REVIEW: Doctor Who - "The God Complex"
Is it just me, or am I detecting a bit of a pattern in the past few episodes of Doctor Who? Over the past three entries, the show has alternated between horror/fantasy and sci-fi. Tonight’s episode, “The God Complex” falls into the former category, and is the third straight story told from a “standalone” perspective – meaning that there’s no mention of the series story arc.
Narrative structure aside, “The God Complex” is another impressive episode of Series Six. It succeeds on a number of levels: in its visuals, soundtrack and dialogue. It even packs a number of emotional punches that rival last week’s episode, “The Girl Who Waited”. Read on for my full, spoiler-free review, including my ranking out of four stars!
The Doctor, Amy and Rory find themselves in a creepy old hotel, which the Doctor realizes is likely an alien construct meant to fool its inhabitants. As the Doctor and his companions explore, they encounter a group of other “guests” who reveal that they are all trapped in the hotel, and that something else is prowling the halls.
The guests include a nurse named Rita, a young man called Howie, and a cowardly mole-like alien named Gibbis. They join forces with the Doctor to try to escape the hotel, which is filled with rooms that contain the deepest fears of the individual guests. The group soon encounters the creature stalking through the hallways, and the Doctor must unravel how the monster is able to control the minds of his friends, before they are each forced to “check out”.
The episode’s director, Nick Hurran, does a great job creating a spooky atmosphere for “The God Complex”, by placing the action in this outdated hotel that recalls movies like Psycho and The Shining. Hurran even makes use of the Hitchcockian Vertigo camera trick, stretching the length of the hallway at one point to emphasize the never-ending feel of the hotel.
This connects well with the choice of monster for the episode, a minotaur-like alien. The placing of a minotaur in a labyrinthine hotel set refers to the Greek myth about Theseus’ encounter with the original Minotaur below King Minos’ palace in Crete. This idea then leads us to see the Doctor as a kooky version of the Greek hero (who also happened to be half god).
It isn’t much of a stretch, then, to understand why this episode is called the “The God Complex” – the Doctor becomes an alien Theseus, with a similar unquenchable desire to help people (or more negatively, play God). Rita the nurse puts this question to the Doctor directly, and Eleven of course avoids answering her, as he often does with Amy. It’s even possible to draw out another layer from the title: the minotaur is seen as a god by its possessed victims, and the hotel is the complex it lives in.
Much like the ninth episode, “Night Terrors”, this entry makes an effective use of music and sound to raise the tension. Bombastic orchestral pieces accompany the action scenes, which suddenly snap into sentimental tracks when a guest turns up dead. Ghostly whispering and snatches of “flashback” sounds are added to give the episode an ancient, ethereal atmosphere. There is some stellar sound mixing at play here that complements the opposing themes of the story: faith and fear.
Whereas last week’s episode was a “Doctor-lite” story, writer Toby Whithouse gives us more of the Doctor this time. In particular, we see the return of the guilty Doctor, as Eleven’s new friends, the hotel guests, start disappearing. Both Matt Smith and David Tennant have done an excellent job with this mood of the Doctor, and Smith doesn’t disappoint here. Eleven even gives in to a surprising moment of rage near the climax of the episode, which jolted me out of my seat a bit.
Last week, it seemed like the character development might become self-contained in the episode. There was a feeling that the Doctor’s actions had erased the lessons learned by Amy, Rory and perhaps himself. One of you observant readers pointed out in the comments that it would be a shame if that progress was lost, but it looks like the character development has indeed carried over into “The God Complex”.
The Doctor is painfully reminded of the dangers imposed on people who travel with him, and I believe Amy and Rory are all too conscious of it, too. Episodes 10 and 11 are therefore very subtly linked, and as a result, “The God Complex” feels more connected to the rest of Series Six.
I almost didn’t think it was possible, but the emotional ending of “The God Complex” truthfully rivals the material at the close of “The Girl Who Waited”. The events of this story lead the Doctor to make a fairly big decision, and it causes a bittersweet penultimate scene between the Doctor and Amy. Just like the last episode, the strength of the writing and the performances from the leads make for a very genuine, believable exchange, something I wish we could see more of on TV.
I’ve mentioned in the past that I often find it hard to settle on a four-star ranking for TV episodes and movies. “The God Complex” is a very good episode of Doctor Who. While it doesn’t link up with the story arc that I’ve been talking about since “Let’s Kill Hitler”, I think the camera work, soundtrack, performances and emotional storytelling are enough to earn “The God Complex” four stars out of four.
What did you think of this episode? Did you get a bit choked up at the ending? How does it rank on the scale of creepy Doctor Who stories? Were you let down by the continuing absence of River and Madame Kovarian? Join the conversation about “The God Complex” below!
Check out all my reviews of Series Six of Doctor Who so far:
Episode 1: The Impossible Astronaut | Episode 2: Day of the Moon | Episode 3: The Curse of the Black Spot | Episode 4: The Doctor's Wife | Episode 5: The Rebel Flesh | Episode 6: The Almost People | Episode 7: A Good Man Goes to War | Episode 8: Let's Kill Hitler | Episode 9: Night Terrors | Episode 10: The Girl Who Waited