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10 January 2015 @ 04:21 pm
NuWho Rewatch: Love and Monsters  
I warned NLSS Child before we started watching this that a lot of people hadn't liked it. At the end she wanted to know why people had disliked it so much and, to be honest, it is difficult to understand the vitriol it created in some quarters.

I think the dislike can be attributed to three overlapping causes:

  1. The Doctor and Rose don't appear much.
  2. The story is basically about fandom and although it is portrayed with much affection, there is criticism of the obsessive BNF.
  3. The monster was designed by a child in a Blue Peter competition and could be considered a bit rubbish, if you were so minded.

So, if you think that Doctor Who should be focused on the Doctor, or you feel protective of the way fandom is portrayed in the media, or if in some sense you think Doctor Who is sufficiently serious that it should not be influenced by kids competitions (and there are a lot of fans who think or feel one or two things on that list) then it is easy to be alienated by Love and Monsters.

Which is odd really because it is, I think, a rather lovely, bittersweet and mostly affectionate piece of story-telling. It's not just about fandom, but in general about being in a group of friends and how groups of friends can get disrupted and torn apart by one individual. It has some great funny moments. NLSS Child loved the scene were Jackie works her way through Victor Kennedy's list of infiltration moves and even though NLSS Child has no real comprehension of fandom, she understood and was saddened by what happened to LINDA.

The monster is a bit rubbish in appearance, but no more so than the Slitheen which, to be fair, lots of people didn't like either.

We're obviously well-used, now, to Doctor-lite episodes. That said, I note that recent seasons have tended to opt for a pair of episodes, one of which is Doctor-lite and one of which is Companion-lite which suggests that the powers that be are not entirely convinced of the show's ability to present stories in which the main characters only appear tangentially (the success of Blink presumably notwithstanding).

I liked this as much second time around as I did the first. Compared to the previous time Dr Who had attempted to portray fandom (The Greatest Show in the Galaxy) it is much more generous. It also has a much wider resonance for anyone who has watched a group of friends fall apart.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/136367.html.
parrot_knight: QueenBat4parrot_knight on January 10th, 2015 04:42 pm (UTC)
I think producer Susie Liggat acknowledged one of the flaws in that the actors' portrayals of socially awkward people can come across sometimes as rather mannered. Otherwise I was happy to enjoy it as an affectionate tribute to the fan world and a warning about the personalities who can cause damage to friendship circles.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on January 10th, 2015 04:58 pm (UTC)
Hmm, I'm not sure they're that mannered or even that socially awkward. They're not glamourous and self-assured (which arguably people on TV tend to default towards) but they seem a lot less caricatured than, say, what I've seen of the characters in The Big Bang Theory (which admittedly I'm not remotely familiar with).

Fandom is naturally touchy about how it is portrayed, for obvious and entirely justified reasons. However I felt this was mostly pretty fair up until the appearance of Victor Kennedy who is obviously signified as over-the-top and hyper-real. I think fandom (segments of) over-reacted here, basically.
parrot_knight: DoctorQuillDWWparrot_knight on January 10th, 2015 05:01 pm (UTC)
I'd agree with you on The Big Bang Theory, which I've found difficult to watch when I've attempted it.

I think segments of fandom saw different things in it based on their own experiences - which even if they disliked it, could indicate that the episode succeeded.
eve11eve11 on January 10th, 2015 06:35 pm (UTC)
I know lots of people didn't like Ursula's fate, nor the suggestion that she and Elton had a physical relationship with her being just a face in a slab. That was the hardest part to swallow for me. I wasn't hugely enraged about it, but some were. it's one of those things that takes on darker perspective in an adult context than from a kid's perspective.

Edited at 2015-01-10 06:36 pm (UTC)
philmophlegm: Sid Jamesphilmophlegm on January 10th, 2015 10:17 pm (UTC)
"That was the hardest part to swallow..."

Unfortunate choice of words...
eve11eve11 on January 10th, 2015 10:21 pm (UTC)
Haha you caught that, did you? ;)
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on January 11th, 2015 10:26 am (UTC)
Hmm... I don't know. I can see why you might feel a reference to oral sex was kind of out of place in Doctor Who, but I find it hard to imagine a line like that ruining a whole story for someone.

