Doctor Who Series 6 Episode 11 review: The God Complex

Posted: 21 October 2011 in television
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So what have we got? People being snatched from their lives and being dropped into an endless shifting maze that looks like a 1980s hotel with bad dreams in the bedrooms. Well apart from anything else that’s just rude.

Doctor Who - The God Complex

It’s often said that Doctor Who is at its best when the roots of a story shine through. Numerous stories from the classic series reference sources as diverse as Hammer Horror, Buddhism, British colonialism, and the BBC’s Quatermass serials of the 1950s. With “The God Complex” the influence of “The Shining” and “1984” are plain for all to see. The former provided a surreal hotel setting from which there is no escape, and the latter the concept of a room where characters faced their greatest fears.

With his third script for “Doctor Who”, Toby Whithouse (creator of “Being Human”) provided a different style of outing to his previous stories, “School Reunion” and “Vampires of Venice”. Rather than hoards of alien creatures on the cusp of invasion under the guidance of a charismatic leader, “The God Complex” was a tale of fear and faith. Whithouse’s previous scripts had also contained kisses to the past of “Doctor Who”. In “Vampires of Venice” there was a subtle one with William Hartnell’s First Doctor appearing on the lending card from Shoreditch Library. “School Reunion” featured a huge kiss with the presence of both Sarah Jane Smith (the legendary and much-missed Elisabeth Sladen) and K-9 from the much-loved 1970s era. In “The God Complex” the kiss came by making the Minotaur’s species a relation to the planet-hopping Nimon from 1979’s “The Horns of Nimon”. It was Whithouse’s love of Greek mythology that lead to the Minotaur being used as the monster of the piece but he must have known all the die-hard fans at home would go “hang on…that looks a Nimon”.

The writer was also clearly exacting revenge upon hideous hotels where he must have spent inordinate amounts of time listening to mind-numbing muzak…

Praise him.

Director Nick Hurran served up a feast of surreal imagery and jump editing that rendered “The God Complex” the nearest “Doctor Who” had ever come to being an art house film. Hurran employed inventive use of out-of-focus shots, reflections, shadows, and CCTV footage. Even the near-50 year staples of point-of-view shots for the monster and running-along-corridors were delivered in fresh and original ways. Though it’s not a style the series could sustain every week without giving the viewer acute vertigo.

Even Murray Gold’s often “bombastic” score picked up on the more surreal and playful aspects of the script and direction. Though at times it did feel as though the production team employed a lot of tricks from left-field to cover up the fact that this was in essence a “running-around-lots” tale. A sense that this story and the two preceding ones (“Night Terrors” and “The Girl Who Waited”) used reduced casts and settings to save budget and resources for the more outlandish and epic Steven Moffat scripts.

Every time the Doctor gets pally with someone I have this overwhelming urge to notify their next of kin.

Twice in the history of “Doctor Who” characters were created for one-off appearances only for their potential to be spotted during filming and elevated to the status of continuing companion. The first was Jamie McCrimmon during the Patrick Troughton era and the second was Nyssa during the Peter Davison era. Surely during the production of “The God Complex” more than one person must have said, “Wouldn’t Rita make a great companion?” Reminiscent of Martha Jones with her medical background, Rita was self-assured, not easily fazed, and (as the Doctor put it) a “clever clogs”. She perfectly described how the British deal with any crisis: ”tea and tutting”.

In the revived series “big name” guest stars are thankfully not showcased and hyped to the detriment of an episode as was the case in many instances in the classic series towards the end of the John Nathan Turner era. Mention of Ken Dodd in “Delta and the Bannermen”, or Joan Sims in the first four episodes of “The Trial of a Time Lord”, and devoted “Doctor Who” fans are is guaranteed to head for the nearest pub to stave off the horrendous memories that have been created. Famous for “Little Britain”, David Walliams, as the cowardly mole-like Gibbis, fitted seamlessly into the ensemble cast.

