Friday, 15 August 2014

The God Complex written by Toby Whithouse and directed by Nick Hurran

This story in a nutshell: The Hotel…of Death!

Nutty Professor: Only the Doctor could get this excited at landing in a gaudy hotel in the middle of nowhere – like the seventh Doctor in Delta and the Bannermen he finds tawdry locations a delight because all the most interesting people hang out there. Give the Doctor a whopping great mystery, some snappy dialogue and fun characters to interact with and he is in his element. Rory makes the awesome observation that the Doctor has forgotten that not all victories are about saving the universe. Sometimes they can just be smaller, but no less impressive, personal battles that are won. Then that is topped by an even more skilful observation by Rita that the Doctor has quite a God complex in thinking it is down to him to save everybody. All this makes sense when you realise where they are taking the Doctor at the end of the season, realising that he has been too noisy and observable in his epic encounters and heads off to a place where smaller, more personal battles really count. It really does seem that all of his personality flaws are catching up with him and vocalised in The God Complex and to round off this character assassination the Doctor realises that he has completely misjudged the situation and because of his advice two, possibly three people have lost their lives. No wonder he decides to set Amy and Rory up in a nice new house at the episodes climax to keep them safe, he can see that proximity to his adventures can brew up a whirlwind of peril. There is a large gap between this episode and the next and I can imagine the Doctor heading out into the universe and trying to find himself again before finally accepting that it is his time to die. The Doctor opens the door to his room to hear the TARDIS cloister bell that leaves so much open to interpretation it’ll keep the fanboys debating for years! What does he fear? The TARDIS dying? His own death? Is he scared of himself ala The Dream Lord? The Valeyard? Who knows but I’m really glad we didn’t get to see it because not knowing is much more fun. He doesn’t like to lose and he certainly doesn’t like to be wrong and hearing the words ‘goodbye Doctor and thank you for trying’ touches him somewhere very deep that he flies into a violent fury of destruction. Saying goodbye to Amy is clearly very distressing for him and he manages to keep most of his pain inside, he just lets out a little yelp of emotion when embracing her. Yet he knows he has made the right decision because he cannot bear the thought of saying goodbye to her over her grave which is what will happen eventually. The Doctor looks so forlorn standing alone in the TARDIS I desperately wanted to give him a big hug. Sniff, sniff.

Scots Tart: Amy cleverly gives Gibbis a potted history of her character so that any new viewers will understand exactly what is going when it comes to her facing her worst fear and losing her faith in the Doctor. It's dressed up smartly as a moment of comfort. It's perfect the way the episode ties into the overall story of the Doctor and Amy and how her faith in him was what brought them there. The worst thing Amy can imagine is losing her faith in the Doctor and when he admits that he has lead her to her death and he knew it would happen because it always happens is heartbreaking. He is trying to get them out of this situation but I can’t help but wonder if there is a great deal of truth behind his words. Between them both Karen Gillan and Caitlin Moran reduce me to tears with their silent reactions to the Doctor’s confession. Unlike The Girl Who Waited they don’t need to do anything cruel to the characters in order to make you feel something. In The God Complex it is grounded in the shows mythology that has been building since the beginning of last season and it brings Amy’s story to a very satisfactory end. Time to stop waiting and get on with her life. Their goodbye scene when it comes is everything I hoped it would be – understated, heart-warming and loaded with genuine sentiment. This is the ideal place to leave the Ponds. It's interesting to note that when the Doctor/Amy relationship is explored through his eyes, it works. During the speech about why he took Amy with him, I really felt a connection between these characters in a way that I never have before.

