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Doctor Who complete reviews: The God Complex


First class scares and sad (but ambivalent) departures in this excellent Matt Smith Doctor Who outing...

The God Complex (Doctor Who)

If you've ever seen Channel Five's Hotel Inspector programme, you can almost picture the look of pure horror on haughty inspectorette Alex Polizzi's face as she saunters into what “looks like a 1980s hotel with bad dreams in their bedrooms”. “Oh dwahhling, that décor is so passée... Oh dwahhling, bad dreams are soooo Freddy Krueger. Oh, dwahhling, am I the most patronising woman on the planet?”

Well, on the face of it, The God Complex would almost certainly be shut down and bulldozed on Polizzi's watch – but fortunately, you've come to the wrong place if you're looking for smug hectoring. On the other hand, if you're looking to check into a review peppered with waffle, cheap pot shots and bad jokes, then you've come to the right place. But as a bonus, I'll throw in lashings of praise, mini bars full of admiration and a free bath robe.

Because The God Complex manages the hat-trick of Quality Doctor Who. And like the preceding two stories, it sees the return of one of the NuWho writing stalwarts, in this case, Toby Whithouse, the man who'd penned the excellent School Reunion and the decidedly toothless Vampires Of Venice. Luckily, Whithouse is back on form with The God Complex, another comparatively simple tale that masks some deeper thoughts on faith, cowardice and more importantly, The Doctor's acknowledgement of his own failings and the fact that danger follows him around like a lost puppy.

"The God Complex, while chilling in the extreme, is possibly celebrating what Doctor Who does best – scaring kids with real, primal fears"

The God Complex (Doctor Who) - PuppetOn the face of it, The God Complex is another example of Doctor Who running along tried and tested lines. The motifs are the ones that fans know and love so well. Base under siege. Deep-rooted fears. Crisis of faith. Fans can also note the big-up of that seasonal old turkey, The Horns Of Nimon, when it's revealed that the big beastie bad of this episode is a relative of the gurgling bull headed race. Quite which relative is open to speculation. Maybe it's Uncle Frank. Or Cousin Ernest. Or maybe it's Auntie Betty.

But at the same time, all of these reassuringly traditional elements are shaken up and taken into unforeseen waters. There's some notably unexpected twists peppered throughout this story, most notably at the end, when The Doctor makes a monumental decision that will affect Amy and Rory. That's the sign of some skilled writing, and Toby Whithouse turns in a script that's of the equal calibre of School Reunion. It's definitely more of a worthy attempt to get the kids quaking in their slippers at home, which it does by drawing on old-fashioned fears of ordinary everyday things such as clowns and ventriloquist dummies. Which isn't really surprising, given that they're examples of blank-faced, emotionless parodies of human beings – again, these fears follow the same lines as great Who monsters such as Autons and Voc Robots in that they give off no waves of humanity, nothing to read – just the same fixed expression. If I was to go all poncey, deep 'n' meaningful critic here (oh, hold on...), then I could suggest that the fact that all of this takes place in an ordinary everyday locale equates with kids facing their greatest Who fears in the everyday environments of their homes. The God Complex, while chilling in the extreme, is possibly celebrating what Doctor Who does best – scaring kids with real, primal fears.

It helps that the story's shot so as to maximise the terror. Director Nick Hurran displays every scare trick in the book, such as the unusual camera angles, close-ups and even Murray Gold's unnerving music. Michael Pickwoad's designs really are spot on, bringing back memories of every tacky motel that you've stayed in where the walls are designed to make you feel more queasy than on the Big Dipper. The combination of mundane and macabre is what Doctor Who does so well, and the mixture is produced to perfection, thanks to the talents of the behind-the-scenes crew. Hurran, in particular, proves to be one of the real finds of the series.

The guest cast is quite small, but all of them work well – there's a similar feeling to Bad Wolf in that the characters are plucked out of their everyday surroundings to be catapulted into a nightmare, whether they're blogging or at work. They're generally likeable everyday schmoes, Joe, Howie and Rita, and of course, the one exception to the rule, Gibbis, a cowardly mole man played by popular comedy actor and another long-term Whovian, David Walliams. Out of these, Rita and Gibbis are the most interesting.

Rita is a similar deal to Lynda With A Y in that you might be led to think that she's being groomed as companion material. She's prone to using her loaf, which is a common requirement for companion criteria these days (“I like you,” smiles The Doctor. “You're a right clever clock”), but then she could also demonstrate the traditional companion jitters - “Gibbis is an alien isn't he?” she asks The Doctor. “OK, I'm going to file that under 'Freak out about it later...'” But then like poor old Lynda With A Y, it's obvious that Rita's days are looking numbered, and these fears are confirmed when she too becomes a victim.

"Rita was also the companion who never was – there's been quite a few of these in NuWho lately, but Amara Karan's excellent performance makes Rita's demise one of the greatest missed opportunities"

The God Complex (Doctor Who) - RitaThe Doctor is particularly gutted by Rita's demise, and her final moments are rather touching – not too cloying, but stoic and dignified (“Please, let me be robbed of my faith in private... I'm not frightened, I'm blessed Doctor. I'm at peace, I'm gonna hang up” - not to mention the sweet “Thanks for trying” goodbye). As The Doctor later comments: “Rita wasn't afraid, she was brave and kind”. She was also the companion who never was – there's been quite a few of these in NuWho lately, but Amara Karan's excellent performance makes Rita's demise one of the greatest missed opportunities.

