Nu-View #21: Disgust & Side-Eyes

Love & Monsters (Series Two, Ep. 10; 2006)
Viewed 15 Jan 2018

Doctor/Companion: Ten, Rose Tyler
Stars: David Tennant, Billie Piper
Preceding Story: The Satan Pit (Ten, Rose)
Succeeding Story: Fear Her (Ten, Rose)

    It's been some three-and-a-half years since I last did one of these. Aligning four adults' schedules often enough to keep up on new episodes with the Ladies—let alone review old ones—has proven a serious challenge. We are, in fact, still in the middle of Series Ten. I'm hopeful we'll get caught up with the Christmas episode by midsummer.

    When Verity! podcast released their Love & Monsters commentary a couple weeks ago, though, I knew it was time to relaunch a new version of the NuViews. It felt like Fate, because my 11-year-old twin daughters' introduction to the modern show had paused right at that exact episode. If I could convince them to watch with me again, I could both get them back in the proverbial saddle and share their unique perspective with my readers.

    The girls were game, and so we sat down (not without trepidation on my part) to watch Elton's vlog about his encounters with the Doctor. I realized immediately that this would be a different kind of experience than watching with the Ladies. To start, H & V are still quite new to Who; they don't have a whole lot of context upon which to draw for comparison. For another, they are for the most part still simply absorbed in the story; any comments they make tend to be direct gut reactions rather than the snarky comments of jaded adults. It's refreshing, even if it means there are fewer mid-episode impressions to report.

    Since it had been years since I'd seen the episode myself, it was almost as interesting to gauge my own reactions as to see the girls'. For instance, I got something of a Torchwood vibe from the pre-credits sequence (interesting in retrospect, since this is the series that led up to the whole Torchwood storyline).

    But there's something about the delight of a new fan that just can't be beat. As the credits rolled, H observed, "I love the time tunnels [the Vortex]." It provided me with that fresh perspective again, and reminded me how much I've always loved these particular opening credits.

    With that upbeat opening, the episode was off to a pretty good start. The Scooby-Doo chase at the beginning got the girls giggling, despite their lack of familiarity with the source material (some comedy is always funny), and once Elton started recollecting his various alien encounters, we were really rolling. "Oh, I remember that!" and "Oh yeah!" and "That one!" exclaimed H (my more vocal kiddo) as Elton observed the Autons (Rose), the Slitheen (Aliens of London), and the Sycorax (The Christmas Invasion).

    Things were mostly quiet then, as the story progressed. We got to see L.I.N.D.A. develop, first as a rag-tag group of folks with a common interest, and then as real friends. Things fell apart when Victor Kennedy walked in and changed the whole purpose of the group—which, at its core, had really only been to find others who would believe them. Now they were his tools. Or his victims.

    Sensitive as they are to peril in a story, both girls were uncomfortable every time Mr. Kennedy asked a group member to stay behind ("I don't like this!")—and rightfully so. And yet there were other bits at which to laugh and at which to cringe in between incidents.

    Some of the humor was thus clearly on target. There were actual laughs both at how easy it was for Elton to identify Rose and find Jackie, and at his lie to the group about how hard he had had to work to get information from Jackie. But both girls squirmed at the awkwardness of Jackie's advances toward Elton. As pre-teens, they are hyper-aware of (and extremely empathetic about) embarrassing situations, whether there are romantic/sexual undertones or not.

    That part of the story is one that always breaks my heart, too. Just as Elton figures his shit out and realizes he's been stupid about the way he's been trying to manipulate Jackie at Kennedy's bidding, she realizes what he's been up to. I always feel so awful for Jackie, having thought she'd finally found someone to like her for herself only to find out it was really all about the Doctor.

    And of course, things only go downhill from there. There are happy gasps when Elton asks Ursula out for Chinese, but that's only the prelude to horror; it's the last happy moment of the episode. The moment the Absorbaloff is revealed for who he really is, everything else is just gross and stupid.

    Despite that brief moment of hope when we hear the TARDIS materialize, nothing really goes well. Ursula's been absorbed along with Bliss, Bridget, and Mr. Skinner. Although the Absorbaloff (from Raxacoricofallapatorius's twin planet Clom) is defeated, his reabsorption into the Earth takes all the beings which he'd previously absorbed with him.

    Not only has Elton thus lost all of his friends, but he is finally told that his first meeting with the Doctor as a small child was because the Doctor had entered his home to defeat a malevolent creature—too late to prevent Elton's mother's death. Nothing here is upbeat.

    Maybe that's why RTD felt compelled to add a supposedly positive note, with Ursula's partial recovery. I don't think the girls reacted to that final reveal (~ahem~) the same way I did, thankfully, but there were some pretty cranky expressions by the time the episode ended. ("Not. Awesome. Bleaaaach...") None of us came out unscathed.

    General reactions:

    • H - "I don't like that one. It's sad."
    • V - "I'm not watching that one again. Like, ever."
    • mrfranklin - There's a reason I count this one as my all-time least favorite.

    For a story that has such an interesting premise (the Doctor, seen from the outside, as told via vlog) and starts out so well, it's got a remarkably rapid, sharp decline in quality once the antagonist is fully revealed. I get that the Absorbaloff was the winner of a Blue Peter contest, but that's really no excuse. Surely RTD could've come up with a way to execute it all less... distastefully.

    V's accusing, "Now why'd you have to show us that one?" made me wince; I mean, she's not wrong. My reply that it was next in the sequence feels pretty inadequate. I just hope they forgive me some day, and don't refuse to watch any more of the modern show...

    Verdict: Thumbs down

    Looking ahead: time will tell...

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    Comments

    Let's face it, since The Doctor usually turns up in times of trouble and lots of people end up dead in these situations both before and during The Doctor's investigation, not everybody will have good memories of him.

    Yeah, the end of the episode is a downer. But that's life. And though all his friends are dead, Elton does have a chance to go out and make a new life for himself, thanks to The Doctor.

    I liked this episode BECAUSE it featured the characters The Doctor couldn't save.

    By Kara S (not verified)
    mrfranklin's picture

    There are always characters the Doctor can't save (though, yes, we don't usually see things from outside his POV), so that's not what bothers me about this episode. Instead, I find the Absorbaloff distasteful (at best) and have never quite been able to forgive the implications of Elton and Ursula's "love life" at the end...

    As for the episode being a downer, remember that my reviewers are only 11 years old. :) They're more accustomed to happy endings; I'm not really surprised they found this one off-putting.

    By mrfranklin

    Ursula really would be better off dead than a ghost in a paving stone. And then Elton would be able to move on with his life. It was a miscalculation on The Doctor's part, but he never did claim to be infallible.

    Yeah, the Absorbalof was gross. I thought that was the point. But being designed by a 9 year old aside, Doctor Who has had worse villains.

    By Kara S (not verified)
    mrfranklin's picture

    A whole lot of this episode could be summed up that way ("saving" Ursula, promising to put the creation of a Blue Peter winner on screen in a full episode.....)

    By mrfranklin
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