Saturday, 17 September 2011

DOCTOR WHO, 6.11 – "The God Complex"

Saturday, 17 September 2011

The first half of "The God Complex" was enjoyable but dutiful fare, thematically similar to the recent "Night Terrors" in how it dealt with people's fears, but managed to get increasingly better towards the end. It was perhaps notable for being a story that improved the moment its mystery was solved, perhaps because the main concept of the episode was slightly thin (meaning lots of running around corridors), and I confess to enjoying the dénouement more than everything that preceded it.

The Doctor (Matt Smith), Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill) arrived in what appeared to be a kitsch hotel from the 1980s, where hundreds of framed photos of people hung on walls, and every room appeared to contain a personalized fear of the hotel's inhabitants—who included conspiracy theorist Joe (Daniel Pirrie), gambler Howie (Dimitri Leonidas), a young woman called Rita (Amara Karan), and timid alien Gibbis (David Walliams). With the TARDIS lost because of the hotel's tendency to change its shape, the group band together to find a way out, while avoiding a Minotaur that's aptly stalking the maze-like corridors.

For another relatively cheap episode following "The Girl Who Waited" (also directed by Nick Hurran), this was rather more entertaining than most of the standalone episodes this year—which have generally been small-scale compared to Steven Moffat's expensive romps through Space and Time. The idea of a weird hotel, where every door's essentially "Room 101" from George Orwell's 1984, is an enticing one, but I was a little disappointed by uninspired choices for what was inside. Clowns, ventriloquist dolls, the Weeping Angels, and a P.E teacher? All were quite boring choices, and it's a shame the episode didn't surprise and shock us more—although I understand Doctor Who is a tricky show to write when it comes to judging the scares. Clearly it was decided to go for familiarly creepy things, rather than the genuinely surprising and freaky. I just think it was a shame the hotel's scares weren't anything to get under your skin, and The Doctor's Room 11 was a particular let-down. He fears regeneration? Okay, it makes sense, but still... I was hoping for audio of The Master.

But while the majority of "The God Complex" wasn't particularly inspired or gripping, it was nicely done. The basic concept was easy to grasp, but the finer details were frustratingly tough to get a handle on for too long (with people eventually compelled to chant "praise him", which was like a red rag to the bullish Minotaur). A mystery should be puzzling, but there times when it felt like writer Toby Whithouse was struggling to give his simple idea some depth and nuance that felt plausible. Thankfully, when The Doctor finally saved the day and the mystery was fully explained, the answers were satisfying enough regarding the nature and intention of the "hotel" and its God-like controller—snaring travellers to feed on their faith by scaring them silly.

However, the best part of this episode was simply the dialogue between The Doctor and Amy towards the end—when he's forced to save his companion by eroding her sense of faith in him ("I'm not a hero. I really am just a mad man with a box. And it's time we saw each other as we really are"), before realizing it's in Amy and Rory's best interests if he leaves them behind on Earth, to live a normal life as a married couple, before they're killed while travelling with him. There were some really touching moments here, especially the tenderness that Matt Smith showed towards his trusted companion as he bid her farewell ("What's the alternative? Me standing over your grave?"), although it was inevitably undercut by knowledge they'll all be reunited for the big finale in a fortnight's time, and have contracts going into series 7.

But still, there was some great dialogue from Whithouse, which actually made me wish he's written a story more focused on the Amy/Doctor relationship. One thing Moffat's era needs is a clearer insight into what makes the characters tick, as it's otherwise all coated in wishy-washy fairy tale analogies (Amy's "the girl who waited", The Doctor's the "imaginary friend come to life", etc.) I'm glad the past few episodes have been trying to redress this, somewhat. If Moffat's so in love with his brain-scrambling plots and lavish set-pieces, it makes sense he ensure other writers focus on the emotional glue that binds these people together.

Overall, "The God Complex" can be counted as a success, even if there were times when the only thing keeping my interest was wanting to see what lurks in Amy, Rory and The Doctor's fear rooms. The fact it was all a disappointment was easy to stomach, because by then the episode was clawing its way to something more interesting—with a compelling focus on themes of religion/faith, and what kind of influence The Doctor is on the lives of people he essentially lures into his TARDIS with promises of seeing everything and everywhere. Who can resist that?


  • As you probably know, that was lifelong Who fan David Walliams (Little Britain) under the make-up as Gibbs. Looking for all the world like Penfold from Dangermouse.
  • The photo of "Marcus" in a picture frame is of series producer Marcus Wilson.Is there anything to be drawn from The Doctor once again playing with a Rubik's Cube, after last week?
  • Love the way they keep finding ways to get Caitlin Blackwood back as the Young Amy this year: first in a flashback, then hologram, and now a... well, another hologram.
  • I'm not usually a fan of the show's "man-wearing-animal-head" solution to giving us aliens (hello, Judoon), but the Minotaur was more effective than expected.
  • How long will The Doctor travel without Amy and Rory? Is this the start of the 200-year gap that will lead us to his death at Lake Silencio?
written by Toby Whithouse / directed by Nick Hurran / 17 September 2011 / BBC1

Next time...