quiet”) and the human touch, just like everyone does.
Maureen: Jackie Tyler has never really worked properly for me as a character. She too often descends into the ‘has been whore’ stereotype women always get lumped in (alongside virgin and crone tropes) and it annoys me. I didn’t understand the point of these Love and Monsters scenes as a teenager, but now I can understand their significance. They show why Jackie tries to fill her life with a string of men. Because she’s so lonely and feels so inadequate and so, so scared.
Ben: Yeah, my heart really broke for her when, after talking to Rose on the phone, she discovers the photo of Rose in Elton’s jacket and she realises Elton is being kind to her not for herself, but because of her connection with The Doctor. And then she gives this amazing speech about how the people who get left behind get hard, because it’s hard to be abandoned. I mean, couldn’t Rose have brought her mum along for an adventure or two? Jackie has a point!
Maureen: God my heart broke when Jackie she used to have a mate called Mickey who used to do all her handy man work.
The Alien of the Week
Ben: The alien this week, Mr Victor the Absorbaloff from planet Clom was, well, he was a choice. I get what they were going for but … he was definitely the weakest part of the episode.
Maureen: Just an FYI, Ben, this alien was designed by a ten year old as part of a Blue Peter competition so the fault doesn’t entirely lie with RTD and co.
Ben: True and I’m not sure what I would have done differently with the alien of the episode to keep the story/ideas they were trying to explore, but I feel like the alien was the result of no one saying no in the writer’s room. And what was the point of the Slitheen reference?
Maureen: I feel like perhaps this should have been a two-parter. There was thirty minutes of set-up and about ten minutes to reveal the alien threat and deal with it. Everything felt rushed and silly in the denouement.
Ben: At least the alien’s motives were sound with him wanting to absorb The Doctor to experience his life and existence through the power of digestion. But why did he only have the faces of the members of LINDA? Were they his first ever victims? I feel like he needed a bit more of a back story, or something.
Maureen: I found it odd that LINDA didn’t get more suspicious with all of their members vanishing one by one on flimsy pretexts and why they didn’t arc up sooner with Victor being so mean. Also, the denouement where The Doctor saves Ursula as a concrete slab to be Elton’s blow job on tap can go die in a fiery hole of sexism. Which is what that writing was.
Ben: The whole story of LINDA (that name is so dumb) is something of a metaphor for fandom, with passion for a thing bringing people together.
Maureen: Oiii, Ben. I liked the LINDA name. It was funny.
Ben: LINDA evolves from a conspiracy Doctor group to a community about genuine friendship. People have different reasons for joining LINDA and they go way beyond The Doctor. For Bridget, it was escaping the reality of her missing daughter, for Bliss it was a way to explore her artistic side. For Elton and Ursula, a way to make “proper mates.” And then, it becomes it’s own thing, almost a family of sorts.
Maureen: God, I love LINDA cooking meals and forming a band and listening to Mr Skinner read his novel. That’s my best experiences of fandom right there.
Ben: The arrival of Victor stretches the metaphor a bit, but I interpret him as the embodiment of toxic fandom.
Maureen: I don’t think it’s that much of a stretch. RTD is known for his on the nose satire. Also, for his involvement in Who fandom before becoming show runner.
Ben: With Victor’s arrival, LINDA becomes all work and no play. Gone is the food and the jam sessions, and instead they’ve been put to work hunting The Doctor.
Elton: Better get to work.
Ursula: I’ve never thought of it as work before.
And then one by one LINDA was dispatched as Victor or ‘toxic fandom’ absorbs each and every member bar Elton. The only way toxic fandom endures is by sucking people in to the point where they can’t leave. There’s something to be said about the way that Victor treats the members of LINDA like garbage, and it’s not until they stand up to him that the tides start to change. Each of the members of LINDA was charming in their own way, and I would have loved to have had more time with each of them.
Maureen: I agree. They were all sweet and good and innocent.
Ben: I’m not sure if the scene with The Doctor and Rose chasing/being chased by the alien at the start of the episode was supposed to be comedic, but I found it rather dumb. I had this same experience multiple times in the episode, of the tone feeling a bit off. Like when Elton’s computer blew up because the internet was going into meltdown about theories on the spaceship? Was that supposed to be a humorous recreation, or what actually happened? Anyway, I digress. About 70% of the episode was quite good, and then right at the end it completely jumps the shark. Ursula’s fate was particularly egregious. I feel like if they’d had another episode to properly explore the backstories and lives of the members of LINDA, and maybe had another go at the alien/ending they could have ended up with a truly fantastic episode. As it is, I’m going to give it 7/10.
Maureen: I agree with most of what you say, Ben. Sometimes the tone felt wrong and the alien of the week didn’t work given the denouement RTD went with. Also, have I mentioned before how much I loathe Ursula’s fate? Let me go again: it’s really, really, really fucking sexist. But then, for thirty minutes this was a sweet, funny, experimental look at what running into The Doctor does to people and how he brings them together which made me feel warm and fuzzy inside. So I’m also giving this odd beast 7/10 inky stars.