Doctor Who – Love & Monsters / Fear Her

I’m back. And it’s about time.

Love & Monsters

This was nowhere near as bad as I was expecting, which isn’t saying much. While the episode smacked of an attempt to give the two regular cast-members a bit of a breather, the unusual structure worked very well as a framing device. Yes it’s been done before, but I rather liked the approach of a video diary intercut with flashbacks, and Doctor Who is rarely this unconventional in the way it structures its story.

The Good: I liked the warm approach taken to the misfits, although it has to be said that they were an insanely stereotypical bunch of social outcasts. Elton’s childhood meeting with the Doctor, echoing TGitF, was obvious but effectively done, and I actually enjoy the idea of people becoming obsessed with Doctor sightings in this internet conspiracy age. (Although, as in the pilot episode, it’s inherently unlikely that it’s always *this* incarnation of the Doctor). I was pleased to see the continuing idea that the Doctor has the touch of death for those around him (*cough*DOOMED*cough*). And most of all I enjoyed Jackie’s desperate and slightly disturbing attempts to seduce Elton, which were hilarious and horribly wrong in equal measure.

The Bad: The overall silliness. The running back and forth in corridors stuff I can excuse because it was filtered through Elton as unreliable narrator, but Peter Kay is harder to forgive. Which leads me to…

The Ugly: Kay made the mistake of pitching his performance at the level of a comedy sketch. I don’t mind him being a grotesque, but in particular when his alien appearance was revealed he was playing it for laughs. I realise that the creature was designed by a Blue Peter viewer (another silly idea) and they had some fun with the name and personality, but while the writing could have been sharper it was the performance that went too far. Much too broad.

The Huh: ELO? Seriously?

Fear Her

Probably my favourite David Tennant performance to date, and an episode that for two thirds of its length is a very pleasing blend of Sapphire and Steel, The Avengers and the movie Paperhouse. While the street feels dislocated from reality in an odd and budget-saving way, the set-up was quite intriguing.

On the downside this is yet another “strange things are happening to people thanks to alien X who is trapped on Earth for reason Y” (see also: The Unquiet Dead, The Doctor Dances, Idiot’s Lantern). It also features another one of those “Insert backstory here” scenes in which it’s explained to us that the alien is evil/lost/just trying to survive. I can live with all of this because the theme of family, love and loss is woven through the whole story, making the alien at least thematically relevant.

Where the episode stumbles is in spelling out its themes so explicitly, so unsubtly and so repeatedly that it feels like being bludgeoned to death with a large rock while the Beatles sing “Love is all you need”. In the domestic side of the story I could have overlooked this, but the Olympic elements were so schmaltzy that they destroyed my dwindling suspension of disbelief. Leaving aside Huw Williams’ Edwards’ questionable acting ability, would a BBC commentator really react to the disappearance of an entire crowd with disbelief, or would he assume there was a problem with the video feed of some kind? We’ll let that one go. But then, having seen he entire crowd disappear would he really continue commentating on the Olympic torch? Well, perhaps they were trying to understand what was going on and keep the show on the air. Perhaps. But then, having seen the torch-bearer fall, would he really ask in cracked tones whether the Olympic dream had died? Blearch. In fact he’d probably be asking whether the torch-bearer had ever fallen before, and whether this was embarrassing for the City of London. It’s so easy to fix something like this that it’s depressing to think that no-one on the production team felt the need to change it. I know the episode was apparently written as a last-minute fill-in, but still. Aiming for soaring emotion is one thing, but when it comes to life-affirming endings less is definitely more.

Overall a pair of mediocre episodes. Both had some real strengths and in many ways were as assured as the show has ever been, but both were torpedoed – the first by cartoonish silliness, the second by cartoonish sentiment. It’s possible to maintain a sense of fun and lightness without throwing the rules of drama out of the window. Both these episodes exchanged realism for sitcom.

As for the two-part season finale, it looks vacuous but promising. Finally Torchwood appears, looking just like Buffy’s Initiative, and there’s the return of the deeply mediocre new Cybermen in a plot about ghosts and dimensions colliding that looks just like an SF novel I read in the ’70s. Bob Shaw, possibly?

And of course the trailer could hardly be more spoilery (*cough*DOOMED*cough*)

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