Love & Monsters ★★★★★
Russell T Davies's offbeat masterpiece, a "Doctor-lite" tale starring Marc Warren and Peter Kay. Plus, the story behind the Blue Peter Design a Monster competition
Series 2 – Episode 10
“That’s what it did. It went ‘ROOAARR!’ And if you think that was the most exciting day of my life, wait till you hear the rest. Oh, boy…” – Elton
Since a traumatic night in his childhood, Elton Pope has been obsessed with a stranger he found standing in his living room – the Doctor. Now an adult, he hooks up with four fellow Doctor nuts and he names their group Linda (an acronym for London Investigation ’n’ Detective Agency). They have a lot of fun – until the arrival of the domineering Victor Kennedy. Actually an alien from the planet Clom, he kills the team one by one by absorbing them into his body. Elton dubs the creature an “Abzorbaloff”. In his quest to find the Doctor, Elton has begun a liaison with Jackie Tyler, which ultimately leads to a final meeting with the Time Lord, and Rose, and the destruction of the Abzorbaloff.
First UK transmission
Saturday 17 June 2006
More like this
March 2006. Main locations: The Pop Factory, Jenkins Street, Porth; Llandaff Fields, Cardiff; Jacob’s Antique Centre, Cardiff. Studio: Unit Q2, Newport.
The Doctor – David Tennant
Rose Tyler – Billie Piper
Jackie Tyler – Camille Coduri
Victor Kennedy/Abzorbaloff – Peter Kay
Elton Pope – Marc Warren
Ursula Blake – Shirley Henderson
Mr Skinner – Simon Greenall
Bridget – Moya Brady
Bliss – Kathryn Drysdale
The Hoix – Paul Kasey
Mrs Croot – Bella Emberg
Writer – Russell T Davies
Director – Dan Zeff
Designer – Edward Thomas
Incidental music – Murray Gold
Producer – Phil Collinson
Executive producers – Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner
RT review by Patrick Mulkern
(filed 17 June 2016)
Love & Monsters… The very title seems flung together, in slapdash desperation, but it is a phrase that encapsulates the appeal of this era of Doctor Who. There’s Love, by the bucket-load in diverse, unexpected, intoxicating, sometimes dangerous forms. And Monsters, ditto.
Faced with a tricky production schedule and one episode that could barely feature the Doctor and Rose, Russell T Davies makes a virtue of their absence with a bit of myth building in the “real world”. He writes a story all about a man who is obsessed by the Time Lord but barely ever gets within touching distance.
Elton Pope (a touching performance from Marc Warren) narrates this uncanny tale as a video diary. He’s a loner who hasn’t adjusted to a childhood trauma, an obsessive who thinks the Tardis makes “the most beautiful sound in the world”, a guy who bonds with like-minded individuals and finds a release. Maybe this is why Love & Monsters is widely unpopular with Doctor Who fans; it holds a mirror to their own existence.
Perhaps more fairly they simply bristle at such an unorthodox “Doctor-lite” adventure, a production made on the hoof (it even starts with a shot of Elton’s running feet) with zigzag storytelling and buzz-saw editing and direction. But those are precisely the reasons why I do love Love & Monsters – and for others besides.
Russell T’s canvas is so broad it can encompass many tones. There’s mildly amusing. Elton can’t film his childhood home: “I did try, but there’s two women live there now and they’re a bit… severe.” We get the picture. There’s wit. The Doctor asks: “What’s the twin planet of Raxacoricofallapatorius?” Victor: “Clom.” And broader humour, obviously. The cartoonish Scooby-Doo runaround at the start and then – hello! It’s Peter Kay.
Actually, this was the first thing I’d seen him in that I hadn’t wanted to switch off within minutes. He’s brilliant as the hectoring Victor Kennedy, first appearing in an Orson Welles-like silhouette, in a heavy coat and white wig, and speaking in a southern accent. He gets mileage out of his supposed eczema – “ec-zee-ma”… “I don’t shake hands. Back, back. I suffer from a skin complaint. I blister to the touch.” Later, he switches to his natural northern twang and is equally amusing once he’s become the corpulent, gluttonous monster.