How much fan fiction about his travels with the Doctor, Amy and Rory has already been written about Gibbis as he went off in the TARDIS at the end?

I’m not a hero. I really am just a mad man in a box. And it’s time we saw each other as we really are. Amy Williams…it’s time to stop waiting.

Since “Doctor Who” began in 1963 it has been demonstrated time and time again that the Doctor has no belief in a personal deity or supernatural forces. To him all so-called magic and miracles are merely advanced technology. For him there are no devils, simply aliens with the visual appearance of the mythological dark one – such as Sutekh, the Daemons, and the Beast. The Doctor is similarly unimpressed by those who possess god-like powers, even the White Guardian and the Black Guardian. Interestingly when Amy asked the Doctor what Time Lords pray to he dodges the question. Possibly once upon a time the Doctor’s people did worship a form of deity or deities but throughout the history of “Doctor Who”. In the expanded universe of the novels there was a character called Pythia that the ancient Gallifreyans worshipped.

Rory was shown to be neither religious or superstitious, which was entirely befitting to a character who is an advocate of rational medical treatment in his profession as a nurse. The fact that the Doctor was aware of Rory’s non-beliefs could be the genesis of an unseen story in audio or printed form perhaps?

Since her first encounter with the Doctor, Amy had held the Time Lord in awe. “The Raggedy Doctor”. The stuff of legend and fairytales. The Doctor was forced to shatter Amy’s unwavering faith in him as it was leading the Minotaur to her like a moth to a flame. For such a levelling of the field between the two characters it was entirely appropriate for Caitlin Blackwood to make a cameo as Amelia Pond. You do get the feeling that Steven Moffat has a soft spot for the young cousin of Karen Gillan and takes any opportunity that will allow her to appear once more.

Oddly enough “The God Complex” held parallels with two of the stories from the third and final Sylvester McCoy season back in 1989. In “Ghost Light” the Doctor took Ace to Gabriel Chase to face her greatest fear and in the “The Curse of Fenric” the 7th Doctor had to shatter Ace’s faith in him so that the Great Hameovore could be defeated.

An ancient creature, drenched in the blood of the innocent. Drifting in space through an endless shifting maze. For such a creature, death would be a gift.

The uniqueness of the character of the Doctor was demonstrated with the death of the Minotaur. No gloating upon the passing of the creature that had killed so many, just compassion for the plight it had been through. As much of a victim of the prison as any of those that it had killed.

The Minotaur had the holographic prison with its endlessly changing architecture to accompany its journey through space. The Doctor had the eternally regenerating TARDIS upon his journeys through time and space. However, both ancient creatures had left numerous deaths in their wake and it was the death and final words of the Minotaur that finally convinced the Time Lord that he had to separate himself from Amy and Rory or face the possibility that if they stayed with him much longer he would be responsible for their deaths.

Only twice before had the Doctor forced companions to depart the TARDIS: his grand daughter Susan in “The Dalek Invasion of Earth” and Sarah Jane Smith in “The Hand of Fear”. The idea of making Mr and Mrs Williams leave had clearly been in the Doctor’s mind for a while if he’d gone to the trouble of preparing a house for them and buying Rory his favourite make of car. No clue was given as to the location of the residence but chances are it wasn’t sleepy Leadworth. It’s unlikely this was the end of the road for Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill’s time in “Doctor Who”. As the parents of River Song a series finale entitled “The Wedding of River Song” pretty much guarantees their appearance.

In the meantime the Doctor set off alone. Will he be spending the next 200 years of his personal timeline travelling in the TARDIS alone? As shown with the Time Lord Victorious in “The Waters of Mars” it’s not always a good idea for the Doctor should not travel alone. Sometimes he needs someone to stop him. Though the 200 year gap certainly leaves a lot of room for Matt Smith to reprise the role of 11th Doctor for Big Finish 20 years hence….

And did Steven Moffat plant a plot seed for the future? With the TARDIS cloister bell tolling the Doctor saw his greatest fear inside Room 11 and was unsurprised by who it was…

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