Shiny Shelf

Doctor Who: Love & Monsters

By Eddie Robson on 25 June 2006

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

Traditionally, ‘Doctor Who’ has often managed to make a virtue of necessity. Although the larger budget it currently enjoys makes this less of an issue, ‘Love & Monsters’ bears witness to the fact that you can have all the money in the world and still run short of time.

The need to squeeze a Christmas special into the ‘Who’ shooting schedule meant that the series’ two leads would be effectively unavailable for an entire episode: hence, ‘Love & Monsters’ was shot simultaneously with ‘Fear Her’. (Just as I am writing the two reviews simultaneously – harmony of form and content ahoy!) So, although undoubtedly a brave move, the production team had little choice but to attempt an episode without the Doctor. The result is that ‘Doctor Who’ finally gets an episode about its own fandom.

This has become a sub-genre in cult TV dramas, and ‘Love & Monsters’ sits alongside the ‘X-Files’ episode ‘Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space”’ and the ‘Buffy’ episode ‘Storyteller’. It arguably isn’t as bold as either of those: ‘Jose Chung’ was a comprehensive deconstruction of ‘The X-Files’, made possible by the fact that the premise of the series means that it’s in perpetual danger of taking itself too seriously. This is more difficult, if not impossible, to do with ‘Doctor Who’: it’s too harmless to rip apart. ‘Storyteller’, meanwhile, was about the fan tendency to lose oneself in stories at the expense of real life, but relied somewhat on being based around a character who had become a familiar element of the series, who had ‘written himself in’ to the fiction over time.

What ‘Love & Monsters’ does do very effectively is comment on the nature of fandom as a group: not only fandoms in general, but ‘Doctor Who’ fans in particular. One of the first things that our viewpoint character Elton does is insist that there’s more to his life than the Doctor, and when he hooks up with a network of other ‘enthusiasts’, they start off talking about the Doctor and before long discover their other interests.

This is, in fact, what often happens in ‘Who’ circles, and it seems to happen more in ‘Who’ circles than in other fandoms, perhaps because the wide variety that exists within ‘Doctor Who’ as a programme tends to draw together people with a wide variety of interests (although you do tend to meet an unusually high number of people whose favourite bands are the Pet Shop Boys and Suede). ‘Who’ fanzines, although a dying art in the age of the internet, often contain articles about all manner of things, totally unrelated to ‘Doctor Who’: Shiny Shelf has its roots in such fanzines.

In ‘Love & Monsters’, Victor Kennedy is the one who spoils this by taking it all too seriously and insisting that it all has to be about the Doctor. He makes the group more organised but gets rid of all the fun, and ultimately Elton realises that it was much better when it was about friendship. Inevitably some fans will take colossal offence at this, whilst others will adore the episode for taking a tangential perspective on the Doctor’s activities which in many ways matches their own.

It is a very fine episode which has made a statement of intent out of a scheduling problem, and which makes up for the absence of the two leads by including the excellent Shirley Henderson and Peter Kay among its cast. However, it feels a little set apart from the rest of the series because it’s not really a ‘Doctor Who’ story, but a story about ‘Doctor Who’. It underlines an unusual quality about the character and his show, which is that the stories are not generally about him: he’s a character who steps into other people’s stories and sets them in the right direction. As such it would be no surprise if some viewers felt frustrated by ‘Love & Monsters’, but there’s always a value in turning the format on its head once in a while.

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By Eddie Robson

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