So there’s gross, too: the Abzorbaloff makes a decent fist of a Blue Peter Design a Monster competition. I’d forgotten that Elton scrabbles to give the alien a name: “You’ve absorbed them. You’re some sort of absorbathon. An absorbaling. An Abzorbaloff.” The sight of victims’ faces emerging from his green torso is quite disgusting; even poor Bliss who is located… where? “You really don’t want to know,” she murmurs when he raises a buttock.
There’s joie de vivre – and great music. Elton tells us his life is “not all spaceships and stuff, ’cause I’m into all sorts of things. I like football. I like a drink. I like Spain. And if there’s one thing I really, really love then it’s Jeff Lynne and the Electric Light Orchestra. ’Cause you can’t beat a bit of ELO.” Cue Elton, dancing in his boxers in his bedsit.
Finally, there’s a lot of heart. The eponymous love. Elton’s love for his mother who, we find out only towards the end, died when Elton was four. The bonhomie of Linda, whose members are all defined in simple strokes (a forte of Russell T). Elton’s burgeoning romance with geeky Ursula – an attraction that can survive her being reduced to a face on a paving slab. Elton: “It’s a relationship, of sorts, but we manage. We’ve even got a bit of a love life.” Ursula: “Oh, let’s not go into that.”
So sauce too. Lathering it on and much more besides is my favourite byway of the episode, when Elton crosses paths with Jackie Tyler. He’s supposed to be tracking her down, making moves on her, but Jackie chats him up in the launderette, lures him to her flat to fix to her washing machine, checks out his bum, chucks wine down his shirt…
In the absence of David Tennant and Billie Piper, Russell T gives Camille Coduri the chance to shine, and she’s magnificent. Yes, Jackie comes out with outrageous lines: “Here we are, complete strangers, and I’m flashing you me knickers” and “You could always splash out on a taxi… or whatever…” (wisely downplayed by Coduri). Just short of a bonk scene, Jackie becomes suddenly vulnerable after a phone call from Rose. She then rumbles Elton’s deceit. And you can’t help loving her even more.
She identifies herself as one of “those who get left behind” by the Doctor and Rose. She’s wounded but is no bleating ninny. Experience has toughened her. “That’s what you become. Hard. But if there’s one thing I’ve learnt, it’s that I will never let her down. And I’ll protect them both until the end of my life. So whatever you want, I’m warning you, back off.”
It’s wonderful material for Coduri. Maybe it’s an age thing, but for me Jackie Tyler is one of the most appealing characters from this period of Doctor Who, potentially more interesting than her daughter.
Love & Monsters is crude and cuddly and, for its time, stretches the boundaries of what could qualify as Doctor Who – paving the way for later offbeat classics such as Blink and Heaven Sent. The production is undeniably rough around the edges but it’s told with such élan. An underappreciated, mini-masterpiece from Russell T Davies.
The Blue Peter Design a Monster Competition
The 2005 competition broke Blue Peter records with an astounding 43,920 entries. Eleven years on, former BP editor Richard Marson recalls the selection process…
“The first time I met Russell T Davies was when he came to my office at BBC TV Centre in 2004 to discuss ways in which Blue Peter could help promote the return of Doctor Who. We very quickly decided on a big competition – and what would be the best ever prize? Recalling BP’s 1967 design a monster competition, we both felt it had been a cop-out that the winning design hadn't actually been used on Who. We could go one better. It was a risk – but an exciting and creative one.
“The original plan was for Russell to appear live in the Blue Peter studio to announce the winner but at the last minute he called to say he was just too up against it and could we bear to come to his place in Manchester? So Gethin Jones (the presenter) and myself set off with a film crew to cover the judging process. These judging sessions always took a while as all the shortlisted entries would be carefully considered.
“It was so much fun – we laughed and laughed at one of the runner-ups ‘Sad Tony’ (his habitual melancholy was literally lethal) and debated the merits of ‘The Babster’ (evil Davros-type baby). But all along Russell knew he had to write a story round whatever we chose as the winner. That narrowed the field and the final decision – the Abzorbaloff – was made live on air by David Tennant.”
The winning entry was conceived by nine-year-old William Grantham.
Radio Times Archive
In 2006, RT's Doctor Who Watch featured the Blue Peter "Design a Monster" competition winner, the Abzorbaloff.