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

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.

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81 comments

  • Great review!

    I don’t think I was as positive about the episode as you though. I think the biggest problem in the episode was that it was too easy for the Doctor to take Amy’s faith away from her.

    But so many of the problems in the narrative of this episode stem directly from the writers having no idea of Amy as a character, as I discuss in more detail here:

    http://theoncominghope.blogspot.com/2011/09/doctor-who-god-complex-aka-characters.html

  • To elaborate. He obliterated two races entirely. He failed them, but he saved us in the process. Technically, Time Lords and Daleks were killed because of his love for humans. If humanity (his salvation) turned on him forever, what could he do with himself?

  • @Maggie
    Rory said “Well after all that time I spent with you in the TARDIS what was left to be scared off.” He said it in the past tense which means he’s scarred of something now. Maybe you’re right and he’s scarred of leaving.

  • He calls him “Beaky” in reference to his nose. Remember at the end of Flesh and Stone when Amy tells the Doctor that she is getting married and he is asking who, he makes a gesture that Rory has a large nose. I thought it was a great throw back.

  • Anyone listen Kevin Smith’s smodcast this morning? He was explaining Doctor Who to his wife, it was actually kind sweet. They went over the ending to School Reunion and he started to cry.

  • When Rory speaks in the past-tense ( while he and The Doctor are looking at the photos on the wall talking about fear), do you think he realized his and Amy’s time with The Doctor was coming to an end? The Doctor noticed it, then dropped it, do you think it’s something that will be answered in the finale? Did Rory simply misspeak? I think it’ll end up being something important… I just don’t know what…

  • I’m guessing none of you saw it on BBC America? Otherwise someone would have mentioned the episode-ruining fast forward they did to accomodate it in the time slot. They speak fast enough as it is, and this made it nigh incomprehensible. It killed the impact of a lot of scenes and was very distracting. It honestly just ruined the whole episode for me. I just don’t get why they don’t let it run over the hour, like they do with Being Human, especially considering all that’s on afterwards is that recap special they’ve given 100 times.

  • author

    I would be very surprised and displeased if the gangers factored into the finale of the series.

    Also, @Chris Burgess,
    I always like to keep you on your toes. ;)

  • Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill are signed on for the 7th season so they’ll be back.

    I’d like to think that The Doctor is in a different time line (maybe ganger)…see the whole rubik’s cube broken then completing it, and apple hatred then the love of apples.

  • One thing I really wanted was during the Doctors big emotional speech at the end where he says something like “Where should it end? On some distant planet. Standing over your broken body…or Rory’s body”

    I REEEEEALY wanted a little pause and “….again” there.

    Would have shot down the moment totally, going for the gag like that, but I really wanted that.

  • @Shogun:
    I think the ganger plays a vital role in the finale.

    Interesting take on the Maze of the Minotaur, this episode.
    Also to the doctor, “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.” Minotaur, “I wasn’t taking about myself.”

  • In the preview for Closing Time, that Cyberman with the scar on his face (helmet?)…

    wasn’t that the Cyberman that was found dismembered (and later functional) in the Pandorica Opens?

  • Re: Beakey

    I think it was a playful jab at Rory’s nose. Remember the season premiere? The Doctor says he’s an agent on loan from Scotland Yard and that his codename is “The Doctor”, Amy’s is “The Legs”, Rory’s is “The Nose”, and River’s is “Mrs. Robinson”.

  • At first when they switched from the tenth Doctor to the eleventh, I was a bit reserved. Even in the first full season of the eleventh Doctor( Matt Smith) I have however, grown to like the subtleties of his expression since, as Nerdist mentioned, they are not overblown. With this specific episode I’m happy it turned out the way it did, since i was just saying to myself that it was time, and seemed that they were building towards moving on from the steady Amy and Rory story line. I think it’s a good move for this Doctor, as he seems to shine brightest when with strangers. Admittedly i was getting tired of these two companions and hoped that the writers would move on from them at least as the main attraction.

  • The sports car Rory got was a Jaguar E-Type (Top Gear recently did an episode dedicated to it on its birthday). I THINK the car “River” had was a Corvette or Fararri if memory serves (which it probably doesn’t).

  • @Scott – I’d be willing to argue Sara Kingdom doesn’t count as a companion, but Hartnell’s Doctor also lost Katarina; both died in The Daleks’ Masterplan. Adric is not the only companion to die. Hell, one could even throw Kamelion in that category if one was really masochistic.

    (Oh and Kyle, it’s a house, not a flat. I’d not be true to myself if I didn’t say that. :P )

  • I think Peter Davison was pretty good at showing the pressure he was under with regard to companions, and he lost the only actual companion who actually died, Adric, then gave his life to save Peri later. Lots of people die around the Doctor, but he never manages to lose the people who travel with him very often.

    Knowing this is only the eleventh Doctor gave this episode a weird feeling, because it seemed almost like the show was winding down, not just these companions or this regeneration. I’m sure after this season they’ll bounce back to the weekly adventures, but it felt like something bigger was going on this week.

  • The sports car that the Doctor gives Rory, was that the same car we saw pre-renegeration River,(or Mels) driving in Let’s Kill Hitler? I wonder if there’s a connection there.

  • Excellent review as per usual Kyle.

    I was truly caught off guard with the ending as well. I should have known since last week’s episode seemed like it was a pre-send off type episode.

    As for the episode itself, it was ok and seemed like this is what Night Terrors should have been. Rita would have been a nice new companion.

    I know Rory and Amy will be back in some capacity, since their story doesn’t seem completely finished yet. I will truly miss them and it will be totally weird seeing this incarnation of the Doctor (Matt Smith) without the two of them because all three of them came on together.

    I just started watching this show around the beginning of the summer, I know this is the norm and I should get used to it, but I really hate myself how I start getting attached to these characters and actors, whether it’s the Doctor or his companions, only for them to move on. Pretty freakin’ sad mang.

    ::sniff sniff:: I think I’m gonna cry! Ok maybe not.

    On a sidenote, does anybody think the Ganger Doctor could still be around?

  • I’m in total agreement with you. And I totally missed hearing the Cloister Bell. I can’t wait to see how Moffat pulls of the finale. I mean he keeps saying in the Confidential episodes that the Doctor dies in the last episode. Moffat, how will you do this?! It’s driving me crazy!!