This review contains spoilers.
6.11 The God Complex
“What’s the alternative? Me standing over your grave?”
I think there’s some interesting criticism that’s being aimed at Doctor Who at the moment, that I don’t agree with, but want to touch on anyway.
And it’s this: that the show is getting a bit too emotional, and too concerned with the story of the assistants. The last few weeks, after all, haven’t been about Daleks, and Cybermen, and homicidal aliens. Rather, they’ve dug into the psyche, to differing degrees, of Amy, Rory and the Doctor.
Certainly, the arrival of The God Complex isn’t likely to quell much of that aforementioned chatter. It works on a couple of levels, but one of them is most certainly the continued exploration of the state of mind of the three main players of the show.
It does this through the arrival of the Tardis at a happy, tacky 1980s hotel. Well, not that happy, as it happens. Behind each of the hotel bedroom doors is something that’s someone’s biggest fear, as Doctor Who dips into George Orwell’s world, and basically comes up with a guest house full of Room 101s. It dips into Stanley Kubrick’s world, too, with the way The God Complex is shot and presented, and there’s also the coldness of CCTV cameras to play with, as well.
The result of this cocktail is something really quite creepy.
Knowing that each of the characters is likely to find their main fear keeps the concept interesting beyond the initial set-up, and for the supporting characters, they get to take a look at what the store cupboard has for them.
Thus, there’s a brief cameo from the Weeping Angels, and a desperately sad looking clown (something Doctor Who really hasn’t explored much, outside of The Greatest Show In The Galaxy). Even better, though, were the ventriloquist dolls, but just as effective was the nerdy guy faced with a bunch of in-crowd girls. They tapped into a broad collection of fears exceptionally well.
This gave space for each of those supporting characters to be a little more fleshed out, too. Particular beneficiaries were Amara Karan as Rita, and David Walliams as Gibbis. Walliams in particular is just the kind of guest star that could easily overshadow an episode, but here, he’s treated very much as an actor for hire. He’s understated, and his believable yet dislikeable character benefits as a result.
The subtext of the episode is, for the most part, a religious one, it seems, with the clue in the name of it. But then Toby Whithouse’s script skilfully turns its focus towards the end, and while he makes his points about the power and influence of religion (your fears disappear when you completely believe), it turns out he’s pointing his finger in the direction of the Doctor, too. Faith is a far bigger subject matter than religion alone, and Whithouse explores it well, within the confines of a Doctor Who episode.
Thus, in a similar way that Vincent And The Doctor came up with a monster that was a metaphor for depression, you don’t have to dig too deep to see the parallels between the creature this week, and the Doctor himself.
Making people face their worst fears? Leaving people worshipping him, before leaving them in a worst state than they started? Wanting to be adored? A series of faces on the wall who have drifted, basically, into time, awaiting the arrival of the next?
It’s no wonder we got the ending that we did. That the pressure, that’s been building up on the Doctor’s shoulders, led him to do what he clearly didn’t want: to let Amy and Rory go, to save them. Since he came back to our screens in 2005, the Doctor’s loneliness has been a more potent theme than it often was, and, aware of his death, the Doctor is basically saving himself from screwing up Rory and Amy (the moment were he talked to Amy about standing over her grave was particularly haunting. Adric can testify to that). Not least now that it seems the pair actually like each other.
To let Amy go, and defeat this week’s monster, he had to break her faith, which reminded me a little of The Curse Of Fenric, when Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor had to do so with Ace in a far more brutal way than Smith’s did with Amy here (see? The stories had to do with the assistants before, too).
I don’t buy that it’ll hold, of course, and nobody watching The God Complex will be thinking it’s the last we’ve seen of Amy and Rory. But it’s an episode that rammed home to the Doctor just what a force he is in people’s lives, and not always for the better.
A lot of credit should go to Matt Smith here. His “I’m not a hero” speech at the end was both emotionally-charged and wonderfully delivered. We know, now, what the Doctor fears (presumably Amelia Pond was the one sitting in his room, with the fear of ruining her life), and we know when he’s going to die. We also know that he’s flying off, as lonely as he’s ever been.
I really liked The God Complex a lot, if you hadn’t guessed. I thought it was intelligently constructed, directed with skill (and not shy of tipping its hat to the odd TV show or movie), and a strong episode of Doctor Who in a series that’s had no shortage of them. I can’t find myself siding with those who are voicing frustration with the direction the show is going, although I do find the arguments interesting.
Instead, I’m firmly with those who believe that Doctor Who is going through something of a golden age right now, and The God Complex keeps the standard high.
Next week, it’s the return of Craig from The Lodger, as we rev up for Doctor Who’s penultimate instalment of the run. Expect fireworks, and no shortage of them…
Read our review of episode 9, The Girl Who Waited, here.