❉ Haringsma’s essay on this divisive story leaves no paving slab unturned, writes Nick Mellish.
“From dealing with potential racism in the portrayal of the Abzorbaloff to metaphors in scenery, unreliable narration and looking at how well the episode functions as a metaphor for being queer or disabled as Davies wanted it to, there’s a lot going on here.”
Has there ever been an episode of Doctor Who quite as divisive as Love & Monsters? I realise that by saying such a thing I am feeding the narrative discourse surrounding the episode but I also remember the fallout. The episode aired back when I frequented Internet forums and the reaction was nothing less than explosive. There was the “I love it” corner, the “I hate it!” corner, and, worst of all, a third corner full of “I don’t think you really got it. Here, let me explain….”
This new essay on the episode, for the Black Archive range from Obverse Books, looks at this reaction and tries to explore just why it occurred, without the preachy didacticism of that third corner. Was it the portrayal of fandom that caused a minor schism? Was it the unusual tone and nature of the episode? Was it the absence of the Doctor for the most part? Or was it all of the above? Essayist Niki Haringsma does not promise any definitive answers but gives it a bloody good go all the same, providing the reader with arguments full of drive and conviction.
The first thing to really leap out at me is how much Haringsma likes the episode and enjoys engaging with it: and if you’re in any doubt, Haringsma says so herself in the epilogue. The second thing was the nice balance of sources. From fan essays, essays about fandom, interviews with Russell T Davies (largely from his superb interviews with Toby Hadoke: I implore you to check them out if you’ve somehow missed them before now), and critical literary and political theory, Haringsma leaves no stone unturned.
There is a great emphasis on looking at the episode through a Brechtian lense which works well, and Haringsma manages to balance weighty themes and arguments with easy-to-digest writing, which is appreciated. This sort of academic work can sometimes be clouded by obtuse or overly ‘worthy’ language, but that’s not the case here. In fact, there are moments, especially near the end, that are actively funny and made me laugh aloud. When you’ve a wide-reaching essay taking in Marxist politics amongst other things such as issues of consent, that’s no easy task so hats off.
From dealing with potential racism in the portrayal of the Abzorbaloff to metaphors in scenery, unreliable narration and looking at how well the episode functions as a metaphor for being queer or disabled as Davies wanted it to, there’s a lot going on here. Perhaps predictably then, not every single argument convinced me but that’s okay.
I did feel near the middle that at times I was hearing more of what Elizabeth Sandifer thought of the episode than necessarily the essayist, but thankfully this soon subsided and gave way to more interesting trains of thought (Saying near the end of the essay that ‘poor hygiene’ is often a defining trait of fan groups, however, feels like a shot fired, really, and a bit unnecessary). These are tiny niggles though as the majority of the essay is highly enjoyable.
Love & Monsters may be a divisive episode of Doctor Who, but I feel there should be a united front with this essay, recognising it as well-written, intelligent, full of depth and interesting notions on the nature of fandom. So, much like the episode itself, then.
Yes, I’m a fan of Love & Monsters and proud of it, and Haringsma’s essay only served to remind me why. Ignore the grouches and the monsters: All you need is love.
❉ ‘The Black Archive #28: Love & Monsters’ by Niki Haringsma is out now from Obverse Books, RRP £3.99 – £8.99.
❉ Nick Mellish is a regular contributor to We Are Cult.