I'm interested that so many people have brought up Ursula's fate as the sticking point for them. Would it have been better if she was dead? If this was a straight up tragedy? I think the message of the story was supposed to be that terrible things happen around the Doctor but that he is still a good thing and there is still a lot of wonder around him. Although Ursula is not brought back in full health as she was, she is brought back, and the ending implies that she and Elton are happy.
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on January 10th, 2015 07:31 pm (UTC)
Aside from Ursula's fate, I really liked this. It makes me nostalgic for the Doc Soc! It's clever and funny and moving and is virtually the last time Russell T Davies and I were on the same page about what makes good Doctor Who.

That said, repeated viewing did make it clearer that LINDA are happiest when NOT thinking about the Doctor, which might be assumed to be telling fans to grow up and get some friends/romantic partner, which would be somewhat offensive.
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on January 10th, 2015 07:45 pm (UTC)
I just remembered I wrote a fairly long review many, many years ago on the doctorwho community, where I argued that part of the problem was the unusual style of the episode and its pushing against the programme's (and television's) normal conventions. It can be found here.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on January 11th, 2015 10:32 am (UTC)
It's interesting how you feel the sex-life line alters the dynamics between Elton and Ursula at the end while I view it as a mildly out-of-place irritation (mostly).

I'm not sure, given the point about encountering the Doctor, that the story is trying to make, that either Ursula's death, or her full revival would have worked.
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on January 11th, 2015 12:17 pm (UTC)
I think it bothered me less on first broadcast than on subsequent viewing, although I'm not sure. I can see the metaphorical point being made, but it does seem like objectification of Ursula. Without that one line, I would have been a lot happier about Ursula's fate - I think I said in the review that it makes it too real for the fairy tale presentation to work.

I should also say that I strongly dislike the theme that has emerged in Doctor Who since the New Adventures, if not the eighties, that the Doctor is frequently unpleasant and meeting him is often a negative experience. I do wonder why it has become so prominent in the series in recent years. I don't watch much other TV (only Sherlock, really), but I can't imagine there are many TV shows that suggest such a negative view of their main character, certainly not family programmes.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on January 11th, 2015 12:25 pm (UTC)
It's an interesting question. I think it was understandable in the New Adventures. Their readership was basically teenagers who are notoriously keen on "dark" and "angsty" (there was a very interesting write up of the whole White Wolf Vampire background which pointed out that it was basically mapping the teenager's viewpoint on the experience of being a teenager onto the Vampire legend - you are a creature with new-found experiences and powers which are all a bit scary and you are dominated and controlled by even more powerful, arbitrary and old-fashioned entities). So I think it was understandable that the New Adventures wanted to introduce edginess into the stories and, in particular, the kind of edginess that tends to appeal to teens.

I think Doctor Who is in the awkward position that it has such a long history that the trail of carnage is kind of obvious in a way it isn't with shorter lived shows. Whether choosing to highlight that carnage or, in some sense, suggest the Doctor bears some responsibility for it. I thought Love and Monsters had a more positive take on this than many of the episodes, but that may be because it was choosing to tackle it much more head on than many of the episodes do.

EDIT: Come to think of it, though, although people joke about the high death rate in Midsommer, Oxford (cf. Morse and Lewis) and among Jessica Fletcher's relatives (Murder She Wrote) I don't think any of those shows has ever confronted that - though it can't be said I've ever made a point of watching any of them, merely watched occasionally if they were on.

EDIT 2: Though I think some of the Batman comics have suggested that the existence of the Batman encourages the supervillains in some way.

Edited at 2015-01-11 12:29 pm (UTC)
daniel_saunders: Worcester Collegedaniel_saunders on January 11th, 2015 12:33 pm (UTC)
I was a teenager who didn't like the NA's approach! But I admit my emotional needs as a teenager were probably different to others'.

I haven't seen Morse on TV, but I've read all the novels (I understand the adaptations are often very different and many of the TV episodes are original). A number of the novels do deal with Morse being emotionally involved with either the victim or the killer; the last novel in particular hinges on whether Morse deliberately sabotaged an investigation to hide the fact he had an affair with the murder victim. But there is no real indication that Morse is responsible for murders, merely that he's monstrously unlucky in love. And, of course, as a detective, it's understandable he deals a lot with murders (one book has him sulking over being assigned a missing person investigation, which he considers below him).
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on January 11th, 2015 12:45 pm (UTC)
Yes but murder rates in the UK are very low. There were 640 murders in the whole country in 2012. I can't find numbers for Oxfordshire, but if there were more than 10 murders in the county per year I would be very surprised (there were 6 murders with guns in Manchester in 2009 for comparison).
daniel_saunders: Sherlock Holmesdaniel_saunders on January 11th, 2015 02:38 pm (UTC)
I didn't know that! Dramatic license?
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on January 11th, 2015 02:51 pm (UTC)
Well obviously *g* The shows wouldn't work without the weekly murder. I was basically agreeing with you, these are all long-running shows with a death rate that is widely joked about off-screen but never really acknowledged on-screen. So there is no reason why Doctor Who couldn't take a similar approach and with more justification since the Doctor turns up in times of crisis.
daniel_saunders: Sherlock Holmesdaniel_saunders on January 11th, 2015 02:40 pm (UTC)
Good point about Batman! How did I miss that? (Eyes shelf full of Batman graphic novels.) Although off the top of my head, I think it's a theme that comes out more in the Christopher Nolan films more than the comics.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on January 11th, 2015 02:52 pm (UTC)
I've not read a lot of batman - I think maybe Dark Night Returns makes this point.

