The TARDIS arrives at a hotel of ever-changing rooms where each guest must face their greatest fear.
Doctor Who airs in the UK Saturday nights at 7:00PM on BBC ONE.
Doctor Who airs in the US Saturday nights at 9:00PM on BBC AMERICA.
Writer: Toby Whithouse (Creator of Being Human)
Director: Nick Hurran (Director of last week’s “The Girl Who Waited”)
“The God Complex” is one of the more considered, cerebral episodes of this season of Doctor Who. A world away from the rapid-fire everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach of “Let’s Kill Hitler”, the story instead largely confines itself to a single location, focuses on a small group of characters, and lets slow-burn psychological horror and gradually-building tension create a sense of unease that makes it one of the most unsettling Who episodes yet.
Revolving around a mysterious hotel that traps its inhabitants and apparently scares them to death with personalised nightmares, it’s dark territory for a Doctor Who story. In fact, it’s so dark — and the story is such a slow-burning horror mystery, especially at the beginning — that I wonder whether it’s really aimed at the show’s nominal target audience of children at all.
Having said that, there are plenty of visceral scares here to go along with the less overt psychological stuff. A hulking and beautifully-realised Minotaur, some chattering possessed ventriloquist’s dummies, and even a cameo from the weeping angels will give children plenty to keep them awake at night. Let’s just agree not to mention the ill-considered man in the gorilla suit at the beginning.
As well as the monsters, there are some compelling secondary characters introduced for this episode, too. Chief among them is Rita (Amara Karan), a young Muslim doctor who’s very much a companion manqué in the Sally Sparrow mould, and who bucks the usual trend of horror stories by being eminently sensible and understanding what the Doctor is talking about far better than Amy and Rory ever have — even if she doesn’t always agree with him.
Add a socially-inept blogger (Dimitri Leonidas), a cowardly alien (David Walliams), and an inveterate gambler (Daniel Pirrie) to the mix, and you have an oddball selection of people, linked by a single common trait: their faith in something or somebody.
It’s with this subject matter that the episode really excels, musing on the nature of religions that are overwhelmingly fuelled by instilling fear in their subjects, without ever making this subtext too heavy-handed or exploring it at the expense of the basic plot. And the clever double-meaning of the episode’s title gets an extra layer of resonance when you realise that it could refer not only to the hotel and to the Minotaur, but also to the Doctor himself.
Explorations of the Doctor’s darker side may be commonplace in New Who, but few have been pulled off as stylishly as this. Whether it’s the semi-mystery of what’s behind door number 11, the scene in which the Doctor must destroy Amy’s faith in him to ensure her survival, or the dying words of the Minotaur that carry particular resonance for the Timelord, it all functions as wonderful character exploration that also serves the story well at the same time.
As well as standing as a wonderful self-contained episode, the story also ends on a surprising twist that promises to have long-term (well, at least medium-term) ramifications for the series, too. As with the best story developments, it’s surprising yet feels completely logical, and adds even more depth to the relationship between Amy, Rory and the Doctor (also giving the episode one of its funniest lines with “that’s my favourite car!”).
Aside from some very superficial complaints (the occasional cheap-looking set or dodgy costume — step forward again, Mr. Gorilla), I really can’t find fault with the story. So that’s three for three. Three great Doctor Who episodes in a row, with only two to go before this year’s roster is over. At this rate, the season finale is going to be a corker.
A journalist and sometime comics reviewer, Dave Wallace was raised on a traditional European diet of Beano comics, Asterix collections and Tintin books before growing up and discovering that sequential art could — occasionally — be even better than that. He has an unashamed soft spot for time-travel stories, Spider-Man, and anything by Alan Moore or Grant Morrison, and has been known to spend far too much on luxurious hardcover editions of his favorite books when it’s something he really likes. Maybe one day he’ll get around to writing down his own stories that have been knocking around his head for a while now.