TV Review: Doctor Who 'The God Complex'

PrintE-mail Written by J. R. Southall

It’s a shame the Nimotaur was so thoroughly revealed in the Series Six trailers; we’ve known what it looks like for so many months, the lengths that director Nick Hurran goes to, to keep its unveiling from the audience in the episode itself, starts to look like a bit of a waste of effort. I’m officially suffering from Trailer Tiredness.

That’s not the only disappointment about The God Complex either, because for about half an hour it looked like another classic; perhaps not quite on a par with last week’s episode from Tom MacRae, but certainly sharing the same postcode. And then writer Toby Whithouse lets himself down rather badly, giving us a resolution that’s quite remarkable for its clumsiness. Fortunately the same can’t be said for the final scene, but more on that anon. The juggling of episodes this year might well have proven Steven Moffat’s most difficult task, as there are so many shared tropes and similarities of theme, it’s almost as if the authors spent time together in a writers’ room and all left under the impression they were writing the same episode as one another. In fact the oddest thing is, while Moffat has these last two years been writing the fun, Davies-esque episodes, everybody else seems to want to impress the new showrunner by borrowing from his earlier style. It threatens to make for a terribly unbalanced series, with the Doctor and Amy going through the emotional rigmarole in the standalone episodes, while the arc-led stories that really do put them through the ringer are tending to look light and fluffy by comparison.

Including the Weeping Angels – the creatures that feed on the life you would have lived if they hadn’t sent you to live it somewhere else instead – in an episode which revolves around a creature being fed the faith you are only forced to feel by virtue of its very presence, was incredibly brave on Whithouse’s part; it’s almost like he’s telling the boss, Anything you can do I can do too. And for the larger part of the episode, he does. It’s a shame the hotel is revealed to be an alien construct quite so soon after the titles have rolled (robbing the location of at least some of its mystery), but aside from that, the manner in which the investigation progresses is very satisfactory. If it owes a debt to The Shining (and especially Kubrick’s version, the Wendy Carlos score for which is even rather cheekily alluded to at one point; although the evil twins were referenced instead in Mark Gatiss’ episode of a fortnight ago, oddly enough), then that’s no bad thing – Doctor Who has never had a problem when borrowing its ideas from outside itself. For an episode which deals so thoroughly in fear, however, the only genuinely unnerving sequence is when Joe is discovered in a dining hall filled with chortling ventriloquist’s dummies, all identical and all highly discomforting. Or is it just that the other fears on offer to the other characters (insofar as we are shown) just didn’t unsettle me in quite the same way? Maybe there’s somebody out there for whom this episode was quite the scariest thing ever.

Speaking of the other characters, if there’s any way in which a time travelling series can whip back and somehow manage to save Rita – yet another character in recent Who who has been offered companion status (or sought it), only to peg it before even seeing the inside of the TARDIS – so that she can become a regular next year, I’ll be extremely grateful. It would be churlish to suggest she was the best thing in the episode, though. Matt Smith and Karen Gillan share an absolutely critical scene at the end – in fact, two – and both excel; the Nimotaur itself is a creature design from the very top drawer; and Nick Hurran’s direction trumps even his supervision of last week’s episode – this man is surely petitioning for a place on the Sherlock team of directors, going by the stylistic tics he uses here, although Doctor Who would be a different show if it was shot with a similar sense of the post-watershed technique every week; there were times when The God Complex looked more like an episode of Sea of Souls, or some other such supernatural scare-fest. But the stuttering Howie was no more than an annoying amalgam of Clive from Rose and The Greatest Show in the Galaxy’s Whizzkid, with the pertinence of neither, and David Walliams’ Gibbis, although perfectly well executed, seemed like nothing so much as an expensive irrelevance. Amara Karan was excellent, however, and I’d dearly love to see the character somehow resurrected in the future.

It’s such a shame the explanations at the story’s climax are so hurriedly thrown away; an artificially intelligent alien sentience that sees humans as worthy of being nothing more than food is surely an episode in itself, and a scene in which it is completely crucial that the Doctor breaks Amy’s faith in him was never going to be satisfactory, no matter how nicely it is written, or how well played by the two. We’ve seen just far too much of the regulars for it to be believable. If it weren’t for that, if Toby Whithouse had just spent a little more time thinking about his resolution, then The God Complex would have been vying with The Girl Who Waited and The Doctor’s Wife for the end-of-series awards. Crucially, each of those two episodes dispensed with their ‘silly science’ explanations within the opening five minutes, leaving us to enjoy the character drama without having to worry about the plot.

Oh, and then there’s that coda. Again, it’s hard not to feel that Amy and Rory’s leaving wouldn’t have been more appropriate coming at the end of the previous story, but there’s plenty of foreshadowing here (albeit that it’s Rory who starts talking about life in the TARDIS in the past sense, and yet the Doctor’s decision to make it such), meaning that the mid-series exit for the Doctor’s travelling companions isn’t quite the surprise it might have been. It’ll be even less surprising when they turn up in the finale in a fortnight (and I doubt I’m spoiling anyone’s viewing by assuming that they do), but when Amy answers Rory’s question as to the Doctor’s whereabouts with a simple, “Saving us,” it’s a beautiful and bittersweet moment. And it’s a mark of how much Karen Gillan has come on as an actress that this final scene works as well as it does; albeit what really sells the emotion is Matt Smith and his eyes. He truly is a remarkable talent, and we’re extremely lucky to have him navigating our Saturday nights for the foreseeable future.

I will miss Rory though, most of all, even if only for a week. And I’m rather glad he didn’t die.

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