Aired 17 June 2006
Simply put, ‘Love & Monsters’ will probably forever be the most divisive and polarizing episode of Doctor Who. To lessen the load on the regulars and to allow them to star more heavily in the remaining episodes, showrunner Russell T Davies devised the plan of creating an episode that focused very much on a story without the need for the Doctor and Rose to be present in every scene. There are several clever ideas that can go along with this concept, but unfortunately ‘Love & Monsters’ fails to capitalize on the intriguing premise and becomes the definitive low point of this series.
The plot itself revolves around Elton Pope as he tries to research the enigmatic traveler known as the Doctor, joining the social research group LINDA- the London Investigation N Detective Agency- in the process. The group’s casual meetings are soon taken over by Victor Kennedy who quickly takes control and creates a more formal plan for the hunt.
It’s unsurprising that Kennedy, played by Peter Kay, ends up being an alien in disguise, but the effectiveness of the Absorbaloff is cringe-worthy at best. The monster itself was actually created by a nine-year old Blue Peter contest winner, and whether or not the on-screen result meets the initial idea, the green blob that absorbs people into its being- leaving impressions of their heads on its body- is terrible. It is a nice touch to have it distantly related to the other recent large green aliens of note, the Slitheen, but while those beings were chastised for being too childishly comic, the Absorbaloff takes the canned and forced cartoony humour to an even higher level.
The monster is such an overwhelmingly awful and overt presence that it manages to distract from what otherwise is a fairly heartfelt tale that touches on the themes of loneliness and loss. Elton uses his video recorder to tell his past story and speak directly to the audience, and this unique perspective works quite well for the story and makes sense of the Scooby-Doo chase sequence involving the Doctor, Rose, and another alien that captures what the manic situation of being drawn into the Doctor’s adventures must feel like to an outsider perfectly.
There are quite a few well-known names to fill out the supporting cast and to make LINDA a relatable group; Marc Warren’s Elton is the standout, but Shirley Henderson as Ursula proves quite dynamic as well. These are everyday people with normal interests and problems in their own lives, and they’re intrinsically likeable as they- in a sense- fill the role of Doctor Who fans in the on-screen universe. Eventually discovering that Elton is obsessed with the Doctor he remembers him being there when his mother died in his childhood is quite touching, but the Doctor having to explain that she died because he was too late to save her is devastating. Ursula and he manage to develop a romantic interest of sorts, and though she does manage to retain some semblance of life after being absorbed, it’s a grim and limited life with surprisingly adult implications as it is explained. Either way, Warren superbly sells the continual tragedy of his character exceedingly well and helps to carry the story.
‘Love & Monsters’ is another episode in this run that looks at how the Doctor’s presence can affect peoples’ lives for better or for worse. Queen Victoria and Sarah Jane were quick to chide him in earlier episodes, and he fails to save the LINDA group here after failing to save Elton’s mother so long ago, but Jackie Tyler’s loneliness is finally thoroughly explored here as well. After losing her husband and her daughter, she is eager for any sort of companionship and latches onto Elton when he shows any sort of friendliness toward her, desperate for a companion. She rightly chastises him for using a picture of Rose to gain her confidence and to try to get information from her, but Camille Coduri quickly gives her strongest performance yet as she explains the depths of her despair and how difficult it is getting on with normal life while worrying so much about her daughter whom she loves more than anything else in the world.
There’s a decent amount of fairly deep material within ‘Love & Monsters,’ and had there been any monster except the Absorbaloff, it probably could have been a rather decent episode. Instead, the monster is so egregiously cartoony and unbelievable that it detracts from anything else the episode manages to achieve no matter how strong the individuals’ stories or unique the perspective.