Loyal Roman: Every time the Doctor gets close to somebody Rory gets a sudden urge to inform their next of kin. That is quite a statement from somebody who is supposed to be the Doctor’s companion but after the shocking events of the last episode who can blame him. As Tegan Jovanka said when you stop enjoying it give it up (just about the only sensible thing she did say mind) and this and his powerful statement that the Doctor is trying to turn him into a younger version of himself paves the way for his departure at the end of this episode. He cannot find a room for himself because after travelling the in the TARDIS he figures there is little left to be scared of and saying that in the past tense reveals what his decision would be given a half a chance.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Did you just say it's okay we’re nice?’
‘The most invaded planet in the galaxy! Our anthem is “Glory to…insert name here”’
‘We’re lining all the highways with trees so the invading forces can march in the shade with is nice for them…’ – that’s the most Douglas Adams line not written by Douglas Adams that I have ever heard!
‘This is a cup of tea’ ‘Of course, I’m British. This is how we cope with trauma. That and tutting’ – Simon says something similar all the time, at least about the tea.
‘Offer a child a suitcase of sweets and they’ll take it. Offer someone all of time and space and they’ll take that too. Which is why you shouldn’t.’
‘I took you with me because I was vain. Because I wanted to be adored. Look at you – the glorious Pond. The girl who waited for me. I’m not a hero. I really am just a madman in a box. And it's time we saw each other as we really are. Amy Williams its time to stop waiting’ – Smith will break your heart with this scene.

The Good: It looks like Russell T Davies’ plot of being stuck in the hotel from hell has finally made it to the screen! Whoever’s decision it was to make this the story’s location a gaudy hotel was a great call because within seconds it is such an instantly recognisable setting but filmed in such an off kilter fashion it becomes something far more sinister. It is that horrid patterned carpet and the fact that all the corridors look the same (chortle chortle), so depressingly normal and yet utterly jarring in context to the story. The vertiginous camera angles, snappy editing and unusual techniques (speeding up the writing filling the notebook, low angle tracking shots, rapid POVs) all combine to make the teaser a memorable one and a sign that this is going to be a deliciously oddball piece. I love the LOST/Cube atmosphere of a bunch of disparate people thrown together in an unknown setting, it’s a set up that will always work as long as you keep the characters interesting (which they do) and the location surprising (yadda). You would think with corridors twisting and stretching very much like a maze with a Minotaur in the middle that would be enough to keep this episode challenging but the concept of everybody having a room with their worst fear locked inside is absolute genius. Simon and I spent ages afterwards talking about what our rooms would contain. I love the imagery of the doors and windows being opened to find more walls behind them, it is such an immediately arresting visual that stresses that they are trapped inside. My mum (bless her) said she was appalled that that barely bothered to disguise David Walliams and how he was phoning in a performance as himself – yes that’s right Ma he always looks bald, has chiselled teeth, a squashed nose and floppy ears and goes around in an insidiously cowardly fashion. Well I don’t know about the last bit but as for the rest it's one of those times when my mum is so wide of the mark I can’t quite muster the enthusiasm to debate it with her. He is recognisable because it would be no point casting him otherwise but this is actually a creepy compromise and it is wonderful to see a celebrity who has relished the show since childhood and spoken so fondly of it getting the chance to take part in it. That look of uncomfortable distaste when the Doctor tells him that his cowardice isn’t brave, it's sly, really drives home how insidious these apparently harmless creatures are. The constant cuts to the black and white CCTV cameras must have been an editing nightmare but it keeps the show visually arresting throughout. My husband is petrified of ventriloquist dummies (I could tell you about one agonisingly hilarious time when we went to the pictures and he screamed ‘What the fuck is that?’ with such passion in a completely silent auditorium when a doll came to life and attacked some hapless victim) so you can imagine how much joy I had when we cut to the scene of the lobby filled with them shivering with laughter! Their creaking heads all turning towards the Doctor had him scrabbling for my hand…aww. Our glances into the rooms offer a terrific chance to get into the heads of the guest characters and Howie’s stuttering embarrassment in the face of pretty girls laughter is probably one of the most identifiable moment for fans of this series this year. I found the staggering close-ups of the characters switching moods rapidly to be deeply uncomfortable, there is something so emotionally discordant about it it is probably the most disturbing imagery of the year for me. I think it says a lot about me that monsters are tenapenny but this kind of schizophrenic hit really messes me up. I love the appearance of the Weeping Angels, they really have become embedded as one of the greatest success of the shows recent years. With clever camera trickery the director manages to convince that the corridors in this hotel from hell really are infinite (how clever is that POV shot of the Doctor’s as he dives from one identical stretch to another?). The very small but vital ‘You’re a Muslim’ ‘Don’t be frightened’ exchange is another example of this silly, crazy show of ours making a very worthwhile statement without shouting it out. Amara Karan gives a superb performance which under any other circumstances would have been ripe for the picking as a companion – it's amazing how fresh her interaction with the Doctor feels after two years with Amy. Her death where she begs the Doctor to let her be robbed of her faith in private is very moving and it is all thanks to Karan’s beautifully understated performance. Only revealing part of the Bull creature at a time was a very wise move because the overall creature doesn’t quite convince but by the time they show it in its entirety Whithouse has injected it with a huge dose of pathos which leaps over the hurdle and convinces us it is real. Own up – who guessed that the hotel was a prison for the creature and the people who were beamed there were being primed as emotional sustenance for the prisoner? It’s a great concept and it comes completely out of the blue. I was convinced this was all being done for some evil purpose (as is the way with Doctor Who) but to turn it into a tragic tale of a dying prisoner that wants to commit suicide to prevent any more people being killed because it can’t fight its instincts is really very poignant.
Distant cousins of the Nimon (squee) that set themselves up to be worshipped (very Horns of Nimon) but clearly they picked on a race far more powerful than the Skonnons this time. Love the Star Trek holodeck style effects work at the climax. This story brings Amy’s story to such a beautiful closure it seems a shame that she is back in The Wedding of River Song. But considering she and Rory only make a cameo in Closing Time and then are alternative versions of the characters we know in the finale nothing is backtracked. The last scene of the season sees them reunited with their daughter (finally) and all of them laughing together. Seriously, I cannot imagine a better way to leave the Ponds. They shouldn't have brought Amy back just because.