Gibbis, on the other hand, is another good example of the sleight of hand that Doctor Who often employs. Starting out as a cowardly comedy buffoon and a native of the most invaded planet in the galaxy, Gibbis makes the Rory of the previous season seem like He-Man. “At times like this I think of my old school motto, 'Resistance Is Exhausting'” he shudders at one point. But this is blundering cowardice is cleverly turned on its head by showing that in actual fact, this is something to be abhorred. The Doctor's reference to Gibbis' quaking is particularly impassioned: “Cowardice isn't quaint, it's sly, aggressive”. And because Gibbis makes it to the bitter end, there's the feeling of injustice – while someone like Rita is inquisitive and brave, Gibbis just looks out for Number One and refuses point blank to get involved, just for the sake of saving his own skin.

Gibbis is the sort of cretin who would enter the I'm A Celebrity jungle and stick himself with superglue to a handy log so as to avoid any Bushtucker Trials. It's a nice performance from Walliams – don't forget, he'd done his fair share of serious drama as well as the Little Britain and Come Fly With Me stuff, and he portrays Gibbis expertly, as a blundering but strangely hard to like creature who would probably jump at the sight of his own shadow. And the make-up job's bang on again, as well.

Fear seems to be a common motif this season. We've had plenty of incidents to choose from, whether it's Amy's and Rory's fears in the House-infested TARDIS, the little boy's fears in Night Terrors or even the fear of The Doctor's 'death' – The God Complex plays on these raw, primal fears, but at the same time, it's also got lots to say about the concept of faith. Joe, Howie and Rita buy it because of their faith – Howie's faith in conspiracies and Joe's faith in luck – on the surface, you could read this as being a bad thing, given that those who believe end up dead, but as The Doctor points out, faith is something that the creature needs to live on. “Faith is an energy,” says The Doctor. “A specific emotional energy”. Faith – not just religious faith – but any belief in people, loved ones, friends – that sort of faith is essential to life. Which again shows that without faith, you'd end up as a shambling wimp like Gibbis. This exploration of faith has been seen may times in Doctor Who, in stories such as The Daemons, Image Of The Fendahl, and of course, The Curse Of Fenric. The God Complex is a similar sort of deal in that both Amy and Ace are threatened by their belief in The Doctor. And in both stories, it's left to The Doctor to shake that belief to its core in order to save them.

But whereas The Doctor's taunts to Ace, accusing her of being an “Emotional cripple” were just a short-lived ploy to shock her into losing her faith, in The God Complex, The Doctor really is speaking the truth. Instead of name-calling and dismissals, here The Doctor opens up as to why he took Amy along for the ride: “Forget your faith in me. I took you with me because I was vain. Because I wanted to be adored. Look at you, glorious Pond. The Girl Who Waited for me. I'm not a hero. I really am just a madman in a box.”#

"A top quality feast of fun that rates highly on scares, good lines, stunning photography and thought-provoking issues"

The God Complex (Doctor Who) - Matt SmithThis carries on from the fallout of The Girl Who Waited , in which The Doctor duped Future Amy into believing that he could save her. Rory's accusations must have hit home, given that The Doctor speaks freely about how badly he's treated Amy (“I stole your childhood and now I've led you by the hand to your death”). Whereas you may think that this won't go anywhere, it does in fact lead into the surprising final moments of the story. The Doctor decides to take Amy and Rory back home and carry on his travels alone – while proving to be Gallifrey's answer to Ted Rogers by handing them the star prizes of a house and a car.

Amy's rightly gutted - “After everything we've been through Doctor, everything – you can't just drop me off at my house and say goodbye like we shared a cab” - but The Doctor's clearly not one for buckling in, saying that the only alternative is standing over her grave or her dead body. It's an interesting goodbye in that it poses the question of where Doctor Who goes from here. The Doctor's always travelled with a companion, bar one or two instances, but if he's saying that the trip's too dangerous, does this mean that there will never be a new companion? Or do they have to be put through a gruelling masterclass of self defence in order to qualify for a TARDIS key? At the time of writing, it's all a bit murky – there's rumours that Karen Gillan will be back for the next series, and if that's the case, then I'm pretty sure that Arthur Darvill will be back too. You still haven't heard the last from them though, given that they'll feature in the next three adventures in some form or other, but as farewell scenes go, it's a nice bit of closure – well, for now at least. I'm pretty sure that we haven't seen the last of Mr and Mrs Williams just yet.

It's a surprising end though to another top quality feast of fun that rates highly on scares, good lines, stunning photography and thought-provoking issues. It's a crying shame that the later stories of the season were picked on by the right-wing papers for getting poor ratings (without taking into account, the overnight figures) because this is doing the show a disservice. The last few adventures have shown Doctor Who to be as intelligent, dramatic and exciting as it was 40-something years ago. The God Complex is another mini-masterpiece and it's a story to be checked into time and time again. All hail The God Complex.


John Bensalhia limbered up for this mammoth task with a full four-series review of Blake's 7, and writes professionally and recreationally all over the web. Check out his portfolio of work here.

Check out John's previous Doctor Who review, The Girl Who Waited

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#1 Hmuff Gabrielle 2013-05-07 15:16
Amazing review, as always. One thing you left out was the incredible parallel between the faith-sucking-Minator/the bigger-on-the-inside hotel, and The Doctor/TARDIS. It was one of those fascinating moments where The Doctor's character is revealed indirectly (as in Amy's Choice), and deserved mention, if not dissection. But otherwise, good work.

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