When you’re a kid, they tell you it’s all grow up, get a job, get married, get a house, have a kid, and that’s it. No, the truth is the world is so much stranger than that, so much darker, and so much madder. And so much better.
Like “Blink,” from the next season, there’s nowhere near enough David Tennant in this episode, and that’s just fine. Because also like “Blink,” this one is for us. For the fans. For those of us who, like Elton, first met the Doctor as a child — if perhaps not quite as young as three or four — and have been haunted by him ever since.
This is the meta Doctor Who fan experience in a nutshell: We met the Doctor a long time ago, went a little crazy with it, then it all went away and we were fine. But just two years ago, it all started up again with shop-window dummies coming to life… I, at least, was perfectly content not to be obsessed about Doctor Who anymore, but then along came Russell Davies and Christopher Eccleston and their damn reimagining of the show that acknowledged the long, deep history not only of the show but of the fandom too… It was like they were in my head and tailoring their Doctor Who to be perfectly attuned to me.
Of course this episode — this ode to fandom, to how fandom brings people together, to how fandom sparks new creativity in and new relationships between people — was written by Davies. Because Davies gets it. He gets it in a way that is the absolute antithesis of the William Shatner get-a-life reaction to fandom. This is a life, and it’s a perfectly wonderful one. It’s not all about being fixated on something to the exclusion of all else but about having an empowering passion for something that expands to encompass everything about you. Davies has his villain, Mr. Kennedy, tell the L.I.N.D.A. gang, “I am your salvation,” which is patently not true, and flips the idea over later with Elton’s quoting of Stephen King: “Salvation is damnation.” These people don’t need to be “saved” from their benign obsession: it would indeed be damnation to take it from them. For it would also take all the accompanying friendship and sociality and embracing of all the stranger, darker, madder, better stuff like has to offer beyond the rote lockstep — the “get a job, get married, get a house” and nothing else — so many others fall into.
But then there’s the other side of this story, the side that is itself an expression of the fan approach to something like Doctor Who: how fans expand on the unavoidably limited and contained stories we see on the screen. Episodes like this one and “Blink” come out of a very real logistical problem the Doctor Who production team has to deal with — “How can we shoot two episodes simultaneously, one of which will necessarily have to avoid featuring our main cast in any kind of prominent roles?” — and, brilliantly, recognizes that as an opportunity to explore something fans, particularly fans who write fan fiction, have always pondered: What impact does the Doctor have on the people he comes in contact with? How can he not have a dramatic affect when he brings with him all sorts of culture shock and life-and-death issues in his wake?
Sure, there’s Jackie, who has watched her only child go off to god knows where into god knows what kind of danger, and worse: she’s seen her only child exposed to opportunities and experiences that Jackie cannot even begin to imagine, such that the biggest “threat” to Rose may not be to her physical and mental well-being but to her relationship with her mother; Rose may become such a different kind of person that her own mother will become radically irrelevant. (Jackie’s mechanisms for coping with this are both funny and deeply poignant.) And sure, there are people like Elton, who have had actual, if limited, contact with the Doctor that has left an indelible mark. But the events the Doctor gets caught up in — and sometimes is the active cause of — are global in scale. “A great big spaceship hanging over London?” Elton tells us in his — what? — podcast? “Imagine the theories! The Internet went into meltdown.” Of course it did. How could it not?
The entirety of this new incarnation of Who has been, on its meta level, about how we, as a global culture, cope — or don’t — with getting our paradigms rocked. The fact that alien spaceships could hover over London, could destroy Big Ben and blow out every window in a major city, could be witnessed by people all over the planet on live television, and still the people who are trying to figure out how and why such things could happen (and who stopped them from being much worse) are relegated to the fringe says something about us, and it’s not particularly nice. Everyone is so worried about their mortgages and their jobs and about pretending that the darkness and the strangeness that clearly is there, isn’t… Maybe that approach used to work, and maybe that still works in a world where someone like the Doctor is looking out for us. But who’s the kook: someone who enjoys fantasy stories about an alien champion but knows they’re make believe, or someone who acts as if that alien champion is actually looking out for us?
Random thoughts on “Love & Monsters”:
• Mr. Kennedy has Torchwood files and knows about a virus called “Bad Wolf” that erased some of those files? I think Torchwood needs to work on its security…
• “That L.I.N.D.A. lot” that Doctor No. 5 mentions in “Time Crash”… these are the people about whom he’s talking. (The acronym stands for “London Investigation ’N Detective Agency.” Very Scooby-Doo.)
• How’s this for meta fannishness? The Abzorbaloff was created by a nine-year-old fan, winner of a “create a Doctor Who monster” contest. It’s true.
• The TARDIS in the Egyptian hieroglyphics — love it!
• Elton quotes Stephen King. Again with the pop culture references, which not only help cement this new Doctor Who as something that exists in the “real” world, but also make it very much an artifact of here and now. Pop culture is our common vernacular today in a way that it wasn’t 30 years ago: Sarah Jane Smith or Jo Grant would have been unlikely to have made a passing reference to a TV show or a movie, and Elton would be unlikely not to.
• Great quote:
“The most beautiful sound in the world” is the TARDIS…
(next: Episode 11: “Fear Her”)