First of all, my apologies for taking so long to get to this. I have two projects on the go right now, and their deadlines are ganging up on me. The fact that I’m not writing here does mean that I am working hard, however, which is a good thing. Today, for instance, I stepped into Toronto and wrote about 2,000 words. They weren’t fiction, but they were still 2,000 good words that I didn’t have written down when the day started, and I’m calling that a win.
I also took the time to watch the third season premiere of Warehouse 13 (downloaded from iTunes), and I have to say that the program has really kicked it up a notch. All of the regulars were back and in fine form, and the pace of the story was picked up. And a special mention to the new guy (Agent Jinx), who has a cool power, and a refreshing angle as the new guy out of water. I have to say that I’m looking forward to watching the next few episodes as the sixth season of Doctor Who comes to a close.
Doctor Who this past weekend was again good. I don’t know if the producers planned to show The God Complex immediately after The Girl Who Waited (likely they did), but if so, it was a good plan, as the two tales together counterbalance each other quite nicely. One tells a very complicated story in order to deliver a simple point, while the other tells a very simple story to delve deeper. The result is, as Dan likes to say, more than the sum of its parts.
There’s a lot to like about The God Complex. The actors (both regular and guest) are in fine form and the direction (coincidentally by Nick Hurran, who also did The Girl Who Waited, which may explain why the two episodes feel like a pair) delivered some honest scares and welcome atmosphere. In many ways The God Complex was the episode I wished Night Terrors was. But it was also more. The episode plays off of your assumptions, feeds them, and then turns them around into something surprising and a little bit delightful. There’s some tears and some portent for things to come.
A full spoiler review occurs after the break.
Again ignoring the fact that Melody Pond still isn’t back home, the Doctor and his companions Rory and Amy are off to another alien planet when it appears as though they’ve landed in a moderately chintzy 1980s hotel. How could they possibly be pulled off course?
A small point of order, here: reviewers and the synopsis writers tend to refer to this hotel as “kitchy”. Frankly I’m not seeing it. You haven’t seen kitch until you’ve seen the low rent offerings of Niagara Falls. This hotel was entirely too clean. But, really, I’m glad they didn’t emphasize this too much, as the hotel was spooky enough being well lit and yet almost completely empty except for our on-screen characters. Bringing in the atmosphere of a really kitchy hotel would have been overegging the pudding.
Anyway, the Doctor quickly realizes that they’re not in 1980s Earth, but an alien construct made to look like a 1980s Earth hotel. Why? Well, obviously, it must be keying off of someone. Possibly the four people who go racing in, frightened for their lives, wielding improvised weapons to menace the TARDIS crew.
And so the truth comes out: this is the Doctor Who equivalent of the Hotel California, or an intergalactic roach motel. People are checking in (against their wills), but they’re not checking out. There’s no exit (only more wall), and in the rooms are terrors. And somewhere in this hotel is a specific terror aimed right at you.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: this is a pretty bog standard trope, here. Spooky hotel filled with rooms that foster your fears, a presence that causes people to go mad one by one, and a big stomping monster come to eat you at the end. It’s another Saturday behind the sofa. Even the idea that there’s a creature that’s feeding on your fear is older than Buffy. But hold on.
Writer Toby Whithouse hasn’t shown all of his cards. There’s the fact that the hotel’s guests all go mad in a very specific way, losing their fear, and experiencing such elation that they rapturously (pun intended) walk to their deaths. The big stomping monster that menaces the TARDIS crew doesn’t even eat the bodies. There’s no blood. The victims just… switch off.
While the viewers are pondering this, writer Whithouse does take the time to explore people’s fears, or lack of them (Rory, for instance, is shown a fire exit that none of the other characters can see). We get a cameo appearance by the Weeping Angels (much appreciated), who turn out to be not Amy’s fear (again, much appreciated). And amid all of the running around, as the Doctor comes up with a plan to try and reason with the big stomping monster (which sort of works — much appreciated), the Doctor discovers his own room (conveniently numbered 11), and the nature of his deepest fear is only hinted at (again, much appreciated).
The guest characters are a motley crew. There’s the obsequious alien Gibbis, whose civilization has survived through aggressive surrender. There’s the geeky and conspiracy-theory prone and girl-shy Howie Spragg, who thinks the CIA is behind everything (he heard it on the Internet!). Then there’s the high-rolling gambler Joe Buchanan, and finally there’s a young Muslim nurse simply named Rita. All are stocks pulled out of the closet by Whithouse and given life by their actors… except for Rita.
Rita, as a Muslim, has considerably more depth than the other guest characters. She may not get a last name, but we get the hint of a troubled family life, and the sense of a rock-solid faith that has gotten her this far. She theorizes that they are all in Gehenna, Islamic hell, and on this basis she has hope, since she knows she’s lived a good life, and won’t be judged to torment.
