Monday, July 23, 2007

Dr. Who: Love & Monsters/Fear Her

And now for something completely different...

"Love and Monsters" is an odd little Doctor Who story, one told from the perspective of a young outsider in London, a strange and off-putting bloke named Elton. He has memories of the Doctor from his childhood, and has set about to make a documentary about the Time Lord with the help of his girlfriend Ursula. As the story progresses, Elton is our intrepid narrator, revealing how he and a group of friends came under the thrall of a nasty absorbothingie alien, and how, eventually, the Doctor showed up to save the day.

This is one of those "quirky" episodes of a sci-fi series (and you've sometimes seen them on The X-Files and Millennium under the name "Jose Chung..."), when writers and actors loosen the reins a little bit and do something daring if jokey; slightly off-format and somewhat campy. As for this episode itself, I think it would too have benefited from the presence of the late Charles Nelson Reilly. Still, Dr. Who is fortunate it possesses that ever-convenient "elastic" format which creates so much wiggle room, because this doesn't feel quite as off-format as many X-Files "funny" episodes, for instance.

My overall impression of this episode is that it is indeed funny; but not quite so funny as it believes it is. I'd say that roughly 75 percent of the material works out pretty well. There are some laugh-out-loud funny lines, particularly Elton's revelation about his life love with Ursula, but some other moments are honestly cringe-worthy. Early on, for instance, there's a chase involving the Doctor, Rose, an alien, and red and blue buckets. The way it is staged suggests all the inherent wit of a Scooby Doo cartoon. It's a bit over-the-top for my taste, but the episode is redeemed by the framework device: we're seeing all this through Elton's eyes. Thus, it is forgivable (but still not funny.)

In toto, the series emerges unscathed from "Love and Monsters," especially after a final-act "recovered memory" that reveals something new about Elton. I truly enjoyed the bit about how a life intersecting the Doctor's is one filled with both salvation and damnation. Such good touches keep the story from feeling wholly inconsequential. Whereas the design of the monster (an Absorbatrix) leaves something to be desired. As does the silliness of the climax.

Kathryn really loved this episode, and said that it was quirky moments like the ones I've described that make her enjoy the new show so much. As for me, it will likely surprise no one that I'm a bit more of a traditionalist in terms of my taste: I prefer the epic, life-or-death installments to goofy piffles like this. I understand what is being done here; I understand the device (the world seen through the lens of Elton...), but this isn't generally how I like my Dr. Who served up. I didn't hate it; it's interesting.

One more thing: I had to wonder about the final flashback, one that revealed the Doctor's presence in Elton's life at a very young age. You'll notice it was the same Doctor (meaning incarnation Ten, David Tennant). But this is not an adventure we've seen before, was it? (Or did I miss something?) So, where was Rose? And why didn't Elton remember her too? And don't even tell me that this vision comes from Ten's future, because it's clear in the text of the screenplay that the Doctor recognizes Elton; that they've met before.

Okay that's my beef. This episode will never be a favorite, but I do appreciate that the series is stretching it's muscles and attempting something new. I imagine there are quite a few people out there like Kathryn who totally fell in love with "Love and Monsters." I'm not one of them, but to each his own. However, if this new Doctor Who is good at anything (and it is good at many things...), then it should likely be commended for the overall balance of the various episodes. The comical "Love and Monsters" follows an episode about Satan escaping from a black hole after possessing and murdering people.

Good time to lighten up, no?

The next story of the second season, "Fear Her," was another one I feared I would hate as soon as it began. It's the story of a London in the Year 2012 as children begin to disappear off one particular street. The Doctor and Rose investigate the disappearances (and this is very X-Files-ish) and learn that a little girl named Chloe Webber has been "drawing" the missing children. Have they become trapped in her childish pictures?

This is reminiscent of The Twilight Zone too. Suspicion mounts on the street outside (like "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street") and for a while it seems that everybody is at the whim of a monstrous little child, a la "It's a Good Life."

The story takes another twist, however when the Doctor determines that little Chloe Webber has joined with an alien child, an "Isolus," which fears loneliness above all else. Unfortunately, it comes from a very large family (approximately 4 billion-strong...) and so would like to cause many, many more disappearances on Earth (and did I mention the 2012 Olympics are about to start?). Since the idea of the Doctor's loneliness is so much at play this season as both context and sub-text (in "Girl in the Fireplace" and "Doomsday" among other shows), this seems like a pretty nifty and appropriate alien to meet, one who helps explore the Doctor's character. I could, however, do without the evil abusive-father-in-the-closet monster, which reminded me of Cameron's Closet (1989).

I don't like to be reminded of Cameron's Closet - ever. So this was not a good thing. I also don't think the plot point involving the dead abusive father really added anything to the story overall, except to inject a (false) sense of menace that the episode didn't really require. I feared the episode was going to be overly sentimental, but it didn't succumb to the worst maudlin instincts. Again, the episode is good, not great.

Kathryn also loved "Fear Her," but then I fear that my Kathryn has developed quite the crush on this particular Doctor; whom she says she likes now as much as Tom Baker. "He's adorable," she swoons, "he's hot," she enthuses.

*Sigh.* I've lost my wife to a Time Lord...


  1. Anonymous11:45 PM

    Speaking of humorous, non canon episodes John, what did you think of the Cops/X-Files crossover? I personally found it funny as hell...

  2. I loved "X-Cops." I think that episode really works well. And in fact, I do also like the Jose Chung episode. The most-out-of-character and difficult-to-stomach X-File episode for me is from the seventh season, the one with Kathy Griffin (called "Fight Club.") Thats one of the few X-Files episodes that can authentically be termed "bad."

    On Millennium, I like "Somehow Satan Got Behind Me." It's almost a signature episode of that show. Whenever I talk to folks about Millennium, they mention that show...even though it's so damn odd and off format.


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