Of course, a lot of batman is aimed at the same angst-ridden teenagers the New Adventures were, rather than a family audience.
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on January 11th, 2015 03:45 pm (UTC)
You are right about The Dark Knight Returns, and about the audience. Incidentally, I think I prefer Batman to the NAs, not least because Batman has moral red lines he won't cross, particularly regarding killing; the NAs, I felt, had the Doctor kill for the greater good far too often.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on January 12th, 2015 09:53 am (UTC)
I think the the red line in the NAs was supposed to be "never cruel or cowardly" though you could argue that it was inconsistently applied.

Interestingly I'd say that in NuWho the Doctor has frequently been cruel particularly the 10th (when on a revenge trip) and the 12th (as part of his (?assumed) persona of not understanding people's feelings)
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on January 12th, 2015 06:46 pm (UTC)
That would be why I don't like the tenth Doctor and have mixed feelings about the twelfth!
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on January 11th, 2015 10:27 am (UTC)
I'm surprised so many people are bringing up Ursula's fate. I wonder if people would be happier if she had been left dead. It would have been a more clear cut and less complex resolution, but I think the one we had played more strongly into Elton's thoughts about what is good and bad about the Doctor at the end.

It's a good point, though, the Doctor isn't shown to be what binds LINDA together. I had not thought of that.
Susan: this is horriblelil_shepherd on January 10th, 2015 08:05 pm (UTC)
I hated it, and for none of those reasons. I thought the portrayal of fandom quite hideous and unrecognisable. If Who fandom is like that - I am not a Who fan per se - then it is not place I want to be part of.

I also loathe both Tennant's Doctor and Rose, so their absence actually would be a plus for me.

The ending was entirely inappropriate for a family show. Or, in my opinion, for any show before the watershed.

The script was unfunny and illogical and crap.

These are, you understand, the memory of my reactions at the time. I have not watched it since and have no intention of doing so. It is on my list of "episodes where I'd rather watch 'The Horns of Nimon.'
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on January 11th, 2015 10:34 am (UTC)
I'm interested that everyone who has commented here, came unstuck at Ursula's fate. As I mentioned to daniel above, I don't think either her death or her full restoration to life and health would have worked in the context of the message about encountering the Doctor being both terrible and wonderful at one and the same time. I find the sex-life line to be a bit tasteless and out-of-place but not a deal-breaker - NLSS Child frowned slightly and then dismissed it entirely.
Susanlil_shepherd on January 11th, 2015 07:58 pm (UTC)
It was a terrible thing to do to anyone, whatever they had done, and the oral sex thing is hideously misogynistic as well as inappropriate for a family show.

Mainly, though, it showed that the author thought fans are stupid. We're a lot of things, but stupid we are not. Look at the difference between the affectionate portrayal of fandom in Galaxy Quest and the one here (and, incidentally, in The Big Bang Theory which is also misogynistic and which I cannot watch.) I got the impression the author despised fandom and was glad to be free of it.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on January 12th, 2015 09:58 am (UTC)
I didn't get the impression the author thought fans were stupid. Though, I did get the impression it thought fan groups were vulnerable to destruction by toxic individuals (which is probably a fair comment and, in my experience, applies to a lot of hobby-based groups). I take Daniel's point above though, that it would have been better to show that it was their interest in the Doctor that bound LINDA together, not their discovery of other shared interests.
shivver13: Ten with kittenshivver13 on January 11th, 2015 04:25 am (UTC)
I have to admit that I have only seen the episode once, and that I'm a recent fan, so I didn't see it when it first came out. I remember thinking the episode was brilliant until the Abzorbaloff appeared. The monster was rubbish, and what it was there for and its story was rubbish. A rubbish monster can really throw the entire episode for me (which is why I feel that "The Time of Angels"/"Flesh and Stone" and "The Angels Take Manhattan" are terrible episodes, because the Angels are rubbish).

