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“Doctor Who”: “The God Complex” Review (SPOILERS)

by on September 19, 2011

I certainly was not expecting this episode to end how it did. From the trailer, I, like most people I think, assumed this would just be another standalone scary-thing episode in the same vein as “Night Terrors,” but Toby Whithouse’s “The God Complex” turned into something far deeper and more impactful.

If last week’s “The Girl Who Waited” was about Amy’s relationship with Rory, and Rory’s relationship with the Doctor, “The God Complex” was about Amy’s relationship with the Doctor, and his relationship with himself and companions in general. While a good portion of the “plot” of the story doesn’t make as much sense as it might, the overall emotional impact of the episode and its reflection on its characters was spot on.  To anyone saying the Steven Moffat era lacks the complex character arcs of the Russell T. Davies era, I point you in the direction of this series. I don’t think I’ve seen a series of Doctor Who MORE about character. I don’t think that’s what any of us expected.


The episode begins, as so many do, with the TARDIS landing somewhere that nobody knows where it is.  In this case, it’s a perfect replica of a 1980s Earth hotel, complete with clashing decor, long hallways, and weird, twisty staircases.  They had been trying to go to a planet with 700 foot tall people you can only speak to with the help of hot air balloons. It always seems like the places they try to go sound way cooler than where they actually end up. But no matter.  Also, does the Doctor call Rory “Mickey?” Is that what he says? I can’t tell.  Regardless, this hotel is not as it seems. In the pre-credit sequence, we see a young police woman roaming the halls, going into various rooms and seeing apparitions of creepy things until finally she enters HER room, where the brutal gorilla that frightened her as a child resides.  It is at this point that she begins to chant “Praise Him,” and a large, horned creature comes to get her.

From this, it would seem this is a haunted, Shining-type hotel with all manner of nastiness lurking in the rooms. However, naturally, nothing is as it seems.  The crew almost immediately meets four more people, three Earthlings and an alien sheep from a constantly-conquered planet, and find out that all them awoke there with no memory of how they arrived.  Over time, each of them sees their darkest fears and to overcome them, they begin worshipping the Minotaur creature, eventually dying when it feeds upon their worship. Turns out, it’s a prison for the Minotaur which automatically captures people, shows them their greatest fear, gets them to renounce whatever beliefs they carry in favor of worshipping the creature, who then feeds on them.

Some things in the episode that didn’t make sense: 1) Why would the prison look like an Earth hotel if it captured people from all over the universe? 2) Why would an alien prison be made to look like something from Earth in the first place? 3) How is a prison sitting in outer space able to even abduct people from all over the universe? 4) Why is it that when people start praising the beast, they see the printed words “Praise Him” in various fonts?  That last one’s less important. Whatever the plot holes involved, the idea of the Minotaur, a relative of the Nimon for us Classic Who fans, is an interesting and different one.  This half-season seems to be fixated on the idea of bad guys that aren’t really bad.  None of these four episodes yet have actually had a proper villain. “Let’s Kill Hitler” had River and/or the Teselecta, “Night Terrors” has the little alien kid, “The Girl Who Waited” had the handbots, and now this one has the Minotaur who doesn’t want to do what he’s doing.  Remember when there’d be a bad guy in every episode? I’m not necessarily saying this is a bad thing, but it’s just happening a lot.  Thank cripes for next week when we get the Cybermen back. Nothing sympathetic about that lot.

Of course, Nimon cousin aside, this episode is really about the Doctor. He realizes, finally before it’s too late, that the Doctor makes his companions believe in him wholeheartedly and that can, and often does, lead to their death.  In a scene reminiscent of “The Curse of Fenric,” the Doctor tells Amy she has to lose her faith in him, that he’s not a hero, just a madman in a box.  The character of Rita was a great addition and will join the ranks of companions who might’ve been.  She’s the one who first seeds the idea in the Doctor that he’s big into being worshipped, or at the very least admired, and how dangerous it is.  He knows he leads people into danger, sometimes death, and yet he still tries to recruit her with the promise of a box of sweets and all of time and space.  No matter how good his intentions, he is sort of like an intergalactic drugs pusher, using the promise of adventure to get innocent people to come aboard.  Matt Smith, perhaps better than any other Doctor (I look forward to your letters), can portray quiet self-loathing and pained remorse without going too far or too big with it.

In “The Girl Who Waited,” the Doctor got to see the result of his failure to save Amy, a bitter, angry woman, and also that he grooms others to be like him, forcing Rory to do things he flatly opposes.  In “The God Complex,” the Doctor now sees that it’s his companions’ faith in him that can lead to resentment, bitterness, and failure.  But he, too, had a room in the hotel.  He also believes in something wholeheartedly and fears something enough to manifest it.  Though we never actually see it in the episode, it’s fairly clear to me what it was. When the Doctor opens HIS door, fittingly room 11, he looks in and says, “Of course. Who else?” As he shuts the door, we hear single ring of the cloister bell from the TARDIS. As we’ve seen in “The Doctor’s Wife,” the Doctor adores the TARDIS and knows it to be his one true companion.  He believes in it entirely and fears losing it.  So subtle, but also blatantly obvious if you think about it.

The episode ends right where I wasn’t expecting it to end, but right where it needed to.  After all he’s done to them, he drops off Amy and Rory at their new flat, with a brand new sports car.  He’s choosing to make them leave before he hurts them any further.  This is a gesture no other Doctor has made and one that shows the Eleventh Doctor, for all his lying and deceit, is indeed a good man. Surely they’ll return in the finale, but if the story of Rory and Amy ended this season, as much as I like both characters, I would not be sad about it.  There isn’t much else to do with them as characters and they deserve a happy ending. Whether they actually get one is another story entirely…

On first viewing, I wasn’t sold on the episode as a whole, but upon reflection and second viewing, after knowing what the episode actually was, I knew it to be another fantastic episode for the season.  While not as scary as I wanted it to be, even though laughing dummies is certainly one of my many fears, “The God Complex” delivered in its exploration of the Doctor and the nature of his relationship to companions.  For the second week in a row, Nick Hurran’s direction was fantastic, in a completely different way than with “The Girl Who Waited.”  Let’s hope he gets added to the permanent roster along with Toby Haynes and Adam Smith (if they hopefully bring him back).  David Walliams from Little Britain, a huge Doctor Who fan himself, gave an interesting performance as Gibbis, the sheep person, but the entire guest cast was great.  Not surprisingly, Smith, Gillan, and Darvil were brilliant, and, in particular, the end scenes between the Doctor and Amy were compelling and moving.  It’s times like this you realize the Doctor isn’t just a hero, a savior, a god; he’s a guy who makes friends and wants what’s best for them, even if it means leaving them alone.

Next week’s episode looks great. It sees the return of Craig (James Corden) from Series 5’s “The Lodger,” as well as my favorite villains, the Cybermen.  Let’s take a look at Gareth Roberts’ “Closing Time”:

Hooray for things!!!!

-Kanderson thinks you could praise him. If you wanted. Or maybe just follow him on TWITTER.