And this proves to be the problem.
Because the big stomping creature, an ancient beast that’s cousin to the Nimon and sitting at the centre of its own personal labyrinth, doesn’t feed on fear, it feeds on faith. The rooms that have been exploiting the prisoners’ fears have been doing so to drive people past them to their faith, their rock, their foundation. And once it does that, it has them.
This is sold very well when Rita realizes she’s affected, and runs to get away from the others. She knows, then, the true nature of this place, and is horrified at the fact that she’s about to have her faith ripped away from her. It’s a horror that I as an audience member shared, thanks to actress Amara Karan’s performance, along with Matt Smith’s Doctor.
But you’ll notice that Rita’s faith in her faith has echoes in Amy, who has complete faith in the Doctor. And, of course, she’s the next one to turn. Thus, in a touching scene, we get to see both Amy’s fears, and the impact of her faith, all at one go. And it’s here that the eleventh Doctor makes a sad but unavoidable decision.
The events of The Girl Who Waited and the weeks before (see the voice interface scene in Let’s Kill Hitler) are clearly weighing on the Doctor’s mind. They also appear to have affected Rory as well, who has none of Amy’s faith in the Doctor and which is one reason why he was offered a fire escape that no one else can see. The Doctor can see, now, the damage he is doing in his companions’ lives with his very presence. And for most of the episode, he can’t stop it. He doesn’t want to stop it. He cheerfully admits that he’s a bad influence, and yet he wants to add Rita to his crew.
It’s almost as if he feeds on the faith of his companions in a similar way as the automatic components of the hotel — albeit in a far less fatal way. Sort of. Maybe he needs his companions because, as Donna told him, he needs someone to hold him back and tell him to stop, but he wants his companions because he wants to see the wonder in their eyes. He wants their adulation.
So it is with great horror as the Doctor watches that same adulation start to turn Amy into monster food. The Doctor, to his credit, does what he needs to do, to break Amy’s faith in him, just as the monster was about to feed, thus breaking the cycle, and allowing the ancient monster to finally die.
The steps the Doctor takes next, sending his companions home, seem in some respect to be a wise and good decision — at least for Rory and Amy. It’s great credit to the Doctor that he does this for Rory and Amy’s benefit, because going back just a couple of seasons, I can see this as coming at great cost to him. The tenth Doctor went a little bit crazy when he let Donna go and travelled alone for a while. The need to have someone hold him back is still there, and I suspect that this Doctor knows it. He can sense his place in the universe changing, becoming darker. He has become so powerful that people fear him, and he knows he can’t just vanish into the woodwork anymore. What’s he going to do?
In that regard, the trailer for next week offers me considerable hope. I would love it if, not only does he try to pay Craig Owens a visit, he decides to retire by opening up a shop. We’ll see. (Update: Looking again at the trailer, I can confirm this. He has a name tag and everything. Woohoo!)
If I have a complaint about this season, it’s that I think it’s developing too fast. In many ways, it feels like two seasons rolled into one (the mid-season break certainly contributes to this). Well, each “season” has only six or seven episodes to tell its arc. In the first half, we had the set-up of Amy being kidnapped by Madame Korvarian, and the whole rigamarole with River. In the second half, we see the Doctor wrestling with the realization that he’s become too big of a force in the universe. But the pace is off. Amy and Rory have been sent home, but we know that they’ll be appearing again just two weeks from now, in the season finale. The ideas that have been put forward here haven’t been given enough time to gestate. That I’ve gotten this far with my understanding and appreciation of the arc is largely through my own geeky investigation of the program. I know that I’m not alone in my appreciation; my friend Cameron has been thinking along the same lines, but I have to wonder if the casual audience member is able to keep up, and what sort of risk Steven Moffat is taking by upping the pace, so.
But we shall see. For the past two weeks, the episodes on display have worked well on the surface and at deeper levels at the same time, which bodes well for the appreciation of fan and casual viewer alike. In all, the sixth season has taken a decided upturn, in my opinion. Even doubters worried about the earlier episodes seem to be coming along. I’m confident the streak will continue through this Saturday. As for the Saturday after that… well, we shall see.
- Okay, who do you think the Doctor saw in the room that was meant solely for him? I’m pleased that they weren’t explicit about this, but they did leave good hits. Did you note the sound of the cloister bell ringing when he opened the door? I wonder if this will come up again.
- The God Complex, of course, makes a good companion piece to the original series The Curse of Fenric, even though the Haemovores were repelled by faith, rather than nourished by it. In the latter episode, the Doctor is able to hold off the Haemovores by reciting the names of his companions, showing where his true faith lies. This wasn’t addressed in The God Complex, and its absence makes me wonder: would the same thing apply here, today?