However, what really ruined the episode for me is the ending. It's not the comment about Elton and Ursula's sex life. It's that the Doctor locked her in the slab at all. The Doctor knows the difference between "living" and "existing", and should never have even considered doing it - it amazes me that both RTD and Tennant allowed that to happen.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on January 11th, 2015 10:37 am (UTC)
I guess, as a classic Who fan, one has to be pretty tolerant of monsters that look a bit rubbish.

I've talked about Ursula's fate with pretty much all the commenters above. But I take issue with the idea that she is only "existing" and not "living" - there are many people with severe disabilities who would, I think, contest that they are still living even though they are limited in what they can do and experience and would certainly object to the suggestion that they would be better off dead. Ursula and Elton tell us they are happy and I'm quite prepared to accept that.
shivver13: Ten with kittenshivver13 on January 11th, 2015 07:20 pm (UTC)
Actually, I don't have a problem with its costuming/special effects. I'm a classic fan, too. I didn't like the mechanics of the monster, and the faces of its consumed victims appearing on its body, or the fact that they still had consciousness and could influence what it did.

I look at it very differently. To me Ursula's statement that she doesn't age implies also that she'll never die. She'll be locked in that stone slab after Elton has gone. In a way, it's similar to Borusa's fate, and certainly implied to not be a happy one. Part of that, of course, is because Borusa asked for immortality without knowing what he was really getting, but then the Doctors, given the same offer but knowing what it meant, unequivocally refused it.

Maybe it's a question of choice - the Doctor didn't give her a choice. Perhaps he did afterwards, telling her he could let her go or she could stay in that slab forever, and she chose to stay. But to me, it's a horrible fate, and it surprises me that the Doctor, who understands that fate all too well, would even offer it.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on January 12th, 2015 10:03 am (UTC)
It's possible that personal circumstances are making me more touchy here about the idea of what constitutes a "fate worse than death" and the parallel to people with disabilities may be in my head more than in the intent of the author.

I guess, as you point out, it would have been nice to have a lot more detail which the show for all sorts of reasons, including time and its nature as an action/adventure piece doesn't give us.
a_cubeda_cubed on January 11th, 2015 01:27 pm (UTC)
I've just skipped this (and Fear Her) in our rewatch. I fully subscribe to the "unreliable narrator" concept, that this is Elton telling the story from his incredibly unreliable viewpoint. From that view the bits I found very cringeworthy (the "playing together in a band" bit in the montage) for exxample, fit very well with his wish-fulfilment. Still, the monster is crap in a way even most classic Who didn't plumb (IMHO) and I think Blink got the idea of a Doctor and companion-less episode much better.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on January 11th, 2015 02:50 pm (UTC)
I think memory is cheating re: rubbish monsters in classic Who: Off the top of my head Erato, Mandrils, Plasmotrons (and that's without having to think hard)

There are also plenty of decent stories with really naff monsters, if not quite at the level of Erato et. al - e.g., the eponymous Loch Ness Monster. Being a bit forgiving about the monsters is a requirement to enjoy a lot of classic Who though, of course, it maybe isn't something that should be asked of viewers of modern Who.

The Abzorbaloff is definitely no worse than the Slitheen though, I'll give you that that is a pretty low bar.
John E: crichtardisjohn_amend_all on January 11th, 2015 07:10 pm (UTC)
Love & Monsters is, I think, the only episode where halfway through I said "I don't care what happens to these people" and fast-forwarded until the monster showed up. I presume, then, that puts me in camp 1.

Regarding some of the other criticisms you cite:
  • I don't think the monster's flaws arise from it being designed by a child; the child's drawing is far more menacing than what we actually got. That suggests the problems are in the realisation of it.
  • What bugged me about the paving slab was that one line says Ursula is supposed to be immortal. That means she'll outlive Elton and everybody else she ever comes to love, and sooner or later will surely fall into the power of someone or some organisation who won't treat her kindly at all. There's a reason that in The Five Doctors, the punishment Rassilon doled out was immortality as a face on a slab.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on January 12th, 2015 10:06 am (UTC)
I hadn't picked up on the suggestion she is immortal until shivver13 mentioned it above and I agree it is odd. I still think we are supposed to consider this a fate that is better than death - so maybe the Davies thought immortality would be a plus (even though WTF?). In principle I don't think Ursula would have been better off dead than as (essentially) a paraplegic, but I agree that some of the way it is framed is distinctly peculiar and a little distasteful.