Season 28 Episode 10 – Love And Monsters, by Russell T. Davies

May 9, 2008

review by Martin Odoni.

Well, what can I say? It was just the most embarrassing episode of Dr Who I’ve ever seen. It seems to be the perfect summary of the downside of Russell T. Davies as a writer.

Don’t get me wrong about RTD. In some genres he’s quite a fine writer, and even some of his episodes in Dr Who have had patches of good work in them. But there’s no denying that most of his work is of a much lower standard than pretty well everything the other writers have produced since the new era of the series began. (Also, his work as script editor has often undermined the quality of other writers’ work as well, by crowbarring in so many ill-timed moments of screwball comedy.)

Trying to sum up his failings in a word is not really possible, but the nearest I can manage is the word ‘cheap’. He cheapens the dialogue with his puerile love of slapstick and jokes about human biology. He cheapens the tension of plots by introdcuing deus ex machina resolutions – if not outright sorcery – instead of working out a reasoned, clever and comprehensible solution. And he cheapens the storyline by making fannish, gratuitous and unnecessary backward references (and rather smugly, the past episodes he refers to are almost always his own).

The above are all in Love And Monsters in spades; from the rather tired use of yet another monster that goes around absorbing other species (between the Krillitanes and Maureen Lipman, haven’t we had enough of that type of monster for one season?), through the sound of Peter Kay’s monster breaking wind, through the completely needless attempts to latch its background onto the Slitheen near the end, to the Doctor’s meaningless, technobabbling gobbledegook with the sonic screwdriver to resurrect Ursula. Even the unsubtle suggestions about oral sex with a paving slab in the closing moments have RTD written all over it.

His characterisation is frequently cartoonish, and never more so than here. He spends the first twenty-five minutes laughing smugly at shy people, whom he portrays, almost by definition, as being nerdy, innassertive and overwhelmingly cheesy stereotypes. (The scenes with the 60’s-style music and the ‘progressive’ artwork in particular are thoroughly inane.) Amiable of course, but RTD smugly gives them a clear air of inferiority, making the audience like them for their quaintness rather than for themselves. Then he reintroduces Jackie, and gives us another embarrassing round of her trying to seduce a younger man. Painful to watch, even if it wasn’t just a lazy re-hash of her first meeting with the Ninth Doctor. The bit when Elton and Ursula try to come up with a name for the monster while they’re talking to it is just tiresome, and it’s typical of RTD to then go and recycle the dialogue a scene later for the Doctor to do the same thing. Someone needs to explain to RTD that repetition on its own does not constitute humour. (Not that he’d listen.)

I don’t have a problem with jokes in Dr Who, you understand, they’ve always been there. It’s just they used to be subtle and ironic, reinforcing the dramatic atmosphere. When RTD writes for the series, the jokes are loud, crude, biological and inane, generating a zaniness to the atmosphere that doesn’t sit well with the programme. I mean, I know it’s supposed to be Light Entertainment, but does RTD just not realise that Dr Who is still meant to be a drama, not a spin-off of Men Behaving Badly? But dare to point that out and RTD just sneers that you don’t have any sense of humour. (We do actually, Russ, it’s just more refined than yours. What we don’t like is sh*tty scriptwriting.)

Info-dumps and emotional exposition often abound in RTD’s work, although one mild relief of this episode is that there wasn’t too much of it here, at least until the confrontation scene near the end. But also, RTD is always cr*p at getting his scripts to make the slightest bit of sense, because he only focuses on little details of the world that he wants to satirise, and treats the overall plot as if it’s merely a side-detail. For instance, here it’s established that the ‘Abzorbaloff’ has to kill Elton because, now that Elton’s seen its real form, it has to make sure that he can’t tell anyone about it. So what does the Abzorbaloff do? Well of course, it runs outside in its real form, in broad daylight, to chase after him where absolutely everyone can see it! I mean, why take such a chance? It’s not like people would believe Elton if he told them anyway.

And how shallow are the Doctor and Rose in this? They appear early on and re-make some kind of vomitous chase scene from Scooby Doo, then they re-appear at the end, not to put a stop to the Abzorbaloff’s ‘terrifying’ machinations, but to tell Elton off for upsetting Rose’s mum.

Homosexuality and misogyny are a rare combination, but I sometimes get the feeling that RTD is the TV industry’s first gay misogynist, as female characters tend to get a pretty raw deal in many of his scripts. In this case, wasn’t the Doctor’s decision to revive Ursula as some kind of living mosaic a terribly cruel thing to do? She seems to be stuck there as a plaything for Elton whenever he fancies a quick game of ‘secrete-the-sausage’. Having her say that being a slab is a “peaceful” feeling just sounds like RTD’s contriving a way of tip-toeing round the problem.

I’ve tried very hard to think of some good things to say about the episode. I guess Peter Kay was okay as the Abzorbaloff, even if that god-awful costume (what was that thing he was wearing, some kind of giant condom?) looked even less convincing than the Autons in the 1970’s. Not as good as he might’ve been, but okay.

And… er… er…

No, that’s it actually. That’s the only mildly good thing I could think of. I was so appalled by everything else that I couldn’t even be bothered getting angry at yet another blatant Torchwood plug.

1/10. It avoids hitting the 0/10 mark, because that would only be possible if they forgot to make the episode altogether. (Although come to think of it, it would’ve made for a far more entertaining evening if they had.)

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