There? nothing better than a TV show which dares to think outside its box, a show which breaks all its own rules to tell a story unlike anything it? ever told before and yet, somehow, so beautifully in keeping with the tone and nature of the series as a whole. BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER made a point of doing it years after year and now, at last, DOCTOR WHO has done it, creating an episode which will polarise the show? hardcore fans like no other episode in the show? history. ?ove & Monsters?is practically the very dictionary definition of the expression ?ove it or hate it?and whilst some of the show? fans who can? see beyond the monsters and the explosions and the running-around style of story-telling so typical of the series, others will revel in this beautifully-scripted, touchingly-performed morality tale about one man and his quest for the truth.
Here we have en episode where David Tennant and Billie Piper are guest artists in their own show. The focus is on geeky, socially-inept loner Elton Pope (HUSTLE? Warren), a man whose life? ambition is to solve the mystery of the strange man he found standing in his living room on one memorable night in his youth. Elton, self-confessed ELO fan and light consumer of alcoholic beverages, teams up with a group of like-minded souls, people who have, for their own reasons, become equally obsessed with the mysterious, ageless traveller known only as the Doctor. They quickly become firm friends and their regular meetings become more of a lifeline for them rather than a chance to share their knowledge and experiences of the Doctor. They even form an ersatz ELO tribute band! But their idyll is shattered when the urbane, cane-wielding Victor Kennedy comes onto the scene and starts to put a little order and method into their routine. Then they start disappearing, one by one?n
It? only when there hasn? been a Russell T Davies DOCTOR WHO script for a few weeks that you start to miss his quirky style, his off-kilter way of story-telling. Most of this series has consisted of perfectly serviceable adventure yarns and, good as many of them have been, they?e not all had the heart and soul of a Davies script. ?ove & Monsters?is far more recognisably Davies than anything else he? contributed to the series so far, populated as it is by real, believable people with idiosyncracies of their own and punctuated by cheeky knowing humour and some lovely visual flourishes. Directed with tongue-in-cheek zest by Dan Zeff, the tone is set by the pure SCOOBY DOO moment of Elton? first on-screen encounter with the Doctor and Rose as they chase a roaring alien beast in and out of a series of doorways in a manner which wouldn? disgrace a CARRY ON movie. But there? so much more to come, much of it via the neat plot device of Elton? to-camera monologues as he records his feelings and experiences to his home video camera. Through Elton? eyes and memories we meet equally-geeky Ursula (Henderson), the shy Mr Skinner (Greenall from I? ALAN PARTRIDGE), spaced-out Bliss (TWO PINTS?Kathryn Drysdale) and mumsy Bridget (THE BILL? Moya Brady). They?e an odd bunch, genuine outsiders (a metaphor for DOCTOR WHO-obsessed fans and their regular meetings to discuss their TV hero?) but it? heart-warming to watch them bond and become comfortable and relaxed with one another. Victor Kennedy is another matter, however. Comic Peter Kay reigns in his anarchic comedy temperament and creates a classy, if somewhat unlikely, bad guy, dominating the group from the moment he meets them and he pursues his own agenda in relation to tracking down the elusive Doctor. The episode, already high on smiles, becomes comedy gold when Elton ingratiates himself with Rose? Mum Jackie (Camille Coduri, criminally under-used in the show this year) and her clumsy attempts at seduction are as saucy as they?e ultimately doomed. It? in these scenes that Davies shows his mettle, turning the script on a dime as we appreciate the anguish and loneliness of those left behind when the Doctor selects some hapless new companion to join him on his travels. Jackie is achingly alone, terribly afraid and yet desperately loyal. There? probably more than a hint of grim foreshadowing when she announces to Elton that she? protect the Doctor and Rose until the day she dies?n
As this magnificent episode rattles to its conclusion we meet the true villain of the piece and the laughter rate skyrockets. Kennedy is the human form of a grisly green creature which takes delight in absorbing its victims. An appalled Elton describes it as ?n Absorboloff creature?(the monster having been created by the winner of a BLUE PETER competition, of course) and Kay resorts to his usual Northern accent as he devours his victims ?he tastes like chicken!?he declares as the hapless Ursula is sucked into his bloated frame. The Doctor and Rose arrive on the scene just as the Absorboloff is about to?robsorb Elton and he reveals himself as a native of the planet Klom, sister-world to Raxicoricofallaptorious, homeworld of last season? Slitheen. The Doctor encourages the creature? previous victims to literally tear him apart and when Elton destroys the cane which creates the energy field which keeps him in one piece, the Absorbaloff is effectively absorbed by the very ground he? standing on. But Davies ahs further surprises up his sleeve as the Doctor reveals that he was present in the young Elton? house that night in pursuit of some sort of elemental creature which, presumably, caused the death of Elton? mother. As the episode ends, Elton? back in front of his video camera, with his resurrected girlfriend Ursula imbedded into a paving stone to keep him company forever (and to enjoy a ?it of a lovelife?with him but we?l gloss over that one) and Elton realises that word is a lot stranger, darker and madder than he? ever realised. But, as he tells us as the credits crash in, it? a whole lot better too.
?ove & Monsters?is remarkable and it? an episode which really demands and deserves repeated viewing. The story itself is superficial but functional but just this once it? about the style, the unique tone of the piece and the way it really tells us much more about the Doctor and his lifestyle and how it affects the people he meets than any more traditional runaround. Ultimately it? a charming diversion, an experiment forced upon the production team by the double-banking which required two episodes to be filmed at once (hence the cameo nature of the Doctor and Rose? appearances). More than that it does everything modern DOCTOR WHO sets out to do. It touches the heart, it touches the soul and it just makes you realise, as if we ever really doubted it, what a national treasure the series is. Not for the traditionalist, ?ove & Monsters?is manna from Heaven for those of us who like our drama to take risks. Last week? ?atan Pit?was my favourite single episode of DOCTOR WHO ever. It didn? keep its title for long.