Result: Oddball is a label that has been directed at any kind of Doctor Who story that deviates from the normality of ‘aliens trying to invade Earth’ and the ‘Doctor interferes with history’ and tries to explore something a bit more creative and offbeat. The God Complex certainly falls into that category an takes its place amongst the successes of the genre (The Mind Robber, The Greatest Show in the Galaxy) rather than its failures (The Celestial Toymaker, Paradise Towers). It just goes to show what a creative director can bring to the show because with its single location and fairly naff monster this is clearly the cheapie episode of the year but cut together this fast and cleverly it is extremely easy on the eye and the time flies by. It’s a clever premise that allows for moments of psychology, some really bouncy dialogue and a wrenching twist that knocks the Doctor for six. Oddly considering it is the one episode that isn’t dealing with the ominous foreshadowing of his death this is to my mind the best portrayal of Smith’s Doctor since the last complete standalone (The Doctor’s Wife) and a lot of the criticisms of his character make a lot of good sense. I much prefer this to the previous high concept episode because it doesn’t have to needlessly complicate its set up in order to cash in the emotional payoff and it winds up being a whole lot more vibrant and pleasurable to watch. It starts off as a standalone but turns out to be the most satisfying arc story of the whole season. A superbly performed ensemble piece that stands up very well to repeated viewing and I would be very happy to see more intelligent, emotive tales of this standard next year: 9/10


Michael said...

Awesome review... this and Doctor's Wife are my two favourite episodes of this season for many of the reason's you are mentioning (better exploration of Smith's Doctor, excellent interaction with guest companions and Amy+Rory).

You haven't added a Shallow Bit to this review, so I'm advocating for Dimitri Leonidas as Howie... he doesn't get much screen time, but I like his character... plus he's super cute :-)

David Pirtle said...

A highlight of the season, I agree, though not only did they introduce yet another character that would make a better companion for the Doctor to travel with than Amy, they actually acknowledged it! The cheek.