Doctor Who #890: The God Complex

"Every time the Doctor gets pally with someone, I have this overwhelming urge to notify their next of kin."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Sep.17 2011.

IN THIS ONE... Creepy hotel filled with bad dreams, everyone running from an alien Minotaur.

More than just a Shining-like creepy hotel trick like the one writer Toby Whithouse would later pull in Being Human, The God Complex manages to "arc" long-running companions in a subtle and surprising way while still catering to a varied cast of guest characters. One of these, Rita (played by Amara Karan, who played another Rita in Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited) is played as a potential companion, which might lead one to believe it's the end of the road for Amy and Rory, but then it isn't, and then it is, and then it's isn't. Whithouse is following a Moffat formula in that sense. Rita would have made a good one too, with her sharp wit, level-headed approach to jeopardy, and striking looks. And the Doctor immediately takes to her (perhaps he knows the Ponds are soon to leave, given some of the words exchanged in The Girl Who Waited), and gets as angry as he's ever gotten when she falls prey to the hotel's effects. Howie the conspiracy theorist and Gibbis the alien genetically predisposed to surrender are geared more towards comedy, but the latter can seem sinister as well. Whenever a hotel guest starts to "praise him" (and this also includes a loopy gambler called Joe and a policewoman called Lucy), the performance is completely different, tuned to each character's personality. We're not getting a wash-and-repeat script here. And in each case, the truth is hidden in plain sight - the monster isn't devouring their fear (which is an old trope); rather, their fears expose their faiths so that can be replaced and consumed. Each character has faith in something different, which is also true of the regulars, except Rory, it seems. An odd quirk, but he could always see the forest for the trees, and is perhaps more used to the bad coming with the good. Nothing is all-powerful, not even the Doctor.

Amy has to lose her faith in the Time Lord, however, if she is to survive. This becomes about letting go of her childhood fantasies about the Raggedy Doctor, and finally growing up. It's brilliantly done. Not with cruelty and shouting, which the was the 7th Doctor's tack to do the same to Ace in The Curse of Fenric, but with kindness, and truth-telling, and showing vulnerability, and crucially, finally calling her Amy Williams. He turns her into an adult before our eyes, and the direction plays along, making nice use of little Amelia. The Doctor is being more honest with her than he ever has, and in the process is forced to be honest with himself. His companions may gladly take what he offers, but the offer is his responsibility. And he knows where that can lead. So while the Amy-Rory bond is already stronger than the Amy-Doctor bond at the start of the episode (she no longer punches Rory when he insults the Doctor, and she's not jealous of the Doctor's reaction to Rita), he precipitates his goodbyes and takes them home (a new home, with a TARDIS blue door). It's as emotional a farewell as any, despite the fact that it's not the last we see of them. That is "saves them" one last time, and in this way, is extremely poignant. Marriage and real life is the next adventure. It's not this episode's fault that the departure will quickly be undone, and the Doctor's alternative, standing over their graves, will become true. I can forgive the last two episodes of Series 6 - the Ponds don't need to "travel" with the Doctor to participate in those - but their return in Series 7 may be a case of Moffat having a hard time letting go of his newest Steve & Susan. I wish this were the Ponds' ending, and I still like to think it is.

Even beyond all that, the piece is superbly directed (Nick Hurran did a nice job with The Girl Who Waited too, and would go on to direct The Day of the Doctor), and is worth watching on its merits as a vidually interesting hottor story. There's a nice mix of the strange and the mundane in this 80s hotel and shots that play with perspective. The various rooms hold "bad dreams" that range from the scary to the laughable - but then one person's phobia is another's innocuous element. Hurran shoots the monster through panes of wet glass, and the Doctor appears on multiple mirrors at the same time. Amy and Amelia trade places between shots. And then there's the onset of the "praise him" effect, with its rapid-fire disjointed cuts and disturbing sounds... All quite effective. And so many details, you can revisit this one regularly and still get something out of it.

SECOND OPINIONS: My original review, The Doctor's God Complex, goes into some of these ideas more deeply than I had space to here.

REWATCHABILITY: High - It could have been another Night Terrors, and certainly has the atmosphere for it, but surprises the viewer by turning into an emotional personal story that should have been Amy and Rory's final trip in the TARDIS.


LiamKav said...

Both this and the previous episode have very different looks from the norm for this series. One side-effect of moving "The Curse of the Black Spot" is makes the second half of this season one of the strongest runs New Who has, even if it still slightly suffers from characters not paying attention to the overall arc. (To be honest, the whole season does to an extent. I think Moffat learned his lesson... it's hard to have an ongoing storyline that has a big effect on the characters yet one that they seem to not be that bothered by every week.)

It's been a while since I've seen both, but the Doctor's dialogue when he looks in his room is something like "Of course. Who else would it have been?", right? And "The Time of the Doctor" reveals is contains a crack, right? I don't believe that the Doctor has any idea that the cracks represent the Time Lords at this point, so I don't get how that makes any sense. I always thought the idea that it was the Master, or even himself worked better.

Siskoid said...

It must still weigh on him that the TARDIS apparently explodes at some point.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the crack existing represents his potentially failing people and the universe being devoured?

Man, I really wish they'd gone from the Ponds being companions to Rita. She was such a good character.

- Mike Loughlin

Andrew Gilbertson said...

I *would* have agreed that this should've been the Ponds' exit from Doctor Who, and a nice bit of restraint... until Time of the Angels. To me, that story made me realize what Amy's story had always been about- coming from a selfish person to one who truly loves the man who's devoted to her. Without that, her arc would've been incomplete, to a degree, and she would've been less of a character- to me, at least.

So while this would've been an excellent and unexpected departure, and perhaps the superior one, I think extending things to Time of the Angels (and even some of the things we see in Power of Three) makes the characters stronger than they would've been ending here.

Siskoid said...

You're not wrong.

Maybe I had an RTD flashback (i.e. how Ten and his companions got a farewell, and then we had to go through it again).


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