Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Good Idea With Terrible Execution, “Love & Monsters” Underwhelms!

The Good: Decent concept
The Bad: Silly narrative technique, Somewhat ridiculous adversary, Unlikable characters
The Basics: “Love & Monsters” focuses on a group of people who have had encounters with The Doctor or some of his other adversaries.

Almost every television series has some good ideas that they fail to execute well or in a compelling manner. Doctor Who is no exception and one of the first real big duds in terms of execution was “Love & Monsters.” “Love & Monsters” is built on the sensible premise that the Doctor and his many attempts to save Earth, usually in the UK, have not gone unnoticed by common people. Unfortunately, “Love & Monsters” utilizes a narrative technique that is overdone (talking to camera, documentary-style) and is preoccupied with characters that are hard to empathize with.

“Love & Monsters” is the closest to a Jackie Tyler episode the series gets and given how unlikable Rose Tyler’s mother has been, it is hard to care about a guy who is getting close to her. While “Love & Monsters” progresses reasonably by integrating the episode’s protagonist, Elton Pope, into the periphery of “Rose” (reviewed here!), “Aliens Of London” (reviewed here!), and “The Christmas Invasion” (reviewed here!), it fails to create a compelling character arc for Pope. Instead, to keep Pope’s search for The Doctor from being less-than-earth-shaking in its consequences, “Love & Monsters” develops a villain who is one of the worst of the series.

Opening with a young man seeing the TARDIS and hearing noises coming from a nearby factory, the young man Elton Pope, follows the noises where he encounters a hostile extraterrestrial. Breaking the fourth wall to talk to camera, Elton discusses seeing the Doctor, Rose Tyler and the alien chancing one another around. Pope asserts that he had encountered The Doctor before, as a young boy, and when he discovers a picture of The Doctor on an obscure blog, he meets Ursula Blake (who helps him make a video blog). With Ursula, Elton meets others who have some knowledge of The Doctor – Bliss, Bridget and Mr. Skinner) and they form London Investigation ‘N Detective Agency (L.I.N.D.A.) to get together weekly to discuss the Doctor and what information they can assemble about him. But soon, their weekly get-togethers become about companionship, camaraderie, food and music that has nothing to do with their mutual interest in The Doctor.

But L.I.N.D.A. is soon infiltrated by Victor Kennedy, an eccentric who is obsessive about not being touched, who comes with some information on The Doctor and charges L.I.N.D.A. with actually finding The Doctor. Armed with a photograph of Rose, Elton manages to find Jackie Tyler almost instantly and he befriends her in an effort to find more information on Rose and The Doctor. But Victor is as insidious as he initially seems and soon members of L.I.N.D.A. are disappearing. As Jackie hits on Elton and they develop a relationship, Elton becomes attached to her. But then, Jackie rejects Elton when she reasons out that Elton is after the Doctor. But Elton and Ursula are in danger from Victor and they need rescue from the Doctor!

“Love & Monsters” moves toward humor more than genuine menace or real intrigue and that drives the episode down. Victor Kennedy’s actual form and absorbing abilities are rendered in a ridiculous way and the last minute “save” by The Doctor is formulaic and predictable. While I imagine it is possible to produce a Doctor Who episode where the protagonist is on the periphery, much like the main crew of the Enterprise is marginalized in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Lower Decks” (reviewed here!), “Love & Monsters” does not land it.

More than the ridiculous adversary, “Love & Monsters” is plagued by a problematic protagonist. Elton is not particularly likable or even well-defined. In literally the same scene where he is about to shag Jackie Tyler, Elton concludes that he is infatuated with Ursula. Despite claiming to have a romantic interest in Ursula, Elton is hurt when the truth is exposed to Jackie and he seems like he actually was ready for a full-on relationship with her. For sure, the UK might not have the Victorian sexual mores anymore that would prevent one from loving two people at the same time, but Elton Pope seems poorly defined as opposed to emotionally-complicated.

In a similar way, Elton gets some closure on the first encounter he had with The Doctor, but it is emotionally unsatisfying as well. The Doctor apparently saved Elton from a shadow monster in his childhood, but he was unable to save his mother. While Doctor Who has tenuously explained that one cannot cross their own time stream, no rational reason is given in “Love & Monsters” for why The Doctor couldn’t simply have discovered the murder and gone back just long enough to prevent it.

The performances in “Love & Monsters” are fairly unremarkable. Marc Warren is not able to truly carry the episode on his talent as Elton Pope and he barely has enough substantive scenes with Shirley Henderson to sell the Elton/Ursula relationship. When Camille Coduri has more airtime than David Tennant and Billie Piper, the episode is in serious trouble! Peter Kay’s Victor Kennedy is presented more flamboyantly than of forceful personality, making L.I.N.D.A.’s instant acceptance of him as their de facto leader more troubling than realistic.

The result is a stumble of an episode and until “Blink,” Doctor Who would not sell the concept sufficiently to entertain or make an episode wherein the Doctor was marginalized worth watching more than once!

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Doctor Who - The Complete Second Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the debut season of the Tenth Doctor here!

For other works with Shirley Henderson, please visit my reviews of:
Marie Antoinette
Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire
Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets
Bridget Jones’s Diary


For other Doctor Who episode and movie reviews, please visit my Doctor Who Review Index Page!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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